Choosing a Diamond Engagement Ring

Choosing a diamond engagement ring - The basics
Choosing a diamond engagement ring

Hunting for the Eternal Symbol of Your Love: The Diamond Engagement Ring Basics

Make sure your engagement ring fits your taste, budget, and lifestyle. An engagement ring is one of the key elements of a couple’s nuptial process and choosing the right one takes a lot of time and consideration, and now that you’re ready to pop the question, you need to start thinking about what style of engagement ring you want to present and how much you can reasonably afford.

Finances and the Two-Month Salary Rule

Engagement rings have a way of alluring shoppers. There seems to be an almost hypnotizing effect as prospective grooms glance from one ring to the next and get caught in some unseen gravitational pull toward the biggest, brightest, and most expensive display. This is why it is important to think about your budget before stepping foot into a jewelry store or scanning for diamond sets online.

The standard rule is to budget for two – month’s salary on this ring of a lifetime. There is some debate on whether this guideline still has any credence. Origins of this measure of expense are sketchy, but seem to have been pushed forth by the jewelry industry.

Your current finances may call for you to reassess this principle and realistically determine what your budget can handle. Keep in mind that there will be other wedding expenses you will be responsible for like wedding bands, your tuxedo, and the rehearsal dinner, should all go according to plan.

Another bewitching aspect of engagement ring shopping is payment plans. Many businesses carry programs to assist buyers in purchasing a ring out of their price range. Just be sure to do the calculations before signing on to any payment program because interest rates can cost you double or more the ring’s listed price.

Whether you choose to follow the two-month salary rule or not, you should decide on some sort of price point before you start your browsing. Sticking close to a bottom line may help prevent you from wandering down a road better left untraveled.

Understanding a Diamond’s Value and Price

A novice diamond shopper may be hard-pressed to understand why the half-carat diamond costs more than the one-carat ring sitting right next to it. It all has to do with the diamond’s quality, which can be broken down into what jewelers refer to as the four “C”s.

“cut”, “color”, “clarity” and “carat”.

The cut of the stone

Do you lust after that trademark “sparkle” for which diamonds are revered? Take note, because a diamond’s dazzle is impacted most by the cut of the stone. When a diamond has been cut with skill and precision, it will reflect light in a dazzling way, bringing all eyes to your hand.

The cut encompasses the shape, placement, number, and angle of all of the diamond’s polished surfaces. A stone that’s cut with great skill can have a trompe l’oeil effect, making a smaller diamond appear larger. How to spot a well-cut diamond? Seek out a stone with lots of sparkle and shine.

The diamond colour

Pertaining to diamonds, less is better. Diamonds have multiple rating scales, one of which is the color scale. A stone that has a rating of D to F is considered colorless. Near colorless is G to J, a stone with a faint yellow hue is K to M, light yellow is N to R and yellow is S to V. Color, like all things appearance related, is a matter of taste, but know that the closer to the beginning of the alphabet the diamond scores, the more valuable the stone.

It’s important to match the color of the stone to your setting – an utterly colorless stone will glimmer against a white gold or platinum band, while a stone with a bit of yellow may do better against a yellow gold band.

If you’ve got your heart set on one of the rarer naturally-occurring colors for diamonds – green, blue, pink, even red – be prepared to see a spike in price.

Diamond clarity

Like all natural elements, diamonds have imperfections. The key is finding one that has a few small imperfections that aren’t visible to the naked eye. A diamond with more serious flaws won’t reflect light the way it should.

The diamond industry often refers to the Gemological Institute of America’s (GIA) scale to rate a gem’s clarity. This grading scale is divided into six categories, and includes eleven grades. These range from:

  • “included” (I1 through I3)
  • “slightly included” (S1 and S2)
  • “very slightly included” (VS1 and VS2), 
  • “very very slightly included” (VVS1 and VVS2)
  • “internally flawless” (IF) 
  • “flawless” (FL)

The greater the number attached to a diamond’s lettered category, the further from flawless is its grade.

Those at the “included” end of the spectrum have flaws that may be visible to the naked eye, while “flawless” diamonds have no blemishes or imperfections visible to a skilled grader under 10x magnification.  

The closer to “flawless” a diamond’s clarity, the rarer and more expensive the stone.  

Can’t afford to invest in a flawless stone? That’s fine. With a great setting and cut, a diamond’s flaws are far less noticeable.

Carat – the size of the diamond

Yet another rating system for diamonds, the carat refers to the weight of the stone, not the physical size. The higher the number, the higher the price. In other words, a diamond that is .05 may set you back significantly less than a rock that clocks in at 1.5 carats.

Other factors to consider – the shape of the diamond

While factors like cut and clarity are utterly timeless, a diamond’s shape can reflect modern trends or classic tastes. A woman with more traditional tastes who wants to be sure her ring will be eternally “in style” may gravitate to a round or oval diamond – styles that have withstood the test of time.

The popular square-shaped princess cut is a modern look with lots of sparkle because of the cut around the rim. The less common pear shape is similar to the oval, but may have the added benefit of giving a slimming effect to the finger.

Are you a hopeless romantic who also loves to stand out from the crowd? The heart shaped diamond conveys a sentimental, but enduring, charm. 

Putting it all together and setting the stone

“Setting” refers to the way the gems are placed on the ring. For example, the Tiffany is a classic look in which the stone sits on a raised, pedestal-like setting atop a smooth band. This is a popular look, but there are also other possibilities, like the eternity band, in which the diamonds are embedded all around the entire band.

Consider how you use your hands on a daily basis when choosing a setting. Are you in the medical field, or any industry where you’re required to put on and remove latex gloves on a regular basis? Do you work with small children? If so, you may want to choose a low-profile, prong-free setting that won’t snag or scratch.

Alternative Ring Choices: Blood diamonds and heirlooms

In recent years, there have been some ethical objections from consumers regarding the treatment of workers at diamond mines and the environmental harm done by diamond mining.

If this is a concern for you and your significant other, you can look into conflict-free diamonds, which are ethically mined. Some companies even donate a percentage of proceeds from sales to help rebuild African communities harmed by the diamond trade.

If a couple is thinking about using an heirloom engagement ring, but it’s not exactly to their tastes, the stone can be reset into a more modern setting. Just be sure that everyone involved is okay with having the ring modified. Heirlooms can hold a great deal of sentimental value, and when changed, can lead to hurt feelings.

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Written by Steve Williams
I am a published writer, journalist and photo-journalist. I have an MA in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales and my journalism has been published in a number of UK national newspapers including 'the Observer'.