So, you found a keeper – you like it and now you need to put a ring on it. With all the hype surrounding engagement and marriage in our culture, it’s a decision that can feel pretty overwhelming.
But with our help, it won’t be that bad.
(Ready to buy? Check out our reviews of the best place to buy engagement rings)
In this complete and total guide on how to buy an engagement ring, we’re going to help you buy the PERFECT ring specifically for your partner.
From figuring out how much to spend to choosing a style, cut and color and even tips on how to find the right ring size, we’ll help you along every step of the way.
How to Use this Guide:
Read through the entire guide once. That will help give you a birds-eye-view of the whole process. Then keep it handy (bookmark this page) and refer back to it when you’re actually shopping/buying. That will be the most effective way to get value from this guide.
So, grab some coffee and dig in… This is a looonnnggg guide.
How Much Should You Spend
So many things to consider, but we’re going to start with money. Why? Because that’s often a huge deciding factor in the ring you end up purchasing.
And before you go on the hunt, you want to set a budget.
Truth be told, there’s no right answer to how much you should be spending on an engagement ring. Old adages like “3 months’ salary” are probably creations of the diamond industry, so don’t put much stock in that.
But there are several factors to consider when you’re setting your budget to buy an engagement ring, like:
- How much money you make
- How much savings you have (if any)
- How many other expenses you have
- Are you willing to take out debt for the ring? If so how much can you actually afford and for how long?
- How much are you going to have to spend on the wedding + honeymoon (and other events)
The Most Important Factor in Determining Your Budget
One of the most important factors that will play into your budget is actually your soon-to-be fiancée’s fashion style.
Since you’re picking out a ring for them, it’s going to have to match their style (and expectations!). Really taking the time to think about this and examine your partner’s sense of style will help immensely in setting you
Are they simple with their style or flashier? Have they always dreamed of a huge rock on their finger?
If you think they’re going to expect a something big and flashy, unfortunately you’re going to need a big budget. Big diamonds are usually pretty expensive.
Since your partner’s style will determine your budget, let’s get into that.
Determining Your Partner’s Perfect Ring Style
This can be a bit tricky at first – how do you tell the perfect ring style without reading your partner’s mind?
Well, you don’t have to read their mind. You just have to pay attention.
From now on make it a conscious decision to pay more attention to EVERYTHING about your significant other. The trick is to notice the details about their style and fashion sense.
Here are a few questions to keep in mind as you spend time together:
- What kind of clothes do they wear/buy typically? Flashy stuff that draws attention or more toned down?
- What kind of colors do they love to sport? Mostly shades or lots of different colors?
- What kind of shoes do they love? Stuff that’s unique with lots of metal or, again, toned down and simple?
- Is she more into vintage gear or modern looks?
Take them out window shopping one day and just pay attention to the kinds of things that draw her eye. Whether it’s a clothing store or a furniture and homewares store, pay attention to the things she takes a closer look at or buys. Even better, go to a jewelry store and pay attention to what she looks at and says.
If you need an excuse, you can always say you’re thinking of getting your mom/aunt a present or even just looking for some new accessories for yourself.
Art is another great way to judge a person’s tastes/styles/preferences, so take her on a date to an art gallery sometime.
Whatever you end up doing, be as subtle as possible as you don’t want to give the surprise away.
Another thing you can do is raid her existing jewelry collection to see the kinds of jewelry she wears regularly. Pay attention to the type of metal, color and how big the stones are (if any).
Finally, reach out to one of her friends and ask their opinion. Girlfriends can always help guide you in the right direction – just make sure it’s a friend that is relatively close to your partner.
Finally, if all else fails, ask her some questions directly. Of course, you don’t want to just blurt out “What kind of engagement ring do you want?” But you can always say something a little more subtle like “What kind of jewelry do you like?”
Aside from overall style (vintage vs. modern vs. flashy vs. sleek, etc.) there are 3 main things you need to find out as well:
- What kind of metal she likes
- What color of metal she prefers (i.e. yellow/white/rose gold, etc.)
- What kind of stones she prefers (diamonds, sapphires, etc.)
Let’s get into each of these separately.
Choosing the Perfect Metal for Her Engagement Ring
When picking the type of precious metal for her engagement ring you’ve got a few types to work with.
Hopefully you used the tips in the last section to come to a reasonable conclusion about what your partner would prefer.
In this section, you’ll be making the choice.
You’ve got a few different choices in terms of ring metal, depending on the jeweler you choose to go with:
Right off the bat, we can tell you unless budget is REALLY an issue, don’t go for silver. When it comes to an engagement ring, it screams cheap. And that’s not the impression you want to leave on someone you’re asking to marry you.
Next up is the traditional gold metal. Within gold itself there are several options available to you – you can get either 14, 18 or 24 carat gold depending on your jeweler.
