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How to Choose the Perfect Engagement Ring, According to our Recently Engaged Jewelry Expert

And the number one thing you should do before getting engaged.
ROYAL Wedd 4 (1)

When our Marketing Manager, Kelly, got engaged over the holidays, our office conversations completely shifted: It's safe to say 75% of our non-work conversations lately have been about engagements and rings. It's simply on our mind! By coincidence, every woman in our office is in a serious relationship, and three of those are considering getting engaged soon (Katie's been with her boyfriend for three years, and Jess and Leslie have each been with theirs upwards of six). Because they each want a fairly "traditional" diamond engagement ring, they often turn to Kelly, who worked in the jewelry industry for years, with their questions. We'll be delving into our thoughts on "traditional engagements," and what that means in a post in February, but for now we compiled our most-pressing engagement ring questions for Kelly. Read on for her answers, and be sure to include your questions and answers in the comments below: 

How do I even go about buying a diamond ring? 

The first step I would make is having a conversation with your significant other about how each of you see the ring buying process unfolding. Will you be choosing the ring together? How do you feel about buying online versus in-person? What is the budget? These questions may take some of the "romance" out of buying a ring, but they're important to have so everyone comes out of the process happy. (I think the proposal can be the perfect place for surprise and romance!) Then, begin researching cuts, gems, and brands you like—more on that below.

What's the biggest mistake you've watched couples or individuals make when ring shopping?

Being on different pages about budget. I've seen this so many times, and it's honestly hard to watch. Most often, this manifests in her falling in love with a ring that's double or triple their budget, and then there are hard feelings on both sides. Getting on the same page with budget as one of the very first steps is crucial to everyone ending up happy!

What are the Cs I keep hearing about? And what's worth prioritizing when ring shopping?

The 4C's are: Color, Cut, Clarity, and Carat. I find that most people have their own opinions about which to prioritize—so figure out which is most important to you!

Color: This is the color, or whiteness/yellowness of the diamond. The scale is from D-Z, and D is the whitest you can possibly get. Many people don't want to see ANY yellow in their diamond (I see this more often with men), so they will choose D-F colors. If you want a diamond that looks pretty white but is a little cheaper, go with G-I. If your ring is yellow gold, you can "hide" the yellowness easier and go to J or K color (but the same is not true with platinum!).

Cut: This is the shape of the diamond, but also how "well" it is cut, on a scale from Excellent-Poor. A diamond that is cut well will sparkle more and look "even" across the entire stone. Cut also includes the shape, i.e. round, pear, oval, marquise, emerald, asscher, kite, trillion, princess, rose cut, etc. Round stones are typically a little more expensive than all others; just something to consider!

Clarity: This is how "clear" a diamond is, i.e., how "internally flawed" it is. This is the easiest way, in my opinion, to make your diamond larger for less money. The scale is from FL (flawless) or IF (internally flawless) to I3 (which is the 3rd level of Included). This one can be kind of hard to understand, but it really just depends on how sensitive you are to seeing "specks" or other flaws inside your diamond. Generally, I like to tell people to shop in the VS1-SI2 range.

Carat: Most people know this one—it's how big your diamond is! But most people don't know that diamonds "face up" differently depending on their shape and how they are cut. Some diamonds have a lot of depth, and some are very flat (or "spready"). I love spready diamonds, which is why I went with a rose cut, because it distributes the diamond weight horizontally, rather than vertically, so it appears bigger. 

How do I figure out my ring size? (And do I need to tell my partner if they're proposing, or can I just plan on getting it resized if it's incorrect?)

I'm so glad you asked this question! Ladies, this is the number one thing I think you should do before getting engaged. Figure out your ring size and find a way to share it with your partner, depending how openly you discuss your engagement. Either tell a trusted friend to pass on the message, tell them straight-up, or be ready when your partner asks for your size (which is what happened to me!). Go into literally any jewelry store and tell them you need to find out your ring size, and they'll help you out.

When you're measuring, make sure to TAKE YOUR TIME. Most women, even after measuring, think their size is bigger than it actually is. (Why is this? I have no idea). You want to make sure that you're paying attention to the "slip" when the ring goes on and off. You should struggle a little to get it off, but not to the point that it's painful or you need some soap or lotion. Your hands also swell throughout the day, so if you measure at the end of the day when your hands are swollen, you may measure .25-.5 too big! Also, most people's hands are not the same size, so don't use your right hand as a proxy for sizing.

This is very important because some rings can't be resized, or the integrity of the ring can be compromised if you have to size it up or down too much. Eternity bands (with diamonds all the way around) can not be resized at all, ever, so you need to know your exact size, down to the 1/4th!

How much should I (or my partner) expect to spend on an engagement ring?

This is not a question that I can accurately answer because it completely depends on each couple and what they're looking for. Don't let the "three month's salary" rule guide you; spend what you feel comfortable spending. While shopping, you'll likely see a lot in the $5,000-$15,000 range, if that helps.

