The Diamond Pro

Buying an Engagement Ring: The Guide for Guys on a Budget

By Michael Fried
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Buying an engagement ring can be a stressful experience, to say the least.

There’s the shape, cut quality, color and clarity of diamond to consider. Then, there’s the diamond’s carat weight. Then, there’s the type of metal you choose for the setting. Add factors like sizing, fluorescence, diamond shapes and more into the equation and it’s easy to see why it’s so common to feel overwhelmed.

Unfortunately, most of the engagement ring tips for guys shared in popular media aren’t very helpful, focusing on vague suggestions and “inspiration” ideas over actionable, specific advice on how to actually choose and buy the best ring.

Luckily, working out how to buy an engagement ring doesn’t need to be difficult. In fact, with the right approach, you can amaze your partner with a ring they’ll adore for years to come, all without the headaches many people associate with ring shopping.

Below, we’ve drawn on our decades of diamond industry experience to share exactly how you should choose and buy an engagement ring.

Whether you already have ideas or are starting totally from scratch, these expert tips will help you select the right diamond, jewelry style, and setting for your engagement ring. We’ll also explain how you can get the best price when buying an engagement ring without affecting its quality. As a result, that special moment when you pop the question will be that much sweeter.

Let’s get to work. The following list of tips is here to help you buy an engagement ring with confidence and a great result:

#1: Set the budget

Among the many engagement ring shopping tips, you may have heard the advice that you should spend two or three months of your salary on an engagement ring. You might have also read engagement ring price guides that provide very high estimates for how much a “good” engagement ring should cost.

We believe you shouldn’t follow certain “rules,” as most rules regarding engagement rings and prices are gimmicks created by diamond marketers and sellers. Instead, you should determine your budget by looking at your financial situation along with any specific desires of your fiance-to-bé.

Getting married and starting your life together can be a costly process. By purchasing an engagement ring you can afford, rather than following old, outdated “rules,” you’ll reduce your financial stress and anxiety. The focus will instead be on your partner and the excitement of marrying the love of your life.

#2: Consider her style

The second step in creating a ring your partner will love is taking into account her individual style.

Look at their other jewelry. Are the pieces mostly made of white gold or yellow gold? Does he or she prefer vintage pieces or modern designs?

Scalloped Floral Halo Diamond Ring
Scalloped Floral Halo Diamond Ring

You can also peek through her clothing and accessories to gain insight. What she wears will give you clues about the type of ring she would want. For example, if she gravitates toward floral vintage dresses, consider styles like this ornate halo engagement ring. If her style is sharp and sleek, try a platinum beveled ring.  

Talking with your fiancé-to-be’s family and friends is often helpful, too. Lean on the people closest to your fiancé-to-be: a best friend, sister, cousin, whoever. Maybe your significant other has already shared their desires or preferences. You can even ask a friend to look through ring styles with you.

#3: Decide on your shape

When designing a ring, one of the first steps is to choose the shape of your diamond. The main consideration for shape is personal preference. From beautiful heart-shaped rings to oval styles, there are shapes for every personality.

Some prefer a classic look like this round brilliant solitaire ring or a cushion cut with a pave band. Others prefer something more unique like a pear shaped ring.

tips for buying an engagement ring
.90 Carat Emerald Cut Halo Engagement Ring

If size appearance is a consideration, opt for a shape that appears larger, like the stone in this Emerald Cut diamond ring. The Emerald Cut and Marquise Cut, for instance, showcase size better than other diamonds with the same carat weight.

The shape you choose will also help dictate your setting style. Most importantly, you want to ensure your diamond is secure in the setting, and won’t be prone to chipping, like when the tip of a heart-shaped diamond isn’t protected by a prong.

#4: Understand the diamond basics

Having a solid understanding of the four C’s (Cut, Color, Clarity and Carat) will help you make an educated decision on a diamond. The quality and beauty of each diamond can differ dramatically.

Here is our general recommendation for each of the four C’s. You can read our full guides for more information on each area.

  • Cut: Only choose an Excellent or Ideal cut diamond to ensure your stone offers the most brilliance and fire. Cut is the number one decider of a diamond’s beauty.
  • Color: Opt for a diamond in the nearly colorless range of G-I. To the naked eye, the diamond will appear just as colorless as a diamond in the D-F range but will cost far less.
  • Clarity: A VS1 or VS2 Clarity usually offers the best value for what can be seen with the naked eye. Inclusions and blemishes are not noticeable at these grades.
  • Carat: Because beauty and sparkle matter most, focus on purchasing a beautifully cut diamond rather than a certain carat weight. Once you’ve determined your grades for the other three C’s, find the largest carat that still fits within your budget.

