How to Buy a Diamond Engagement Ring

SEPTEMBER 28, 2016

by Melissa Ford Engagement Ring Specialist

Whether you want to get the most bling for your buck or customize to your heart's content, choosing an engagement ring is a big decision. Let us guide you through all the ins and outs of finding the perfect ring.

Diamond Engagement Rings 101

Shopping for an engagement ring is an exciting time. You've decided who you want to spend your life with, and now you're searching for the ring that will symbolize the blending of your lives. Knowing what to look for when shopping for a diamond will help you make the right choice when it comes time to make a purchase. Setting a budget will make narrowing down your options easier. Our extensive guide will introduce you to the world of diamonds, ring settings, bands, and precious metals to help you find the perfect engagement ring.

An infographic of a diamond

Woman spraying perfume on her wrist wearing a diamond ring

The 4 C's

If you have decided on a custom engagement ring or semi-mount band, you are likely to encounter loose diamonds. When considering a diamond center stone, there are a few factors to keep in mind to best determine quality and value. Viewing loose diamonds in person is essential to choosing a quality stone. A good jeweler will be able to help you navigate a diamond collection, though going in with a bit of knowledge under your belt will ultimately help you make the most informed decision and get the best value for your budget. There are four essential elements to consider when choosing a diamond. The four C's — Cut, Color, Clarity, and Carat weight — play an important role in the overall cost of the stone. For some diamond buyers, carat weight is the most important factor, while others may put more emphasis on clarity and color. Each element has a basic rating system, but the personal value of the stone ultimately comes down to the qualities you find most important.

An infographic of the different types of diamond cuts

The cut of a diamond refers to its proportion, facets, and shape. As the most important source of sparkle, a properly cut and polished stone will reflect and disperse light to provide maximum shine. Cuts are typically graded on a 5-point scale from excellent to poor, depending on the amount of light that is reflected out of the stone. If a stone is cut too shallow or too deep, the light that passes through the crown escapes through the pavilion of the stone, hindering the desired sparkle. Girdle thickness is something to consider when determining the cut of a diamond, as a thicker girdle may be an indication of a poorly cut stone. A thicker girdle can also carry a higher carat weight that may not be reflected in the dimension of the stone, resulting in a smaller circumference but higher price tag. Depending on your budget, diamonds with lower color and clarity ratings can still provide high sparkle if they are cut in the right proportions and shape.

An infographic of the different types of diamond colors

Natural diamonds can be found in a huge range of colors. For diamonds on the white scale, there is a color rating system designed to categorize the stones from colorless to yellow. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) rates diamond color on a scale from D to Z — D being completely colorless and Z being light yellow in color. A colorless diamond carries a higher value than a stone with a color presence. While the distinctions in color may be difficult to detect with the naked eye, they do have an impact on the price point of the stone. Diamond color is assessed by placing the stones on an all-white background, due to the color of a diamond becoming more difficult to detect once mounted in a ring setting. Additionally, metal color may make a difference in the way the diamond appears. If you're considering a diamond toward the yellow end of the spectrum, a yellow gold setting will help make the diamond appear whiter. The best way to determine if a diamond color meets your standards is to view the stone in person and in a well-lit space.

An infographic of the different types of diamond claritys

Diamond clarity is determined by the amount of flaws, blemishes, and inclusions present in the stone. Inclusions are very small imperfections that naturally occur in the formation of diamonds and gemstones, which interfere with the amount of light able to pass through the stone. Clarity ratings range from Flawless (FL) to Included (I). A higher clarity rating means the diamond is more flawless and thus carries a higher price point. However, a slightly lower clarity rating can often times still look clean to the naked eye and radiate as much beauty. Diamond shape and cut will help determine the amount of visible inclusions. Emerald cut diamonds have a large table and a step-cut pavilion, which makes imperfections much more visible to the naked eye; and brilliant-cut diamonds feature multiple, kite-shaped facets that can disguise inclusions.