What will $1,000, $5,000, $10,000, and $15,000 get me ring-wise?

Ooooh, this is a tough question! I'll answer by showing you some of my favorite options in each price point. I will say though that under $5,000, we're looking more at "alternative" options to the "traditional diamond ring", but there's still a lot to consider!

$1,000: Look for alternative stones or a really beautiful diamond band, especially from stores like Net-a-Porter, Bloomingdale's, or Neiman Marcus. I love this opal ring (opals are really in right now!), this diamond band with a dangling diamond, this emerald ring, or this unique gold and diamond ring.

$5,000: At many ring stores, a $5,000 budget will get you approximately a 1ct. (or slightly less) diamond that's either nice color or clarity (but usually not both). I priced out a ring I really love from Brilliant Earth with a .91ct. oval diamond with F color and SI2 clarity, and the ring came out to $4,490. My own ring from ILA was in this price point as well, which features a rose cut diamond (my favorite).

$10,000: It depends on where you shop and how detailed the ring is, but $10,000 will likely get you a really nice (color and clarity) 1ct. diamond, or a 1.5ct. diamond that's nice in either color or clarity. I adore this Catbird ring with recycled diamonds, and this big rose cut oval ring from Vale Jewelry. Consider a lab-made diamond in this price point as well; my favorite ring from Vrai & Oro came out to be $8,600 for a 1.83ct cushion cut diamond with H color and VS1 clarity.

$15,000: For this much, you can definitely swing a 2ct. diamond that likely compromises on clarity, or you can get a really nice diamond in the 1-2ct. range (again, depending on where you shop). This By Erstwhile ring is my favorite in this price point; I've always loved the details on the side. This is another favorite, a vintage-inspired ring from the company I used to work for, Trumpet & Horn. Wowza!

I'm pretty sure I want a big diamond ring. Is it ever okay to prioritize size over clarity, or will I regret it in the long run? 

It completely depends on your own taste and opinions. In my opinion, find a happy medium. I know many women who stopped wearing their engagement rings once they were married and/or had kids because they were too big and kind of got in their way. I personally wouldn't prioritize size because it seems more important when you're getting engaged than it actually is in the longterm! 

How far ahead of the engagement should I or my partner begin the ring-buying process?

It depends! If you're shopping vintage, you can basically go home with a ring that day (or in a few days after it's resized). If you're doing something more custom, give yourself 2+ months so the process doesn't feel rushed. For us, the process was just over 2 months from the first time we spoke about rings to the proposal. However, you may need more time if you've never tried on rings before and don't know what you like!

Can you give me a run-down on diamond shapes? (What's trendy right now? What's popular? What's classic?) 

Of course! The most popular/timeless/classic option is the Round Brilliant Cut diamond. A majority of people you know probably have this shape. Personally, this was the one shape I knew I didn't want just based on its popularity. Emerald cuts are also pretty classic. Ovals are trendy right now. Rose cuts are my favorite and slightly more under-the-radar (and can be almost any shape, which I LOVE). I also love asscher cuts (like Emily's) because they're somehow a combination of rare, unique, and classic.

What's the best ring shape and set to get if I want to work out in it?

First, don't work out in it!!! But if you must, get a ring that's low-profile and bezel set, and not yellow or rose gold (platinum is better). Get a solitaire so you don't have a lot of dainty details to mess up.

How about band material? Is there a difference beyond aesthetics between gold, platinum, and silver bands (and which is most popular)? 

Yep! Platinum is the most popular. It's harder and more expensive than gold, which is softer. All gold is yellow, but you can make it rose (by adding copper) or white (by adding rhodium). Over time, it will probably fade. So if you opt for white gold, know that you may need to get your ring rhodium plated in the future.

Can you tell me about diamond alternatives?

Yes! There are so many options. My favorite are sapphires (in all colors) because they are gorgeous and almost as hard as diamonds. Opals are really trendy right now, but I caution against them only because they're a very soft stone. Other favorites are lab-made diamonds, aquamarines, and emeralds (with the same softness caution). Moissanite (made in a lab) and morganite (pink emerald) are popular alternatives as well, just not my personal favorites.

Speaking of which... are lab-made diamonds exactly the same as 'real' diamonds? What's the difference?

Lab-made diamonds have the same composition as diamonds that come from the Earth, so they are REAL diamonds. The only difference is the source. Lab-made diamonds are grown in a laboratory and controlled for conditions that happen naturally in the Earth. They are obviously grown a lot faster, too (it doesn't take millions of years). They are a major step forward for sustainability and ethics in the diamond industry, so I'm a huge fan. They are already less expensive than mined diamonds, and will continue to get less expensive as the supply increases.

What about getting different gems? Is it a bad idea to get something like an emerald (I've heard they're softer than diamonds)?

