As exciting as it is to get engaged, finding the perfect engagement ring can be an intimidating task. (The holiday season is a popular time for engagements!) The ring is a symbol of love and commitment that is intended to be worn forever and it costs a good chunk of hard-earned money, so choosing the one for you or your partner is a big deal. 

If you’re starting to shop and don’t know where to start, we recommend following the advice of experts. That’s why ET Style connected with three fine jewelry professionals — Mona Akhavi, Chief Executive Officer of VRAI, Ryan Kelsie, Gemologist at Ritani, and Tonia Zehrer, Senior Vice President/Chief Merchandising Officer of Signet Jewelers — to share their knowledge on how to buy an engagement ring.

The experts cover a range of topics including the main characteristics of diamonds, metal options, price ranges, trends, what to take into consideration when choosing a specific style and tips on buying online, especially as we all continue to follow COVID-19 precautions. 

Read everything you need to know about engagement rings according to the experts below. 

Know the Basics About Diamonds

“The 4 Cs are the four characteristics of a diamond that are used to determine its overall quality, beauty and value on the market,” Kelsie says before explaining each component. 

Clarity

“Clarity determines how clear a diamond is despite any blemishes or inclusions it may have. The less visible these features are, the rarer and perfect the diamond is considered, thus making it more expensive.”

Carat

“Carat determines the weight of the diamond, not to be confused with size. Any diamond over 1 ct is higher in value as diamonds over this weight are harder to find, and a diamond over 1 ct with a great clarity grade are even more so.”

Color

“Color determines how bright and white the diamond is. The diamond color scale starts at D (completely colorless) and goes all the way down to Z (yellow). D-F diamonds are colorless and white. G-I diamonds are near colorless and J-K diamonds will have a hint of color — J will face up white, but K colored diamonds tend to be a bit more yellow. We usually recommend not going below J if the customer is determined to have a diamond that appears white.”

Cut

“Cut determines just how sparkly and bright the diamond is. A diamond with a poor cut grade but with higher color/clarity will look dead or less brilliant next to a diamond with a high cut grade and lower color/clarity. Poor cuts do not allow natural light to filter through the diamond and create the sparkle diamonds are known for.” 

Carbon Footprint

“Lab-grown diamonds are graded the same way as mined diamonds with the 4 Cs of cut, color, clarity and carat weight,” Akhavi notes. “At VRAI, we consider the fifth C to be just as important as the other four — diamond’s carbon footprint. Consumers are gravitating towards brands that align with their values, and we are proud that our sustainably created diamonds are the world’s first and only to have zero carbon footprint.” 

Choose Metal Preference 

“There are many options for metal. Engagement rings, for instance, typically are mounted in either platinum, 10-karat gold, 14-karat gold or 18-karat gold,” Zehrer says. “Karat is also a measurement of the precious metal’s purity. 24 karat is pure gold, so 18k is 75% gold, 14k is 58.5% gold and 10k is 41% gold. Gold is also offered in many different colors including rose, white and yellow. The chosen metal can affect the appearance of the diamond or gemstone as well. For example, white metals specifically enhance the appearance of colorless stones, such as diamonds. The most common metal we’ve seen chosen for engagement rings this season is white gold.”

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Understand Your Budget

“The price of engagement rings can vary based on the unique combination of the 4 Cs, which determine rarity and value,” Zehrer states. “It’s important to remember that you can find a high-quality, special ring no matter what your budget may be. In general, though, they range from $1,000 to $20,000 or more. If you’d like to personalize a ring, such as with an inscription, or custom-designed and chosen metal, the price may increase.” 

Kelsie breaks down the general price ranges if you want smaller diamonds on the ring in addition to the center diamond. 

“The general price brackets start at minimal/traditional ring styles, which usually do not have a lot of melee or pave diamonds set in the band. They range from $3,000-$4,000 depending on the characteristics of the diamond and the metal selected for the engagement band. Then there are engagement rings which are a bit more diamond intensive; those can start at about $5,000, again, determined by the diamond features and metal selected. Then there are the extremely diamond encrusted styles, which usually have wider bands to accommodate the large number of melee diamonds. These engagement rings start at $6,500+.” 

“The prices of rings themselves are also determined by the type of metal used,” Kelsie adds. “Platinum is the strongest and most durable, so, is of course the more expensive. The more melee or pave used on the design of a ring, the more expensive. Even though they are very small diamonds, they are still diamonds, so the more used to decorate the setting, the more expensive. And of course the center stone — the diamond selected as your engagement diamond will also determine the price point of the purchase.”

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Choose a Ring Best for Wearer’s Lifestyle 

“When shopping for a ring, it’s important to keep in mind a person’s lifestyle and the ring wearer’s personal style,” Zehrer advises. “For instance, one of our expert jewelers helped create an extra-sturdy-yet-delicate engagement ring for a customer who is a fire department official and wanted a beautiful ring that wouldn’t feel fragile.”

“It all depends on the wearer’s lifestyle — it’s important to take that into consideration because, for example, some center stones are set taller than others so if someone often wears gloves (like healthcare workers or people who live in colder environments) they might prefer a lower set center stone,” she adds. 

