It might be the most expensive piece of jewelry you'll ever own—and one of the most meaningful. Before you start browsing sites and stores, read this checklist of things to keep in mind when choosing an engagement ring. 

By Colleen Sullivan
Updated May 30, 2018
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There was a time when men would “pop the question” with a ring they’d picked out on their own—or one passed down from a mom or grandma. And while some sentimental traditionalists still go that route (awww, sweet), more and more women are playing an active role in choosing an engagement ring for themselves. After all, if you're going to wear this pricey piece of jewelry for the rest of your life, it makes sense that you LOVE it, right? Before you consider where to buy an engagement ring, whether you want a vintage engagement ring or a modern cut and style, read our expert tips on how to buy an engagement ring. Now go have fun shopping—and congratulations!

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Look to the Past

“Prince Harry took two diamonds from his mother’s jewelry collection and used them as side stones in the engagement ring he gave to Meghan Markle. Ask family members if there are any heirloom rings or stones you might inherit—it’s a lovely way to honor relatives as well as save some money,” says Anne Chertoff, a wedding trends expert for WeddingWire.

Rethink the Traditional Diamond

“If you prefer sapphires, rubies, emeralds or another colored gemstone over a diamond, go for it,” encourages Andrea Groussman, owner and designer of Andrea Groussman Fine Jewelry. Just be sure to study up on your stones. “Choose a gemstone that’s not only aesthetically pleasing, but that will hold up to daily wear,” advises Suzanne Kalandjian, president and designer at Suzanne Kalan. “Look for ones that are sturdy, like sapphires and pastel-colored morganite. Opals, for example, are porous and can change color from exposure to sunlight and even some household detergents.”

Ask for a Lifetime Guarantee

“You’ll want to ensure if you lose, chip or crack your diamond in the original setting, it will be replaced at no charge. It’s also a good idea to bring your ring in for complimentary annual inspections,” says Eric Lindberg, CEO of Spence Diamonds.

Choose a Style You Won’t Outgrow

“This is a ring you’ll wear every day so you’ll want something classic enough to be on your finger for a lifetime, but also something that reflects your personal style,” says Eva Zuckerman, founder and creative director of Eva Fehren.

Choose Clarity Over Size

“Although a large diamond may seem like the best option, size isn’t everything when looking at gems—it’s clarity that is essential to a beautiful ring,” says Alexis Thiele, founder and designer at Millapani. The better the clarity, the brighter the sparkle.

Comfort Counts

“It's important your engagement ring is comfortable for everyday wear, so make sure it doesn't have sharp edges and that the setting doesn't sit too high or too low on your finger or that it isn’t too tight or loose,” says Xiao Wang, jewelry designer at Xiao Wang. “Ask your jeweler if you can test drive the ring for a few days in case you need to make any adjustments.”

Protect the Planet

“Instead of an earth-mined diamond, consider an engineered or cultured diamond created in the lab, which is indistinguishable from a mined diamond because it’s been made using a scientific process that replicates how diamonds are formed in the earth—but in a sustainable way,” says Anne Chertoff.

Ignore the 3 Month Salary “Rule”

“Never think, ‘I need to spend this much money’ when buying an engagement ring. If you find a ring you love, but it’s only half of what you planned on spending, great! You can put that added money towards the honeymoon or a rainy day fund,” says Sriya Karumanchi, communications manager at Catbird. On the other hand, “if you want to spend a little extra, know that it’s a lifetime investment.”

Gather Your Design Inspirations

“Create an engagement ring Pinterest board, collect magazine clippings, and follow jewelry designers on Instagram. Then share it with your jeweler so he or she can help guide you to select or design an engagement ring of your dreams,” suggests Brooke Worthington, founder and designer at Brooke Worthington Jewelry.

Narrow Down Your Cut Options

“Rule out what you don’t want first: Is your style more minimalist, traditional, romantic, or exotic? There are many cuts to choose from including emerald, oval, pear, heart, princess, cushion, marquise or round— start narrowing down your options,” suggests Alexis Thiele.

Put a Twist on Tradition

“The solitaire remains a classic and timeless style but you can enhance it with a different positioning of the stone,” notes Frank Cirillo, director of public relations for Kay Jewelers. “For example, stones are traditionally set north-south, meaning the center is vertical to the finger. In east-west settings, the center is set horizontally across the finger.”

Find a Ring That Suits Your Hand

“By trying on lots of rings, you’ll find a size, shape, and style that works for you. In general, chubbier fingers can handle larger stones, while delicate bands complement slender fingers,” says Tathienne Thiele, founder and designer at Millapani.

Be Strategic with Trends

“It’s okay to go a little trendier with your setting, as it’s easier to update than a stone should your taste change,” adds Jillian Sassone, founder, lead designer and creative director of Marrow Fine Jewelry.

Consider Your Lifestyle

“Do you do a lot of work with your hands? Will your ring constantly get caught or snag on things? Think about how your ring will fit into your world and be sure to describe your work and favorite activities with your jeweler before settling on a style,” says Camille Parruitte, CEO and creative director at Nouvel Heritage.

Know the Difference Between a Grading Report and an Appraisal

“The first assesses the value and qualities of the diamond, whereas the latter covers the entire ring,” explains Anna Sheffield, founder and designer at Anna Sheffield Fine Jewelry. “You’ll need an appraisal to get the ring insured.”

Look Online

“Thirty-one percent of couples turn to the internet to buy their rings. Go with a trusted e-commerce site that will offer you an appraisal of the ring for insurance purposes—and review their insured shipping and return/exchange policies before clicking ‘buy’,” says Anne Chertoff.