You heard correctly. If you're ever wondering, just Google the name of the stone and "Mohs hardness scale". Diamonds are a 10/10, which is why they are such a good choice for a ring you'll wear every day. Sapphires and rubies are a 9, so they are also fantastic choices. Emeralds are a 7.5-8, so it is softer and requires a little more care. Opals are a 6, so they make me nervous to wear every day, but I'm a worrier! It's not a bad idea to go for a different gemstone, but you have to be more careful with stones that aren't diamonds (you should also be careful with your diamonds, by the way!)

What's a 'Champagne diamond' and a 'salt and pepper diamond'? 

Diamonds actually come in a lot of different colors, and the most popular right now for engagement rings (besides white!) are fancy yellow and Champagne. They are still diamonds, they're just colored (Champagne is a light brown diamond with a yellow undertone). These are totally fine if that's the look you want. A salt and pepper diamond is one that you can visibly see black specks and other flaws in the diamond. This is a personal preference, but I'm not a fan.

I've heard diamonds shine more when they let in more light—does that mean the setting a diamond's in can impact how shiny it is?

Yes! You've heard me talk a lot about why I chose my ring for its low-profile. A low-profile ring is super easy to wear (it sits more flush with your finger), but it doesn't sparkle as much because not as much light gets in. I don't care about sparkle, so that was an easy one for me. Most rings these days sit high up so more light can get in, and they sparkle more. Look up the classic "Tiffany" setting—it sits up really high and has open sides so as much light can get in as possible.

If I've never tried on rings before in-person, where should I start looking?

I think it's important to try on a few styles before you really start shopping so you get an idea of how different styles look on your hand and how they feel on. Go into a big store with lots of options (like Brilliant Earth or even Zales) and try on all the styles that really stand out to you right away, and go from there.

What is an 'ethical' diamond, and how do I ensure I get one? 

An "ethical ring" basically means that the people who mined the diamond or gemstone were not treated poorly, exposed to a harmful or dangerous environment, or underpaid. It also means that the environment was not damaged in a significant way while creating the ring (this typically falls under 'sustainability'). In short, the best way to ensure your ring is ethical/sustainable is to get a lab-made diamond and a ring that is handmade in the USA with recycled metal. Vintage rings are also a good option because they require no extra labor and cause no extra strain on the environment.

Generally, make sure that the company says that they abide by The Kimberly Process if you're getting a diamond. Handmade in the USA is also a good sign that your ring (the metal part) wasn't made overseas in an unregulated factory.

What's the benefit of buying a vintage diamond ring? And what's the best way to go about purchasing one?

Buying a vintage ring is the chicest form of recycling possible. It's such a testament to the longevity of jewelry if you take care of it! Vintage rings are a great choice for the environment, and often have slightly lower costs than their new counterparts. The designs, in my opinion, are often way more interesting and unique, too.

If you want a vintage ring, go in without too specific of an idea, and be ready to buy when you find it. People will search for YEARS looking for exactly a certain something, and never find it. If you go in with a general idea that you want something amazing, but not very many specific details, you'll probably be very successful. 

I've heard you rant about mass-market rings. Why?

Basically for the reasons above. Diamonds that are churned out by a factory to exact specifications and rings that are made overseas by underpaid workers to keep the cost to the consumer low is not my idea of romantic. I prefer shopping from companies that make their rings by hand, one by one, and source their diamonds carefully and thoughtfully.

How does insurance work on an engagement ring? And what's the best way to insure one? 

Get insurance!!! It works similar to any other insurance. If you lose your center stone, the only way through it is to have insurance (I've seen it happen). You'll need the paperwork from the purchase saying how much it cost and an appraisal of the piece. This will tell the insurance company how much your ring is worth in the event that it's lost, stolen, or damaged. You can add it to your existing insurance policy in many cases, or get insurance specifically for the ring. I like Jeweler's Mutual.

How often should I clean my future ring, and how do I do so?

As often as you want. If you want it to sparkle like crazy, you should clean it once a week. If you don't care that much (like me), every few months should be fine. My favorite way is to drop it in a glass of vodka and let it soak for a bit, and then scrub with a super soft toothbrush. You can also use dish soap with the toothbrush method, or windex works too. If you have a diamond ring without a ton of side stones or inclusions (meaning it has a high clarity rating), you can get an ultrasonic cleaner.

Who are some of your favorite designers and companies?

I love this question!

For offbeat, cool, unique rings: Catbird, By Erstwhile, WWAKE, Consider the Wldflwrs, Anna Sheffield

For chic minimalism with a little extra something: ILA, Everett, David Yurman, Jennie Kwon, Holden

For lab-made diamonds: Vrai & Oro, Diamond Foundry

For vintage rings: Erstwhile, Trumpet & Horn, Lang Antiques

For classic and traditional rings: Brilliant Earth, James Allen

Thank you, Kelly! (Can you see now why we ask her ALL of our ring questions?) If you have any we missed, ask away in the comments! 

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