Is it about time to start ring shopping? Congratulations! Buying an engagement ring and gearing up for the proposal is a crazy exciting time, and it's easy to get caught up in the romance, but remember: An engagement ring is usually a considerable expense, so you want to make sure you do it right.
1. Narrow Down What Shape You Want
If you know what your significant other wants in terms of diamond shape, that helps focus the engagement ring hunt immensely. Every shape (also known as a cut) is priced differently—and each has a different price per carat. Round cuts are the most expensive whereas pear and marquise are less so. If the size is important to you, you can get more carats at a better price when you choose an alternative shape to the classic round cut. Before heading out to shop for an engagement ring, study up on ring cuts and have one (or two) favorites in mind.
2. Choose a Metal for the Band
Traditionally, engagement rings (and wedding bands, too) are made from yellow gold, white gold, silver, or platinum—although in recent years rose gold has emerged as a fresh, modern alternative. While platinum may look quite similar to silver, platinum is significantly more expensive as it has a greater density (and is also rarer). Some metals scratch easier than others, so be sure to consider lifestyle—as well as budget, of course—before deciding how important of a factor metals are the final decision. You'll also want to think about if you want stones set in the band(s), as well!
3. Have a Carat Size in Mind
The age-old question of quality versus quantity also applies to engagement rings; some people prefer a larger stone to a whiter stone, while others want the absolute clearest possible diamond, despite the carat count. "The spouse-to-be should definitely have an idea of her (or his) stone size," says Jaclyne Kirkorian of Jupiter Jewelry in New York. "As much as people say size isn't important, it's always the kicking off point, because color and clarity can always be tweaked to find something within your budget."
If size matters, keep an ideal carat size in mind when shopping together, and be flexible on the other elements to suit your budget.
But also, keep an open mind. Your significant other might think they know what they want when it comes to size or shape, but trying on rings, they might find out they want something else entirely—it's always different once you start seeing things on your finger in real life. You can save some significant cash if you choose a less common carat size. Diamond prices increase significantly when they weigh the most desired weights: think half and whole carat weights (.50, 1, 1.5, etc.). "Buy a diamond that is just shy of these common weights, and you'll save money and no one will be able to tell it's a .92 carat instead of a 1 carat," says Emily Duke of Finesse Diamonds Corp.
4. Get Measured Correctly
This may seem obvious, but make sure you both get your ring fingers properly measured. You don't want a ring that's cutting off your circulation or, even worse, so loose it's at risk of falling off. It should feel snug but comfortable. If you're not shopping for engagement rings together, you can go get sized at a jewelry store on your own and then casually mention your size the next time the topic comes up (or tell your BFF so they'll know the answer when your partner asks them).
5. Consider How Your Engagement Ring Will Look with Your Wedding Band
While it is easy to get caught up shopping for the perfect diamond, the engagement ring is only one half (or less than half, if you're going the rink stack route) of the equation. Your wedding band—you know, the actual symbol of your marriage—is the oft-overlooked other half. Definitely think about what style of wedding band would go with your ring. Some engagement rings don't allow a band to fit flush against them, so it's important to consider the full package of prong versus pavé and channel-set stones before committing to an engagement ring style.
6. Always Buy Certified
Buying an engagement ring is one of life's most expensive purchases, so take your time to shop smartly. When you finally find the dream ring, make sure you are buying a certified stone from an accredited laboratory such as the American Gem Society or the Gemological Institute of America. Diamonds certified by the other labs can have inflated grades, giving the customer the illusion of a great deal when in reality they've gotten a lower quality diamond, warns expert Ira Weissman, creator of The Diamond Pro. In fact, according to Weissman, this is the biggest trick many jewelry stores play.
7. Make Sure the Certificate Matches the Diamond
Most diamonds are laser inscribed on the girdle and this can be checked with a jeweler's loupe, says Duke. "Many have inclusions so you can look at the diamond and see if you can match the imperfections to the map on the certificate, too."
8. Be Smart About the Quality of the Cut and Clarity
Save big by purchasing the lowest color diamond that will still look colorless to the naked eye, suggests Weissman. "For round diamonds in white gold, this is typically an I or J color. In yellow gold, you could even go down to a K color," he says. "The difference in price between a J color and a D color is enormous." As for clarity, the same concept goes. Opt for the lowest clarity diamond that is still clean to the naked eye, as it'll look identical to a flawless diamond assuming all else is equal, he notes. "The difference in price between an SI1 or SI2 clarity diamond and a flawless diamond is huge."
On the other hand, the quality of the cut of the diamond is one thing private jeweler Dan Moran, founder of Concierge Diamonds, advises clients to never sacrifice on. Why? It's the cut of the diamond that gives it that gorgeous sparkle we love. "If you take a so-so rough diamond and cut it perfectly, it'll look absolutely stunning. On the contrary, take a top-of-the-line rough diamond and cut it poorly, and it'll look like absolute garbage."
9. Negotiate Like a Boss
Engagement rings can be marked up well beyond the necessary margins, explains Rosey West creative director and founder Michael Dobkin. In fact, some rings are marked up as much as 500 percent. "Really do your research before pulling the trigger and don't be afraid to negotiate," Dobkin suggests. "A good jeweler will be willing to work within your budget and get you the best quality that works for your needs."
10. Head to the Wholesale District
Another option is to work with nontraditional diamond retailers or wholesalers to avoid unnecessary markups, says Monil Kothari, founder of NYC fine jewelry start-up Antandre. "A wholesaler or a private retailer like myself is able to work with customers on a one-on-one basis to create a ring specifically for them," says Kothari. "Moreover, because we don't have the overhead traditional retailers do, we can save them more than 30 percent, giving them the best bang for their buck."