Find the girl who is the “one.” Check. Ask her father for her hand in marriage. Check. Plan the perfect proposal. Check. Buy engagement ring. Hmmmm….. Buying an engagement ring can be an overwhelming task. There’s a lot of pressure on this purchase. It’s a symbol of your love for your girlfriend, and it’s a token of your willingness to take the relationship to the next level. Plus, it doesn’t help that your fiance will be showing off the ring to her friends and family.
For many men, the purchase of their lady’s engagement ring will be their first experience in the the wild world of jewelry. When they walk into a jewelry store they’re inundated with terms and concepts that they’ve never heard before. Tiffany setting? Inclusions? Eternity band? What the wha?
Never fear. We’ve put together the ultimate guide to help you purchase an engagement ring that your girlfriend will flip over. Let’s get started.
Establish Your Budget
First thing you’ll need to do before you step into a jewelry store is establish a budget. It will help the jeweler show you options that are in your price range. Keep in mind that like buying a car, the price of an engagement ring can often be negotiated.
You may have heard that a man is supposed to spend 2 months salary on an engagement ring. This is crap. Hoping to cash in on retuning GI’s itch to get hitched, this “rule” was invented whole cloth as part of a crafty ad campaign by the DeBeers company during the 1940’s. But there’s nothing romantic about going into major debt. Buy the nicest ring that you can afford. In the end, it’s not the amount of money you spend on an engagement ring that matters, but rather the thought that goes into purchasing it. Many women would rather start your life together debt-free or use the money for a sweet honeymoon than have you blow all your savings on some rock.
If you want to propose, don’t delay because you can’t afford a better ring. The ring is supposed to be a symbol of your love, and what does it say about your love that you’re willing to postpone your marriage to buy a better rock? A humble ring will be a memory of that hard-scrabble time when you two were young. You can always get her a nicer ring for an anniversary present somewhere down the line.
Make It a Surprise
The jeweler I talked to noted that he’s been seeing more and more men coming in with their girlfriends to pick out a ring. While letting your wife-to-be pick out the ring she wants will ensure that the ring fits and that she likes it, you’re denying yourself a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show how thoughtful and romantic you are. Imagine the look of surprise your girlfriend will have when 1) you propose to her, 2) the ring fits, and 3) the ring you picked is exactly what she wanted.
If you can successfully pull off this trifecta of surprises, you will be the subject of envious conversations among your girlfriend’s social circle, your future mother-in-law will say you’re a catch, and men around you will silently acknowledge your achievement. Making the engagement ring a surprise will take some work, but it’s well worth the investment.
This is not to say that surprising her is the only way to go. Some women will insist that they go along with you to pick out the ring. If you’re like me, your wife will already have the engagement ring she wants in her possession. It was an heirloom from her great-grandmother. I just had to pick the ring up from her mom’s house. Just do what you and your girlfriend think is best.
Find Out Her Ring Size
This where a lot of men screw up in the purchasing process. They’ll have the perfect ring picked out, but they get the wrong size ring for their girlfriend’s finger. When they get down on one knee and attempt to slide the ring on their lady’s finger, it doesn’t fit and awkwardness ensues.
If you get the wrong size ring, all isn’t lost. You’ll just have to take the ring back to the jeweler and fork over some more money to get it properly fitted. But it’s best to avoid the cost and the potential embarrassment at proposing time by making sure the ring you pick is the right size.
The best way to get your girlfriend’s ring size is to get a ring that she isn’t wearing and bring it to the jeweler to be measured. If you want to maintain the surprise factor, you’ll have to be sneaky about this. Swipe a ring from her jewelry box while she’s getting ready in the bathroom or recruit one of her friends to pocket a ring while she’s over her house. Try to swipe a ring that you don’t see her wearing very much; she’ll be less likely to notice its absence.
Research Her Style
You want to pick a ring that fits your woman’s unique style and preferences. Getting a ring that she’s over the moon for will score you romance points that will last a lifetime.
Again, because of the clandestine nature of the engagement proposal, you’re going to have to harness your inner James Bond for this style reconnaissance. When you’re with your girlfriend, take note of the type of jewelry she wears. Does she wear a lot of gold? Maybe she’s a silver or platinum woman. Perhaps there’s a particular stone she wears a lot, like her birthstone, that she’d like more than a diamond. Does she like simple, understated pieces? Or does she favor the big, glitzy variety? Think about her personality; is she an outgoing girl who you know is going to want to show off her ring to everyone she meets? Then go for something big and sparkly. Is she an earthy woman, who doesn’t wear much jewelry at all? Look for rings that are simple, yet beautiful.
