How to Choose the Perfect Engagement Ring

There are lots of details to consider, but the most important one is picking something personal.

There's no shortage of articles (like this one) telling you how you should buy an engagement ring. The thing is, none of them knows anything about you — except that you’re making a very big, important, and expensive decision. So, what’s the biggest mistake you can make? Replacing your story and the personality of your special someone with third party advice.

We're not trying to make a very personal decision for you. But we can help with some third party advice on how to make sure your ring is as personal as your relationship.

Research More than Just the Ring

The first website you look at shouldn’t be a jeweler’s. Get yourself a Pinterest and Tumblr account, if your soon-to-be-fiancé has one, and look her up. Even if there's no “OMG WEDDINGS!” board, chances are there will at least be some style cues you can pick up on. If she loves vintage styles, specific gemstones or metals, or anything like that, you can try to incorporate it into your purchase.

Don't Be Lazy

Big jewelry chains are fantastic at creating a neutral product for anybody with a pulse and a pocketbook. A lot of guys put a ton of personal and creative energy into the proposal, and forget that the ring is actually the climax of the whole show. So, make sure the same personality goes into the ring as the events leading to bended knee and opened box.

Maybe he went to Jared, but you might want to consider a private jeweler who actually remembers your name and can work with you on finding the perfect ring. A lot of these stores have an online presence, so you can still use them even if you don’t live in a metropolis.

Once you find a jeweler that looks good, check the Better Business Bureau website for a rating and comments, and reference Yelp for reviews from regular Joes as well. Start your search six months before you propose – this is going to take longer than you think.

Know the Basics…

No article about engagement rings would be complete without a crash course on ring shopping. Here are a few technical points to keep in mind:

  • Band: What kind of metal are you going to get, and what color? White gold seems to be leading the polls these days, but platinum, while more expensive, won’t wear down as quickly. Finally, think about your wedding bands – you'll likely want the engagement ring to match, so keep in mind whatever metal you're thinking for those. Take a cue from any jewelry she might wear regularly, too. If all of her favorites are rose gold, for example, go with that.

  • Cut: The most notable aspect of a stone’s cut is its shape. Traditionally, a round cut transmits light extremely well, assuming the quality is decent. In other words, the sparkle is really pretty. But there are plenty of other interesting cuts out there, too, so don't feel limited.

  • Carat: Size matters. Sort of. Sometimes. Price increases dramatically the bigger the stone gets. But if you want to stay on the smaller end, make up for the size with uniqueness. Antique and estate rings are often one of a kind, and that might be better in her eyes than a big rock.

  • Clarity: Clarity and color actually have grades, meaning you can hold onto them as concrete facts in a sea of best guesses. FL stands for flawless – the clarity and sparkle could not be better and there are no specks of anything in that stone. These are rare. VVS1 and VVS2 indicate very, very slight inclusions. For the cost, these are beautiful stones. Unless your girl whips out a microscope, she'll never notice the difference. And if she does whip out a microscope, maybe reconsider the relationship.

  • Color: According to the diamond sellers who want to upsell you, the stone should be perfectly colorless. This is rated on a scale from D to Z. D indicates no color whatsoever, and Z is distinctly yellow. The naked eye will see no color between D and H.

  • Cost: If you want to go by the month’s salary standard, feel free. Just know beforehand it started as a 1930s marketing ploy by De Beers. Just like any other purchase, you should figure out how much you can afford to spend. Don’t skimp, but keep in mind that your debt will soon become her debt, too.

  • Ring Insurance: Get it. Enough said on that.

…But Don't Put Too Much Weight in Them

Colorless diamonds have the highest value, but aren't necessarily the prettiest or most interesting. So don't think that color is automatically bad — your fiancé might prefer something colored like a champagne diamond, even though it's technically labeled as a flaw. Though some shades, like bright yellow or pink, can actually cost more than a colorless version.

Same goes for clarity. While a crystal clear stone might be a jeweler's idea of "perfect," a diamond that's cloudy or has visible "inclusions" (internal markings) can actually be a great pick, since they can be much more unique and interesting than the clear, generic cut that's on every other ring finger in America.

Plus, if you're willing to get creative with the color and clarity, your money will go a lot further. The same amount of cash can get you a bigger (and more personal) stone that's not technically "perfect."

And don't feel limited to diamonds , either. They're the traditional pick, yes, but their value and association with engagements is mostly just due to some very clever marketing. There are plenty of other gemstones that are great for engagement rings, like garnets, emerald, rubies, sapphires, and topaz. Basically, you just want something sturdy enough for daily wear — look for gems that are over 7 or 8 on the Mohs hardness scale.

Don't Freak Out

Finally, and maybe most importantly, don’t get too stressed out about this. Give yourself time to find the right ring. It’s out there, and this is one of the last big decisions you’re going to make as a solo man. And really, it comes down to one question – if your fiancé was a ring, what would it look like?

Enjoy the hunt, and congratulations.

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