Similar to buying a car or home for the first time, buying an engagement ring can be an intimidating task filled with stressful questions: How much can I afford? Where’s the best place to buy an engagement ring? Will my partner love it? And the list goes on.

First things first: Take a deep breath! Second: Congratulations! You’ve found your soulmate and that alone is reason to celebrate. While you embark on the next chapter of your relationship and your life, we’ve got you covered on everything you need to know about how to buy an engagement ring.

Advertisement

How To Buy an Engagement Ring

Before you plan the perfect proposal, it all starts with buying an engagement ring. This ring stands as a symbol of your undying love, and as such, this token carries a lot of weight. While you may want to give the best ring money can buy, choosing an engagement ring should instead follow a few smart tips.

Pick a Budget

Unless you’ve got champagne taste and a caviar budget to match, don’t step into a jewelry store or scroll through online engagement rings until you know how much money you can spend. After all, you don’t want to fall in love with a ring that’s too much bling for your budget, as nothing with a smaller price tag may be able to compare.

Two months salary has long been the unwritten rule regarding how much to spend when buying an engagement ring, but many agree this old adage is quite antiquated. Your budget should be personal to you, your financial situation, and your future goals. While for some the ring is seen as an investment in your love, there are plenty of ways to find a ring that’s just right without breaking the bank. And, if you and your fiancé-to-be aren’t into material things, skip the spendy accessory and save your money with a more modest engagement ring that best represents your relationship.

Find Out Her Ring Size

When you propose, the engagement ring should slide onto the ring finger with the same ease as Cinderella’s glass slipper. But that can be a tricky task if you want the big question to be an equally big surprise. If you can’t go directly to your partner to get the ring size just right, here are a few other ring sizing options when choosing the engagement ring.

1. Raid her jewelry box: Borrow a ring she wears occasionally and have it measured for size. You can take it to a jeweler to measure it on a “mandrel”–a metal wand with size markers–or you can print off paper ring sizers online to compare the ring against. Can’t get the ring away long enough for her not to notice? Grab a bar of soap and make an indentation instead (just don’t return the bar back for bathing). Whatever method you choose, make sure you select a ring that fits her ring finger and not one she prefers to don on her pinky.

2. Got man hands? If she only slips the ring off long enough to wash the dishes or take a shower, place the ring on your hand and mark exactly where it fits on your own finger. Snap a pic with your phone to show the jeweler.

3. Phone a friend: Mom knows best–and sometimes friends and sisters, too. Pair up with an insider who can get the scoop on the size details you need when buying an engagement ring.

Choose an Engagement Ring Style

Loving the overall style of the engagement ring you choose is a must, but remember that the whole is merely the sum of its parts. Knowing how to buy an engagement ring means deciding on four unique factors that come together to create the stunning accompaniment to your proposal.

Choosing a metal: The diamond might be what receives the “oohs” and “ahs” but the metal bands provides the stage to let the gem shine. There are a variety of metal bands from which to choose, with the following being among the most popular when buying an engagement ring.

Platinum: A highly durable metal with soft, white coloring. It is more rare and heavier than gold, which means it’s also more expensive. Platinum can wear and scratch over time but can usually be polished back to near perfection by a jeweler.

Gold: While you may naturally think of the yellow-hued metal, gold actually comes in a variety of other colors, too, including white (a silver hue), green (a yellowish-green hue), and rose (a pink hue). Gold is measured in karats (different from gem carats), with 24K considered to be pure. However, because pure gold is soft and easy to damage, it is mixed with other metals to increase its durability.

Sterling Silver: This affordable precious metal ranges from bright white to a grayish hue and can have a matte or shiny finish. This metal is a budget-friendly option for someone who loves the look of platinum but not the cost. Similar to gold, silver is too soft to be used alone, so it is often paired with another metal. It also scratches and tarnishes easily, so it needs to be handled with care.

Titanium: Once a favorite metal of industrial applications, titanium has become a recent band favorite for being lightweight and strong. It’s also scratch-resistant and hypoallergenic, as it isn’t mixed with other metals. That said, titanium rings cannot be resized.

