50 Things to Know About Your Engagement Ring

Say "I do" to your dream engagement ring with the help of these expert shopping tips — from learning the Four C's to landing the perfect style for you

Updated 09/01/15
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Gia Canali

Engagement rings are as personal as your relationship. Some brides want to be surprised, never having imagined the ring until the moment he flips open the ring box to propose, while other women hand their men a thick portfolio of photo research on what constitutes the perfect ring. Some couples discuss budget, and others wear their ring for years without having any clue what it cost. Some brides dream about a splashy, eye-catching hunk of diamond, while others prefer a vintage, retro style.

In terms of the four C's, the way a diamond's value is evaluated — by its cut, color, clarity, and carat weight — some brides are laser-focused on size (carat weight), while others are all about achieving maximum sparkle (cut). Some express their love of fashion with an on-trend ring style (like a rose gold band or a halo), while others go classic (a round-brilliant diamond solitaire). Some brides prefer the history of a hand-me-down family heirloom of a great-grandmother's ring, and others prefer to help custom-design something new that's exactly what they've always imagined. Some brides experiment with colored diamonds — think the six-carat pink diamond Ben Affleck proposed to Jennifer Lopez with — or include bold stones like sapphires or emeralds.

But despite the fact that couples may go about ring shopping differently, or that brides may choose totally different styles, one thing stays the same: the meaning of an engagement ring, how good it feels to know you found your dream ring, and knowing that you get to wear it for the rest of your life. Explore the history of engagement rings, learn about how to shop for one and care for it, and check out fun facts about the ring that means "forever."

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1. There's a long tradition of diamond engagement rings

Courtesy of De Beers

The first known diamond engagement ring was in 1477, when Archduke Maximilian of Austria gave Mary of Burgundy a gold ring with an "M" of diamonds.

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2. Engagement rings have roots in Egypt

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The custom of giving engagement rings began as early as the Ancient Egyptian period. We still typically wear an engagement ring on the fourth finger of the left hand because the Ancient Egyptian people believed that it contained a vein which led to the heart.

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3. Price is personal

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What you spend depends on a lot of factors and is different for everyone. That said, the cost of the average engagement ring is $5,229.

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4. Diamonds are ancient, formed deep inside the earth

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Diamonds are made of pure carbon that formed millions of years ago in the Earth's mantle, 100 miles below the surface, when the conditions were right — crushing pressure and intense heat. Basically, enough pressure is exerted on the carbon that to us, it would feel like holding the entire Eiffel Tower on a fingertip.

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5. There's a long process from the earth to your finger

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Diamonds are brought up from the mantle during violent volcanic eruptions, cooling into carrot-shaped cones of rock called Kimberlite that contain the raw diamonds. They're then mined, with a ton of rock being hauled out for every carat of diamonds found. Botswana is the world's biggest producer of diamonds, generating 30 percent of all diamonds; there are also major mining operations in Russia, Angola, and Canada.

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6. Thankfully, there isn't much risk of "blood diamonds" anymore

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Conflict diamonds are when rough diamonds are used by rebel movements to finance wars against legitimate governments. The good news is a UN resolution in 2003 created The Kimberly Process Certification, setting the requirements for conflict-free rough diamond production and trade since 2003. Now they're far more rare; by some estimates now only one percent of the world's supply are conflict diamonds.

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7. Your diamond has likely been to Belgium

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No matter where it was mined, a whopping 80 percent of the world's rough diamonds pass through Antwerp, Belgium to be sorted and sold at auction. The bidders are basically buying potential, as the quality are only estimates (for example, the color rating the diamond will have once it's polished or the carat weight they'll be able to use from the rough stone).

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8. It may have also been to India

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Many factories where diamonds are cut and polished are moving to India and Asia. Each diamond spends 60 to 70 days in the factory being cut and polished by hand before it can it be turned into jewelry.

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9. Diamonds are measured by the four C's

Doug Rosa

That's cut (sparkle), clarity (how many natural imperfections it has and how visible they are), color (how perfectly colorless it is), and carat (how much it weighs).

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10. Two carats is not always equal to two carats

Courtesy of Monique Lhuillier

Diamonds are not just sold by total carat weight. For example, two one-carat diamonds are far less expensive than a single two-carat diamond. Also, it would seem like cutting carat size is the best way to impact price, but actually, two diamonds with equal carat weight can have greatly different prices depending on their cut, color, and clarity.

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11. "Cut" isn't the same as "shape"

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Many people think a ring's cut means round, emerald, pear, etc. — but in terms of the four C's, it actually measures how well a diamond's facets interact with light, and its cut is based on how the workmanship highlights the symmetry, proportions, and polishing of the diamond.

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12. Go with an ideal cut for the most sparkly diamond

Courtesy of Mark Schneider

In 1919, mathematician Marcel Tolkowsky created a formula for cutting diamonds, called the Ideal Cut, that took the standard 58 facets and trimmed it to 57, which created the best light refraction (aka, the most sparkly diamond yet), which didn't become popularized until the 1970s.

