So, you’re getting engaged and wondering how to buy an engagement ring? You’ve come to the right place.
First of all, congratulations from all of us at The Modest Man! We wish you a long and happy life together.
Although this is an exciting time, try not to let your search to buy an engagement ring turn your life into an utter nightmare. You’ll discover there seem to be so many decisions to make.
After all, what type or style of engagement ring should you buy? What about the setting? How much should you spend? Are you going to surprise her, or will she help you choose?
Relax. There’s no need to be intimated by the myriad of choices you’ll encounter on your search to buy an engagement ring.
We’re here to guide you through the process from start to finish so that you find the perfect ring to fit both your budget and her expectations.
Table of Contents
How long does it take to buy an engagement ring?
Our first piece of advice? Don’t hurry into buying the first engagement ring you see. Give yourself time to think about how and when you are going to propose.
Do you have a specific proposal date in mind? An anniversary, birthday or a day that has special meaning for you both, perhaps?
To find the perfect engagement ring can take time, so allow yourself at least 1-2 months to do research and look at your options.
Don’t rush things. It may take longer than you anticipate, but it’s worth taking your time to make the right choice.
Do Your Research
Here are a few factors to take into consideration. If this is to be a surprise, ask her friends or family what style of engagement ring they think she’d like – for instance, a traditional solitaire, an antique style or perhaps a contemporary or mixed metals ring?
Check out her jewelry box when she’s not around. What type of other jewelry does she wear? Is her everyday watch silver or gold? Is she an outdoor, sporty type?
Remember, a large, overly intricate ring will be more susceptible to damage or lost stones. These clues can help you pick out an engagement ring that fits her look and lifestyle.
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If your fiancée-to-be has told you what type of ring she wants, just make sure you are confident and knowledgeable about her exact wishes, so that you can avoid a costly (and potentially embarrassing) mistake.
Now that some initial research has been done and you have narrowed down your search, give yourself 1-2 weeks to explore your purchase options. If you have a specific jeweler in mind, set up a consultation.
You’ll want to consider the carat weight of the stones in the ring, the choice of metals such as yellow or rose gold, platinum or silver – as this will determine the final cost of the ring.
The final ordering can take from 1-4 weeks, and sizing can take from 1 day to 1 week or more if you are looking to adapt a setting to a chosen stone. A re-set stone, such as a family heirloom can usually be done in a few days, depending on the complexity of the ring’s design.
How much money should you spend on an engagement ring?
This leads us to perhaps the most important decision of all – your budget. Bearing in mind that the average cost of an engagement ring these days is close to $6000, you’ll appreciate that this is no inconsequential purchase.
You may have heard the one, two or even three-month salary rule which “suggests” how much you “should” spend. This was introduced as a marketing ploy after the Second World War to encourage diamond sales. Feel free to totally ignore it!
Your budget should be what you feel comfortable with. Period. You’ll also find engagement ring calculators online, which calculate how much to spend based on your income, lifestyle and debt-to-asset ratio, which is a common sense (though some may consider unromantic) way to begin your life together.
We nevertheless recommend you do not start out your married life together by going into debt, as special and meaningful as this purchase may be.
So, where to begin?
You’ll want to weigh your current financial situation, the cost of the wedding and honeymoon, (if you are helping to cover these costs), your partner’s expectations and whether it’s really necessary to max out on the biggest ring you can afford, rather than opting for something more modest, yet still meaningful.
Shannon Delaney, Director of Communications for online diamond retailer, James Allen recommends you set a budget and stick to it.
“This will guide all of your decisions going forward; we recommend thinking about your priorities—are you looking for a high-quality diamond?
Are you willing to sacrifice a bit on quality in order to buy a larger diamond? Are you planning for a simple band which will be cheaper, or something with a lot of smaller diamonds that will take more of your budget?”
How to Save Money on an Engagement Ring
Here are four simple ways to save a little money when buying a ring:
#1: Go Smaller
Consider purchasing a stone with a carat weight slightly below the traditional cut-off point. For example, a .97 carat diamond appears identical to a 1.0 carat diamond, but it costs a lot less.
#2: Multiple Stones
You can also consider purchasing a ring set with multiple smaller stones, such as a pavé ring, rather than a big, single solitaire. It will give the impression of a larger ring yet will cost less.
#3: Halo Rings
Halo rings, which have a multi-stone setting encircling a center gemstone, are very popular right now and they make even a small center diamond look huge.
Can you negotiate the cost of an engagement ring? Perhaps. Some jewelers will absolutely not break their prices – but if you don’t ask, you won’t know.
It’s worth a shot if you’ve fallen for a particular ring that’s beyond your budget.
Should you buy an engagement ring online?
