How to Buy an Engagement Ring
Next to a home and a vehicle, an engagement ring is likely one of the biggest purchases a man can make. It’s only logical you want to make sure you have the perfect ring to propose with. Our engagement ring buying guide has everything you need to know to pick the perfect engagement ring for your special someone.
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What to Know Before You Head to the Store to Make an Engagement Ring Purchase
One of the first things to consider when buying an engagement ring is if your partner has given you any hints. If they’ve shown you pictures of rings they love, or have a Pinterest board set up, that’s a good place to start. Pay attention to any comments they drop about celebrities’ or friends’ engagement rings too. You can also take a peek at their current jewelry collection to get a sense of what stones, metals, and styles they currently wear, which can make it easier to narrow down your options once you’re in the store.
So, once you have an idea of your partner’s style, just how much should you spend on an engagement ring? While the old adage that you should spend 2-3 months salary was actually a clever marketing campaign in the 1930s, the math doesn’t hold up.
While it’s essential that you don’t head to the store without a budget, how much you spend ultimately comes down to how much you can afford. After all, it’s the sentiment and commitment that goes along with the ring and the proposal that matters the most – not how much you spend on the ring itself. In fact, some experts would argue that it’s financially reckless to go into debt for such a purchase. Wouldn’t you rather spend a little extra on the ceremony or your honeymoon anyways?
“A knowledgeable jeweler is a great resource when it comes to your budget,” says Katherine Bodoh, RJ, CEO of the American Gem Society and AGS Laboratories. “Tell them the price range you have in mind, and they can show you options that will fit your budget.”
According to The Knot 2018 Real Weddings Study, the average cost of an engagement ring is around $5,680, down slightly from the year prior. That’s a real investment, so it’s important to get the most bang for your buck.
You should also try to find out your partner’s ring size before heading to the jeweler, if at all possible. One way to do this is to bring one of their rings with you to the store. You can also size your own fingers and compare them to your partners in order to get an approximate size. Finally, if neither of those are an option, you can always just go with the law of averages. The Swiss Gemological Laboratory notes that the average adult woman’s ring size is between 5 and 7, while the average adult man’s ring size is between 9 and 11.
Important Engagement Ring Factors
The most important factors when choosing a diamond engagement ring are known as the 4Cs. The 4Cs stand for cut, color, clarity, and carat weight, and they are the primary characteristics that define a diamond’s quality.
Cut: Of all the 4Cs, cut has the greatest effect on a diamond’s beauty, says Bodoh. “In determining the quality of the cut, the diamond grader evaluates the cutter’s skill in the fashioning of the diamond. The more precise the cut, the more captivating the diamond is to the eye.” She emphasizes that a well-cut stone provides more than enough sparkle on your beloved’s hand.
Color: The color of gem-quality diamonds occurs in many hues says Bodoh, who notes that diamonds typically range from colorless to light yellow or light brown. She adds that other natural colors such as blue, red, or pink are known as "fancy,” and their color grading is different from colorless diamonds.
Clarity: “Diamonds can have internal characteristics known as inclusions or external characteristics known as blemishes,” says Bodoh. “Diamonds without inclusions or blemishes are rare, and most can only be seen with magnification.” Keep in mind that diamonds with no visible inclusions tend to be more expensive. Bodoh says some “imperfections” can be hidden with a strategic mount.
Carat Weight: Finally, the carat is the diamond’s physical weight measured in metric carats. Bodoh explains that one carat equals 1/5 gram and is subdivided into 100 points. When it comes to carat weight, Bodoh has a tip for those who have budget considerations: go for slightly less than the nearest carat. “A .90 carat diamond will save you money over a one carat diamond. A slightly smaller well-cut diamond can actually appear larger than a larger diamond with a lesser cut. Cut really is key to a diamond’s beauty.”
Bodoh’s formula for how to buy an engagement ring is simple. Sparkle + Brightness + Contrast = Overall beauty.
“These are qualities you can ask your jeweler to discuss, so that you have a better understanding of what makes a particular diamond so beautiful.”
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Choosing Precious Metal
When it comes to engagement rings, white gold and platinum are some of the most popular options, a Maison Birks Bridal Expert told AskMen. Both are great, but each have unique pros and cons.