An infographic of the different types of diamond carat weights
4Carat Weight

Carat weight refers to the actual metric weight of the diamond, not to be confused with "karat," which refers to the measurement of purity in gold. The GIA defines "carat" as measuring 200 milligrams, or .02 grams. While carat weight is one of the largest determinants of price — larger carat diamonds tend to be rarer and more desirable — two diamonds of the same carat weight may vary greatly in price depending on other factors like the cut, color, and clarity grading. Keep in mind that two diamonds of the same carat weight can also appear to be different sizes depending on the quality of the cut.

Diamond Center Stone Shapes

A closeup of a womans hands with diamonds on them

The cut and shape of a diamond is a crucial element to the sparkle-factor of the stone. A skilled cut can add beauty and sparkle to an imperfect diamond. It's no surprise that round-cut diamonds are the most coveted diamond shape for engagement rings due to their ability to capture and reflect light; however, they also tend to cost more to produce. That being said, there are a variety of stunning gemstone shapes that can be used to create elegant engagement rings. Before you take the dive into the glittering world of diamond shapes, there are a few important terms to keep in mind.

  • Fire refers to the flashes of white and rainbow light that reflect out of a diamond.
  • Scintillation is the intense sparkle of the stone or the flashes of black and white that occurs as the diamond moves in the light.
  • Brilliance is a combination of fire and scintillation. It also refers to the overall brightness of the diamond. (This is not to be confused with brilliant-cut, which is a cone-shaped diamond that features a kite-shaped facet pattern.)
  • Bow tie refers to the darkened parts of certain diamond cuts where the light escapes from the pavilion in a bow tie shape across the center of the stone. A bow tie is not necessarily a negative trait if it's subtle. However, if it distracts from the beauty of the diamond, it is indicative of a poorly cut stone.
A round cut diamond
Round Cut

The round-cut diamond is the most popular stone shape for engagement rings. Loved for its overall brilliance and sparkle, a standard round-cut diamond features 58 facets, including the culet. Because there is so much loss of the rough stone when the diamond is originally formed, the price-per-carat tends to be higher. But the fire, scintillation, and brilliance of round-cut stones makes them the most desirable option of all the cuts. This stunning gemstone shape features a "brilliant" cut pattern, which refers to the kite-shaped facets that reflect intense light off the pavilion and back through the crown.

A radiant cut diamond
Radiant Cut

Combining the elegance of a princess diamond with the fiery faceting of a cushion-cut stone, radiant diamonds offer a striking aesthetic. This diamond features a brilliant facet pattern on both the crown and pavilion for maximum sparkle. Traditionally rectangular with slightly cropped corners, radiant diamonds blend the fire and scintillation of a brilliant-cut diamond with the elegant shape of an emerald. In radiant diamonds with a longer diameter, a bow tie effect may appear across the center of the stone. The severity of the bow tie effect is determined in part by the facet pattern of the pavilion. The more light that is able to escape through the pavilion of the stone means the bow tie effect will appear more intense.

A princess cut diamond
Princess Cut

Princess-cut diamonds are a type of fancy-cut gemstone with a square shape and four equal sides. Since the princess shape is similar to the shape of the rough stone from which it's cut, it means that less material is lost when forming the diamond, which translates into a lower price per carat. Princess-cut stones are traditionally square, but some may actually be rectangular, which will often carry a lower price point. Brilliant-cut princess diamonds offer a similar fire and sparkle to that of round-cut diamonds, making their shape, sparkle, and price point ideal for many engagement ring buyers. Prong settings are recommended for princess stones, as the prongs will help prevent the delicate corners from chipping.

A cushion cut diamond
Cushion Cut

This classic gemstone shape, also known as the "old mine" or "miners" cut, combines the four sides of a princess cut with the rounded corners and faceting of a brilliant-cut stone. The delicate pillow shape makes this centuries-old style a must-have for vintage jewelry lovers. While generally less brilliant than round-cut stones, cushion diamonds are praised for their intense fire and vintage appeal. This classic diamond cut can be paired with a contemporary setting to elevate the look.

An asscher cut diamond
Asscher Cut

Similar to an emerald-cut diamond, asscher diamonds feature larger step-cut faceting with a higher crown and smaller table width. This creates more reflection and brilliance than an emerald-cut diamond. While asscher diamonds emit less sparkle than brilliant-cut stones, they provide a clean, transparent appearance desired by lovers of high-quality gemstones. Inclusions and lower color grades may be more obvious with this kind of cut.