Another way to get a feel for her engagement ring preferences is to take her right into a jewelry store. The key to this is to go under another pretext. Tell her you need to go to the mall to look for some new shoes and that you’d like her to come along. When you’re walking to the department store, go past a Helzberg Jewelry store and say, “Hey, I want to stop and look at some watches.” While you’re busy pretending to be interested in the Omegas, dimes to donuts your gal will be looking at the rings. Look at what she’s gazing at. Make a mental note of it. Say something casual like, “That’s a nice one,” and gage her reaction. Go back to looking at watches. Leave. Mission accomplished.
Pick The Engagement Ring Band
You have a variety of metals to choose from for the engagement ring’s band. The most common include yellow gold, rose gold, white gold, platinum, and silver. You can even do a mix of different types of metals.
Each metal has their advantage and disadvantages. For example, platinum is an extremely durable metal and will last a long time. However, it dulls much more quickly than gold, and it’s harder to bring back the initial luster it once had.
Gold, on the other hand, is shinier than platinum, and because it’s a soft metal, it’s easier to buff and polish it to get back the ring’s original luster. Gold’s advantage over platinum is also its weakness. Because it’s a soft metal, gold wears down faster. In about 15 to 20 years, the engagement ring may have to be reshanked because it’s worn too thin.
While you may be interested in the durability of the engagement ring band, your future wife is probably more interested in the way it looks. Right now, silver-looking engagement rings are the most popular. If your lady is a woman who stays on top of the latest fashion trends, go with a platinum or white gold band.
If she’s more of a classic type of gal, go with the traditional yellow gold band.
Selecting a Quality Diamond: The Four C’s
So you’ve selected a band. We now move to the focal point of most engagement rings: the diamond. For many men, purchasing a diamond can seem like a daunting task, but with a bit of knowledge, you can walk out of a jewelry store with a stone your fiancee will be dying to show off to her friends.
When selecting a diamond, you’ll want to take into account the “4 C’s:” cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. All four of these factors determine the quality and cost of the diamond.
Cut. Cut doesn’t refer to the shape of the diamond, but rather the angles and proportions of the stone. While nature determines the other three C’s, the diamond’s cut is determined by a cutter. A well cut diamond reflects light from one facet to another and projects the light through the top of the stone. This is what gives a diamond its sparkle. Diamonds that are cut too deep or too shallow leak light through the bottom or the side of the stone, resulting in a lackluster appearance.
Out of all the four C’s, cut is the most important. Even if you have the perfect color, clarity, and carat, if the cut isn’t right, the diamond won’t have that fiery brilliance that your fiancé will show off to her friends.
Color. To many men’s surprise, diamonds come in a variety of colors. Diamond color is graded on a scale that ranges from D (colorless) to Z (light yellow). Truly colorless diamonds are the most rare and most expensive. White color diamonds are the most popular. But when it gets down to it, diamond color is all about preference. Look back at your notes from your ring reconnaissance to see what your lady prefers.
Clarity. The fewer imperfections a diamond has, the more clear, and consequently, more expensive it is. When the jeweler starts discussing the clarity of the diamond, he or she will probably mention the diamond’s “inclusions.” Inclusions are other minerals or tiny fractures in the diamond. The fewer inclusions the better.
Like color, clarity is measured on a scale. SI1 and SI2 are slightly included but you won’t be able to see the imperfection with the naked eye. Try to find a diamond in this range.
When looking at a diamond, avoid stones with inclusions on the top and in the middle, as this can impact the dispersion of light, making it less brilliant.
Carat Weight. Carat refers to the weight of a diamond. The heavier the stone, the more you’re going to pay. However, there’s no need to get to caught up on the carat weight. Through proper mounting and shaping, a master jeweler can make a diamond appear larger than its carat weight might suggest.
Selecting the Diamond Shape
In addition to the four C’s, you’ll also want to take into consideration a diamond’s shape. The shape of the diamond is all a matter of your girlfriend’s preference. Below, we list a few of the possible shapes you can get a diamond in:
A round diamond is the classic and timeless diamond shape.
The Princess is a square diamond and is the most popular shape for engagement rings right now.
Choose the Setting
A ring’s “setting” refers to the way in which the diamond is placed on the the ring. Like everything else with an engagement ring, which setting you pick depends a lot on your girlfriend’s preferences. You can actually create combinations of different settings if you want. Here’s a quick primer on the different types of settings, so you’re not completely clueless when you walk into the jewelry store.
Introduced by the jewelry company that bears the name. It’s a timeless and classic look.
Instead of a single diamond, an eternity band has diamonds that go all around the ring.
A metal rim that encircles the sides of the stone and extends slightly above it. The rim can stretch around the diamond’s entire circumference or around only a portion of it. A bezel setting holds a diamond securely, and the low, protective profile it creates makes a bezel setting a good choice for women with active lifestyles.
In a channel setting, the diamond or diamonds are placed into a metal channel. It can be used as an accent to a main diamond that’s set on a prong.
