This is it, gentlemen. Your big moment. You found the woman of your dreams and have fallen madly in love, and you know that this person is your soulmate, your better half, and the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.
So you know you want to pop the question, but that means you have to buy a ring. And with so much importance placed on this one piece of jewelry, you really don't want to mess it up. But fear not...we are here to help with our ultimate engagement ring buying guide for grooms.
Engagement Ring Buying Guide Overview
We'll begin with some basics regarding diamonds, bands, and engagement rings in general to get you started. Then we'll dive into cost, budget, and other details, along with some helpful tips for choosing the ring that's perfect for your (hopefully) soon-to-be fiance. And if you can't afford a diamond, don't worry -- we've got tips for you as well.
Guide to Buying Diamonds
Every diamond is unique, and some are higher quality than others, but it isn't just the size of the rock that counts. When you're shopping for a diamond, there are four main factors to keep in mind, and these are known as "The Four C's:" Color, Clarity, Cut, and Carat. Some of these factors are more important than others, and they all affect the price differently.
Let's look at each of these below.
Diamonds themselves are pure carbon. The "color" of any given diamond refers to the degree to which other trace minerals appear within the stone. You want your diamond to be as "colorless" as possible -- that is, you want it to contain as small a proportion of trace minerals other than carbon, which can literally give the diamond a slightly yellowish tint. Color is rated from D to Z, with "D" being a pure, colorless diamond, and "Z" being a diamond with the most impurities. However, there are practical reasons that you probably don't need a "D" rated diamond. We'll discuss this more below, when we talk about your engagement ring budget.
A diamond's level of clarity refers to the number of imperfections within the structure of the stone itself. Sometimes these can't be detected by the naked eye, but in very low clarity diamonds, you'll be able to see the imperfections. Less clarity means a less valuable stone. Jewelers use special magnifying lenses to find the blemishes and determine the clarity of the each diamond they sell.
A diamond with perfect clarity is rated "FL," for "flawless," and a diamond with very poor clarity will show black, white, or gray markings that are visible upon close inspection, even without magnifying equipment. Imperfections also weaken the actual structure of the diamond. Diamonds with poor clarity also won't sparkle as brilliantly, but how much they sparkle also relates to the cut, which we'll describe next.
Cut, which can range from "Excellent" to "Poor," is one of the most important characteristics of a diamond. It essentially refers to how much the stone sparkles in the light, and has a very significant effect on the diamond's price. When you hear about a diamond looking "cheap," it's usually because it has a less-than stellar cut. So if you're trying to save money, you're better off buying a smaller diamond with a better cut, rather than a larger one with a cut that is subpar.
A diamond's carat rating refers to the size of the diamond. The basic formula is this: a higher carat number means a bigger rock.
Engagement Ring Budgeting
In the past, a common "traditional" recommendation (which originated, not surprisingly, from major diamond retailers seeking to increase their profits) was to spend the equivalent of two month's salary on the engagement ring. For the average millennial groom who could be thinking about putting a down payment on a house, reducing student loan debt, financing a future with potential kids, and other factors, I think this is pretty crazy advice.
Of course, if you make more, you can spend more. But keep in mind that when it comes to buying a ring above around the $2,500 to $5,000 dollar range, couples are more statistically likely to get divorced. While it probably wasn't the ring itself that contributed, exactly the correlation exists we can't say for sure. But the data is there.
The key to your engagement ring budget is finding out how much you are able to spend, and then finding the right balance of the four C's to match your dollar total and your girlfriend's personality and style. If in doubt, err on the conservative side.
When it comes to the four C's, color is probably least important. Choose the color rating that is lowest, while still appearing flawless to the naked eye. The reason is simple: unless your girlfriend whips out a jeweler's magnifying lens when you pop the question to inspect the ring like a professional jeweler, there will be no discernible difference as long as the color is good enough. Focus on clarity and cut, and once you have those figured out, move on to find a carat size that you think your girlfriend will be satisfied with and proud to show off, but is still within your budget range.
When you're shopping for an engagement ring, the diamond is important, but the actual band plays a big role as well. There are several metals you can choose from, such as gold and platinum. Platinum is popular because it's more durable than gold, but yellow or even white gold are definitely always classic options. Platinum costs more, but again, it's less prone to wear and tear.
That being the case, the price is close enough to gold that the price difference between gold and platinum shouldn't inform your entire decision. There are also simple bands and more complex designs, such as weaved or interlaced bands. It all depends on the aesthetic you think would appeal to your sweetheart.
More Helpful Tips for Choosing the Perfect Engagement Ring
The key to choosing the right engagement ring is knowing your girlfriend's personal style and expectations, and being on the same page as your potential future bride. This is why more couples are shopping for engagement rings together. However, it depends on your style. The surprise factor may not matter, or it may be very important, it just depends on the couple.
If you're in the type of relationship where you want it to be a complete surprise, you can still ask her questions, as it's unlikely she doesn't have any inkling that you're planning to propose. Be tactful, but ask things like, has she always had a vision for what her engagement ring would look like? You do risk spoiling the surprise a little bit, but it might also build her excitement for the big proposal when it finally comes.
Once you feel her out, seek help from the lovely ladies in her life who can offer input that you, as a guy, might not be able to discern. Enlist her sister (especially if she's married or engaged), best friend, or even her mom. Just keep in mind that her mom may have a different interpretation of what she likes versus someone closer to her age, like a sister or friend.
Know Her Ring Size - Here's How
There's nothing more anticlimactic for her than saying yes to a proposal, tears streaming down her cheeks, only to find that the ring won't squeeze onto her finger! Thankfully, there's a simple solution to this problem. The most common ring sizes fall between 6-6.5, but you want to be sure. The trick is to bring one of her other rings with you, so that you can make sure the band you choose will fit.
Last but not least, make sure your diamond is certified by an organiztion like the Gemological Institute of America, or the American Gem Society. These are reputable certification houses that ensure your diamond engagement ring is everything the jeweler says it is, and ensures you won't be ripped off with a fake!
It also lets you rest assured that the ratings for the four C's of clarity, cut, carat, and color are legitimate, and haven't been exaggerated.
Can't Afford a Diamond? Consider Sapphire
Why does falling in love have to cost so much money?! If you just can't afford a diamond right now, we forgive you, and we think your other half will too. There are always financing options available for engagement ring buyers, but if you can avoid going into any kind of debt to fund your engagement and wedding, we strongly encourage doing so. And a less expensive stone, such as sapphire, is a great way to do it.
It's the second-best thing other than diamond, and is still a classic choice. Sapphire stones come in a variety of styles and colors. And for a little bit of the best of both worlds, you can also buy a ring that combines a sapphire as the main stone with much smaller diamonds.
Oh, and a high-quality sapphire stone is still drop-dead beautiful. No matter how much money you make, at the end of the day, the ring you choose should be the best one to represent your love and dedication to the woman you've fallen for -- and if a ring will wipe out your bank account right before you're about to start new lives together, well, it probably isn't the right ring for her!