Buying an engagement ring can be a daunting task. There are so many cuts of diamond, such a wide variety of diamond qualities, and an amazing variety of ring designs, even if you are sticking with something fairly classic. On top of that, it is a very expensive purchase and your future wife will be wearing it for many, many years, so you want to be sure you get it right the first time.
The choices you make in selecting the ring really depend on the style of your intended. I recommend that you either be sure of her ring preferences or that you discuss what type of ring to purchase with her ahead of time. I decided to discuss the ring with Maria and I think it worked best for us. Maria got exactly the type of ring she wanted and she loves it. The drawback was that it was less of a surprise. I do distinctly recall Maria saying, when discussing the ring, that it was one of the most unromantic (and uncomfortable) conversations she’d ever had, haha! It was best for us, though; I prefer to discuss everything with Maria so that she and I are on the same page.
The stone is the most expensive part of the ring, bar none. I’m going to focus on diamonds here as that is what most engagement rings have. However, diamond engagement rings did not always have market dominance. There are plenty of other precious stones that can and have been used for engagement rings, including opal, topaz, garnet, pearl, ruby and turquoise. If you want to go with a stone other than I diamond, you should be dead certain that your intended wants that before you buy.
When it comes to diamonds, you need to consider the 4 C’s: color, cut, clarity and carat weight. Each one of these factors affects the appearance of the diamond and, in turn, its price. By balancing each of these characteristics, you should be able to pick a diamond that makes your intended quite happy and fits within your budget.
Diamonds are made of carbon atoms arranged in a crystal structure. A perfectly pure carbon diamond has zero color. However, most diamonds are produced by nature and nature very rarely makes a mineral 100% pure. So, many diamonds have something else mixed in with the carbon, which gives the diamonds a color. From there, it’s pretty straightforward: the less color a diamond has, the better it is. So diamonds with a lot of color are less expensive than diamonds with more color.
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has a standardized scale for quantifying the amount of color in a diamond. A perfectly colorless diamond has a “D” rating and the scale moves on up through the alphabet until you reach “Z”, which has a strong yellowish hue to it. The GIA has a neat sliding scale on their website to give you a better visualization.
The next diamond quality up is the cut of the diamond. This is not the shape of the diamond; it is how well it is cut for its shape. How well a diamond is cut affects the way the diamond interacts with light, which is the main reason for having the diamond. Your girl wants that thing to sparkle so people notice it, trust me. The better the craftsmanship in cutting the facets of the diamond, the more the diamond sparkles and breaks light into those rainbow patterns, called “fire.”
Once again, the GIA has a handy guide on their website to explain how the basics of cut, though the GIA site focuses mainly on round diamonds rather than some of the other types of diamonds out there.
Although the cut of the diamond is not its shape, now is a good time to discuss the different types of diamond shapes.
There are a whole lot of different types of shapes. Above is a picture with just a few examples. From top left to right: marquis, asscher, trilliant, baguette, oval and emerald cuts. In the bottom row, you have: princess, round, radiant, cushion, tapered baguette, heart and pear cuts. Most likely, your intended has a preference for the diamond shape she wants, so you’ll have to keep that in mind when you look.
The clarity of the diamond is all about flaws in the diamond. Flaws, also called “inclusions” or “blemishes,” can be any number of physical problems with the diamond. Other minerals or crystals inside the body of the diamond, cracks in the crystalline structure of the diamond itself, clouding of the diamond, polish lines on the outside of the diamond, scratches, and so on. Here’s a rather extreme example of included quartz to give you an idea:
Once again, the GIA has created a scale for determining just how clear a diamond is. You can see the scale, along with examples, here. The best on the scale is FL, standing for “flawless,” which means that a trained diamond appraiser can’t find any flaws under ten times magnification. Then there is IF, standing for internally flawless, which means there are only some polish lines on the outside of the diamond. Then there is VVS (very very slightly included), VS (very slightly included), SI (slightly included), and I (included). Each of these ratings has finer gradations (VVS1 and VVS2, for example) for added levels of evaluation. And, obviously, the clearer the diamond, the more expensive it is.
Many of these items are noticeable only to the trained eye. Maria’s diamond, for example, is rated as SI1, meaning it is slightly included. The appraisal states that it has some feathering (a type of crack inside the diamond) and some crystal issues. However, Maria and I both examined the stone ourselves at 10x and couldn’t see any problems with it. But we’re not trained experts, so we (most importantly, Maria) were both quite happy with the stone.
