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Engagement Rings Buying Guide

by Staff Writer

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Diamond solitaire engagement ring in a red rose

Once you've decided you're ready to get married, the next step seems simple: find a ring and prepare to pop the question. However, it's not unusual to feel hesitant once you actually start looking for the engagement jewelry that will reside on her hand until death do you part. From cut and clarity of a diamond to style and size of the band, getting educated about the basics can make investing in the perfect engagement ring easier.

Buying an Engagement Ring:

  1. The budget: Set a budget before you start any serious shopping. Conventional wisdom suggests that you spend the equivalent of two month's salary on an engagement ring. This is just a guideline, however, and you may wish to spend more or less, depending on the ring styles you like. It is best to do some preliminary shopping to gather pricing information. This will give you a base line for setting the budget.

  2. The diamond: The center stone is the focal point of a diamond engagement ring, and you'll want to give special consideration to its quality. The round brilliant-cut diamond in a solitaire setting forms the most traditional of engagement rings; however, diamonds are available in a variety of elegant shapes. Read our diamond buying guide for complete information on diamond quality. Here are a few pointers:

    • Four C's: The "four C's" is the basic criteria for rating diamond quality. Carat refers to the weight of the diamond. Cut is the depth and width of the stone. Color determines the whiteness or, rather, lack of color. Clarity rates the blemishes and inclusions.

    • Fancy color: Any intense, naturally occurring color other than white in a diamond is called fancy.

    • Shape: Shape refers to the appearance of the diamond.

    • Facet: The facets are the flat, polished surfaces of a cut diamond.

    • Step cut: A step cut features staircase facets that form tiers on the diamond. Emerald-cut and baguette-shaped diamonds have step cuts.

    • Brilliant cut: The brilliant cut is the one that reflects the most light from the diamond. Round, marquise, oval, heart and pear shapes all can have a brilliant cut. The round brilliant-cut diamond has 58 facets.

    • Mixed cut: This design is a combination of the step and brilliant cuts. Examples are the princess-cut and radiant-cut diamonds.

  3. The ring setting: After deciding on a diamond shape, you'll want to decide how to show it off. That is the function of the setting. A ring's setting holds the gemstones, pearls or other adornments in place and defines the style.

    • Prong: A prong is a metal bar that protrudes from the band to clasp the gemstone and hold it in place. The most common setting, prongs are best for displaying large diamonds as they allow light to pass through the stone, enhancing the sparkle. A solitaire ring usually has four to six prongs; four show more of the diamond, but six will hold it more securely.

    • Channel: A channel setting consists of a groove in a metal band that holds a row of gems between two parallel bars. The stones sit next to each other without metal bars between them. This is a common setting for wedding bands and anniversary rings.

    • Pave: A pave setting features small prongs that secure many gemstones; each prong touches at least three stones. Pave settings create the grand look of a large diamond in a glittering display of multiple small diamonds while keeping the cost of the ring down.

    • Bezel: A bezel is a metal rim that fits around the gemstone at the girdle (circumference) to securely hold it in place.

    • Cluster: A cluster is a grouping of gemstones that forms a compact pattern. Usually, a group of small stones surrounds a larger gem.

    • Tension: The tension setting features an opening in the band that holds the gemstone. The pressure created from the band trying to close itself keeps the stone securely in place.

  4. The band: Engagement rings are usually crafted with bands of gold or platinum, although stainless steel and titanium are becoming more common. For an in-depth education on precious metals visit our precious metals jewelry buying guide.

    • Yellow gold: Gold is the classic metal for engagement rings as its warm color complements fiery diamonds. Pure gold, 24 karat, is too soft a material for most rings, but 18-karat, 14-karat and 10-karat gold rings are still of high quality and quite durable. Yellow gold is a good match for warm skin tones, and pink gold is a good alternative to the intense yellow color.

    • White gold: As an alternative to yellow gold for wedding jewelry, white gold's popularity has soared in recent years. The color doesn't interfere with the whiteness of the diamonds, and it provides a sleek, monochromatic look in the ring. White gold is a good choice for those with cool skin tones.

    • Platinum: The most valuable of precious metals, platinum is a good choice for allergy sufferers as the pure metal isn't alloyed with common allergens such as nickel. Platinum's gleaming white color will beautifully complement the diamonds of most engagement rings and wedding bands.

  5. The certificate: It is important to obtain a certificate grading your diamond from a gemological laboratory if you want to have the engagement ring insured. A certificate from a reputable laboratory verifies the value of the diamond ring's center stone by rating the carat, color, cut and clarity. Traditional retail stores and online shopping sites will often include a certificate for their more valuable rings and loose diamonds. You can also contact a gemological laboratory to have the ring appraised. Here is a short list of well-known, reputable laboratories that certify diamond rings:

    • American Gem Society (AGS)

    • Gemological Institute of America (GIA)

    • International Gemological Institute (IGI)

    • European Gemological Laboratories (EGL)

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