Choosing a stone: They say diamonds are forever, but that doesn’t mean they’re for everyone. If you’d describe your future fiancé as a fashionista, then a color gemstone might be a better match when choosing an engagement ring. Look to her other jewelry and personal wardrobe for inspiration. Is there a gem of a family member or friend that has caught her eye in the past? Does she drool over a particular style when you pass a jewelry store window? Look for ways to make the ring as unique as her personality.

Choosing a cut: The cut of the gemstone can make or break the style of the engagement ring. Lucky for you (and her!), there are plenty of engagement rings cuts from which to choose. Round, oval, heart, and pear cuts are shaped just as they sound, while emerald, marquis, radiant, princess, asscher, and cushion cuts are a little less obvious. Get to know the different shapes before heading out and buying an engagement ring.

Choosing a setting: If the wedding band is the stage and the gemstone the main attraction, then the setting (also called the “mounting”) is kind of like the spotlight. The setting–or what holds the rock on the ring–showcases the stone and makes it look its best. From a prong, bezel, or tension to a channel, bar, pave, or gypsy, the setting you select should be based on your budget, the style of the stone, and your partner’s lifestyle. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages will ultimately help you understand how to pick an engagement ring that’s right for her.

Check for Diamond Quality Using the 4 Cs

Any diamond buying guide worth its weight is sure to mention the “4 Cs”: color, clarity, cut, and carats, but what do these really mean?

Color: Colored diamonds aside, traditional diamonds are graded based on the absence of color–or how closely they resemble a drop of pure water. That means, the clearer the gem, the higher the quality (and higher the price). A colorless diamond is rated as D whereas a diamond with a heavy yellow tint is rated a Z. Where a diamond falls between these two letters (following the alphabetic order) can give you an idea of how pure the gemstone will be.

Clarity: Because diamonds are made when intense pressure and heat are applied to carbon, the stone can take on internal characteristics known as inclusions and external characteristics known as blemishes. If none of these characteristics exist, the diamond is considered flawless. The more characteristics it has, the less its value will be.

Cut: Unlike the shape of the stone, this kind of cut refers to how well a diamond transmits light. Basically, the more it sparkles, the higher the diamond quality.

Carats: A diamond’s weight is based on carats, with a metric carat being equal to 200 milligrams. A diamond that weighs more than one carat is usually noted in decimals (such as a 1.35 carat stone), whereas diamonds under one carat may be referred to by points (such as “twenty-five pointer” to describe 0.25 carats).

Where to Buy an Engagement Ring

Now that you’re schooled in how to buy an engagement ring, it’s time to start shopping. And ring aside, shopping means you have yet another choice to make–where to go. There are two main options contending for best place to buy an engagement ring: in store or online.

In store: Jewelers, big box stores, and even warehouse clubs are all places where buying an engagement ring is an option.

Advantages: Nothing beats seeing the metal, stone, and setting options of a potential engagement ring up close and in person. Additionally, it’s a lot easier to ask questions and receive the knowledge you need to make the best decision when choosing an engagement ring.

Disadvantages: Different stores offer different products, so shopping in a brick-and-mortar setting requires more footwork in order to shop around and compare offerings. Additionally, if local retail options are limited, you may be forced to spend more money than if there was more jewelry competition to keep prices competitive.

Online: Shopping from the comfort of your own home? Yes, please!

Advantages: The internet offers endless options of rings and a variety of price points, and all are just a few clicks away. Take your time and browse as many rings as you like, filling up your cart with rings to later compare and contrast.

Disadvantages: You already know an engagement ring can be a big investment. The last thing you want to do is spend a lot of money online only to be let down when the ring arrives at your door. Knowing how to buy an engagement ring online comes with an extra step: approach the experience with a “buyer beware” level of caution. Do your research and read consumer reviews. If something seems too good to be true, it’s probably just that.

Photos by Halli Aldous