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Although Valentine's Day is still a month away, for some of you couples in love, the holiday this year might require some extra planning. In 2010, 4.4 million people tied the knot, and we'd wager our two months' salary that some of you are also looking to drop to one knee and ask for a hand in marriage this year. But if the jewelry counter is unfamiliar territory for you, and the sight of a seemingly endless number of styles with minutely different details and price tags intimidates you, take a few minutes to read over our tips about how to buy an engagement ring.
First and foremost, don't freak out. Selecting a ring won't be an anxiety-ridden decision if you do some simple, careful planning and research ahead of time. First, look over our handy diamond glossary, so you know exactly what level of quality you're getting for your investment. (Also take a gander at our writeup about the cost benefits to buying a used engagement ring, if you're on a tight budget.) Now you're ready for some helpful tips to discern your lady's personal taste. A few observations — from her jewelry box to her genetic makeup — will guide you toward purchasing the perfect ring.
The best way to choose an engagement ring style is to note your girlfriend's personal jewelry choices. If she wears a certain necklace or bracelet everyday, you're in luck. Its style will be the unequivocal key to what she'd want to wear on her finger for (let's hope) the rest of her life. If she doesn't wear jewelry regularly, look at the jewelry that she owns and use it for style cues and inspiration.
For example, if she wears a string of pearls, that's a good indication that she would want a classic, blue blood ring. A simple, silver necklace or set of stud earrings would also suggest this style. Jewelry that looks antique or aged would suggest she has a preference for a vintage (pictured) or heirloom ring. Ornate jewelry, like chandelier earrings or intricately-designed baubles, might indicate she'd prefer a more complex design. Finer details — like tiny supporting diamonds, filigree along the band, or a raised setting — would be ideal characteristics if she prefers the latter. Alternatively, if she decks out in big and bold jewelry, like with a wide, solid cuff bracelet or large hoop earrings, chances are she won't like a skinny-banded ring. Look carefully at her personal accessory choices, be thoughtful about what they mean, and let her style guide your selections. If you're completely lost at translating her choices, bring your observations to a jewelry specialist.
The first concrete decision you'll have to make is what gem shape your girlfriend would want. Round is the most popular by far, and thus, it's the safest option. If you want something a bit more unique without straying too far from this comfort zone, try something that's similarly symmetric like an oval or emerald shape. Take it a step further by making these simple styles a bit fancier with more facets: asscher, radiant, or princess cuts all create more internal interplay of light, and, ergo, brilliance. Generally speaking, most women fawn over gems with tons of sparkle, but if your girlfriend is particularly modest in her aesthetic, consider selecting a simple gemstone shape.
If round and square shapes seem a little dull, diamonds cuts also come in heart, pear, and marquise shapes, which boast pointed ends, and can vary greatly in terms of width, making them rather unusual. (Some examples include "tear drop" earrings and pendants.) Most women seem to have strong opinions on these pointed gems however (see: Sarah Jessica Parker throwing up), so be wary of choosing them if you've never seen her wear a similar shape or unless you're absolutely certain she wants them.
The setting of her engagement ring is another opportunity to showcase your understanding of your wife-to-be's style. There are two types of settings for the main stone: pronged (pictured right) and bezel (pictured left). Prongs are the standard for engagement rings as they allow the maximum amount of light to hit the gem. There are a variety of styles for the prong shape, but avoid anything that isn't smooth because it will catch and snag on most fabrics and clothing.
Unlike a prong setting, a bezel setting holds the diamond in place by way of a metal rim running along the entire edge of the stone. This setting is more contemporary and can effectively give a traditionally shaped stone an interesting style. If you're completely unsure about selecting a setting, some men opt to purchase a loose diamond and present just that at the time of proposal — and then customize the ring as a couple. But if you're set on giving her the whole kit-and-caboodle, stick with the prong setting, as it's traditional without being dated.
The setting can also incorporate intricate embellishments. Filigree (wire work) and milgrain (metal "beading") are both vintage-inspired details. Additional diamonds channeled around the band area more modern setting style, which has become quite popular in recent years. Consider selecting a ring with a raised setting, which elevates the main stone and makes for a more grandiose style — great if your girl has a flair for the dramatic.
The metal selection for the ring will be your easiest decision to make, as it should be simple to tell from her current jewelry collection what color she prefers. If she wears silver, she'll gravitate towards platinum or white gold. Like rounded diamonds, platinum (pictured) is the most popular choice for engagement rings. It's extremely durable, albeit expensive. If you're on a budget, white gold is an ideal and less expensive alternative. Yellow gold, on the other hand, is not as popular because its color is not as versatile. However, if your girlfriend consistently wears yellow gold, she may prefer it. Ultimately, whiter metals are enhance the luster of the diamond.
One of the final style choices you'll need to make is perhaps the most subtle. Just like certain clothing styles work best for different body types, so too do certain ring styles. If she has short or (dare I say it?) chubby fingers, a thick band would accentuate them. Conversely, if she has long, slender fingers, a thin band might look comically small, making her hands appear gigantic. Proportion is key. You needn't worry about exact band sizes; just compare and contrast among the different sizes available. Additionally, a short-fingered woman could benefit from a slightly elongated gemstone — oval (pictured) as opposed to round — because the visual trick pulls the eye along the length of the finger. Likewise, if your girlfriend is self-conscious about how skinny her fingers are (perhaps she calls them "boney"), the same gem turned horizontally would offer more width much like a setting with multiple stones.
Finally, it all comes down to the ring size. Don't lose too much sleep over this, because a ring can easily be re-sized, as long as there aren't diamonds around the entire band. But to get that "meant to be" feeling when the ring slides perfectly onto her finger, you'll have to be stealthy. Try comandeering one of her rings for a few hours and get it measured at a jeweler. If the ring is from her pointer finger, go down a half-size. Alternatively, if you can only snag the ring for a few seconds (like when she forgets to put it back on after a shower), then print off this paper sizer to measure the ring at home. When in doubt, go slightly larger. There's nothing worse in a woman's eyes than trying something on that's too tight, even if it's just a ring.
In the end, there's no way to scientifically predict exactly what your girlfriend is looking for in an engagement ring. But taking into consideration these engagement ring details will help eliminate the potential for an apathetic reaction from your fiancé-to-be. An engagement ring is transcendent when it's beautiful, it fits, and it suits the wearer. So with some careful observation, you can improve your odds of finding the perfect ring, which lets you worry about more important things — like her answer.