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The Step-by-Step Engagement Ring Guide

June 20, 2021 | riley

Image by Junebug member Nikk Nguyen Photo

So you’re getting ready to pop the question. First things first–congratulations! We know how exciting taking this next step can be. We also know how overwhelming it can be, especially the engagement ring buying process. With countless designers, jewelers, shapes, and settings,  choosing the right ring for your partner can feel like navigating a never-ending maze. 

If you’re feeling lost about finding the perfect symbol of your love, don’t fret. This engagement ring guide will answer your questions and take the guesswork out of picking out the ring of your partner’s dreams.

Step 1. Set An Engagement Ring Budget

You’ve probably heard the rule of thumb that an engagement ring should cost the equivalent of three months’ salary. We’re here to tell you that no longer applies. This “rule” was created as a marketing ploy during WWII to get couples to spend more money. For most couples, this is an unrealistic amount of money to spend. You shouldn’t worry about spending years paying off a ring just because a jewelry company made up a marketing initiative almost 80 years ago. Sounds silly, doesn’t it?

According to Brides’ American Wedding Study, the average amount spent on an engagement ring in 2020 was $3,756. Whereas a study conducted by The Knot in 2020 found that the average amount spent was $1,000-$3,000. Of course, some couples pay much less or much more. The price you pay should ultimately be an amount you’re comfortable with. 

We reached out to our members about buying an engagement ring, and this is what photographer Nikk Ngyuen had to say about budget, “If you’re looking to find the perfect engagement ring, you’ll want the perfect price too. Finding a ring that suits your budget will do wonders in the long run. Remember, purchasing the engagement ring is the first step of many along the way. You’ll have a stunning wedding, wedding band, and a rewarding honeymoon vacation to consider soon!”

If you’re nervous about pricing, talk with your designer or shop. Many have financing plans or other flexible payment options available.

Image by Radu Benjamin

Step 2. Know The 4 C’s

If you’ve started shopping already, you may have already heard of the four C’s. They stand for clarity, color, cut, and carat weight. To break this down a little further, here’s what each category is referring to:

Clarity

Because diamonds are naturally mined, they have imperfections, also known as inclusions. Clarity refers to these inclusions and whether they’re noticeable or not. The fewer imperfections a ring has, the more expensive it becomes. Clarity is rated on a scale, with IF being virtually flawless and I1 being apparent inclusions.

Color  

Diamonds may also have a light yellow tint to them. This, too, is graded on a D scale, with D being completely colorless and Z having a yellow tint. Most standard diamonds typically fall in the D to J range. However, color is a personal preference, and a light yellow diamond does not mean it lacks in quality. 

  • D-F – Colorless
  • G-J – Near colorless
  • K-M – Faint color
  • N-R – Very light color
  • S-Z – Light color

Cut

This is one of the most important aspects of choosing an engagement ring. It also isn’t determined by nature. Cut refers to the angles and the sparkle of a diamond. If a diamond is cut poorly, it will appear dull. If it’s well-cut, the light will shine off it and give you the sparkle you’re looking for. Unlike the other C’s, cut does not influence the cost as much as the others, so it’s best to aim for the Excellent to Very Good range.

Carat Weight

Last but not least is the weight of the diamond, which is also called the carat weight. As the weight increases, so does the price tag. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the diamond will look larger though. A shallow cut or a halo setting will give a smaller diamond a more prominent appearance.

Image by Junebug member Erin and Geoffrey

Step 3. How To Covertly Find Their Ring Size

If you’re trying to keep the proposal a surprise, then finding out your partner’s ring size may be a bit tricky. But you’re not totally out of luck. The easiest way to get their ring size is to measure a ring they already own and wear.

To measure it, use a string or a strip of paper and wrap it around the inside of the ring. From there, mark where the ends meet and measure said diameter on a ruler in millimeters. You can then compare it to this chart to find the corresponding ring size. Make sure you’re using a ring they wear on their ring finger!

If they are not big on wearing rings, there’s nothing wrong with asking their friends or family if they know their ring size.  You can also ask if they’re willing to go undercover to get it for you.

Step 4. Talk To A Trusted Source For Ring Suggestions

Now that you’ve got their ring size figured out and you know the four C’s, it’s time to figure out what style of ring they like. This is another opportunity to consider the jewelry they already own. For example, if they wear a lot of silver, don’t get them a yellow gold band.

Are there friends or family members that you can ask that know their style? If you have other friends who were recently engaged, try to casually bring up what you like or don’t like about the ring (in private and definitely not in front of your friend). Doing this might spark a conversation about what your partner likes, and you can remember that information as you’re shopping. Use any resources you can to avoid getting a ring they’d dislike.

Step 5. Pick A Diamond Shape

The shape of the diamond is purely personal choice–it helps speak to one’s unique style. Some of the most popular shapes include:

Round Diamonds

Round diamonds are the most popular on the market because the shape catches light the best and offers a lot of sparkle. This is great for anyone who loves a classic, traditional look.

Oval Diamonds

Oval shape can be described as an elongated round diamond. Many people love this shape because it’s a bit more unique, and it lengthens the look of your fingers.

Emerald Shape Diamonds

Is your significant other into vintage pieces and looks? If so, the emerald shape might be for them. The art-deco-like rectangular appearance shows off the ring’s clarity rather than cut. This is perfect for anyone looking for an understated look.

Pear Shaped

Pear-shaped diamonds look very similar to a teardrop. The combination of oval and marquise looks beautifully delicate when paired with a thin band–like those from Nature Sparkle.

Marquise Cut Diamonds

The marquise looks a bit like an American football shape. The long, distinctive silhouette maximizes carat size and shines like there’s no tomorrow.

