Every great proposal has three essential elements: true love, the immortal question and a dazzling engagement ring. The first two are easy – once you’ve found the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, it’s a no-brainer, really – but the ring. Oh, the ring.

How do you encapsulate your history and future, the depths of your devotion and your limitless love, all in a piece of jewellery? It’s no small task, but one which can be made much easier once you learn these seven simple rules.

Work With Your Budget 

If you haven’t researched engagement rings before, prepare for a surprise: the cost is always more than you think it’s going to be. Luckily, there are engagement ring options for every budget, and sometimes finding the right ring for the right price is a matter of prioritising different factors.

Determine what you can spend without breaking the bank. Remember that, especially if you plan to finance the purchase, you’ll need to live with this expenditure long after you’re engaged and even after you’re married. It might even be the first big debt of your married life. Don’t put your finances at risk with the engagement ring purchase.

Throw out that old three-months’ salary myth—you should buy the best ring you can without going into major debt. If she’s a size queen and your budget isn’t super-sized, go for a ring with a slightly larger table—or surface—area. You won’t get as much sparkle, but a one-carat ring will look much larger if the stone isn’t as deep. Don’t want to sacrifice the look of your stone? Buying just shy of the next carat (1.8 instead of 2) can equal a savings of nearly 20 per cent. And when it comes to clarity, buying shy gives you the most wiggle room without affecting sparkle.

We’ve debunked common diamond engagement ring myths before, and here’s a good place to debunk them again. The myth of spending three months’ salary on an engagement ring dates back to the 1950s and doesn’t have much merit.

Here’s a far better tip: Learn the 4Cs, do some comparison shopping and find an engagement ring that fits your budget. In the end, it’s not how much you spend, but how much love the ring represents.

The Four Cs

The first tip for buying a diamond engagement ring is to know the 4Cs: Color, Cut, Clarity and Carat Weight. The 4Cs are the global standard for assessing the quality of diamonds and allow you to compare one diamond to another.

In brief, the 4Cs are:

Colour: D-to-Z diamond colour grades rate a diamond’s lack of colour. Diamonds with less colour are rarer.

Cut: The quality of a diamond’s cut determines how well it unleashes its light.

Clarity: Diamond clarity refers to the absence of inclusions and blemishes.

Carat Weight: Diamond carat weight determines a diamond’s apparent size.

Once you understand what the 4Cs mean, the next step is to ask yourself “What is the most important C to me?” Prioritising the 4Cs will help you quickly eliminate some diamonds from your search, and zero in on ones that will thrill your bride-to-be.

Understanding the 4Cs is worth your time: It is the universal language to describe diamond quality. Being able to speak this language empowers you to buy a diamond engagement ring with confidence.

When evaluating diamond quality, consider the four Cs: cut, colour, clarity, and carat. While people may like to boast about a diamond’s carat weight, the cut is the most important of these four qualities: It determines how much the gem will sparkle.

Colour refers to the diamond’s clearness, with D being fully colourless (which is a good thing), and Z being noticeably yellow. Only diamond experts can tell the difference in anything graded higher than G, however, so get the most bang for your buck by opting for a G or H colour grade.

Lastly, clarity is how many imperfections the stone has. While a higher clarity rating will increase the value of the stone, your betrothed likely won’t notice a difference without a magnifying glass, so go for an SI1 or SI2.

Understand the difference between diamond shapes, diamond cutting styles and diamond cut quality

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Before you start shopping for an engagement ring, you should understand the difference between a diamond’s shape, its cutting style and its cut quality. Shape describes a diamond’s outline when viewed face-up.

By far, the most popular diamond shape is round. But there are other shapes—known as fancy shapes—which include the marquise, pear, oval, rectangle, square and heart.

Cutting style refers to how the diamond’s facets are arranged. For example, round diamonds’ most common facet arrangement is the standard brilliant cutting style with a specific arrangement of 57 or 58 facets.

Other cutting styles include the emerald cut, a square or rectangular shape categorised by four longer facets along the sides (step cuts) and bevelled corners.