Pave’ (pronounced Pa Vay)
This setting consists of lots of diamonds placed close together.
Alternatives to Buying a Diamond Ring
Most women want a traditional diamond ring. But not all do. After all, the idea that engagement rings must be diamond rings is a modern invention, a marketing ploy by the DeBeers company. Diamonds are not in fact rare or special. They are expensive merely because the DeBeers cartel has succeeded in controlling both supply and demand. Not wanting the diamonds to ever be resold, and needing people to buy the heaps of diamonds they were sitting on, they sought to imbue the jewels with romantic meaning and social status. Launching a full-press campaign in 1938, the company sought to convince Americans that “A diamond is forever” and the only acceptable way to express your love. In reviewing their advertising strategy in 1951, the DeBeers ad agency noted:
“The millions of brides and brides-to-be are subjected to at least two important pressures that work against the diamond engagement ring. Among the more prosperous, there is the sophisticated urge to be different as a means of being smart…. the lower-income groups would like to show more for the money than they can find in the diamond they can afford… It is essential that these pressures be met by the constant publicity to show that only the diamond is everywhere accepted and recognized as the symbol of betrothal.”
And so it was that DeBeers succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in convincing both men and women that the size of the diamond was directly proportional to the intensity of their love. Rather crass when you take step back, isn’t it? Today a man may sometimes postpone his proposal until he can afford a proper diamond ring. All because of an ad campaign.
So why not break the mold and buy something else? How about her birthstone or some other colored gem that reminds you of her? Of course, if you are going to bust out something other than a diamond when you propose, you better be damn sure that your girl is okay with it. A lot of women have been dreaming of a diamond ring, and their heart will sink when you open the jewelry box to reveal a ruby. So check with her first.
If you’re just generally not keen on blowing a big wad of cash on a ring, ask both sides of the family if there is an heirloom that could be passed on. As I mentioned above, Kate’s mother-in-law gave me her great-grandmother’s ring. It fit like a charm, Kate loves that it has some history, and we were both giddy that we got it for free.
Insuring the Engagement Ring
An engagement ring is both a financial and sentimental investment. Because of this huge investment of money and emotion, it might be a good idea to insure your girlfriend’s engagement ring in case it’s ever lost, stolen, or damaged. Even if you and your wife decide not to replace the ring, you can at least take the cash and go on a romantic getaway. You have a few options when you insure an engagement ring:
Homeowner’s/Renter’s Insurance. Many homeowner’s/renter’s insurance policies allow you to add the value of expensive items, like jewelry, to your coverage. However, make sure to check the policy to see what is actually covered. Often homeowner’s/renter’s insurance will only cover an engagement ring if it was stolen or damaged by tornado or fires. If your wife loses her ring while cleaning the toilet, you’ll probably be out of luck with this option.
Actual Value Policies. An actual value insurance policy will pay you the value of the ring minus its depreciation from use. So, say if the ring you bought cost $2,000 and your wife loses it five years after you tied the knot, the insurance company may only pay you $1,500, taking into account the five years of wear and tear on the ring. Because actual value insurance policies don’t pay back the full value of the ring, they’re the least expensive option.
Replacement Insurance Policies. This policy will refund to you the market value of the ring you bought. So if you bought an engagement ring with a gold band and a diamond that was cut perfectly and had impeccable clarity, the insurance company will pay you the current going price for a ring like that. This could mean you’ll get more money than what you originally paid on the ring due to the appreciation of gold and diamond prices.
The Engagement’s Off. Can I Get My Ring Back?
Sadly, not all engagements work out. Perhaps it was the stress of picking out dishes for your new home, or maybe your fiancee gives you the “it’s not you, it’s me” line. However it ends, there will be one issue that you’ll have to resolve before you and your former true love go your separate ways: ownership of the ring.
United States contract and property law states that an engagement ring is a “conditional gift,” meaning the ring becomes the irrevocable property of your girlfriend on the condition that she actually marries you. If the engagement is called off and you don’t get married, you have a legal right to demand the ring back. In most states it doesn’t matter who broke off the engagement. It could be her or even you. As long as the engagement is broken off, you have a legal right to the ring. But some states will look to who actually called off the engagement to determine who gets the ring. If it was you, and you live in an “at fault” state, you could be out a couple thousand dollars.
Be careful about proposing around Christmas or her birthday, though. A vindictive ex-fiancee could argue that the ring wasn’t actually a “conditional gift,” but rather a normal holiday gift that becomes irrevocable once you delivered it to her. I’m not sure how successful she’d be with this argument, but it never hurts to be too careful.
Thanks to the folks at Vincent Anthony Jewelry in Tulsa, OK for taking the time to answer some of my engagement ring questions.
Have any other engagement ring advice? Drop a line in the comment box!
Last updated: October 13, 2015