Congrats! You’ve found the love of your life; the hard part is behind you. Now, armed with these 11 bits of know-how, finding the perfect ring to convince your one-and-only to say “yes” will be a cakewalk.
1. YOUR BUDGET
Before you begin perusing designs online or head to the jewelry store, you need to figure out how much you can afford to spend on a ring. Typing “How much should I spend on an engagement ring?” into your browser’s search bar will yield arbitrary rules such as spending the equivalent of one to three month’s salary—so don’t do that. In reality, the “right” amount to spend on a ring is whatever you feel comfortable with. While you may be tempted to go overboard, your betrothed-to-be surely wouldn’t want to begin your life together under a pile of credit card debt.
2. YOUR PARTNER’S TASTE
Throughout this entire shopping process, keep one thing in mind: Your partner will most likely wear this ring forever. (No pressure.) Therefore, you need to make sure you keep your significant other’s individual taste in mind. You might prefer yellow gold or may have read that colorful diamonds are trendy, but neither of these matter if your love’s heart is set on a white gold vintage art deco ring. If you haven’t been blessed with a trail of ring breadcrumbs to follow, try asking one of your partner’s close friends—one you can trust not to spill the beans—for a second opinion.
3. WHETHER TO PASS DOWN AN HEIRLOOM
While some may want a gleaming new sparkler, others would appreciate the added sentimental value that comes with a family heirloom (and might already be dreaming of wearing their mother or grandmother’s ring). As an added bonus, family pieces are a great option for ring shoppers on tight budgets.
If you like the thought of proposing with a piece of family history but don’t have any jewelry that fits the bill (see #2), consider reworking an item into a new custom piece—with the owner’s permission, of course. Gems can be placed into new settings, or metal can be melted down and recast in a new mold.
4. HOW INVOLVED YOUR PARTNER WANTS TO BE
You may be dead set on surprising your love with a ring you picked out all by yourself—but she or he may have other ideas. While ring shopping with your significant other before popping the question hardly seems romantic, it’s becoming increasingly common. (Because, again, your spouse-to-be will likely wear this piece of jewelry every single day.) To keep the element of surprise, consider proposing with a different piece of jewelry—maybe one of the to-be-redesigned family rings—and then settling on the final design together after you’ve secured a “yes.”
5. YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER’S RING SIZE
Not every ring can be resized to fit the wearer. Since resizing a ring means cutting out a sliver and then either adding more metal or closing the gap, many antique rings, rings with engraving or gems that wrap around the entire band, and rings with a tension setting cannot be easily resized. Because of this, it’s best to buy the right size from the get-go. To sneakily determine your partner’s ring size, swipe an often-worn ring from his or her jewelry box to bring to the jeweler. Or, if you’re afraid it’ll be missed, gently put one of your partner’s rings on your own finger and trace around the band with a marker to note how far down it slid. The jeweler can then match this measurement with his sizing tool.
6. THE FOUR Cs
When evaluating diamond quality, consider the four Cs: cut, color, clarity, and carat. While people may like to boast about a diamond’s carat weight, cut is actually the most important of these four qualities: It determines how much the gem will sparkle. Color refers to the diamond’s clearness, with D being fully colorless (which is a good thing), and Z being noticeably yellow. Only diamond experts can tell the difference in anything graded higher than G, however, so get the most bang for your buck by opting for a G or H color grade. Lastly, clarity is how many imperfections the stone has. While a higher clarity rating will increase the value of the stone, your betrothed likely won’t notice a difference without a magnifying glass, so go for an SI1 or SI2.
7. YOUR METAL OPTIONS
All that glitters is not yellow gold: When choosing the metal for your beloved’s band, you have a bevy of options. Yellow gold may be the most traditional, but many consider white gold to be more versatile; since white gold is mixed with an alloy such as nickel to give it its signature color, white gold is also stronger than yellow gold, which makes it more durable and less prone to scratching. Stronger than both, however, is rose gold. The trendier rose gold, which gets its pinkish hue from copper that is mixed with the gold, may be the right choice if your love is fashion-forward. If you have room in your budget—and if your partner prefers a silvery white color—then you may want to consider a platinum band. Platinum is harder still and hypoallergenic, although it needs frequent polishing to maintain its sheen.
8. DIAMONDS AREN’T ALWAYS A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND
Diamonds have become synonymous with engagement rings, but they aren’t the only option. Other precious stones—like emeralds, rubies, or sapphires—can be a budget-saving alternative if you’re strapped for cash, and some people prefer a more colorful gem even if money is no object.
9. THE RIGHT SETTING CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE
A ring’s setting is the way the stone is connected to the band, and the list of different types goes on and on. But here’s a pro tip: Knowing the names of these settings (prong, bezel, tension, channel, pavé, etc.) isn’t as important as knowing the look and design style you and your fiancé-to-be are after. Do you want one large stone to be the focal point, or do you prefer a cluster or row of smaller stones? The right setting can make the diamond or diamonds appear larger, sparklier, or more striking, so think about the ring as a whole—rather than just the diamond’s value—when making a decision.
10. SALES TAX CAN REALLY AFFECT THE PRICE
Unless you’re shopping in Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, or Oregon, you’re going to be charged sales tax—and on a big-ticket item like an engagement ring, it won’t be a small amount (you’re looking at hundreds or thousands of dollars). To avoid sales tax, you could consider purchasing online: Internet retailers that don’t have a brick and mortar location in your state do not need to charge sales tax. However, you may be charged a similar use tax by your state, so this loophole isn’t guaranteed.
11. HOW TO INSURE THE RING
So you’ve decided on the perfect engagement ring—now get that baby insured! To say it would be a bummer to have the ring lost or stolen would be a gross understatement, so make sure you’re covered. The easiest way to do this is to call your insurance agent about adding the ring to your homeowners or renters insurance as a floater. This will likely increase the cost of your plan a smidge, but the peace of mind will be more than worth it. (And if you don’t have homeowners or renters insurance, get on that pronto!) If you and your betrothed don’t live together, make sure you add the ring to the ring-wearer’s policy.