You can also choose between white gold, rose gold and the traditional yellow. This all depends on the style of your bride-to-be, so make sure you pay attention to what she already wears if you think gold is the right choice.
Here are some basic characteristics of gold engagement rings:
18k gold is a solid metal for an engagement ring. It’s got a high gold purity (not as high as 24k, but also not as expensive) and is the classic choice for an engagement ring. If you’re looking for great value at a better price, though, 14k gold offers a good alternative.
18k is made up of 75% pure gold, while 14k is around 60%. Both metals will be resistant to tarnish and rust and are very easy to repair and polish.
The main differences between the two are that 18-carat gold is softer and more malleable than the stronger, more durable 14-carat. That’s because of the higher pure gold amount in 18-carat gold. Also, 18k gold will have a deeper color than 14k.
Platinum is a great choice for an engagement ring. It looks like white gold, but is much stronger and valued higher in terms of dollars. It’s about 50% more expensive than its gold counterparts.
Usually platinum rings are about 95% pure platinum, and the metal will last a lifetime. But you’re going to pay a premium for the strongest metal in the world – platinum is very rare and precious.
If your budget is a bit on the tighter side, we’d recommend going for 18 or 24 carat gold. If your partner just loves platinum, then don’t skimp – spend a few extra months saving up the extra cash and spring for this shiny metal.
Platinum rings look beautiful, fosters awe and doesn’t wear away or damage. Once the ring has been made it takes on a satin finish and the ring is hypoallergenic, making it the ideal choice for some.
If you (or your lady) are really into the strength and purity of platinum, but hate the price tag it carries along with it, palladium may be the right metal for you. Similar to platinum, it has a 95% purity rating, is a rare metal but is cheaper than platinum.
It is also lighter than platinum so if weight is an issue it may be the better choice. Palladium is easy to polish and repair and is very resistant to scratching, corrosion, oxidation and tarnishing. The hypoallergenic metal also features a natural and permanent color.
Although it’s far from a traditional choice for an engagement ring, palladium is being used more and more for the ring metal.
Keep in mind, though, because it’s not the traditional choice it may not be the best choice for you. Don’t pick palladium as a metal for a ring unless you know for sure your partner will like it.
Picking the Metal
Really the only way to pick the metal is to base your decision on what your partner already wears when it comes to jewelry.
If they don’t wear any jewelry then it’s fine to pick whatever metal you think is best or would look best on her finger.
But unless that’s the case, don’t just choose a metal based on YOUR preferences. Sure a palladium ring sounds cool, but maybe she loves platinum. A platinum ring sounds baller, but maybe she really likes the color of 18k rose gold.
Don’t make a wild guess here. And don’t base it on your assumptions of what’s best. Find out what her choice would be and go with it.
Choosing the Perfect Gemstone
Now the obvious choice here is a diamond. I mean isn’t that the only choice?
Times have changed, and although the industry wants you to think the only stone fit for an engagement ring is a diamond, it’s not.
Let’s be real for a second, though. 90% of engagement rings out there still feature diamonds as the center stone. But the runner-up in terms of popularity is a sapphire.
If your soon-to-be fiancée has a unique and distinct style of her own, a diamond may be “too classic” for her. Consider a sapphire – which can come in blue, yellow, pink and a variety of other colors, as well.
Both sapphires and diamonds are very strong. Diamonds are a 10 and sapphires a 9 on the gemstone hardness scale (yes that’s a thing). That means either-or will be suitable for the everyday wear an engagement ring will go through.
One other thing we should mention is that sapphires are cheaper than diamonds, meaning you’ll get a bigger stone for the same amount of money.
Of course, as with everything, don’t just base the decision on the money. Also, don’t just guess or assume anything. Find out what your partner likes and prefers and then deliver it.
Gemstone Cut, Color, Clarity and Carat (the 4 C’s)
If you’re choosing a diamond for the engagement ring there is a lot you want to be aware of when making the choice.
You’ve got a few different choices to make, in fact – the diamond’s cut, color, clarity and carat weight.
Diamonds can be cut into 10 different shapes, round being the most common cut for engagement rings. In fact, 75% of diamonds cut overall are round. What’s interesting is that the popularity of the round cut also makes it more expensive than other diamond cuts.
If you choose a non-round diamond cut you can save quite a bit of money. The two most popular cuts for engagement rings outside of a purely round diamond are the square princess cut and the cushion cut (somewhere between square and round)
The next thing you need to decide on is the color and clarity of the diamond. These two characteristics will determine how bright and shimmery that rock on her finger is going to be.
In terms of color, diamonds come in colorless, near colorless, and 3 shades of yellow. Each of these is given a letter which represents what color grading it gets.
Clarity is similar to color ratings. Clarity relates to the amount of blemish that can be noticed in a diamond. It ranges from flawless, meaning impeccable clarity, to eye-visible inclusions, meaning you can see some blemishes within the stone with the naked eye.