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13. The most in-demand shape is round

Courtesy of Truly Zac Posen

The most popular shape for a diamond engagement ring is by far the classic round, followed by princess (square), and cushion (square with rounded edges).

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14. A diamond's shape affects its price

Courtesy of Kwiat

Because of demand, and also because a diamond cutter can work around imperfections with these shapes, oval, pear, and marquise-cut stones tend to be less pricey for the same carat weight.

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15. Choose a finger-flattering diamond shape

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If you have short or chubby fingers, the most flattering shape is a pear, with the point out toward your fingernail, since it elongates the look of your finger; marquise can also work. If you have long, thin fingers, you might want to stay away from those elongating styles and instead go with round brilliant, cushion, or emerald-cut.

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16. One setting reigns supreme

Courtesy of Marchesa

The diamond solitaire is the most popular ring style, accounting for at least 30 percent of all engagement rings.

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17. Save money on clarity

Annie Tao Photography

As diamonds are forming deep inside the earth, small crystals can become trapped, creating imperfections called inclusions. The 11 clarity measurements — from Flawless (no inclusions even under a 10-time magnification) to Included (the inclusions are visible enough to affect the diamond's brilliance) — are based on the number, size, and position of these natural imperfections. Since only a trained diamond grader can see the tiny inclusions that might give your stone a Very Slightly Included 1 rating versus a less expensive Slightly Included 2 rating, going down a couple steps could save you big bucks...

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18. A diamond's color rating isn't usually visible to the naked eye

Courtesy of Anna Sheffield

A structurally perfect diamond has no color at all — like a drop of water — and as a result, color has a huge impact on price. Diamonds are ranked from category D (colorless) all the way down to Z, though you often can't see the variation with your naked eye. Since color differences aren't often noticeable to the untrained eye, they're a painless place to save money by going down a bit in colorlessness. So long as you don't go past I on the grading scale, you won't have any yellow or brown tints.

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19. Colored stones are a way to be unique with your ring

Courtesy of Blue Nile

Fifty-two percent of brides say they would wear a colored stone in their engagement ring. That could mean rubies, emeralds, or sapphires, which are usually less expensive than diamonds, so they're a great way to add to your ring.

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20. Consider "fancy-color diamonds"

Courtesy of De Beers

They're past Z on the color scale and naturally come in colors like deep yellow, pink, or vivid blue; they are more expensive since they're rarer. Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Heidi Klum, and Jennifer Lopez have all had colored diamond engagement rings.

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21. Carats used to be carobs

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The original carat-grading system used carob seeds as counterweights for a balance scale; now it's universal that a metric carat is 200 milligrams.

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22. Go down .02 carats and save big

Kevin Cremens

One great way to save money is to go for a carat that's right under the "magic size" — desirable numbers like half a carat, three-quarters, or a full carat. The thing is, a .98-carat stone will look basically identical in a ring to a full one-carat stone, but the price difference can be significant.

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23. Engagement high-season is winter

Corlis Gray

Call it The Santa Effect: December is the most popular month for engagements, with approximately 16 percent of all engagements taking place that month. Another 10 percent of engagements take place on Valentine's Day each year.

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24. Shop online, but check the stone out in person

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More couples are ring shopping at their laptops instead of in stores because it's a no-pressure way to browse and it's easy to compare prices. The downside? Even online retailers admit that despite seeing lots of high-def photos and videos, you can't tell if it's really the diamond for you until you see it in person. That's why some online companies offer free previews for anything in stock or even custom designs, so you can see it in person before you commit.

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25. Use the jeweler's expertise

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They've designed thousands of rings, so they're a great resource to ask questions or get advice when you're trying to decide. Even with e-retailers, many offer the ability to chat with salespeople who don't work off commission and can help you compare stones.

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26. Be careful when shopping online

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Check reviews to make sure you're working with a reliable retailer. Look for comments about quality, a 30-day return policy, and that the diamond comes with a third-party accreditation to validate the stone's four C's.

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27. Most brides have input on their rings

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A survey found 31 percent of couples ring shop together, and at least another 34 percent have had a discussion about what type of ring the bride wants.

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28. What matter to him may not matter to you as much

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Grooms tend to care more about the quality of the stone, while brides care more about the style, so it may be worth discussing with him at least the shape or design you typically like, and let him go from there.

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29. Give your groom inspiration

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How much input you give — from a few hints to a full-on dossier — depends on your relationship, but at the minimum, you'll want to discuss the general style you like. Point out favorite friends' rings, send him links to styles you like online, show him your Pinterest board, or rip out pages from Brides.

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30. Some brides want to be surprised by their ring

Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Neal Peters Collection

Thirty-five percent of couples go this traditional route, where the bride has no idea what her ring will be. You can still help your groom out by giving him a ring that fits you well to use as a size guide, or if you don't even want to know when he might start ring shopping, he doesn't even need your ring size — unless he's going with a diamond band, it's easy to resize later.

