STEP 2: THE PURCHASE
There are an overwhelming number of options available, so we walk you through a simplified set of tips and tricks to make the buying process easy and help to get a great ring at a great value
WHERE TO BUY
Where is the best place to buy an engagement ring? There are a ton of options out there, from big box jewelry stores to small family-owned shops, to online companies. We recommend buying online. It is 30-40% cheaper, you avoid all of the sales games, it is safe, you get great service and it comes with returns and warrantees to secure your purchase.
Out of the many online retailers, we recommend Blue Nile or James Allen. Both are highly reputable and have huge selection, easy tools to view diamonds, 24/7 service and a quick and efficient purchase process. To see some of the pros and cons of each, check out our James Allen vs. Blue Nile comparison on our blog.
Below are the step by step decisions to make as you buy the ring.
1. NATURAL VS. LAB DIAMONDS
An important first decision to make is whether you want to go with a natural or earth-grown diamonds vs. lab-grown diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds are made in a lab, but are chemically identical to their earth-grown counterparts. They are typically 30% less expensive than earth-grown diamonds. If having an earth-grown diamond is of significance to you or your partner, then you should pursue that option. If you are looking to get better value (and you can be sure that the sourcing is ethical!) then lab diamonds may be a good option. As they are identical, it is more of a question of if it is meaningful to you and your partner to have a diamond that was created in the earth or if you would prefer to go with lab created and get greater value.
If you do choose to go with lab diamonds, you will want to shop on James Allen instead of Blue Nile as they offer a large selection of lab grown diamonds.
2. DIAMOND SHAPE
There are a variety of shapes and as we talked about in the previous section, it is important to get a sense of what your partner likes in terms of shape, because there are a lot of options to choose from. Round is the most popular shape, followed by princess/cushion, and then emerald/radiant, pear, oval and heart. Overall, round tends to be slightly more expensive, but frankly it is not worth buying a particular shape based on price because the overall price differences are not large.
If you know the shape that your partner wants, awesome, continue to the next step. If not, we would suggest thinking about a round diamond as it is by far the most popular, and likely what a lot of people think of when they think of engagement ring. That said, if your partner is a bit more classic, consider an emerald diamond. If your partner is a bit more modern, think about an oval (or even a pear). This is highly subjective, so see what you can find out through your partners' friends, otherwise, sticking with round is a safe bet. Check out our detailed Diamond Shape Overview for more detail.
3. THE 4 C'S
What are the 4 C's? Which ones are the most important? We talked a bit about the 4 C's in the last section, but if you need a reminder, they stand for: carat, color, clarity and cut. Let's talk about which ones are the most important and what all of the scales mean for each of them.
The Guide's Quick Tips:
Carat: buy just shy of the .5 increments
Color: Stay above H
Clarity: Stay above VS2
Cut: Stay above Very Good
Carat: the weight/size of the diamond
Scale: Numbers to the hundredth (e.g. 1.75, 2.50)
The average diamond size is around 1 carat, but this should really be based on your budget. You don't want to get the absolute biggest diamond you can afford if you have to sacrifice on all of the other C's
Buy Shy: Typically whole numbers and halves are the most expensive (e.g. 1, 2.5...etc.), so if you are looking for great value, consider "buying shy" or just below the threshold (e.g. 1.47 carats). Nobody will be able to tell the difference and it can save you a lot of money
Check the actual size: We really liked using the Diamond Database tool in order to see how big the diamond would be in real life. It adjusts based on your screen and you can set different ring sizes, and compare diamonds to one another. We also found searching the WeddingBee boards to be super helpful as there are a ton of pictures of real rings on fingers with diamond and ring size noted
Ring size matters: a 1 carat ring can look vastly different on a size 4 finger vs. size 9. Use the above links to get a sense of how the diamond size will look on your partner's fingers, as it is very hard to picture!
Color: how colorless or yellow tinted the diamond is
Scale: Letters M-D, where D-F are colorless, G-J near colorless, K-M have some yellow tint and N+ is various shades of yellow.