Of course, the more clear and colorless you want the diamond to be, the more you’ll end up paying.
To learn more about all of these and see which is best for you, read our full guide on how to buy a diamond.
Ready-Made vs. Custom Rings vs. Antiques
Now that you know what kind of metal and gemstone you’ll be getting, it’s time to decide on what type of ring you want.
When it comes to engagement rings, options can be endless even when it doesn’t seem so to the casual observer.
Many people visit a jeweler or jeweler website and buy a ring from the existing collections the store carries. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this and it is what a majority of people likely do.
But others prefer to design a completely custom ring for their partner. There are many pros and cons to doing this, including price and time, but consider it an option. Not many stores will offer this as an option, but shop around if this is really something you set your mind to. It can be a very romantic gesture.
Then there is also the option of an antique engagement ring. These types of rings often have a different look and character than modern rings, and may be the right choice for certain people. These types of rings are often one-of-a-kind and have some type of romantic history behind them.
But again, this would come down to personal preference, so make sure you know your partner’s taste and style. Does she like to wear vintage gear, etc.? If so, an antique may be the choice for you.
Finding Her Ring Size
So, you’ve made all the choices – budget, metal, gemstone and style. Now it’s time to buy the ring.
Before you can do that, though, you need to find out your fiancée’s ring size. And unfortunately, there’s no really easy way to do this.
But in this section, we’ll give you a few tips on how to sneakily find her ring size, without giving away the surprise.
You can also download our free ring sizing guide which will help a lot.
Let’s start here – the most common women’s ring size in the world is 6 or 6.5. It’s always a safe bet to lean to the larger size, just in case.
But don’t assume your lady will have the same finger size as the most common – you’re going to have to find HERS. Unfortunately, you can’t just ask without pretty much ruining the surprise, and luckily you don’t have to.
While you’re taking her window-shopping to find out her style and preferences, stop into a jewelry store and look at some necklaces, bracelets and rings (but not engagement rings). See what fancies her eye and tell her to try it on. If you’re lucky, the sales rep will ask what her size is and she’ll be obliged to say it. Make sure you pay attention and remember what she says.
Or you could ask one of her friends to “borrow” a ring for a day, while you take it to get sized. If your partner’s friend is very close to your to-be fiancée, she may even know what her exact ring size is. If you don’t know any of her friends, then you can “steal” a ring from her jewelry box while she’s not looking. Make sure you return it promptly when you’re done so you don’t arouse suspicion.
Of course, those are not the most efficient ways to find the info you need. And there’s a healthy chance you won’t get her to volunteer her ring-size if the circumstances aren’t right.
The Easiest Way to Find Her Ring Size
So instead, consider stealing a piece of her jewelry while she’s at work/school and take it to a jeweler to have it sized.
Better yet, don’t even leave home. Grab a piece of paper and a pen. While she’s out (or even in the shower, cooking, etc.), take a ring of hers and put it flat on the paper. Use the pen to trace around the inside of the ring. Make sure your trace/outline is as accurate as possible. The tip of the pen should be touching the side of the ring metal.
Once you’ve got that traced to a piece of paper, return the ring so she’s none-the-wiser, and compare what you traced to our free ring sizing guide (download here).
Voila, you’ve got yourself her exact ring size, and you didn’t even have to put on pants to do it.
Finding the Best Place to Buy an Engagement Ring
There are a couple of options available to you – physical retail stores and online diamond retailers.
Personally, we prefer buying things online because of the convenience and value the internet brings to all things retail.
There’s no denying that traditionally, the great thing about physical retail jewelers was you got to see and feel the ring you were buying. But nowadays, that’s only half-true.
Online retailers like James Allen have REAL 360-degree interactive images of all their diamonds and rings, giving you an exact idea of what you’ll be getting. Couple that with standard 30-day return policies and you don’t have to worry about making a choice you’ll regret later.
The other reason you should consider buying online vs. in person is the amount of money you’ll save. It’s no secret physical retail stores have huge overhead costs, and they have to pass those on to the consumer. Online retailers have much less because of their limited (if any) physical locations. Those savings, likewise, often get passed to the customer.
They also have wider selections online than you will see in most stores. You can browse their various collections and take as much time as you need to make the final decision. Some retailers will even allow you to design a custom ring, instead of purchasing a ready-made one.
Technology… Am I Right?
We highly recommend checking out our complete guide on the best places to buy engagement rings online before making your decision.
Only One Thing Left To Do
Once you have made your decision it’s time to pull out that credit card and make it official. Order the ring and make her the happiest person on the planet.
When you purchase your ring, make sure there’s no trace for her to find. Once you get the ring, hide it until you’re ready to pop that question.
Congratulations and Good luck! We hope you found this guide helpful.