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31. Skip cubic zirconia

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It's far less expensive than diamonds and is supposed to simulate the look of a diamond — but since it's too sparkly, it often looks fake. It's better to opt for a smaller diamond with a lower color rating than an obvious imposter.

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32. That said, man-made diamonds look great

Courtesy of Kwiat

Now that we know the high-heat, high-pressure conditions required to create diamonds naturally, scientists have developed a way to create actual diamonds in a lab that are structurally identical to natural diamonds. They're much less expensive (about 30 percent less than natural ones), but the downside is that you lose the history (millions of years to form in nature versus a few days in a lab) and the rarity that help make diamonds so special.

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33. Skip rose-cut diamonds

Courtesy of Trumpet & Horn

Antique-looking rose-cut rings, a sort of multi-faceted dome-shaped diamond, are becoming trendy again — but if sparkle matters to you, steer clear. The cut greatly cuts down on the sparkle of a diamond because it lets light leak out.

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34. You can tweak the ring if you don't end up loving it

Courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

The chances are small you'll hate the ring your fiancé picks, but if you do, you can always modify the setting (for example, adding side stones or a diamond band if you want more drama, or removing stones if you prefer to keep it more simple) and still keep the original diamond he chose.

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35. Or, you can return the ring if you don't love it

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All reputable jewelers should have a return policy where you can exchange the ring for something you prefer, or return the whole thing for a full refund.

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36. Add a halo

Courtesy of De Beers

One of the most popular styles recently is adding a halo of smaller diamonds around the perimeter of your center diamond. It's a great way to add bling without adding a ton to the price tag, and it can create the illusion of a larger overall stone.

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37. Platinum bands are worth the price tag

Courtesy of Blue Nile

Platinum is the most expensive metal for your setting because it's the most difficult for jewelers to manipulate, but it's far more durable than white gold as it develops a soft patina with wear instead of scratching. Also, platinum is the most white-looking metal, so unlike traditional gold or even white gold, it won't impart any hint of color when you look at the diamond.

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38. Palladium is another good option

Courtesy of Allurez

Palladium is platinum's sister metal, which is also very white, durable, and won't tarnish — only it's less expensive than platinum, being more price-comparable to white gold.

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39. Consider a rose gold band

Courtesy of Simon G

This retro, romantic style is trending again and lends a unique look to a ring. The only downside is that its reflection can impart a hint of color when you look at the diamond, making it look a tad less bright-white.

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40. Don't take it off

Jennifer Alison via Pinterest

It's never a good idea to take your ring off, especially when you're away from home — that's the time when rings are most likely to be lost.

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41. Use the same storage spot

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If you are going to take the ring off, always store it in the same place — we mean in a jewelry box at home, not your pocket or purse — and never leave it near a sink.

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42. Store your ring separately

Courtesy of De Beers

Since a diamond can scratch less-hard jewels like pearls, store your ring in an individual soft cloth pouch or in its own compartment of a lined jewelry box to prevent scratching.

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43. The diamond must come with paperwork

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A diamond's value depends on its four C's, and the only way to certify those is with a Certificate of Authenticity and an independent grading report by a gemological institution that attests to the authenticity of the diamond's carat weight, color grade, clarity grade, and quality of cut.

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44. Your diamond is ID-tagged

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Each diamond should be laser-engraved with an individual serial number, so you could prove it's yours if it was ever lost. The ID number also makes it impossible for the diamond to be secretly substituted during any cleanings or repairs down the line.

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45. You can always add on later

Courtesy of De Beers

If your diamond is smaller than you'd hoped, you can always add side stones, a diamond band, or swap out the diamond altogether for a larger one down the line when you may have more money to spend on it. Many couples add to the engagement ring for future anniversaries.

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46. Get your ring insured right away

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First, have the ring appraised by a jeweler, then add it to you homeowner's insurance policy, or you can cover it through a personal jewelry insurance specialist like Jeweler's Mutual Insurance. Either way, make sure it covers not just theft, but also if you lose or damage it.

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47. Clean your ring regularly at home

Frances Tulk-Hart

Everyday activities like showering and applying lotion can dull a diamond's luster. Clean it regularly with an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner or use a soft-bristle toothbrush, warm water, and mild, non-detergent soap. The good news is you can't over-clean a diamond!

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48. Bring it for professional cleanings, too

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Even with good care at home, you'll want to have your ring professionally cleaned every six months to steam out the gunk behind the mounting. Some companies, like Tiffany & Co., will clean it for you free of charge as often as you'd like.

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49. Safety is one more reason for professional cleanings

Corbin Gurkin Photography

In addition to getting your ring back to its original gleam, professional cleanings can also help make sure you don't lose your diamond — while it's in the shop, the experts inspect your prongs and make sure the diamond isn't coming loose.

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50. Enjoy your ring

Rebecca Yale Portraits

It's fun to show it off to friends and family and to know you have a great piece of meaningful jewelry that you'll wear everyday for the rest of your life.

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