If you have a local, family jeweler you’ve supported all your life, by all means check out what they’re offering, but there are several highly reputable online diamond engagement ring retailers you should consider.
We are a big fan of online retailer James Allen. They let you design your own engagement ring and can save you anywhere from 30%-50 % over a high street jeweler’s prices, because they carry less overhead than a traditional brick-and-mortar store.
Their selection of rings and gemstones is also much more comprehensive, and this means you can custom order a ring to your exact specifications rather than having to compromise with a ready-made ring in a jeweler’s display case.
An online retailer can customize the stone, the setting and the style of ring you want, so that it can be totally unique to you and your fiancée.
Before you buy through any online retailer, we recommend you check out their reviews, payment and shipping methods plus their return policy. It’s also important to request certification on any diamond you buy, such as its GIA (Gemological Institute of America) report.
As you are probably not a professional gemologist, it is difficult to know whether what you are buying is genuine. Ask the online customer service representative for help with this.
A reputable online retailer will be happy to oblige with third party accreditation for your diamond or other gemstone(s).
A Primer on Engagement Ring Styles
The style of an engagement ring is determined by the ring setting, the cut or shape of the stones and the precious metal that used to make the ring itself.
Let's look at each factor in more detail…
Engagement Ring Settings
The setting determines how the stone (typically a diamond) actually sits in or on the ring. You have lots of choices here, from simple and traditional to modern and fashion forward.
Let's take a closer look at the most popular ring setting styles.
Solitaire Ring with Central Stone
While there are many different styles of engagement ring available these days, the most popular is still the solitaire ring which features a single stone, typically a diamond, set with a four or six prong mounting.
Many solitaire rings are made with a ring guard or ring wrap framing the central stone, making it appear bigger.
Pavé Ring with Diamond Encrusted Band
Pavé engagement rings are encrusted with multiple small diamonds to give the illusion of a solid diamond surface.
The pavé setting can go around the entire band or half-way round, giving the ring extraordinary fire and brilliance.
Typically, you’ll find a round brilliant or princess cut diamond used as the center stone in most pavé engagement rings.
Channel Set with Embedded Diamonds
Channel set engagement rings feature diamonds or other gemstones that are embedded within a channel in the band of the ring.
This is a sturdy setting as it is less likely to snag on her clothing than a solitaire or other ring style.
You can choose a channel setting in gold or platinum and a variety of diamond cuts and shapes.
Side-Stone Ring with Center Diamond
Side-stone engagement rings are composed of a larger central diamond.
It is flanked by two or more smaller sized diamonds, which add to the overall dimension and brilliance of the ring.
Three-Stone Ring with Center Diamond
Three- stone engagement rings feature a center diamond, or other precious stone, flanked by two side diamonds, said to represent a couple’s past, present and future.
You can thank Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for the increasing popularity of this design.
Tension Set Ring
Tension set rings are contemporary in style and feature a diamond that is held in place by the tension of the ring, so that it appears to be floating in air.
Despite how it looks, this is a very secure setting, often more so than a prong setting.
Round, princess and emerald cut diamonds are typically used in tension set rings.
Halo Ring with Small Diamonds
Halo engagement ring settings feature a center gemstone surrounded by smaller pavé diamonds, giving it the illusion of added size and brilliance.
Halo engagement rings can come in a variety of shapes; some have round center diamonds, some are Asscher-cut, pear shaped or oval.
Many also come with a colored, central gemstone such as a sapphire. They are hugely popular right now.
Vintage or “Antique” Ring
If your fiancée is a fan of Victorian, vintage or antique styles, there are plenty of engagement ring options to match her tastes.
Vintage-style engagement ring designs are inspired by the past yet contain modern cut diamonds.
These can come in yellow gold, rose gold, white gold and platinum settings and many have colored gemstones in addition to diamonds.
Pro Tip: Wedding Sets include a matching engagement ring and wedding ring that complement each other stylistically.
It’s a great way to buy your wedding ring in advance, and as a package deal.
Precious Metal Options
Regardless of what kind of stone, setting or cut you choose, you need a metal ring to hold the stones and, well, rest on your better half's finger.
Rings are typically made from one of the following precious metals:
- 14K White Gold – 58.3% gold/41.7% alloys, complements diamonds well
- 18K White Gold – 75% gold, white color complements diamonds well
- 14K Yellow Gold – 58.3% gold/41.7% alloys, strong, long-wearing, easy to polish & repair
- 18K Yellow Gold – 75% gold/25% alloys, softer, more malleable metal, easy to repair
- Rose Gold – Alloy of gold and copper, perfect for vintage style rings
- Platinum – strongest precious metal, highest level of purity, hypoallergenic
- Palladium -similar to platinum, but less dense, therefore lighter. Corrosion resistant, low maintenance
- Silver – Relatively low price, can cause tarnishing to the skin, soft metal that is easily scratched
A mixture of two of the above, such as a band of white gold with yellow gold, is an increasingly popular choice.