Asscher Shaped Diamonds 

Asscher diamonds are also a fan-favorite of art-deco lovers. The square emerald shape has a geometrical appearance that is absolutely radiant.

Princess Cut Diamonds

Princess cut is another popular shape thanks to its contemporary style and brightness. These typically come in a square or rectangular shape and will make your partner feel like a royal.

Cushion Cut Diamonds

Cushion cut, also known as “pillow-cut,” refers to a diamond that is square or rectangular with rounded edges. When in a vintage setting, they’re the perfect combination of modern and old school.

Image by Junebug member Nikk Nguyen Photo

Step 6. Pick An Engagement Ring Setting

You’re almost there. With the shape of the diamond narrowed down, the next decision is the setting. This defines the engagement ring style and showcases the ring’s best features. Some of the most well-known settings include:

  • Solitaire – Solitaire is the single diamond by itself. This is a beloved style by people all around the world because of its elegant simplicity
  • Paveé – Pronounced “pah-vay,” this setting involves the main stone surrounded by a band of smaller diamonds, which makes the main diamond look bigger
  • Halo – The term halo refers to a ring with the main stone set in the middle of a halo of diamonds. Much like the paveé, this makes the carat size look bigger than it really is
  • Sidestone – Sidestone rings consist of the main stone accompanied by two or three other small diamonds on either side
  • Three Stone – Three stone settings typically have three different stones, side by side, with the center diamond being the largest 

Image by May Iosotaluno

Step 7. Decide Where To Buy

Choosing the shape and setting is the most challenging part. Once you’ve got that nailed down, you just have to decide where to shop. Engagement ring shopping has never been easier, and each option offers its own advantages.

Buying An Engagement Ring From A Jeweler

Jewelers seem to be the most common option for most couples. That’s because they are easily accessible and trustworthy. This includes companies like Shane Company, Jared, and Zales. These stores have locations nationwide and have a wide selection of rings. They also offer financing options.

There are also private jewelers, which are ideal for anyone considering custom work or who has an exact ring shape and setting in mind. Because they don’t have hundreds of storefronts, you’ll also find that prices tend to be slightly lower, and you’ll get a more personalized experience. The downside to this is that the process of custom work or hand-making a ring can take months–which we will discuss later.

Buying An Engagement Ring Online

With the internet as powerful as it is these days, it should come as no surprise that there are hundreds of reputable online engagement ring retailers. You can browse thousands of different options, all without having to leave your house. 

The downside to this is that you don’t get the chance to see the ring in person before spending the money. It is advised to find a company that offers 360-degree videos of the exact ring you will be purchasing, so you can inspect its clarity. 

Junebug Tip: 

If you’re looking at engagement rings online, be sure to clear your search history so your partner doesn’t spoil the surprise!

Antique Store Engagement Ring Options

For those looking for something a little more unique, you can shop at antique stores. This can be a bit risky, so it’s best to shop at reputable stores that offer detailed descriptions of each piece. These descriptions should include age, size, condition, color, clarity, cut, and carat. Ideally, they will also include a certified gemologist’s report. Don’t be afraid to ask questions before purchasing.

Image by Rachel Rowland

Step 8. Get The Certificate

If purchasing a ring that is one carat or larger, it should come with a diamond grading report from a gemological association such as the GIA. Jewelers may also include a description–also known as a “fingerprint”–of the ring, consisting of the 4 C’s, dimensions, shape, and any improvements made.

Tips For Saving When Buying An Engagement Ring

Prices will vary depending on carat, cut, clarity, and color. No two rings will ever be the same. But if you’re looking to save a little extra during your shopping experience, consider these tips:

  • Buy a lab-created stone – Moissanite, a lab-created stone, has taken the wedding industry storm–for a good reason. They look and shine exactly like natural diamonds for a fraction of the cost. Some of our favorite moissanite retailers include Taylor & HartBrilliant Earth, and Blue Nile. To learn more about lab-grown diamonds, check out our guide here
  • Go lower on carats – A 0.9-carat ring and a 1-carat ring have only one noticeable difference—the price.  That small swap is hardly noticeable but saves you a good chunk of money
  • Don’t go platinum – While platinum settings are highly sought after, opting for 14k or 18k white gold can save you hundreds of dollars
  • Watch out for high interest rates – If you decide to utilize financing options, be sure to know what the interest rate is. While it may be tempting to buy a ring with no money down or to put in your credit card, the interest might mean you’ll be spending a lot more than you expected
  • Focus most on cut – Focusing on cut rather than clarity and color means you can get a bigger stone for a smaller price. Just keep in mind that if you’re after a square or rectangular shape, clarity matters. Because you have a large flat surface, any imperfection will be noticeable
  • Consider a halo cut – A halo setting makes a smaller carat diamond look larger. This way, you get the attention-grabbing ring you want without dropping extra money on a bigger carat.

Image by Map and Compass

Engagement Ring Timelines

If you choose to purchase a pre-set ring, getting the ring can take anywhere from one day to one week, depending on your diamond size. Stores typically stock rings from sizes six to seven but offer to resize them in-store once purchased. 

If you’re having a ring custom-made, it can take up to six weeks or longer. This may seem like a long time, but good things come with patience. 

Now that you’ve gotten all of the details, you’re ready to buy an engagement ring your partner will love. Congratulations! To kickstart online engagement ring shopping, check out these gemstone rings we’re loving or these vintage engagement ring Etsy shops.

Once you’ve popped the question, we’re here to help you plan the wedding of your dreams. To get started, make sure you complete these ten steps for newly engaged couples

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