Create Emotional Value

“Think of significant moments, numbers, or colors in your relationship and try to tie them into your ring. I have two sons and a husband, so I often stack three rings on one finger to remind myself of my wonderful family,” says Anne Sisteron, jewelry designer and founder of Anne Sisteron.

Plan Ahead for Layers

Love a stacked ring look? Think ahead when choosing a style. Or, “if your engagement ring isn’t conducive to stacking, look for a V shaped or open cuffed band—both are great ways to layer around an engagement ring that may not be favorable to piling,” adds Jade Trau.

Hail the Halo

“When you place a pave diamond or a baguette style diamond halo around your center stone, it can make your ring look larger while also accentuating the center stone,” notes Anne Chertoff.

Don't Get Fooled by Lighting

“The lights above a jeweler’s showcase are designed to make diamonds sparkle and it’s worth asking your jeweler if they utilize a Diamondlite, a professional light that ensures you’re getting an honest look at your diamond. If not, ask if you can view the ring in natural light—by a window—to see how the diamond sparkles in that setting, since that will be the norm once the diamond is on your finger,” suggests Eric Lindberg.

Know your Ks

“When shopping for a ring, you should know that gold comes in three different karats—14k, 18k, and even 22k,” says Sriya Karumanchi. “Pure gold is 24 karats, and the higher the karat the softer the gold, and the warmer tones of yellow in the metal.”

Wear Your Everyday Jewelry to the Store

“You’ll be wearing your new ring with jewelry you already own so try on engagement rings with your existing jewelry to make sure they play well,” says Eva Zuckerman.

Mix Your Metals

“White gold is contemporary and elegant, yellow gold is traditional and fashionable, and rose gold is unique and romantic. But you don’t need to settle for one—many brides opt for a variety of mixed metal settings,” says Frank Cirillo.

Buy for the Guy

“Today, it’s okay to have both parties wear an engagement ring,” says Anne Chertoff. “Singer Ed Sheehan was recently spotted wearing an engagement band his fiancé made for him and, in fact, ninety-one percent of same-sex couples will exchange engagement rings regardless of gender. It’s a meaningful moment all couples can enjoy.”

Take Your Time

“A lot of couples select their wedding bands on the same day they choose their engagement ring, which can be daunting. Find an engagement ring you are head-over-heels with first, then shop for the perfect wedding band later,” suggests Sriya Karumanchi. “Just be sure you decide on bands at least two months out from the wedding, so they arrive in time.”

Speak Up

Be honest with your partner. “Discuss your expectations and the level of involvement you want in choosing a ring,” says Camille Parruitte. “If they don't want your involvement, at least make sure they know your ring size.”

Ask for a Report

“A diamond’s cut determines its brilliance and makes up forty percent of its value. Make sure your jeweler provides you with the GIA Facetware report for the diamond you’re considering purchasing. This third-party documentation will give you an unbiased grading of the diamond to ensure its correctly cut for maximum brilliance,” suggests Eric Lindberg.

Have Fun with Diamond Beading

“Milgrain is a row of tiny beaded diamonds that can be added to the edge of the ring. More brides are incorporating this detail into the design of the engagement ring as a nod to vintage and to differentiate their rings from others,” notes Ilaria Lanzoni, design director, Hearts On Fire.

Take Lots of Photos

“Take photos of the ring, preferably while it’s on your hand,” suggests Sriya Karumanchi. “It will be helpful when thinking back on the design and scale.”

Skip the Center Stone

Sounds crazy, but hear us out! “An engagement ring does not have to have a traditional center stone. Opting for a wide diamond band, for example, is a perfectly acceptable option,” suggests Anne Chertoff. (It might also be less expensive, while still being beautiful.)

Research Your Jeweler

“Take the time to investigate reputable sellers. Go online, read the reviews, and don't hesitate to ask your jeweler or designer questions,” says Xiao Wang.

Educate Yourself

“Find a diamond expert who can not only walk you through the 4 Cs (cut, color, clarity and carat weight), but also one who has a binocular microscope, which will give you a magnified look, ensuring you're getting the highest quality diamond for your budget,” Eric Lindberg.

Beware of Too Dainty or Delicate Bands

“A dainty shank—otherwise known as the band—could bend and lose form, resulting in repairs,” notes Brooke Worthington.

Don’t Feel Rushed

“This is a big decision, one you’ll hopefully live with the rest of your life. It’s okay if you take several months to research and try on rings before settling on the perfect one,” says Anne Chertoff.

Try a Colored Diamond

“Black, grey, pink, yellow, blue, or champagne diamonds all work if you’re looking for an alternative to a clear diamond. Have fun with it!” notes Eva Zuckerman.

Be Aware of Imperfections

“Most diamonds contain an inclusion, which is material that has been trapped inside a mineral during its formation. Be conscious of where it appears—it’s best to find a stone where you can cover any inclusions with a prong,” says Rosanne Karmes, designer and founder of Sydney Evan.

Supplement Some Sparkle

“Adding diamonds to the gallery, the part of the ring that holds the center diamond, is a great way to add some extra pop,” suggests Ilaria Lanzoni, design director, Hearts On Fire.

Don’t Get Stuck on a Style

“It never hurts to try on a variety of styles—even looks you would normally not gravitate towards. We’ve seen plenty of people fall in love with rings they never thought they would like,” Sriya Karumanchi.

Put Your Money on the Center Stone

“Keep in mind that the center stone is the most expensive part of the ring and most often the focus of the design, which is why, if you opt for one, the majority of the budget should be allocated here,” adds Brooke Worthington.

Get an Outside Perspective

“This is a big and meaningful purchase—go ring shopping with someone whose opinion you really trust, who’ll be open to telling you if a ring suits you or not,” says Andrea Groussman.