We generally recommend staying above H. Don't be fooled into thinking you need a D totally colorless diamond, these are very rare and you will be paying a premium for them!
D,E,F = all classified as colorless, can't go wrong here!
G,H = great value, you can only tell the tint when compared to higher grade diamonds
I,J = Have a slight color, more noticeable in diamonds larger than 1 carat
K and below = noticeable more yellow color
Clarity: the inclusions or imperfections in a diamond
Scale: FL (flawless) through I1 (included)
We generally recommend staying above VS2. Very, very few diamonds are totally flawless, and the inclusions are generally so small that you cannot see then with the naked eye (don't be fooled by the 40x magnification when you're looking at them online!)
FL, IF = no flaws, can't go wrong here, often far more expensive
VVS1, VVS2 = difficult to even detect flaws under 10X magnification
VS1 = difficult to detect flaws under 10X magnification, not visible to naked eye
VS2 = difficult to detect flaws under 10X magnification, typically not visible to naked eye
SI1, SI2, I1 = not very visible to the naked eye to visible to the naked eye
Cut: quality of the cut
Scale: Good, Very Good, Ideal, True Hearts/Astor Ideal
We generally recommend Very Good or above. The True Hearts/Astor Ideal are fewer than 1% of diamonds and is generally not worth the extra cost. The cut determines the light reflection and thus the sparkle of the diamond
True Hearts/Astor Ideal = <1% of diamonds, you will pay a premium and have a much smaller selection to choose from
Ideal = superior cut, only 3% of diamonds, high level of sparkle and brightness
Very Good = high quality cut that reflects almost as much light as ideal cut with much better price
Good = less sparkle and brilliance but at very good value
4. SETTING TYPE
What is an engagement ring setting? It is the ring itself, and any smaller diamonds or other stones that accompany it. There are several of the most common main types to know:
Solitaire: simple metal band. Great for highlighting a beautiful center diamond and for those that like to keep it classic and simple
Pave: Small diamonds all along the band, adding a bit more sparkle to the ring overall while not distracting from the center diamond
Halo: Small ring of diamonds around the center diamond, great for making the center diamond appear larger and adding some extra bling
Side-stone: two or more smaller stones set to the side of the center stone, great for adding an additional accent to the center diamond in a simple and not overly-sparkly way
Three-stone: Similar to side-stone but with larger side stones (close in size to the center diamond) to complement the center stone
Similar to diamond shape, this one is really a matter of personal preference and style. Try to figure out what your partner likes on this one as well. If you do not have a strong sense, we would recommend a solitaire for those that like to keep it simple, and pave for those that would like a bit more sparkle. Halo can be a great option if you are concerned about the size of the center diamond, and side or three-stone is a bit more of a classic spin to not just have a center diamond but not as sparkly as pave.
5. SETTING MATERIAL
What type of metal is best for an engagement ring? There are four main options each with their pros and cons.
+ Strongest and most durable, will always retain color (whereas gold will need to be re-polished and re-plated)
- Most expensive setting material, scratches most easily (but doesn't flake off like gold, instead moves from one place on ring to another, developing patina finish)
+ Less expensive than platinum but with similar appearance, stronger and more durable than other gold,
- Contains nickel which may irritate those with a nickel allergy
+ Classic look, at a lower price point than platinum
- Can be easily scratched, needs to be cleaned and polished most often, potential to turn yellow
+ Trendy and unique, most durable of all of the gold types
- Less common, fewer setting available in this type
14K vs. 18K Gold: Another choice is between 14K and 18K gold for all of the gold options. This refers to what percentage of the ring is actually made of gold (vs. other alloyed metal). For yellow gold for example, 18K means 75% gold, whereas 14K means 60% gold. The higher gold percentage 18K will give a deeper hue of either yellow, rose or white color and is generally more expensive. On the other hand, the 14K will be more durable due to the higher alloyed metal content. You can't go wrong either way. If you want a more durable ring at better value, go with 14K, if you are concerned more with the appearance, go with 18K.