A diamond engagement ring is one of the most important purchases a couple can make in their lives. The one you choose should represent your style as a bride and who you are as a couple. Whether you're involved in the process (designing your own, going with him to shop), or are letting him pick out the engagement ring (with a few helpful hints from friends or tagged photos on Instagram), here’s everything you need to know to get the one you’ll love for the rest of your life.
Step 1: Find the Perfect Stone
You've probably heard of the "Four C's," the official diamond grading system that's made its way into the mainstream. Here's a quick decoder on what each "C" is and how you can use that knowledge to locate the best diamond for your budget:
Cut refers to the sparkle factor—not the shape—of a polished diamond, 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 blinginess.
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.
Even a perfect-looking stone can have flaws—a.k.a. 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.
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.
A diamond is like a snowflake (or a unicorn, take your pick)—each one is rare and unique. No two are the same, even if, on paper, their 4C’s are identical. Of course, price is determined by all of this: two sparklers of equal weight can have totally different prices based on differences in cut, clarity, and color. To find the perfect stone for your budget, examine
Step 2: Pick Your Shape
The type of diamond engagement ring you choose should speak to your individual style. Here's a brief overview of the most popular shapes.
Round: It’s the most popular 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 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.
Step 3: Maximize ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Your Budget
It’s an old wives’ tale that grooms should drop the equivalent of three months’ salary on the engagement ring. (Maybe back when those old wives didn’t have jobs of their own!) If you’re involved in picking it out, what’s to say you can’t contribute to the cost—especially if the added dollars get you closer to your dream ring. The average couple spends $5,135, 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 engraving. If you can’t afford any major bling now (especially if you have back-breaking student loans or high rent), go with a simple platinum or pavé band that offers room to grow (i.e., add a chunk of ice after the wedding, once your bank account is replenished).
Step 4: Decide How to Shop
Searching for the ring is fun; you just need to decide on your approach. As with any major purchase (a condo, a car), it pays to do research when buying a diamond engagement ring. You can browse ready-made options at a local jewelry store or chain retailer (Tiffany & Co., Zales), design a custom ring with a private jeweler (like those found in the diamond district in some big cities), or virtually handpick one on Web sites like Blue Nile.
First, click around online to see what styles you like and what’s in your budget. For example, if you die for a solitaire brilliant-cut round on a gold band, you can splurge on your stone. But if you want an oval diamond flanked by baguettes, you’ll need to spread your dollars across all three stones, so you may have to compromise on one or more of the Four C’s.
When you’re ready to try on rings in a 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.)
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, advises Kristen Lawler-Trustey of Forevermark. “You’ll see a wider variety of styles and you can also take advantage of discounts or incentives.”
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 to be handheld, from an initial consultation to review the 4C’s and determine the ideal diamond at your price point to picking a loose stone and choosing a setting, which can be predesigned or handmade. (Expect the process to take anywhere from a few weeks or a few months.)
When shopping online, you’re able to scroll through hundreds of stones that can 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.
Regardless of where you purchase, always request the official grading report and an appraisal so you can properly insure the ring.
See More: 70 Engagement Ring Selfies We Love
Step 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:
1. Choose a 0.9-carat stone rather than 1 carat (or 1.9 carats instead of 2). The difference is nearly imperceptible but could save you as much as 20 percent.
2. Compromise on color and clarity to either get a larger stone or spend less (and put the money toward wedding bands). “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.
3. Pick a lower-clarity stone with a brilliant cut. Its many facets will hide imperfections, advises Lawler-Trustey. 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.
4. Forgo a platinum setting in favor of 18-karat or 14-karat white gold to save a few hundred dollars.