A radiant cut diamond also has a square or rectangular shape but is cut in the brilliant style.

Cut quality refers to how well a diamond’s facets interact with light. Diamonds cut in the same shape and style can vary in table size, girdle thickness, polish and symmetry. These differences have an effect on their face-up appearances and will impact their cut quality.

Pick a metal for the band.

When it comes to the band, you’ve got a variety of metals to choose from. One popular choice is platinum—it’s the most durable and especially pure, making it a great hypoallergenic choice for those with sensitive skin.

There’s also gold, which comes in a variety of colours, including white, yellow, rose and even green. Beyond platinum and gold, you might also consider palladium (which has a greyer hue than platinum) or even a recycled metal band, which might include a mixture of platinum and gold.

Think of it as a “something old” and “something new” all rolled into one.

The type of metal you pick for an engagement ring band affects the overall look of the piece. White gold and platinum have been popular for a number of years, and both make for a sleek, modern look. They are also good choices for diamonds graded in the colourless to near-colourless ranges–D through J on the colour scale—as they highlight the diamond’s colourlessness. Setting one of these diamonds in yellow prongs would cause the diamond to look more yellowish in appearance.

If you love the colour of gold, consider that white metal prongs or bezels are often integrated into yellow gold bands to create contrast with the diamond.

Rose gold is trending, has a warm and soothing appearance, and was a popular choice for engagement rings from the Retro era (1935 to the 1950s).

Your partner’s ring size

Picture this: you’re down on a bent knee. You ask the love of your life those four special words, they graciously and joyfully accept. You slide the ring onto their finger and a tear rolls down your cheek – as you realise it won’t go past the knuckle.

It’s a common mistake to make and, in truth, isn’t the end of the world. But if you’re the type to spend months planning the perfect proposal, it pays to get every last detail right.

If you’re able to find a ring that already fits your beloved’s ring finger (hint: wait until they’re asleep and conduct a swift bit of jewellery-related espionage), check an online size guide or take it to a jewellery specialist at Temple&Grace, who’ll be able to identify exactly which size you need.

Not every ring can be resized to fit the wearer. Since resizing a ring means cutting out a sliver and then adding more metal or closing the gap, many antique rings, rings with engraving or gems that wrap around the entire band, and rings with a tension setting cannot be easily resized.

Because of this, it’s best to buy the right size from the get-go. To sneakily determine your partner’s ring size, swipe an often-worn ring from his or her jewellery box to bring to the jeweller. Or, if you’re afraid it’ll be missed, gently put one of your partner’s rings on your finger and trace around the band with a marker to note how far down it slid.

The jeweller can then match this measurement with his sizing tool.

Your partner’s style

Throughout this entire shopping process, keep one thing in mind: Your partner will most likely wear this ring forever. (No pressure.) Therefore, you need to make sure you keep your significant other’s taste in mind.

You might prefer yellow gold or may have read that colourful diamonds are trendy, but neither of these matters if your love’s heart is set on a white gold vintage art deco ring. If you haven’t been blessed with a trail of ring breadcrumbs to follow, try asking one of your partner’s close friends—one you can trust not to spill the beans—for a second opinion.

An engagement ring is intended to be worn every day for life. It should make the wearer’s heart sing. That said, it’s time to put your tastes aside and find out what style she prefers. The easiest way is to ask her, but if you want to protect the element of surprise, there are other ways of finding out:

  • Observe. What style of jewellery does she wear most often? What colour metal?
  • Ask her best friend. Your intended may have created a Pinterest board of her dream engagement rings or jewellery. If she hasn’t shared it with you, chances are she has with her friend.
  • Go shopping for jewellery together. Please pay attention to what draws her to a particular piece of jewellery.
  • Her style might be classic if she has a refined look and loves to surround herself with things that have an old-world elegance. An engagement ring featuring a single rectangular-shaped diamond or a round diamond faceted in the brilliant style are timeless choices that would probably suit her style.