“Platinum has a higher price point because it is rarer than gold. It’s also more expensive due to its high density and durability, which makes it much less susceptible to scratches,” said the expert. “Gold, on the other hand, is a soft metal. In order to make a secure band, gold needs to be mixed with other metals and alloys. This means that less of the precious metal is being used and further brings down the price. White gold doesn’t exist in the natural world and so, unlike platinum, these bands will need to be re-plated over time to maintain their color. Also, keep in mind that while these two metals may look similar, white gold has a shiny silver finish, whereas platinum has more of a grey undertone.”
For those with a classic sense of style, either option works, but the Maison Birks Bridal Expert says they’ve also seen a growing interest in yellow and rose gold the past few years.
“Think of the items your partner wears on a day-to-day basis. Usually a person will have a preference, and this can help when it comes to choosing the perfect metal for an engagement ring.”
Bodoh says that something to keep in mind is that the color of the metal surrounding the diamond (if that’s your stone of choice) can affect how it looks.
“If you want a colorless diamond, a yellow gold ring can create an effect that makes the diamond give off a yellow hue.”
Engagement Ring Shapes
After metal, the shape of the stones in a ring is another thing to consider when buying an engagement ring.
The Maison Birks Bridal Expert says that while ring shapes are always changing in popularity, trends are often tied to the world of celebrity.
“Meghan Markle’s three-stone engagement ring brought a resurgence of interest in the style. Some other standouts include the emerald cut, which gives a prism-like effect, and the infinity band, which loops around the finger and frames the diamond beautifully.”
When selecting a ring shape and setting for your partner, think about their personal style. Do they stick with more classic and traditional pieces or are they more quirky and trendy?
“At the end of the day, round is still our number one shape and a great option for anyone. You can also make a classic shape more unique by altering the setting.” For example, the company offers a “North Star” ring which features an uncommon five-prong setting that creates a beautiful star-like effect around the diamond.
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Engagement Ring Gemstones
When it comes to choosing a gemstone for your partner’s engagement ring, Bodoh recommends those that speak to a couple and their relationship. She says it’s best to select a gemstone that is at least a nine on the Mohs’ Scale of Mineral Hardness, which determines the durability of minerals and gemstones.
“Diamonds are a 10 on the Mohs’ scale, making them one of the hardest and most durable choices,” says Bodoh. “Other great choices are sapphires and rubies.”
Bodoh notes that the price of a gemstone depends on numerous factors.
“In a diamond, you have to look at the cut, color, and clarity factors. The size matters somewhat less depending on the quality of these characteristics. The higher the cut, color, or clarity grade, the more expensive the diamond will be. These factors can be traded off to match your budget and what’s important to you,” she says. “With colored gems, the quality of the color is the most determining factor in price, along with considerations of relative rarity, country of origin, and standard grading factors such as cut, clarity, and carat weight.”
No matter what stone(s) you end up with, Bodoh says shoppers should always ask to see diamonds that come with a grading report from a reputable diamond-grading lab to ensure the quality of the stone. And, it’s important to see and touch the jewelry in person, so that you can try it on and look at it in different lighting conditions to see how it sparkles.
“There’s a personalized level of customer service that you get from a credentialed professional jeweler that you cannot get online.”
Engagement Ring Settings
Once you’ve chosen your stone and metal, consider how the stone is “set” onto the ring.
Prong: Prongs are the most common setting, and use a small metal claw to hold the gemstone securely in place. Prongs can be rounded, flat, pointed, vshaped, or even heartshaped, and most stones will have either three, four or six prongs holding them in place. Keep in mind that the more prongs the more secure the stone is, although you will be able to see less of it.
Tiffany: A specific sixprong solitaire setting designed by Tiffany & Co. in 1886, this setting maximizes a diamond’s sparkle.
Bezel: A bezel setting holds the diamond or gemstone in place with a custom made thin metal rim or frame, and can be full (surrounding the stone completely) or partial (leaving the sides open).
