As we all know, there is no wedding without a proposal and an engagement period. Though a proposal may only last minutes, it is often one of the most plan-worthy parts of your wedding journey. As an experienced groom, I can tell you that the ring you choose is indeed an important part of your proposal. Not because it has to be an expensive or “blingy” trinket, but because it symbolizes the proposal. Choosing the right engagement ring for your partner is incredibly important. And you don’t have to do it alone!
We all picture it. You have managed to surprise your future fiancee, and now you are kneeling on one knee, with a small box in your hand. You are awaiting the expression. Will it be surprise and shock? Or maybe tears? Hopefully it’s ultimately one of joy. That is our goal afterall with the whole process.
All too often we forget that goal because of all the future planning, stress, and costs of a wedding. So let me help break down one of the most important parts, choosing the right engagement ring.
One Ring to Rule Them All
Well, sort of. The first thing you should keep in mind is that many times, you actually need two rings. The first, an engagement ring is typically used to propose with. But you also need a wedding band, which is the ring you will use for your ceremony. This is extremely important to keep in mind, because the better you can match them, the happier your bride will be, and the better they will accent each other, fit right on the finger, and look good.
Typically the engagement ring is the “fancy” ring, and often has a solitaire (single) diamond by itself or surrounded by accent diamonds or other gemstones. The wedding band itself can be as simple as white or yellow gold ring, or a ring with accented gemstones or diamonds.
Something to keep in mind is that fancy is not always better. Which I will get further into in the gemstone selection area. Some simple looking rings can be very expensive, and some complicated and multi-faceted (multiple gem) rings can be cheap.
Where to Buy – Boutiques, Jewelers, Online
While going into a large chain jewelry store can be helpful to actually get some “hands on” experience with the rings, as well as be useful to help get your future fiancee’s ring finger sized (and your own sized), I typically do not recommend the large chain stores, or even custom boutiques if you are looking for a fair price. The chain stores (Kay, Jared, etc.) and very custom boutiques will typically charge a LOT just because they have extensive advertising costs, and they place a lot of weight under designer labels such as a “Neil Lane” diamond ring. This does not mean you absolutely should not shop there. By all means, they can have really nice rings and even loose gem stones. But they will typically not be cheap, and often a designer ring will cost anywhere from 30-70% more than a ring from a smaller jewelry store or online.
So the real question is, can buying diamonds, gemstones, and wedding jewelry online be safe for you? The answer overall is absolutely. With our consumer economy spending more and more money online then ever before, there are many very highly rated and reputable jewelry vendors online now. As I stated in one of my previous articles, I bought our rings online and was extremely satisfied, and I shopped around to almost every jewelry vendor available comparing rings first. You do however need to be wary and do your due diligence. Reading this article means you are heading in the right direction!
Gold! We’ve Struck Gold! Or Platinum, Palladium, or Silver?
That’s right, you will be making a hefty choice in what kind of metal you want your rings to be made of. There are some big differences, but again in the end, the major deciding factor is going to also be what you like the look of best, and what your fiancee wants.
Engagement rings and wedding bands alike are typically cast and crafted in either gold, white gold, platinum, palladium or even on silver. This will affect not only the price of your engagement ring, but your wedding band as well.
While gold will range in Karat weight (10K, 12k, 14k, and so on), Platinum, Palladium and Silver will range in their makeup too. The best silver for wedding jewelry is Sterling Silver, which is about 92.5% pure silver, and the remaining percent copper. This allows the silver to be a bit stronger, as pure silver is so maleable, you can scratch it with your fingernail (The same goes for pure gold).
If your spouse is going to be rough and tumble with his or her rings, you do want to consider avoiding high karat gold or silver rings. 18k and 24k gold or white gold rings, while very bright, are also very soft and will scratch easily, as will even sterling silver. Not only that, but your precious gemstone has little prongs that hold them in, and those will also damage more easily the softer the metal.
If you want strength, aim for 14k White or Yellow gold, Platinum or Palladium rings. White gold rings are made from a mixture of yellow gold and other metals such as nickel, platinum, etc. that give it an almost platinum color. By choosing 14k or even 12k gold instead of 18k or 24k you will not only have a stronger ring, but save a significant amount of money. Which you can then put towards a gem stone, or other wedding costs!
If your partner is going to be extremely care, or even use a spare ring (such as a silicone wedding band) often, Sterling silver rings can save you a boat load of cash, and still appear beautiful and very much like white gold or platinum.
Just remember, if you are shopping around, legitimate gold, silver, and even platinum rings are all stamped or marked. (i.e 14k, or 24k for gold, typically .925 for Sterling, and Plat, PT, or 950, 850 for platinum).
Understanding Gemstones – So Shiny!
In your journey into selecting the right ring you will be deciding upon either a “setting” which is a ring with no primary gemstone in it yet, to which you would either purchase a center gem stone to be added, or if you have a gemstone from a family heirloom or ring, that would work too. Or, you are buying an engagement ring already ready-made.
Regardless of which route you choose, there are some things you want to be thinking about. If you are dead set on a diamond in your fiancee’s engagement ring, then you will get to learn about the 4 C’s (Carat, Color, Clarity, and Cut). These also apply to other gemstones too, but are more important in diamond selection. An average engagement ring cost in the U.S is about $5,500 for a 1 Carat diamond.
A diamond’s Cut affects the shape and number of facets it has. Facets being the faces (sides) of a gem, and which can affect the “bling” of the gem. There are many different cuts that a diamond can have. Some of the classic cuts we usually see are the Princess Cut (a perfect square with lots of facets), Oval Cut (You guessed it, the gem is oval in shape and facets), Emerald Cut (a tall rectangle shape), and Round Cut (perfectly round with facets). There are other cuts as well, and there is a lot of debate about which cut is best. Ultimately, you should choose the cut that you think your fiancee will like the most, or that you feel makes your gem look best.