Engagement Ring Cuts
We've covered ring setting – how the gemstones sit in/on the ring – and your precious metal options for the ring itself, but we need to talk about the cut.
The shape of your diamond or other precious gemstone, and it will carry the overall look of your ring, so it makes sense to consider the different types of cuts.
Let's take a closer look at your options:
By far the most popular of all diamond cuts, the round brilliant accounts for about 75% of all engagement rings sold in the U.S.
It is a classic shape, consisting of 58 facets, developed early in the 20th century to accentuate a diamond’s inherent light and brilliance.
Punch up the look in a halo setting, in a twist setting with side diamonds or wear it as a sophisticated solitaire; it’s a simple, clean look which flatters any hand or finger shape.
The Princess cut it is the second most popular choice for engagement rings. It can be square or moderately rectangular and looks equally dramatic in a contemporary or antique styled setting.
It was first created in 1980 and has gradually become the most celebrated and popular of the fancy cuts for diamonds, especially favored for engagement rings.
The squared-off look with its elegant, clean angles looks both classic and fresh.
Originally known as the “old mine” cut, the Cushion cut has been around for centuries.
It consists of a square or rectangular shape with rounded-off corners – and it looks a lot like a cushion, hence its name.
It has a distinctive antique or vintage look.
Elegant and sophisticated, the Emerald cut varies from nearly square to a narrow rectangle.
Its unique look features a flat surface and chiseled step cut sides, giving it a larger appearance than other diamonds of the same carat weight.
Because this cut has a wide, flat table, flaws and color clarity tend to be more visible, so you’ll want to opt for a high-grade stone.
The Oval is a unique take on a classic cut. The Oval shape was created in the 1960s and is a modified brilliant cut, so you’ll get the fire and brilliance of a traditional round cut, but in a more distinctive, elongated shape.
The Oval cut tends to give the illusion of greater size and flatters the wearer’s long, tapering fingers to their best advantage. Kate Middleton’s engagement ring, although a sapphire, is an Oval.
Commissioned by King Louis X1V of France for the Marquise de Pompadour, the Marquise is a football shaped, elongated diamond which was allegedly created to echo the shape of her perfect mouth.
The Marquise has the largest crown surface area of any diamond shape, so it gives the illusion of greater size. It is also a modified brilliant cut, so has the sparkle and scintillation of other diamond shapes.
Set with pear or round-shaped side stones to stunning effect, the Marquise will also enhance long, slim fingers.
4 Less Popular Cuts You Should Consider
These cuts may not be as popular as, say, the round brilliant cut, but they're perfect for some people. The below images are from Brilliant Earth.
She'll either love or hate this one, so tread carefully!
Keep in mind, pear cut diamonds can be prone to chipping since the tapered end is sort of pointy.
If you like the angular lines of an emerald cut but want the brilliance of a round cut, this one is for you.
The radiant cut works well for diamonds as well as other gemstones, so it's a very versatile choice.
Dating back to 1902, this classic cut is known for its brilliance and sparkle.
Like the radiant cut, the asscher cut looks great with diamonds or gemstones. If you're going with sapphire or ruby, consider this cut.
Romantic and eye-catching but difficult to make, the heart cut isn't for those on a tight budget.
Unless your significant other specifically mentions this cut, it's probably not your best choice.
But if they do mention it, be sure to go with a solitaire setting, as the heart shape looks amazing on its own.
The 4C’s: A Brief Overview
Now that you know a little more about the different engagement ring styles available, we’ll tell about the 4Cs. You’ve probably heard the term before but may not quite understand what it means.
If you’re going to pick out a diamond, you’ll need to understand the different diamond quality measurements. The 4C’s represent the cut, color, clarity and carat weight of a diamond. Deciding which of the 4C’s is most important to you will be key.
The cut reflects the symmetry, polish and proportion of the diamond and affects its visual brilliance. The better the cut, the more sparkle the diamond will reflect.
We recommend you don’t skimp on the cut of the diamond if you are going for maximum sparkle. A well-cut diamond will look larger to the naked eye than one with a lesser quality cut, so opt for the best cut you can afford.
Color also has a rating system. D, E, and F colored diamonds are the rarest and have an icy white appearance. G and H diamonds are more common; I and J diamonds have a warmer color which goes well with rose or yellow gold and vintage styles.
You can save money by opting for faint coloration in the stone, which may not be visible to the naked eye.
Clarity is how clean or clear the diamond is and how few microscopic flaws or inclusions it shows under magnification.
If you want a completely flawless diamond, choose an SI1 clarity rating. The flaws or inclusions in a diamond may be almost impossible to see with the naked eye, so one with a lower clarity rating can be a good option if you are looking to stick to your budget.
