Once you've found the man of your dreams and you're ready to start dropping hints about engagement rings, you should have a clear vision of how you want your dazzler to look. To help kick off your search, we rounded up nine easy steps to help you find your ideal ring.
Step 1: Browse on Pinterest
One simple way to pinpoint both your favorite shape and style is to browse the Web. (A great place to start is our ring gallery on Brides.com.) Start a secret Pinterest board; it's the perfect place to gather inspiring wedding imagery without your boyfriend catching a glimpse. Once you've got a bank of ring images started, look for a common theme. Are you attracted to round or square shapes, solitaire or multiple-stone settings, vintage or modern designs?
Step 2: Source Real-Life Inspiration
Have you always loved your aunt's classic round brilliant diamond? Look to friends, coworkers, family members, and even complete strangers for ideas. We bet most of them will even let you take their ring for a test drive (okay, probably not strangers!). But whether you're soliciting advice or just checking out their jewel, it's a great way to ease into the shopping process.
Step 3: Relearn Your ABCs
Actually, make that the four Cs: color, cut, clarity, and carat. Though it goes against everything you learned in school, a "D" grade (which is defined as "colorless") is a top mark when it comes to diamonds. Cut speaks to the precise shape and positioning of a diamond's facets, which is the most important factor in determining a stone's beauty. Clarity is how jewelers describe inclusions or flaws in the diamond. (The most perfect, secondary to flawless, is "IF" or "internally flawless.) Carat is really all about the weight of the diamond; though it's important to note that it is not the soul factor in determining a diamonds value or brilliance.
Step 4: Select a Shape
There are quite a few stone shapes to choose from. Among the most popular are round and princess, followed by cushion, emerald, square, oval, pear, and heart. The good news is there's no wrong choice! Unlike fashion trends, which come and go, diamonds never go out of style. You can narrow down the pool quickly by focusing on what's important to you. If sparkle is your main must-have, you'll love a round or princess cut. (They have the most facets, or light-reflecting cuts.) If you want your rock to be unique, consider an unexpected cut like pear, oval, or heart.
Step 5: Consider Metal Options
From bright platinum white to yellow and rose gold, there are a plethora of metal options though it all comes down to personal preference. If you wear lots of yellow gold, you might want to stay in that metal family. If your everyday accessories tend to be silver, platinum seems like an obvious choice. Also, consider what looks best on your skin tone. Don't forget, you can always mix up your metals by introducing a different metal within in your wedding-ring pairing.
Step 6: Think About the Setting
You have several options when it comes to your engagement-ring setting, from pavé and bezels to split shanks and prongs. For a classic look, go for a solitaire with either a solid metal band or, for added shimmer, a micropavé band. Looking for something more glamorous? Try a radiant-, cushion-, or emerald-cut stone with a halo or a diamond-studded band.
Step 7: Grab a Girlfriend
Now that you've got an idea of your favorite styles, get ready for the fun part: trying on the real thing. If you think (or hope!) your boyfriend is keeping the proposal a mystery, share this test-drive session with your best friend instead. No matter whom you choose as your shopping buddy, be sure to partner with a sales professional who will work exclusively with you during your visit.
Step 8: Play Matchmaker
If you're already in the store engagement-ring shopping, you might as well take a few wedding rings for a spin. Though you don't have to wear the two stacked on the same finger, it's helpful to see what the set would look like. Your favorite wedding band could be the deciding factor between two top engagement-ring contenders.
Step 9: Start Dropping Hints
You've done the research, and now all you need to do is get your future fiancé up to speed. Bring it up in casual conversation by commenting on a friend's engagement ring or "accidentally" leave your secret Pinterest board open on your laptop... He'll get the hint!
And remember: Have fun! After all, when else will you shop for such an important piece of jewelry?