You can also use our 1 carat diamond ring buying guide to help with your engagement ring purchase. You can also check out our average engagement ring size article if you aren’t sure what size to get.

#5: Find the most brilliant diamond

Of all the tips for buying an engagement ring, this one might be the most important.

More than any other aspect of your ring, the sparkle—known in the diamond world as brilliance and fire—is a diamond’s most eye-catching feature. That’s why we encourage our readers to spend more of their budget on cut quality than any other characteristic.

You want to avoid a diamond that’s cut too shallow because the light hits the pavilion at a low angle. In a shallow cut diamond, the light exits through the sides, instead of reflecting through the table to your eyes. You also want to avoid a diamond that’s cut too deep. The light is dulled because of the sharp angle of reflection—causing the diamond to be less radiant.

Read more about how to choose the ideal depth and table for your cut.

For assistance in selecting a diamond that’s exceptionally cut, reach out to our experts for complimentary advice.

#6: Choose the perfect metal

There are four main choices when it comes to your setting metal: platinum, white gold, yellow gold, and rose gold.

Princess Cut Diamond with Rose Gold Ring
Princess Cut Diamond with Rose Gold Ring

First, opt for the color that complements your partner’s style the best. If she tends to wear silver jewelry, choose white gold, like this round brilliant halo ring. If she prefers more color, consider a rose gold ring (find more examples the gallery of recently purchased diamond engagement rings here). In general, we recommend choosing white gold over platinum. White gold is significantly less expensive (though looks identical) and requires less maintenance and cleaning than platinum.

Second, when deciding between 14K and 18K gold, keep in mind that the main difference is in their alloy composition. 14K gold is 58.3% gold and 18K gold is 75% gold. Both are mixed with other metals in order to be durable enough for jewelry.

14K gold is the most popular metal for engagement rings, because it’s cheaper than 18K but is just as beautiful and slightly more durable. Ultimately, though, the decision is a personal choice. For instance, this 1 Carat 18K yellow gold solitaire ring is just as stunning as this 14K gold ring.

#7: Select your setting

From the simple elegance of a solitaire design to the ornate features of a vintage ring, you can find settings to match any personality.

If your fiancé-to-be is someone who leads an active lifestyle or has a hands-on job, consider a bezel setting or a flush setting, because the diamond won’t protrude as much as with other styles. For someone who wants a unique ring, opt for something more custom like this distinct yellow gold ring.

Learn more about setting options here.

#8: Opt for online vendors vs. brick and mortar jewelry stores

Throughout our many years of experience, we’ve found time and again that online vendors offer the best selection and value in the industry. Diamond dealers like James Allen, Blue Nile and Brian Gavin Diamonds are not only trustworthy and reliable, but they offer some of the best inventory in the world.

If you’re considering buying locally, we highly recommend checking our reviews of brick-and-mortar jewelers. Our experience, after secret shopping at hundreds of different diamond jewelry stores around the world, is that most brick-and-mortar stores are anywhere from 20 to 100% more expensive than trusted online vendors.

Simply put, you’ll find almost all of the best value diamond rings online, not in local stores.

Because of this, we highly recommend looking for an engagement ring through a reputable online vendor instead of a brick-and-mortar store. Not only will you get a better deal, but you’ll also have access to a much larger selection of diamonds and engagement ring settings.

If you’re nervous about buying a ring online, keep in mind that James Allen and Blue Nile have exceptional return policies and allow you to view every diamond up close before purchase. Overall, the best place to buy an engagement ring is from a vendor you can trust.

#9: Shop around, do some comparisons

Before deciding on the right engagement ring for your beloved, take time to conduct some comparisons. Do you like this halo setting from James Allen? Or do you prefer this three-stone setting from Blue Nile? Which vendor offers the most beauty for your budget?

Although it’s definitely not required, it’s usually helpful to begin searching for an engagement ring two to three months before you propose. You’ll have time to look for the right vendor, narrow down your options, order any custom pieces, and have the jewelry made and shipped.

