Diamond Ring Shopping 101: How and Where to Buy Engagement Rings

engagement ring

PHOTO BY RED APPLE TREE PHOTOGRAPHY

With so many ring designs and jewelry stores to choose from, figuring out how and where to buy the perfect engagement ring can seem overwhelming. After all, it's one of the biggest purchases you'll ever make, so you want to make sure you're doing it right. Not only because there can be quite a considerable cost to accompany this purchase, but also because you want your partner to love it as much as you love them.

If you are starting to feel overwhelmed about embarking on your search for the ideal representation of your love and commitment, don't worry. We've created a user-friendly shopping guide to take the stress out of the whole engagement ring search. Here’s everything you need to know to get the perfect ring your love will treasure forever.

Where to Buy an Engagement Ring
Jessica Olah / Brides

1. Know the 4Cs: Cut, Carat, Clarity, and Color

You've probably heard of the "Four Cs," the official diamond grading system that has made its way into the mainstream. Here's a quick decoder on what each "C" stands for and how you can use that knowledge to locate the best diamond for your budget.

Cut

By "cut," we mean the sparkle factor rather than the ring shape. Cuts are graded from excellent to poor. When a diamond is cut into a shape, like pear or oval, it’s done within specific parameters so that the facets interact with light for maximum bling.

Carat

The size or weight of a diamond is measured in carats. The average diamond in an engagement ring is one carat, or 200 milligrams (about the size of an Advil tablet). By contrast, Kim K’s infamous stolen emerald-cut weighed 20 carats—and reportedly cost $4.5 million.

Clarity

Even a perfect-looking stone can have flaws—aka inclusions—tiny black or white flecks or lines that occur naturally as the diamond forms in the earth over millions of years. These minute imperfections determine clarity, which is rated on an intricate scale from flawless to included. The smaller, fewer, and less visible the inclusions, the higher the price.

Color

Diamonds come in a spectrum of shades, but the rarest ones are colorless. Color is ranked on a scale from D—no color, the most expensive—all the way to Z, which is visibly yellowish. Recently, so-called fancy colors—like pink, yellow, or chocolate—have become popular. For those, the more saturated the color, the more valuable the stone.

2. Pick Your Shape

The type of diamond you choose should speak to your individual style (plus it will kick off your ring stack options). Here's a brief overview of the most popular shapes:

  • Round: It’s the most sought-after shape and best highlights a diamond’s brilliance.
  • Oval: This shape complements long, lean fingers.
  • Emerald: Its large facets showcase excellent clarity. (See: Beyoncé and Amal Clooney.)
  • Asscher: A square emerald that has an art deco feel.
  • Cushion: Created in the 1800s, this vintage style is predominantly square with rounded corners.
  • Princess: The broad, flat-top, and pyramidal shape make a stone look larger than it is.
  • Marquise: This long, tapered style maximizes carat size.
  • Pear: A round-marquise hybrid looks extra delicate on a light, thin band.

3. Decide Where to Buy an Engagement Ring

There are many places to buy an engagement ring—and each comes with its own advantages. Here's what you should know about each option.

National Jeweler

Think Robbins Brothers or Jared. These stores boast a national presence, huge selections, and financing options. Sometimes they even have upgrade programs, where you can trade-in your ring and eventually upgrade to a bigger or different diamond. When you're trying on rings in the store, be mindful that “store lighting is meant to optimize a diamond’s appearance,” says NYC-based jeweler Stephanie Gottlieb. “To get a true sense of color, stand near a window and look at the stone in natural light.” Gottlieb also recommends smudging the stone with fingerprints since some inclusions that are marked “not eye-visible” may pop once it’s dirty. (And as soon as you start wearing the ring, it’ll never be spotlessly clean.)

Trunk Shows at Local Stores

If your heart is set on a specific designer, check trunk show schedules to see if the brand will be at local stores in your area, says Kristen Lawler-Trustey of Forevermark. “You’ll see a wider variety of styles and you can also take advantage of discounts or incentives.”