Example: I wouldn’t want to choose an Oval or Tear drop cut for my main gemstone, if the ring has a lot of rectangle or odd shaped accent stones along the engagement ring band, or even if the wedding band that will accompany it has rectangles, squares, etc.
Clarity is a gemstone’s clearness. How well can you see straight through the gem stone, and does it have any inclusions (mineral deposits within the gem that obstruct light from passing through or refracting properly). Perfectly clear, natural diamonds cost thousands of dollars more than an “average” diamond would.
Many times, the level of clarity isn’t even noticeable to the naked eye, or at least without very close inspection. Diamonds are ranked in clarity levels and range from FL (Flawless and the best possible) to I1-I3 which have lots of inclusions (a I1 will have less than an I3).
Color is a feature that really only affects diamonds and other gemstones that are supposed to be colorless or “clear”. A perfectly clear diamond is graded as a “D” and this ranges all the way to S-Z for diamonds that have a strong yellow tint to them. There are also Yellow Diamonds which are considered a separate stone really, and are often sought after because of their pure yellow color. These can sometimes be as expensive as colorless diamonds.
Carat weight is the way a gem stone is measured for size/weight. This will tell us how “big” of a gem we have. Some gems are also measured in mm (milimeters). Typically people think “Bigger is better.” But this doesn’t necessarly hold true if you are looking for quality in a gem, regardless of whether it’s a diamond.
So what do you do with all of this information? My recommendation is look for balance. Choose what gemstone you would like to have in your future wife’s ring. A diamond is nice, but their value is heavily influenced by media hype, marketing, and supply and demand. There are many beautiful gems such as topaz, sapphire, and emerald which are valuable, unique, and even meaningful that can be beautiful stones in an engagement ring for far less than a diamond. If you are looking for a ring on a budget, you could also choose a diamond alternative. Cubic Zirconia, Lab created diamonds, and Moissanite are all very reasonably priced diamond alternatives. Moisannite, CZ, and Lab created diamonds, as well as sapphires all have almost the same hardness level of a natural diamond, and can have perfect or close to perfect color, clarity, and cut at a fraction of the cost.
Don’t Get Duped – Buying the Right Gemstones
Sadly, while I love Amazon and Ebay, and even Etsy for ring and jewelry shopping you have to be extra careful on sites like these as they have many different sellers and a wide variety of jewelry and gems that range from reputable and quality, to fraudulent, misrepresented or even dangerous. Diamonds and rare gem stones can often be from areas of the world that are known to produce “conflict” stones or diamonds. These are gems that are mined illegally, and often in war-stricken countries, with the money financing insurgency and terrorism.
If you do decide to buy a diamond ring, look for gems or rings that state they are Conflict Free, and that come with some kind of certification of quality and vetting. The most common diamond certifications are:
- GIA (Gemological Institute of America)
- AGS (American Gemological Society)
- EGL (European Gemological Laboratory)
- IGI (International Gemological Institute)
Though these certifications are not all equal and typically GIA or AGS are given more merit due to their higher standards, some kind of certification is better than none at all. If your seeing gemstones or diamond rings with no mention of whether they are conflict free, or whether they have been certified, guaranteed, and graded, think twice. This is especially true if you are paying top dollar for it.
Reasons to Consider Diamond Alternatives
I try to urge people to consider diamond alternatives for their rings. I ended up using my grandmother’s diamond for my wife’s setting, but that was solely because it was being passed down and was very sentimental. Since that ring, I have not bought my wife another diamond, and instead turn towards gems like Alexandrite, Mystic Topaz, Sapphire, etc. She likes those better anyways!
Why do I say this? Diamonds as a gem stone are just usually overpriced and they are usually overpriced because of the wedding industry. You can see a great example of this in jewelry stores or even online. A “Engagement Ring” section of a store may start off at $1,500 for a 1/4 Carot diamong engagement ring of average quality, where as a diamond ring not labeled “engagement” may be as much as 50% less than that for the same Carot and quality.
But some people love diamonds, and rightfully so. They are beautiful, strong, and they power lasers and stuff! Doing your homework can help you make an informed decision, and save you tons of cash. Making small compromises on clarity (for instance choosing an SI1 Clarity diamond instead of a VS1 or VS2) can get you a beautiful diamond for substantially less money, and often cannot be differentiated by the naked eye. This is especially true for certain diamond Cuts that can help hide inclusions and improve the perceived clarity and “shine” of a gem.
There Is No Wrong Decision
If you don’t know what you want yet, or are not yet sure of what your future fiancee will like that is A-Okay! This kind of decision takes time, planning, and research. You will also eventually need your significant other’s ring size which can be difficult if you are trying to surprise them! You can purchase ring sizers for $10-20 or visit a jeweler who will usually do it for free. Start thinking of your excuses now, such as “I bet you I can guess your ring size” or “I need your ring size because I am going to get us matching rings”. Or you can always just ask.
Ultimately, make your decision based off of what you know will make you both happy. Remember, it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. The media will tell you a husband should spend “2-3 months salary” on a ring. This is garbage. Think about who tells you that. Magazines, jewelers, and the diamond industry.
Set a budget for your ring, and find out what your “must haves” are. If you must have a diamond, and you know your budget is $2,500 for the ring and wedding band, then you have a starting point. If this article has piqued your interest about alternative gem stones, GREAT!
I will be writing more about alternative gem stones, ring sizing, and then men’s wedding bands in the near future.
I hope this has helped someone out there beginning or traversing this journey!
As always, please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, ask for help, or just say hi!
The Savvy Groom