The carat is simply the weight (or mass) of the diamond. One carat equals 200 milligrams. The higher the carat, the bigger the diamond, and the higher the price, assuming that the color, cut and clarity are the same.
This is the area where you see the trade-offs for the three other C’s the most. Say your budget is $2,000 for a diamond. At that price (and I am completely making this up just to illustrate my point; you’ll have to consult with your jeweler for actual prices), you might be able to get a 0.5 carat diamond that is rated VVS1 (very very slightly included), F (colorless), and excellent cut. Or, by trading off on the cut, color and clarity, you might be able to get a much bigger 0.8 carat diamond that is rated SI2, I (nearly colorless), and very good cut. And, unless you’re a jeweler, I bet you wouldn’t be able to tell a difference other than the size.
The Ring and the Setting
There are innumerable possibilities when it comes to the ring and the setting for the stone. There is the simplest possible ring: the diamond solitaire, which is just a ring with a diamond on it, like so:
But, even with the diamond solitaire ring, there are still some considerations. The style of the band can vary. Another option is how thick the band itself will be. Some girls prefer daintier rings (Maria wanted hers to be as dainty as possible while still maintaining a good amount of durability), others will prefer something on the wider side for their ring.
Taking it up a notch, you can have a diamond band, where smaller diamonds are set in the band itself, like so:
You can also have a three-stone arrangement, which is generally one large diamond with two smaller diamonds on either side of it:
Around the diamond, you can have a halo of smaller diamonds. Maria’s ring has a halo, which you can see here:
Getting a little fancier, the band itself can be more styled, such as splitting it, twisting it, or molding it into more complex shapes. Maria made a great Pinterest board showing a wide variety of the different types of engagement rings out there:
The Wedding Band
I wanted to take a moment here, while talking about the engagement band, to bring up the wedding band. Many people order the engagement ring and wedding band at the same time. I did. The main reason is to ensure that the rings fit together perfectly and complement each other. Maria’s wedding band is very similar to her engagement ring; it’s basically the same band, but without the big diamond and halo. The rings were made together and will mesh together perfectly when I slip it on her finger on the altar. I especially recommend at least considering the wedding band if you are getting a customized or intricate engagement ring. That way, you will be sure that the two rings work together when on your bride’s finger.
This part is pretty straightforward, but there are some nuances you should be aware of. There are the obvious choices: gold and platinum. Palladium is another metal choice recently gaining in popularity. Your choice in metal is mainly going to be driven by your fiancée’s color preferences.
Gold is the classic standard for engagement rings.
As far as traditional gold rings, there are two main choices: 14 carat and 18 carat. There are no pure gold rings out there; pure gold is too soft on its own to be a ring. So jewelers add other metals to the gold to make it stiffer and more durable. We nerdy engineers call this mixing of metals together an alloy. The difference between 14 carat and 18 carat gold is that 14 carat has less gold and more other metals in it than 18 carat. This makes the 14 carat gold more durable, stronger and less expensive, but the color of 18 carat gold looks a bit more like gold than 14 carat gold.
In addition to just regular gold, you have two other possible options: white gold and rose gold. White gold is gold mixed with a white metal, often palladium or nickel. The white gold ring still has a slightly yellow hue to it as you can see here:
White gold rings today are often coated with a layer of rhodium to make them look like a pure white metal. This is much more affordable than palladium or platinum, but it does have a drawback: the rhodium plating wears off and has to be refreshed every now and again in a process often called dipping or electroplating. You probably will have to do this once or twice a year. If you have a better quality white gold that doesn’t have as much contrast between the rhodium plating and the underlying gold, you can probably go a bit longer between dippings.
Another type of gold is rose gold. Maria’s ring, pictured above on the Macbook keyboard, is a rose gold ring. Rose gold is a gold alloy with copper to give it a reddish hue. In fact, if the copper content is high enough, it is often called red gold. Rose gold does not need a coating of any sort, so it is much lower maintenance than white gold and is similar in cost to regular gold.
Platinum and palladium are the go-to choices for pure white metals. Palladium has only in the past few years become a popular choice for rings. Platinum and palladium are very similar in color and durability, but palladium is less expensive than platinum. The other advantage these two metals have is that they retain their white color without having to be dipped like white gold. The drawback is that they are generally more expensive than gold. Many of the pictures of rings above are platinum or palladium-like rings.
I hope this helps you in finding the right ring for your future spouse. Do you have stories about how you selected your fiancée’s engagement ring? Share them in the comments below!