A pear cut diamond
Pear Cut

This elegant gemstone shape takes the brilliant cut to the next level, creating a pear shaped stone that elongates the finger and gives off a radiant shimmer. Combining the curve of a round diamond with the tapered style of a marquise stone, a well-cut pear diamond should possess good symmetry with equal faceting on both sides. Pear diamonds should always be set with a prong at the narrow tip to protect it from chipping.

An emerald cut diamond
Emerald Cut

Unlike brilliant-cut stones, emerald-cut diamonds boast mirror-like flashes instead of a fiery sparkle. What makes this stone unique is the step-cut pavilion and open, minimally-faceted table. This creates a "hall-of-mirrors" effect that plays off light and dark planes to create dramatic flashes of light. Because of the shallow faceting and the open table, it's more difficult to hide the inclusions and flaws of lower-grade diamonds. Emerald cuts are at their most spectacular when the diamond is clean to the naked eye. Varying in shape from almost square to very narrow rectangles, emerald-cut diamonds offer a sophisticated appearance.

A marquise cut diamond
Marquise Cut

Inspired by the Madame de Pompadour's famous pout, the marquise diamond is an elongated oval-shaped stone with tapered points at both ends and a modified brilliant cut. The long, narrow shape and the large surface area of the crown elongate the finger and create the illusion of a larger stone. Because of its shape and facet pattern, a poorly cut marquise stone is more likely to have a bow tie effect. Inspect the stone in full light before buying to ensure the bow tie effect doesn't interfere with the brilliance of the diamond.

An oval cut diamond
Oval Cut

As a modified brilliant-cut stone, an oval diamond possesses a fiery sparkle. The oblong shape and facet pattern make this diamond an elegant choice for wearers who are looking for a unique take on the classic round cut. As with other elongated brilliant stones, the bow tie effect is something to watch for here. If the facets are misaligned, a shadow may be visible across the center of the stone where light is escaping. Whether flanked by side stones or framed in a halo, an oval-cut diamond engagement ring is a stunning choice.

A heart cut diamond
Heart Cut

Heart-shaped engagement rings are anything but conventional. Diamonds cut into this romantic shape are both distinct and expressive. This modified brilliant-cut diamond features a fiery facet pattern and stunning craftsmanship. A well-crafted heart-shaped diamonds should have a sharp distinct cleft and rounded wings. The size of the diamond will determine how visible the heart cut is. For smaller heart-shaped diamonds, a three-prong setting or halo will help define the shape of the stone. If your special someone is a true romantic, a heart-shaped diamond engagement ring is the perfect expression of love.

Choosing the right size rug for your space (infographic)

Settings & Styles

Woman with her hand by her chin- her fingers are layered with diamond rings

Next to the center stone, the setting is the second most important consideration when choosing an engagement ring. While the center stone might make up the bulk of the cost, the setting defines the look and helps to stage the style of the engagement ring. From a classic peg to the modern bezel, the setting of an engagement ring showcases the wearer's personality and sense of style. Keep your significant other's personal fashion in mind when choosing a setting and design.

De Couer 14k White Gold 3/4ct TDW Diamond Classic Engagement Ring
Bezel Setting

This traditional ring setting has made a major comeback recently. A bezel setting features a band of metal that encircles the entire center stone. The gemstone sits flush in the collar of the setting, keeping the stone supported and protected. Another popular version of this setting is a half bezel, which encompasses the sides of the stone, leaving gaps at the top and bottom of the setting. Bezel-set rings are desired among wearers with active lifestyles because they won't snag on clothing or other surfaces.

14k White Gold 1/5ct TDW Flush Set Multirow Diamond Band
Flush Setting

A flush setting features gemstones that appear recessed into the band. Only the crown of the stone is visible, making this one of the most secure setting types for wearers who regularly work with their hands. Because less of the stone is visible, less light is able to pass through, making it an excellent choice for less expensive accent diamonds. Flush-set diamond rings offer an understated yet elegant look with an affordable price tag.