By looking at the subtle differences between ring styles and diamonds, you’ll feel more confident in your final decision.

#10: Get the right size for her

While it might seem obvious, choosing the right ring size will help to keep the excitement rolling after the proposal. If the ring doesn’t fit, it may make it harder for it to feel like it’s the “right ring.” An incorrect size also means you’ll need to send the ring in for resizing, which can take anywhere from days to weeks, depending on the style of your setting.

To get the perfect ring size from the start, try to figure out your partner’s size ahead of time by measuring another ring in her jewelry collection or using a free ring sizer.  

#11: Add special meaning

When there’s extra sentiment behind your ring, it adds more of a story to your proposal and engagement.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to add sentimental value to your engagement ring. Consider family heirlooms, especially if there’s a special ring that can be resized or a diamond that can be reset, such as one from a grandmother.

Other options include symbolizing that your partner is both your best friend and lover by designing an Ever Us ring—or by choosing a gemstone ring designed with their birthstone.

#12: Don’t be afraid to be different

1.83 Carat Blue Sapphire Cushion Cut Engagement Ring from James Allen
1.83 Carat Blue Sapphire Cushion Cut Engagement Ring from James Allen

You don’t have to purchase a newly mined diamond or a pre-made setting. You can end up with a truly original ring by considering options like a recycled diamond or a custom setting. Recycled diamonds are previously owned, eco-friendly diamonds that have been put back in the diamond supply chain. They could be modern stones or European cuts. Custom settings are available from many jewelers, including Brian Gavin Diamonds and James Allen.

Another option for a personalized ring is choosing a colored diamond or gemstone. This yellow colored diamond ring, for example, is stunning and unique—and this sapphire halo engagement ring certainly stands out from the crowd.

#13: Make sure to get the right certificate

We always encourage our readers to always ask for a lab certification on any diamond. This certificate lets you know that the diamond you’re buying actually has the characteristics (such as cut quality, color, clarity and carat weight) that it’s advertised as having.

Not all diamond certificates are equally reliable. For example, some of the grading entities used to certify diamonds are well known for overstating a stone’s quality. This allows a diamond vendor to sell what might be a poor quality diamond at an inflated price, all based on inaccurate claims about its quality.

The most reliable laboratories in the industry are the GIA and AGS. Both of these labs provide accurate, reliable and consistent gradings of factors such as cut, color, clarity and more. If you’re shopping for a diamond, we highly recommend making sure that it comes with either a GIA or AGS certificate.

Having one of these certificates verifies that the diamond you’re receiving is indeed the diamond the vendor is selling you.

Other certificates, such as EGL or IGI, aren’t as reliable. We recommend avoiding diamonds with these certificates, as well as diamonds that are sold without any type of certification at all. You can learn more about this in our guide to diamond certification.

Conclusion

Buying an engagement ring shouldn’t be a stressful process. By applying the tips above, you’ll be able to shop for an engagement ring knowing exactly what you’re looking for, all without being affected by the most common traps and pitfalls.

Want help in finding the perfect engagement ring that’s within your budget? Contact our diamond experts for complimentary assistance.

About the author
Mike learned the diamond business from the ground-up at Leo Schachter Diamonds - one of the world's top diamond manufacturers. He has been recognized as a diamond industry expert by Time, PeopleMoney, The Daily Mirror, NerdWallet, The Times Herald, Yahoo Finance Australia, The Art of Charm, The Washington Diplomat, The Next Web, and more. See more
Top Recommended Vendors
James Allen James Allen is the leader in online diamond sales. Their imaging technology is at the point where it's almost the same as inspecting a diamond with a jeweler's loupe. Their customer experience is best in class, and they have recently upgraded their non-engagement jewelry inventory as well. They have the largest exclusive loose diamond inventory online and fantastic prices. For a limited time, take advantage of their huge 25% OFF holiday sale!!
What we love about them:
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  • Provide insurance appraisals
  • One free resizing within 60 days of purchase
  • Free ring inscriptions
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Blue Nile Blue Nile is the largest and most well known internet jewelry seller. They have a very large exclusive online inventory. Their high quality images are catching up to James Allens' and their prices are amazing. (Pick Up a Blue Nile Coupon Here for $50 off)
What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. Blue Nile will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisal
  • One free resizing within the first year of purchase
  • High quality images of about half of their diamonds
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • 100% credit towards future upgrades (must be at least double in value)
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