It’s normal (and encouraging) these days for couples to ring shop together, but if you’re more of a traditionalist and looking to surprise your partner with a ring they’ll love, be sure to do some reconnaissance.

You can ask their best friend or sibling for help (and swear them to secrecy, of course). But if you’re set on not telling anyone, pay attention to the jewellery they already wear. Is it more often platinum and silver or yellow and gold?

Do they gravitate toward vintage jewels as opposed to simple, modern pieces? Pay attention for a couple of weeks and take mental notes to size up their signature style.

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Her lifestyle

The engagement ring you choose will be on her hand every day for many years; if not for the rest of her life. Most women don’t like having to remove the ring for work, sports or hobbies — so you have to think about how the ring will fit into what she does each day. For example:

Does she work in a job where she takes care of people (teacher, nurse, physical therapist) or works a lot with her hands (chef, landscaper, welder)? If so, you might want to think about a ring that doesn’t have elevated diamonds (in prong settings).

Is she athletic, playing team sports or engaging in activities such as skiing, swimming or yoga? Think about how she uses her hands, handles equipment and wears gear in her sports, and whether she’ll have to remove the ring you choose when she plays.

Does she like to get her hands dirty, in the garden, the kitchen or the art studio? A solitaire in a prong setting is easy to clean.

Explore more practical recommendations for finding a ring that fits your fiancée-to-be’s lifestyle.

Whether to pass down an heirloom

While some may want a gleaming new sparkler, others would appreciate the added sentimental value that comes with a family heirloom (and might already be dreaming of wearing their mother or grandmother’s ring). As an added bonus, family pieces are a great option for ring shoppers on tight budgets.

If you like the thought of proposing with a piece of family history but don’t have any jewellery that fits the bill (see #2), consider reworking an item into a new custom piece—with the owner’s permission, of course. Gems can be placed into new settings, or metal can be melted down and recast in a new mould.

Pick a jeweller

Since an engagement ring is an expensive purchase, you’ll want to buy it from a jeweller you can trust. Tip – start by looking for a jeweller who has earned a credential from an accredited school like Temple and Grace.

But don’t be tied down by them.

Of course, the four Cs aren’t hard and fast rules. Sometimes differences in colour or clarity are invisible to the naked eye and are only worth more to an appraiser. It’s also worth remembering that some prefer a smaller, more modest stone, while others find coloured diamonds or other gemstones make for a more modern ring.

Other factors, including setting and bandwidth, can transform a ring’s look as much as the carat or cut.

Unless you are a jewellery expert, it’s unlikely that you’ll know which of these qualities are most important, and crucially, how they work together.

Fortunately, every jeweller at Temple & Grace is trained in the art of diamond-spotting and can help you to choose the right stone, at the right price for you.

Protection

Buying an engagement ring is a considerable investment and one that will last. You wouldn’t buy a car without a warranty or insurance — and you shouldn’t buy an engagement ring without protection either.

Especially with something so small and valuable, you must consider possible loss, such as theft, damage or strange disappearance (bathroom sinks are well known for devouring beloved diamond rings). Insist on buying a ring from a jeweller that offers a warranty, and wrap the insurance cost into your budget.

Don’t rush

Think of buying an engagement ring as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a thing to savour and obsess over for as long as is necessary. Think you’ve found the one on your first visit to the shops? Cool.

Make a note, take some pictures, ask if it’s likely to sell out, and continue. Look online, search the high street, make sure you’ve explored every possible avenue before parting with any money. If you’ve set yourself a deadline, forget about it until you’re as sure of the ring as you are of your partner.

So you’ve decided on the perfect engagement ring—now get that baby insured! To say it would be a bummer to have the ring lost or stolen would be a gross understatement, so make sure you’re covered.

The easiest way to do this is to call your insurance agent about adding the ring to your homeowners or renters insurance as a floater. This will likely increase the cost of your plan a smidge, but the peace of mind will be more than worth it. (And if you don’t have homeowners or renters insurance, get on that pronto!) If you and your betrothed don’t live together, make sure you add the ring to the ring-wearer’s policy.

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