On you mark, get set, search!
There's a galaxy of rings out there, and the best way to get a sense of what style you like is to browse through all the bling. Flip through bridal magazines, visit jewelers and search online. If you have champagne tastes on a lager budget, you'll want to be realistic about what you can afford. Use our Jewelry Gallery—packed with beautiful options in a range of prices—as a springboard to finding the ring of your dreams.
Don't know what style is right for you? Look at jewelry you already own-it's often a good indicator of what you'd like in engagement and wedding rings. Do you favor white metal over yellow gold? Modern or vintage?
To watch your diamond-ring fantasy come to life, use our Ring Builder. This nifty (if we do say so ourselves) and useful tool will help give you a good idea of what your ideal ring will look like. You can see how changing the band's metal, increasing or decreasing the carat weight of the center diamond and altering the shape and size of the side stones can totally transform the look of a ring.
Contact friends, family members, co-workers and other brides in your area to find a trustworthy jeweler. This is a great time to use our Forums to connect with other brides who have already been down this road. Once you begin visiting jewelers, it is important to take your time. And even if a jeweler comes highly recommended, if he or she is pushy or you get an uncomfortable feeling, move on to the next one.
Don't buy from just any ol' jeweler. Know which are accredited, by the Jewelers of America or Gemological Institute of America (GIA), among others, and begin your search there. Famous chain stores are also reliable.
A perfect fit
You'll want to choose a ring that matches your personal style, but there are also a few guidelines for selecting a stone shape that flatters your hand. If you have short, wide fingers, marquise, oval or emerald cuts will elongate them. If you have large hands, you'll be able to carry off a setting with lots of pavé wonderfully. There really are no wrong choices; however, what makes you happy will make you beautiful.
Made to order
While you can buy your ring straight from the case, if you are ordering it, allow four to eight weeks from the day you spot your diamond until it sparkles on your finger. And if you're actually designing it, the wait will be about three to six months. Engraving will tack on another week to a month—so bottom line: The earlier you can plan for a ring, the better.
The four C's
Once you've decided on a shape, focus on color, cut, clarity and carat. If you aren't already familiar with the four C's, now's the time to read up. Our Glossary is also packed with other useful ring terms and what you need to look for in a diamond.
Be realistic about what you can afford, and stick to your budget. When you're ready to take the plunge, shop around to find the highest-quality ring in your price range. Conventional wisdom holds that an engagement ring should cost about two month's salary—but that can taxing. The good news? There are plenty of gorgeous options for less. Don't forget to factor in certification and insurance costs (though minimal in comparison). And remember, while a diamond may be forever, no one says you can't call in an upgrade for a special anniversary.
More than one ring
Realize that you and your betrothed will need at least two, if not three, rings between the two of you: one engagement ring for the bride and a wedding band each for the bride and groom. Don't forget to figure these calculations into your budget. If three rings break your bank, consider purchasing a wedding band with extra bling for yourself, so it can work double duty.
Sizing it up
Don't sacrifice quality for size. A smaller stone that's higher in quality will be worth more in the long run. But if size really does matter, consider oval, pear and marquise gems—these shapes make a diamond look largest. Also, don't underestimate the power of pavé to enhance your ring's sheen.
Engrave your love
Engraving a message on the inside of a ring is a time-honored tradition that is still wonderfully sentimental. Many people opt for the date of the wedding and the initials of the betrothed. You're limited only to what can fit on the ring and your imagination. Engraving done by machine is faster but less artistic than hand-etched messages. Depending on your vendor, engraving will take a minimum of one week to a month, so plan accordingly.
All in the family
Does your mother, grandmother, aunt or other relative have a ring that's been passed down through the years? Using a family ring will not only save you money but will be a wonderful band of continuity with past generations. Another plus? This ring will be uniquely your own. If the heirloom is too old-fashioned for your tastes, you can always swap in a contemporary setting.
Insure to assure
Having your ring insured guarantees it will be replaced if lost, stolen or damaged. Most homeowner's or renter's insurance policies require a separate rider to insure jewelry, or you can opt for a jewelry-specific plan; call your agent to confirm. You can also get recommendations from your jeweler or query independent insurers, such as Jewelers Mutual (jewelersmutual.com). Annual coverage costs about 1 to 3 percent of the ring's appraised value. Find out important questions to ask your insurer in this guide's Savvy Shopper section.