Going engagement ring shopping? Congratulations! Buying a ring and gearing up for the proposal is a crazy exciting time, and it's easy to get caught up in the romance, but remember: An engagement ring is usually a considerable expense, so you want to make sure you do it right. Whether he's going out on his own or you'll be heading out shopping together, this extensive guide is key to finding the perfect engagement ring.
1. Narrow Down What Shape You Want
If you know what you want in terms of diamond shape, that helps focus your engagement ring hunt immensely. Every shape (or cut) is priced differently-and each has a different price per carat. Round cuts are the most expensive whereas pear and marquis are less expensive. If size is important to you, you can get more carats at a better price when you choose a less expensive shape. Study up on engagement ring cuts and have one (or two) favorites in mind.
2. Choose a Metal for Your Band
Traditionally, engagement rings are made from yellow gold, white gold, silver, or platinum. It's important to note, however, that silver and platinum look almost the same, but platinum costs significantly more. It's pricier because it has more weight to it, but it's a soft metal and will scratch easily. Definitely consider your lifestyle and budget before deciding if metal choice is an important part of your decision. You also want to think about if you want stones set in the band(s) as well.
3. Have a Carat Size in Mind
The age old question of quality versus quantity also applies to engagement rings; some people prefer a larger stone to a whiter stone, while others want the absolute clearest possible diamond, despite the carat count.
"The bride-to-be should definitely have an idea of her stone size," says Jaclyne Kirkorian of Jupiter Jewelry in the diamond district of New York. "As much as people say size isn't important, it's always the kicking off point, because color and clarity can always be tweaked to find something within your budget."
If size matters to you, keep your ideal carat size in mind when shopping together, and be flexible on the other elements to suit budget. Also, you might think you know what size or shape you want, but then when you try it on you find out you want something entirely different once you start seeing things on your finger in real life.
And here's a pro tip: if you choose a less common carat size, you can save money. Diamond prices increase significantly when they weigh the most desired weights: think half and whole carat weights (.50, 1, 1.5, etc.). "Buy a diamond that is just shy of these common weights, and you'll save money and no one will be able to tell it's a .92 carat instead of a 1 carat," says Duke.
4. Get Measured Correctly
This may seem obvious, but make sure to get measured! You don't want a ring that's cutting off your circulation or, even worse, so loose it's at risk of falling off. It should feel snug but comfortable. If you're not accompanying your man, you can go get sized at a jewelry store on your own and then casually mention your size the next time the topic comes up (or tell your BFF so she'll know the answer if he asks her!)
5. Consider How Your Engagement Ring Will Look with Your Wedding Band
While it is easy to get caught up in the perfect diamond, the engagement ring is only one half of the equation-your wedding band (you know, the actual symbol of your marriage) is the oft-overlooked other half.
Definitely think about what style of wedding band would go with your ring. Some engagement rings don't allow a band to fit flush against them, so it's important to consider the full package of prong versus pavГ© and channel-set stones while shopping for your engagement ring together.
6. Always Buy Certified
Don't let the romance of the day take over-an engagement ring is one of life's most expensive purchases, so take your time to shop smartly together. When you both finally land on a dream ring, make sure you buy a certified stone from an accredited laboratory such as the American Gem Society or the Gemological Institute of America. Diamonds certified by the other labs can have inflated grades, giving the customer the illusion of getting a great deal, when in reality he's only gotten a lower quality diamond, warns expert Ira Weissman, creator of The Diamond Pro. In fact, according to Weissman, this is the biggest trick jewelry stores play.
7. Make Sure the Certificate Matches the Diamond You See
Most are laser inscribed on the girdle and this can be checked with a jeweler's loupe, says Emily Duke of Finesse Diamonds Corp. "Many have inclusions so you can look at the diamond and see if you can match the imperfections to the map on the certificate too."
8. Be Smart About the Quality of the Cut and Clarity
Save big by getting the lowest color diamond that will still look colorless to the naked eye once set in a ring, suggests Weissman. "For round diamonds in white gold, this is typically an I or J color. In yellow gold, you could even go down to a K color," he says. "The difference in price between a J color and a D color is enormous!" As for clarity, same concept goes. Get the lowest clarity diamond that is still clean to the naked eye, as it'll look identical to a flawless diamond assuming all else is equal, he notes. "The difference in price between an SI1 or SI2 clarity diamond and a flawless diamond is huge!"
Furthermore, the quality of the cut is one thing private jeweler Dan Moran, founder of Concierge Diamonds in Los Angeles advises clients to never sacrifice on. Why? The cut of the diamond gives it that gorgeous sparkle us girls love. "If you take a so-so rough diamond and cut it perfectly, it'll look absolutely stunning. On the contrary, take a top-of-the-line rough diamond and cut it poorly, and it'll look like absolute garbage."
9. Negotiate Like a Boss
Engagement rings can be marked up well beyond the necessary margins, explains Michael Dobkin, creative director and founder of Rosey Westin New York City. In fact, some rings are marked up 500 percent! "Really do your research before pulling the trigger and don't be afraid to negotiate," Dobkin suggests. "A good jeweler will be willing to work within your budget and get you the best quality that works for your needs."
10. Head to the Wholesale District
Instead, work with non-traditional diamond retailers or wholesalers to avoid unnecessary markups, advises Monil Kothari, founder of NYC fine jewelry start-up Antandre. "A wholesaler or a private retailer like myself is able to work with customers on a one-on-one basis to create a ring specifically for them," says Kothari. "Moreover, because we don't have the overhead traditional retailers do, we can save them more than 30 percent, giving them the best bang for their buck."
Real Brides Talk About Engagement Ring Shopping Before the Wedding
Still on the fence about whether or not you should go ring shopping together? The level of involvement each bride has in choosing and shopping for her ring is different. Some want to be entirely surprised, some drop hints (and share Pinterest boards), and others help their future fiancГ© pick out the ring. To help you decide whether you want to go ring shopping with your boyfriend, we asked real women on Brides Facebook if they went ring shopping before proposals. Here's what they had to say:
"We went ring shopping to get ideas of what I liked. I don't think that ruins it, because obviously we'd been honest with each other and knew we wanted to get married. He then used a diamond from a family ring and had my ring custom made in the setting that I liked the most." -Casey Wagner
"We shopped together for my ring. Because it was such a big investment, my fiancГ© wanted to make sure it was perfect, but the actual proposal was a surprise." -Amie Piper
"My fiancГ© and I went ring shopping after he proposed. It was a compromise-I wanted the proposal to be a total surprise and he wanted to go ring shopping with me so our rings would match. I must say, I wouldn't have had it any other way!" -Jo'Elen Lee Tracy
"Who shops for engagements rings together? It kills the element of surprise." -Lisa Bolden
"I picked mine, and he picked his. I don't think it takes any significance away from the rings, we love them." -Eva Baez-Ruiz
"I went around just trying on engagement rings with my boyfriend. That gave him the option to pick out the ring himself while knowing what I liked." -Arin Williams
"My now husband and I went ring shopping together and I would recommend it to couples that are serious." -Arielle Cleary
"My fiancГ© and I went shopping together for the ring because we're always together. We knew we were going to eventually get married." -Jessica Bardo
"My husband and I decided to change my ring a little because we couldn't find what we wanted with matching bands, but it was truly up to him." -Brittany Holloway
See more: How to Plan a Surprise Proposal When You Picked Out the Ring Together
5 Things Guys Must Do Before They Buy an Engagement Ring
91 Engagement Ring Selfies We Love
WATCH: Our Favorite Celebrity Engagement Rings