Contrary to popular belief, carat is a measurement of weight and not size. The average diamond engagement ring tends to be around 1 carat weight.
You’ll probably worry about the size of the diamond you choose, as this is often interpreted as a status symbol and measurement of love, but the most important thing is to buy an engagement ring you can afford.
Getting engaged is a promise of your future together and a symbol of your love and commitment, so you don’t want to start out by going into debt.
Most Popular Diamond Engagement Ring Styles (2020)
Like anything else related to fashion and beauty, engagement ring styles are subject to trend.
Here area few of the best-selling engagement ring styles right now, courtesy of Brilliant Earth.
Waverly Diamond Ring
Rose Gold Reina Diamond Ring
Fancy Pear-Shaped Diamond Halo Ring
Stacked & Nested Diamond Ring
Contemporary 3-Stone Ring
Asymmetrical Diamond Ring
Of course, if you stick to the classics, you can get a ring that will never go out of style.
Alternatives to White Diamond Engagement Rings
Incidentally, there’s no rule that says you have to choose a white diamond.
Although diamonds have gone hand-in-hand with popping the question for centuries, there are plenty of alternatives, especially if she likes to stand out from the crowd – or if you are on a tight budget.
Diamonds come in different colors such as champagne, gray and salt-and-pepper. They cost a lot less than a flawless white stone but are different and dramatic in their own way.
Colored diamonds range in price and intensity from blues, reds, greens, chocolate and even black.
The following gems are great alternatives to diamonds, but make sure your special someone actually wants a non-diamond ring before you consider going this route!
Gorgeous durable gemstone, which looks great as a center stone surrounded by diamonds. It’s most popular in blue but comes in any color but red.
Kate Middleton’s ring was a cluster of 14 solitaire diamonds surrounding a 12-carat oval, deep blue Ceylon sapphire set in 18k white gold, in case you were wondering.
Ranges from deep to lighter red. Lovely as a center stone but can be as costly as a diamond.
Topaz gives you a lot of carat for the money. It comes in a wide range of colors including blue, light green and even colorless.
A member of the emerald family called Beryl, aquamarine is known for its stunning blue/green coloration.
Worn on red carpets the world over, you’ll need to think carefully before choosing an emerald engagement ring because typically it will have internal flaws or inclusions, making it fragile for everyday use.
Ranging in color from pretty blush pink to orange pink, Morganite looks great against cool or warm skin tones.
Engagement Ring Sizing: How to Guess/Find Her Size
Don’t have a clue what her ring size is? Here is how you can find out without her knowing, so you can still surprise her:
Go undercover by “borrowing” one of her rings, trace it round on a piece of paper. Your jeweler or online retailer (check out James Allen’s online ring sizer quiz!) can figure out the correct size.
Get her another “promise ring” in a larger size, take it to a jeweler to be re-sized. While you are there, you can find out what she thinks of current engagement ring styles and settings.
Ask a friend or family member to find out her size for you.
Measure her ring finger with dental floss or paper while she is sleeping! You’ll have to be careful doing this!
Out in the Open
You’ve given up trying to keep your proposal a secret, so just ask outright to measure her, but remember:
Finger size changes in different temperatures. Measure at the end of the day when the finger will be at its largest.
The ring should fit snuggly around the finger but slide on smoothly. Re-measure a couple of times to make sure you get it right.
Wider rings require a larger size so allow .25 or .5 extra sizing. Make sure you account for knuckle size.
If she is between two sizes, go for the larger size. For best results, take the measurement in millimeters.
Final Thoughts: You’ve Got This!
We hope you haven’t become too alarmed by all the decisions you need to make. You’ve got this! Just take you time, stick to your budget and be open to all the interesting options you have.
The good thing is, you have plenty of choices. We think buying an engagement ring online is a good way to go, especially if you buy from James Allen, because you can design a ring to your (and her) exact taste and specifications.
From choosing the right diamond or colored gemstone, to the setting, design, cut of the stone or stones to the sizing – they make it easy and much more affordable than your typical high street jeweler.
So, should you surprise her with an engagement ring you choose – or ask outright what she wants? The element of surprise is still the romantic way to go.
Polls consistently show that most women want a surprise proposal. It is what she will remember and cherish all her life, and it’s also a great way for you to show off your creative, romantic side and how smart you are to find a ring she adores.
If you’ve done your homework and you know her style, getting down on one knee with the perfect engagement ring in hand will blow her mind, even if she’s been suspicious. She’ll absolutely love it!
A final word of advice; don’t go broke buying a ring you can’t afford. It’s not a good way to start a marriage and in the long run, she won’t appreciate it when you both have to skimp on something else.