Annello 14k Gold 1/2ct TDW Princess Diamond Engagement Ring
Bar Setting

This contemporary engagement ring style uses small metal bars to secure the gemstones in place. The linear design moves perpendicular to the band, highlighting the center diamond and accent stones. From bold to subtle, bar-set stones offer a modern aesthetic. Because bar-set gemstones are more visible, higher quality stones are recommended with this setting, as imperfections may be more apparent.

14k White Gold 5/8ct TDW Diamond Channel Set Engagement Bridal Ring
Channel Setting

Similar to pavè-set stones, a channel setting features gemstones mounted in a groove that is held in place by two metal strips wrapping parallel around the band. Channel-set diamonds have become a popular accent of diamond engagement rings, especially for eternity-style bands. Because of the close proximity and size of the gemstones in this type of mount, less expensive accent diamonds are a great match for this look.

Stainless Steel Ring with Tension Set Cubic Zirconia Center
Tension Setting

Tension-set rings offer a minimalist yet elegant look, giving the illusion of a floating diamond. This masterful design uses compression to hold the center stone in place instead of a traditional prong setting or other mount. In most tension settings, the gemstone is very prominent with more visible surface area, making it excellent for displaying higher quality diamonds.

Semi-Mount Setting

A semi-mount is a ready-made ring that is completely designed and constructed except for the center stone. This convenient setting option is great for couples who already possess a diamond and are looking for a happy medium between off-the-shelf and completely custom rings.

14k White Gold 1ct TDW Clarity Enhanced Marquise-cut Diamond Solitaire Engagement Ring
Six-Prong Setting

This modified prong setting features six claws instead of four to secure the center stone in place. While four-prong settings allow for more light to enter the stone, a six-prong setting offers more security if the wearer works with her hands. Plus, for round-cut diamonds, this setting can reinforce the shape of the stone and make it appear larger.

Halo Style

A halo is a stunning way to frame a sparkling center stone. Halos most commonly surround round-cut center stones, but can also be found framing princess, cushion, heart, and other stone shapes. In addition to added sparkle, a halo can intensify a center stone, define its shape, and make it appear larger.

Pavè Style

Pavè, from the French meaning "to pave," is a glamourous setting style that provides an intense sparkle. Glittering diamonds are closely bead-set to create a paved look, often gracing the shank or halo for a continuous, fiery effect.

14k White Gold 3/4ct TDW Diamond Halo Engagement Ring
Split-Shank Style

A split shank engagement ring features a classic band that splits elegantly at the shoulders to form an open shank that frames the center stone. The design will usually feature visible gaps on either side of the center setting, adding a delicate, artful touch to the look.

Solitaire Style

This iconic ring style features a prominent center stone mounted in a four-prong setting. The unadorned shank and open prong design allow for maximum light reflection and sparkle. While solitaire rings are traditionally prong-set, more and more designers are moving toward unconventional styles like bezel or tension settings. To make the stone appear more prominent, pair it with a slender band.

Three-Stone Style

In this beautiful setting, the diamond center stone is flanked by two slightly smaller side stones. A three-stone setting utilizes the brilliance of side stones to create a dramatic effect. Traditionally, the total weight of the side stones equals the weight of the center stone.

Eternity Style

This romantic ring setting symbolizes eternal love with precious stones encircling the entire band. Eternity rings come in a range of mountings such as channel, prong, and bar settings. While often used for wedding bands, this elegant style has become a popular choice for engagement rings. The center setting is the focal point that is flanked by accent stones extending around the shank.

Miadora 14k White Gold 1/3ct TDW Diamond Cluster Stackable Engagement Ring
Cluster Style

Cluster cocktail rings have become a recent inspiration for engagement ring designers. Beloved for their dazzling appearance, diamond clusters feature a group of smaller stones mounted together to form the center setting. This chic trend in engagement rings is an affordable option that doesn't sacrifice on sparkle.

Charles & Colvard 14k Gold 1.74 TGW Round Forever Brilliant Moissanite Bypass Ring
Bypass Style

For a new take on the traditional, a bypass ring is an elegant choice. Thought to signify two souls uniting as one, a bypass ring features a split shank that overlaps around the center stone, creating a fluid look. This Victorian-era ring style features soft curves and an elegant silhouette that exudes femininity. Whether dramatic or subtle, bypass rings offer a unique twist on a classic shank.

