How to Buy an Engagement Ring: The Complete Guide
If you’re ready to propose, we’ve got good news: It’s absolutely still possible to find the perfect engagement ring even if your local retailers haven't fully opened again after the coronavirus lockdown. In fact, instead of putting their proposal plans on hold, many people have still found really creative ways to buy engagement rings and pop the question without breaking social distancing rules.
But with so much riding on this particular choice, and given that you might have to start looking online for engagement rings and not in-store, it’s an especially good idea to ask for professional help. So that’s exactly what we did.
Nicole Wegman is the founder and CEO of Ring Concierge, a New York City-based jewelry company that designs and sells customized engagement rings, among other jewelry pieces. Prior to Ring Concierge, Wegman was a private luxury jeweler.
We wanted to know what to look for when searching for an engagement ring, and whether there’s a fail-safe way to find the perfect one. Here’s what she told us.
Take Your Time Buying an Engagement Ring
Finding the perfect engagement ring takes time, considering the seemingly infinite ring styles and jewelry stores there are to choose from. Wegman suggests starting your search at least two months prior to the date you’d like to have the ring in hand.
Besides leaving enough time to weigh your options, she thinks “the best place to start is looking at pictures.” She also recommends having your partner “try on different rings to find out what ring shape and style you like best and is most flattering on your hand.”
Diamond Engagement Rings and the 4 C’s
The first step is understanding the four C’s (cut, color, carat, and clarity), since they’re considered the global standard for gauging a diamond’s quality and value.
Diamonds are given a grade reflecting their color, or rather, the lack thereof. This scale goes from D to Z, with D being absolutely colorless to Z being slightly colored. To make things slightly more complicated, there’s also the clarity scale, which measures whether the stone has visible flaws and goes from the coveted “flawless” grade to included (blemished).
Cut, on the other hand, refers to the proportion of a stone and how it’s polished. The quality of a diamond’s cut, graded from excellent to poor, determines how well it will interact with light and display that sought-after sparkle. While many confuse cut with shape, they’re not the same. Shape is simply the geometric outline in which a stone is cut into such as round, princess, or cushion, to name a few.
Speaking of which, although not part of the four C’s, shape is also an important factor, and Wegman thinks it's essential to understand how each stone’s shape displays the four C's differently. For example, she explains, oval diamonds “show color in the tips, so you will want a higher color [grade]. However, they hide inclusions well so you can comfortably drop in clarity.” In other words, with an oval shape, it’s more important to focus on color than on possible blemishes.
On the other hand, emerald-cut diamonds “are just the opposite” of ovals, says Wegman. These don't mask flaws as well as ovals so, if an emerald is your preference, make sure to focus on clarity. You can, however, go lower in the color grade without sabotaging the ring's overall beauty.
As for carat, Wegman says most people usually opt for the largest carat size they can afford. For those who dream of a massive diamond but don’t have the budget for it, she recommends going for elongated diamond shapes such as marquise, pear, or oval. “These will look the largest,” she explains.
However, while the 4 C's are important when comparing rings, Wegman believes they shouldn't be the “end all, be all” in your search for a beautiful ring.
“I always encourage people to look for a diamond that actually looks beautiful vs looking for a perfect diamond on paper. The GIA grading doesn’t always translate to how beautiful a diamond is,” she said.
Nevertheless, it’s wise to know your four C’s and use them as guidelines while picking between favorites, whether online or in-store. If jewelry stores are still closed in your area, and you’re uneasy about making such a significant purchase online and without expert help, some stores are currently offering virtual appointments with in-house specialists. If not, take this time to do your research, analyze what’s available, and narrow down your options until you can visit a store safely.
Natural Diamonds vs. Lab-Grown Diamonds
From her experience as a jeweler, Wegman says that “diamonds are still the most popular stone when it comes to an engagement ring,” and that this will probably never change. Yet, decades of criticism regarding the environmental impact and questionable ethics surrounding the diamond trade has pushed some towards alternatives.
Enter: lab-grown diamonds. A 2018 report found that 70% of millennials would consider purchasing a lab-grown diamond engagement ring. Another report found that the production of lab-grown diamonds increased by 15% to 20% in 2018 and 2019.
Their lower cost might be boosting their popularity. According to a special report by Rapaport, a primary source of diamond price information used in the industry, lab-grown diamonds can cost 30% to 40% less than mined ones, on average.
Lab-grown diamonds are identical to their mined counterparts both chemically and physically. “When cut nicely, they can be very beautiful,” Wegman says. To the naked eye, there’s no telling one from the other. The only possible distinguishable characteristics are found in certain internal formations, but these can only be detected under a microscope by gemologists, she explains.
Several online jewelry stores focus on lab-grown sales exclusively, and many others carry at least a small selection. Even an industry magnate such as De Beers has its own lab-grown line, which speaks to their growing popularity. However, the selection of lab-grow diamonds currently in the market is still far from being as vast as the mined one.
“You will have significantly less inventory to select from, so if you have a specific size, color, clarity you’re hoping for, you may not be able to find it in a lab-grown diamond,” Wegman warns.
Shopping for Engagement Rings Together
If the surprise factor isn’t a must, consider shopping together or asking your partner for ideas when you go ring shopping. Some people swear picking the ring together was better for them than being surprised and that “it didn't mess up the romance of it all.”
Wegman says that it's not uncommon for couples to pick out an engagement ring together. “Couples, more often than not, come to the initial appointments together. The final steps are often completed by one partner, keeping the ring completion date and proposal details a surprise,” she says. She also notes that even when someone is going the task solo, they already have an idea of which ring style they're searching for based on pictures their partner has shown them.
This factor — your partner’s input — might be the most important part of the process. Whether you go with a classic diamond or a more non-traditional alternative, what is really essential is to take into account your partner’s personality and tastes. At the end of the day, the right engagement ring might not be exactly the textbook idea of what “perfect” is, but the one that is most meaningful to you both.
More From Money:
What Experts Say About Saving for a House Before You Plan to Buy
The Best Mattress Deals Right Now — and How to Buy a Bed Online