Top 10 Rules for Shopping for an Engagement Ring

Woman's hand with an engagement ring

Jena Ardell / Moment / Getty Images

If things go right, you'll only be buying one engagement ring in your lifetime. But an engagement ring is a big investment. With your lack of experience, how are you going to make sure you find one your sweetheart will love that won't break the bank?

Finding the Perfect Ring

  1. Determine Your Budget: When assisting someone shopping for an engagement ring, salespeople can be sneaky—they make the shopper think that the amount of love is tied to how much is spent on a ring. It's smart to figure out how much you can afford to spend before you step foot in a store. The standard rule is two months salary, but this is also a rule that the diamond industry created! Still, it's a decent place to start before figuring out your budget.​
  2. Pay Attention: You're going to have to make a lot of choices: Platinum or gold? Modern or traditional? Flashy or understated? It's easier if you've scoped out the situation beforehand. Look at the jewelry your sweetheart wears on a daily basis. If it's all silver with intricate designs, look for a platinum engagement ring with intricate designs—often called filigree. If it's just a few understated gold pieces, then go in that direction.​
  3. Choose a Stone: While jewelers will sell you a preset ring, you can often get a better deal if you choose the diamond separately. It helps if you know what shape your sweetheart wants: round, pear, cushion cut, marquis, etc. The most classic shape is a round solitaire.
  4. Do Homework: Read The Four C's of Diamond Buying. You'll thank me later. Here's another money-saving tip: look for a diamond with high color and cut but slightly lower clarity. Make sure you look at the stone with a jeweler's loupe (like a magnifying glass). Most flaws, or "inclusions," as they call them, can barely be seen even with a loupe.​
  5. Choose the Setting: After you've picked your stone, next comes the setting. You could go for a simple solitaire setting, or you could add filigree, extra side stones, and other details. You can choose gold, rose gold, white, platinum, or even titanium.​
  6. Maximize Your Budget: If your intended is always talking about huge diamond engagement rings, but two months of your salary couldn't even buy a Big Mac, you're going to have to stretch your budget. Ask for a stone with more surface area. It won't sparkle as much, but it will look bigger. Ask for stones that are slightly less than the next carat (0.8 instead of 1 or 1.9 instead of 2). The almost indiscernible difference can add up to big savings. Instead of a diamond solitaire engagement ring, consider a less expensive center gemstone (such as tourmaline, blue topaz, or sapphire flanked by two small diamonds. Opt for white gold instead of platinum, or consider an antique engagement ring.​
  7. Get a Buddy: Don't go into a jewelry store alone. They're scary places full of way too many choices and pushy salespeople. If you can, bring your sweetheart's best friend or mom along to help you choose. If you're worried they'll spill the beans, bring a trusted buddy of yours. Make sure your buddy has taste, or you'll end up proposing with a Ring Pop. Also, assuming they like the person you're buying it for, this is a great moment to share with your parents to bond and get their advice.​
  8. Think About Bringing Your Sweetheart With You: You'll lose the element of surprise, but you'll be sure the engagement ring is a winner. More and more couples are doing it this way.
  9. Get a Quality Jeweler: Ask for recommendations from friends and family. My advice is to stick to the mom and pop jewelers and try to avoid the national chains that often sacrifice quality for mass marketing. Make sure the store is accredited by the Jewelers of America or is a member of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Before you buy, find out what the return policy is, so you can exchange it if you didn't do your homework properly.​
  10. Plan Ahead: You may not be able to walk out of a jewelry store with a ring on your first visit. Not only will you need to save up for it, but depending on what you order, it could take a couple of weeks for them to set the stone, engrave it, or even custom design it. If you want to propose on a certain date, make sure you start working on the ring early.​
  11. Get It in Writing: Would you buy a house without an inspection? No? Then don't buy a diamond without an independent diamond grading report from the GIA or the American Gem Society. It should include the 4 c's—color, cut, clarity, and carat—as well as the shape and size. And, like your house, don't forget to get the ring insured.