Composite: A composite setting is an excellent way to get the appearance of a larger stone, without completely blowing your budget. It arranges a group of smaller diamonds together for the appearance of one larger stone, and is also sometimes called a cluster setting.
Tension: Tension settings use the tension of the ring’s band to hold the stone in place, giving the appearance that the stone is floating.
Channel: A channel-set ring features small grooves, or channels, where diamonds or other gemstones are slid into, before being sealed in securely.
Bar: The bar setting is similar to the channel setting, however, the stones are only closed in on two sides, rather than all around.
Pavé: The pavé setting uses multiple small diamonds set closely together for a carpetlike effect along the band.
Halo: The halo setting is an excellent way to enhance the appearance of a smaller diamond, as it refers to the placement of tiny gemstones around a larger center stone to make it appear larger.
Cathedral: A cathedral setting uses arches of metal to hold the stones above the shank (band) in order to make them appear larger.
The Maison Birks Bridal Expert says there is a misconception around the word custom, with people automatically assuming custom = expensive, but that’s not always the case! While they might not be more expensive, they do take more time.
“Custom rings can take a lot longer and it’s important to give yourself a proper timeline,” they said. “Make sure that the jeweler you choose is patient and in tune with your vision and needs.”
They say that you should bring inspiration images along to your consultation to make the process of designing a custom engagement ring smoother, and be open to the creative process that comes from collaborating with a jeweler.
“You may go in thinking you know exactly what you want and be pleasantly surprised by something new.”
Creating a custom ring does take longer and requires more involvement, but allows you to give your special someone something one-of-a-kind.
“You have to be OK with not getting to see, touch or feel the ring until it’s completely finished. But having the ability to create something completely one-of-a-kind is a fantastic opportunity.”
Buying an Antique Engagement Ring
It’s important that you speak with a professional if you’re considering buying an antique engagement ring, as it’s easy to get duped.
“Don’t be fooled by the words ‘Art Deco Style’ when you’re on the hunt for an ‘Art Deco’ ring,” says the Maison Birks Bridal Expert. “There are many re-creations out there and costume jewelry parading as the real thing.”
They say it’s important to do your research when buying an antique ring.
“There are many stores out there with fantastic reputations for finding incredible vintage rings. Just make sure that when you do find an antique ring, you get it verified with a gemologist if it’s missing papers of authentication”
Giving Your Partner an Engagement Ring That’s a Family Heirloom
Alternatively, modernizing an heirloom piece is also an option. Birks Concierge provides a service where its experts will work with jewelers to re-imagine a precious heirloom. Other stores may provide this service as well, so inquire if you want to keep a special stone or ring in the family.
While no one likes to think that their marriage won’t work out, if the heirloom is important to you and you don’t want your partner to have it in the event of a split, make sure both parties sign a contract stating as such before the wedding day.
Engagement Rings for Same-Sex Partners
If you’re a man buying a ring for a male partner, you’re in luck! Over the years, more diverse options have become available.
Some couples choose to wear matching engagement rings, while others opt for different rings. In some partnerships only one person wears the engagement ring – there really is no hard and fast etiquette for same-sex engagement rings.
This is also an area where the Maison Birks Bridal Excerpt says a custom ring is a great choice.
“Having the freedom to create something that truly represents your relationship allows you to create something special.”
How to Protect Your Engagement Ring Investment
Bodoh says the best way to protect your engagement ring is to insure it.
“First, get an appraisal from a Certified Gemologist® Appraiser or an Independent Certified Gemologist® Appraiser. Jewelers Mutual Insurance Group offers personal plans for jewelry buyers,” she says. “It’s so easy. You can get insurance in minutes.”
She also notes that care is different for colored gemstones vs. diamonds.
“Make sure you take the ring back to your jeweler every two years for inspections and repairs, such as prong retipping. If needed, get the advice of a credentialed jeweler regarding care and maintenance, and make sure the piece is reappraised every two years.”
Depending on where you buy your engagement ring, the retailer might offer additional services such as free cleaning, resizing, or special warranties. That goes for custom pieces too! Some retailers, like Maison Birks, Peoples, or Jared offer diamond trade-up programs, where you can upgrade your significant other’s ring at the full value of the original purchase price.
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