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."
4. Diamonds are ancient, formed deep inside the earth
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.
5. There's a long process from the earth to your finger
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.
6. Thankfully, there isn't much risk of "blood diamonds" anymore
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.
7. Your diamond has likely been to Belgium
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).
10. Two carats is not always equal to two carats
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.
11. "Cut" isn't the same as "shape"
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.
12. Go with an ideal cut for the most sparkly diamond
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.
15. Choose a finger-flattering diamond shape
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.
17. Save money on clarity
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...
18. A diamond's color rating isn't usually visible to the naked eye
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.
22. Go down .02 carats and save big
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.
24. Shop online, but check the stone out in person
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.
29. Give your groom inspiration
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.
30. Some brides want to be surprised by their ring
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.
32. That said, man-made diamonds look great
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.
34. You can tweak the ring if you don't end up loving it
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.
37. Platinum bands are worth the price tag
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.
43. The diamond must come with paperwork
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.
45. You can always add on later
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.
46. Get your ring insured right away
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.
47. Clean your ring regularly at home
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!