Private Jeweler

If you have a very clear idea of what you want (and don’t need to browse and try on lots of options), consider custom designing a ring with a private jeweler. Without the overhead of a storefront, you’ll often find better pricing. You can also expect a more personalized shopping experience—from an initial consultation to review the 4Cs and determine the ideal diamond at your price point to picking a loose stone and choosing a setting, which can be pre-designed or handmade. (Expect the process to take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months).

Online

When shopping online, you’re able to browse through hundreds of stones that you can either buy loose (and take to a local jeweler) or order set in the band of your choice. But Gottlieb advises to keep a close eye on clarity: “You could have a stone that’s totally eye-clean, with tiny white imperfections along the edges, or one of the same clarity with a big black fleck at the center that’s visible to the naked eye.” Read the official grading report (ideally from the GIA, AGL, or EGL) and watch a 360-degree video of the stone to check for any imperfections that could be hidden in photos.

Diamond District

Unlike major retail chains, the diamond districts are comprised of thousands of small businesses, which can make knowing where to start overwhelming. Most of these jewelers are extremely small businesses consisting of two to three people.

"Sometimes people are hesitant to shop at the Diamond District because they feel like they're not getting a real diamond or a good deal. The truth is that a good jeweler isn't willing to risk his or her reputation to rip people off," says Jaclyne Kirkorian-Poliseno of Harry Winston, and former owner/designer at Jupiter Jewelry, a third-generation diamond district jeweler. "Our goal is to provide amazing service, have customers shop with us again, and of course, share their experience with family and friends. Small businesses rely heavily on referrals."

It may seem counterintuitive to show all your cards, but when it comes to shopping at a wholesale diamond district, honesty is the best policy. "Tell us what you really want to spend. If the jeweler can't give it to you for that much, they're simply going to say no, but most of the time they will be able to work with a realistic budget," Kirkorian-Poliseno says.

Another often-unknown bonus? Diamond district shops may be sitting on inventory they need to move and will give you a great deal when you disclose your absolute final price.

Some businesses, like Jupiter Jewelry, design, manufacture, polish, and set stones themselves, so they have more wiggle room in their budget than retail stores—and since they design a ring from start to finish, they can create exactly what you want. "Ninety percent of the jewelry sold in retail stores is actually manufactured in the district. You can find something very close to your favorite designer ring for a fraction of the price," Kirkorian-Poliseno says.

4. Have a Budget (And Priorities) in Mind

First, let's clear up the misnomer that an engagement ring should cost the equivalent of three months’ salary. That was a marketing ploy created by De Beers in the '30s, and shouldn't impact your plans to buy a ring at all. In 2018, the average couple spent $7,829, but rest assured, you can find a nearly-one-carat solitaire for as little as $1,500. What you buy will come down to how you prioritize the budget—be it the quality of the stone, the intricacy of the setting, or add-ons like baguettes or engravings. If you can’t afford any major bling now, go with a simple platinum or pavé band that offers room to grow.

5. Find Ways to Save

No two diamonds are the same; prices differ based on cut, carat, clarity, and color. To get the most bling for your buck, consider these tips:

  • Choose a 0.9-carat stone rather than one carat (or 1.9 carats instead of two). The difference is nearly imperceptible but could save you as much as 20 percent.
  • Compromise on color and clarity. If you're willing to compromise on color and clarity, you can get a larger stone. “My clients come in wanting an F color with very slight inclusions, but soon realize they can lower the quality to get a larger size or spend less money at the same carat weight,” Gottlieb says.
  • Pick a lower-clarity stone with a brilliant cut. Its many facets will hide imperfections, Lawler-Trustey says. If you're after a step-cut stone (Emerald or Asscher), choose clarity over color: These styles are cut to have wide, flat "tables" so even the smallest imperfection can be completely visible to the naked eye.
  • Forgo a platinum setting. Choosing an 18-karat or 14-karat white gold instead can save you a few hundred dollars.

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