Consider the Wearer’s Hand

“Oval and emerald stones are trending at the moment and are best if you’re looking to elongate [the fingers],” Akhavi suggests. “Meanwhile, round brilliant and trillion stones tend to appear larger even when they are the same carat as another cut. If you’re looking for a ring with a lot of sparkle, I’d recommend a round brilliant stone with a halo. Vintage rings and unisex styles also continue to be popular.” 

Don’t Forget About the Wedding Band

“Great jewelers should make sure that your engagement ring sits as flush (or as close) to your wedding band regardless of the diamond shape,” Kelsie says. “They should speak with you about what you want and offer their professional opinion, while keeping your preferences in mind.” 

“If the plan is to eventually wear a band next to the engagement ring, it is a good idea to keep that in mind during the ring selection,” Zehrer recommends. “Since the side profile of the engagement ring could affect how the band sits next to it. Some engagement rings are designed to sit flush against a wedding band while others look better with a curved wedding band.” 

“If you’re seeking a ring that sits flush, you’ll need to make sure your setting sits a bit lower,” Akhavi adds. “When considering how your wedding band might pair with an engagement ring, keep in mind that it is more about how the setting sits.”

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Be Open When Shopping

“Don’t be close-minded! You may be surprised of what you actually like and how different shapes look on your hand,” Zehrer says. “In the same vein, it’s common for most people to want a colorless diamond; however, a near colorless or slightly yellow diamond may be less expensive and you could potentially get a larger diamond!”

“While you may initially have a certain carat weight or color in mind for your ring, make sure to keep an open mind as it is important to think about how each of the 4 Cs will look with each diamond shape,” Akhavi explains. “A great example is that  emeralds appear larger, so you can go smaller on the carat weight and get a better color since the cut showcases the color more.”

“Go in open-minded,” Kelsie confirms. “Many people have seen engagement rings of friends and family and pick similar styles only to find out that isn’t what they like. Or they go in thinking they need a D, flawless 3-ct diamond and again find that that diamond is not in their budget so they have to completely readjust their criteria.” 

“Do not purchase the diamond just off the sales person’s word,” Kelsie additionally advises. “Make sure you look at the grading certificate, get a second opinion and do your own research. Do not select a diamond on looks alone. Many times when doing so, you fall in love with the diamond only to find it is outside of your price point.” 

Tips for Buying Online 

“When it comes to shopping online, it is hard, especially because you cannot see it in person. Try to always get real pictures of the diamond you are interested in — the salesperson should be able to provide that,” Kelsie suggests. “Work with a company that offers hassle-free returns. If you decide it’s not what you wanted, you should be able to return the diamond without issue. Slow down, unless you plan on getting married at the end of the month. Take your time looking over the options and shop around for the best price.”

“It’s also important to make sure you have a clear understanding of the jeweler’s pricing structure and any aftercare needed for the ring, as well as warranty information, resizing policies and whether they have a diamond upgrade program,” Akhavi adds. 

Engagement Ring Trends for 2021

“Consumers are seeking something a little less traditional, so elongated and unique shapes will continue to be a trend for engagement rings in the upcoming year,” Akhavi says. “Non-traditional settings, such as chevron bands will also continue to rise in popularity. Additionally, we are seeing more people using engagement rings as cocktail rings or unisex bands as regular jewelry, as they get creative and style the jewelry as a form of personal expression. Consumers are also making conscientious choices when it comes to their jewelry and we expect that trend will continue to expand and become even more important in the upcoming year.”

“Lab-grown diamonds are on the rise. Especially with the uncertainty of the times, more clients are leaning towards fabulous diamond options with a lower price tag,” Kelsie says. “Lab-grown diamonds are a great alternative to mined diamonds because clients can usually go up in carat weight, color or clarity without breaking the bank. Ritani has also seen a lot of increase in custom engagement rings. A lot of people figure if they are spending all this money, they might as well do so on a completely custom piece.” 

“Some of the current engagement ring trends are unique cuts and fancy center stones such as emerald, cushion, pear, oval, princess and asscher,” Zehrer says. “We’ve already seen this to be true with stunning engagement rings from various celebrities. We’re also seeing a return to classic engagement ring styles such as the solitaire stone in larger carat weights or with halo settings to enhance the size of the center stone. Along this vein, consumers are also electing to customize their rings based on core styles to make them more personable and authentic to who they are. Shoppers may easily begin to customize a ring online through customization tools on sites such as Zales and Kay or through the help of a virtual jewelry consultant. The other major shift this year and likely into 2021 is a preference for gold. Whether it’s yellow gold or rose gold, gold bands and wedding rings are surging in popularity across all categories. Some consumers are even opting to mix metals to add some texture.”

Shop ET Style’s top picks of engagement rings: 

This Zales ring set comes with a pear-shaped diamond ring and a coordinating wedding band.

A vintage-inspired cushion-cut halo diamond ring by Neil Lane.

This oval solitaire by VRAI is a classic that draws all eyes onto the elegant-looking diamond.

We love this three-stone Ritani design, featuring a round center and two baguette stones.

This rose gold princess diamond halo ring from Blue Nile is so glamorous. Save 15% on the ring setting with code 2020NILE.

This brilliant sparkler by Jared boasts emerald cut diamonds surrounded by smaller diamonds. 

We love the unique look of this floating open bezel setting from Brilliant Earth that shows off the solitaire as the star. 

Editor’s note: The interviews were edited for length and clarity.

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