PalmBeach 2.45 TCW Princess-Cut Cubic Zirconia Platinum over Sterling Silver Bridal Engagement Ring Set Classic CZ
Bridal Set Style

For a bride planning to wear her engagement and wedding rings together, a bridal ring set is an excellent option. Some bridal sets feature rings that are designed to fit into each other like puzzle pieces, and are meant to always be worn together. Other styles are designed to coordinate, but they are separate rings and can be worn independently. If the rings are intended to be worn together, soldering them into one ring after the wedding will help prevent the metal from wearing down overtime as the loose rings rub against each other.

Precious Metals

Woman adjusting her glasses wearing a diamond ring

As a ring that will be worn for many years to come, it's important to get the metal right. If you are surprising your significant other with a ring, pay attention to the jewelry he or she wears to get a sense of the metal type and color that they prefer. Depending on the quality and weight, precious metal can play a significant role in the overall cost of the engagement ring. From cooler tones like white gold and platinum to warmer hues like rose and yellow gold, precious metals are an important part of the aesthetic of an engagement ring.

Auriya Platinum 1/3ct TDW Round-cut Diamond Solitaire Engagement Ring

Platinum is a naturally hypoallergenic precious metal that offers a cool, white luster. Considered the most precious of jewelry metals, platinum is rarer and more pure than white gold, making it an extremely durable option. Platinum is tarnish resistant and impervious to oxidation, which means the elegant hue will endure for generations.

De Couer 14k Yellow Gold 3/4ct TDW Diamond Classic Engagement Ring
Yellow Gold

Yellow gold is the most well-known precious metal in the jewelry world. This classic metal provides an array of engagement ring options at affordable prices. The purity of gold is measured by weight in karats, and is available in karat weights from 10k to 18k. Gold with purity above 18 karats is too soft for jewelry, and is thus blended with a stronger metal to provide durability.

Charles & Colvard 14k Gold 1.30 TGW Round Forever Brilliant Moissanite Halo Engagement Ring
White Gold

As a classic option for wedding jewelry, white gold is an elegant and affordable choice for engagement rings. The clean, bright hue is created by mixing pure yellow gold with a white metal such as nickel or palladium. White gold is an excellent complement to white diamonds, adding to the stone's brilliance for a brighter overall look.

De Couer 14k Rose Gold 1ct TDW Diamond Engagement Ring
Rose Gold

Rose gold is an elegant gold alternative and is defined by its warm pink hue. This contemporary metal alloy blends yellow gold, copper, and silver to create a rosy, blush tone that is beloved for its feminine allure. This romantic precious metal is extremely durable and affordable. The depth of color is determined by the amount of copper present in the ring. Higher karat weight rose gold will have a softer pink finish, whereas lower carat weight rose gold will have more copper and a rosier appearance.

Sterling Silver Cubic Zirconia Round Cut Bridal Ring Set
Black Gold

Black gold has become a bold, contemporary metal option for engagement rings. This striking option features an electroplated finish of either rhodium or ruthenium, which lends durability and drama to the ring. Black rhodium-plated gold engagement rings offer a striking aesthetic, especially when contrasted with fiery white diamonds. However, it is important to keep in mind that the black plating has the potential to wear down over time.

Noori 14k Black Gold 1/5ct TDW Diamond and Round-cut White Sapphire Engagement Ring
Sterling Silver

Sterling silver is one of the most abundant and affordable metal options for engagement rings. This metal alloy features a blend of pure silver and copper. Because pure silver is extremely soft, blending it with sturdier metals lends durability without sacrificing the bright, cool color. If not cared for, silver can become discolored overtime. Silver jewelry should be cleaned and polished regularly to help maintain its luster.

by Melissa Ford Engagement Ring Specialist

Melissa loves learning about gemology and the artistry that goes into forming a beautiful ring. Writing gives her the opportunity to learn about a range of topics and discover the world around her. As a content creator in Salt Lake City, Melissa enjoys exploring her beloved metropolis.

How to Buy a Diamond Engagement Ring