questionshow do i pick out an engagement ring?

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You might get one of her friends to try to feel her out as to what your girlfriend (and hopefully soon-to-be fiancee) would like. Preferably this would be a friend who would be able to get the information without ruining your surprise.

Also, take a cue from her other jewelry. Does she wear mostly gold or silver or some other metal? Does she go for big and flashy or understated? Would she actually prefer something other than a diamond? Would she just as soon forgo an engagement ring and only have a wedding band?

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She doesn't really care about diamonds or like them that much, plus we are not really a fan of that whole industry....I was leaning towards a sapphire since we both think they are pretty and it is also her birth stone. Also sapphires seem like they might be in my price range...maybe.

She also has told me she likes the idea of eco-friendly jewelry or vintage jewelry.

As I begin to search I'm just realizing there is a lot of terminology involved.

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Have you discussed getting married? If so, you might see if she would like to pick out her own ring or if she wants to be surprised. The easiest thing for you to do would be to go to a wholesale jewelry store and just look at what is in your price range. That will tell you what color/clarity.... blah blah blah that you can afford. 2 months pay is an average amount to spend on a ring. Don't overdo it. My husband and I picked out my ring together and I LOVED trying on rings... but maybe that's just me. We bought mine from a place called israel diamonds... but that won't help you pick out a sapphire... but you could go to a place like that and pick out a ring that has everything in place minus the center stone and then order your sapphire onlne at like http://www.israel-diamonds.com/search/sapphires/default.aspx?loc=title or somewhere similar.

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Oh yes, and unless you are just adamant about getting white gold... just don't. Over time, it will start to turn yellow. It has to be kept up and re-surfaced (I think that's what they call it) to keep it's whiteness. Go with platinum if you want that color.

Unless budget is an issue, get at least 14k gold... higher = more gold content. So, 14k is more expensive than 10k. You won't find quality 10k engagement rings. That said... there's nothing wrong with a 10k gold ring. It's all about preference.

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Like @keysmad said, I would also recommend seeing if she would like to pick out her own ring. That way she will definitely get something she loves. And you might find her tastes are much more modest than what you would have spent by yourself (but of course it could go the other way too). If she likes vintage you might want to check out some pawn shops, you could find something old and gorgeous at a much better price than something new.

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I would NOT go to the mall and I would not presume to try to pick out a ring for someone else that she is going to wear every day for the rest of her life. Go to jtv.com and get a loose stone(s) and have it made into a ring by a real jeweler. It is not as expensive as you would think, especially if you save on the stone and don't just get diamonds because that's what you're "supposed" to have for a wedding ring. Have one made for yourself too. You are a unique couple -- don't buy the same ring anyone else can walk in and buy. Be unique!

And I would not recommend one that has a design all the way around. They look nice but are near impossible to size. Keep in mind her finger might change in size in the next 50 years. You can also get it squared off so that it doesn't roll around the finger. You can get it angled so it matches the curve of her hand, so it doesn't run into her pinky knuckle.

Don't get something too clunky or with tall prongs. Think streamlined. Good Luck!

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I went through this whole process less than a year ago and, believe you me, picking out a ring was the hardest part of the entire wedding planning process so far. I recommend taking her with you to find something you both love or perusing sites that deal with wedding jewelry. Theknot.com is where I found hers initially.

Spend the extra and get platinum even if that means getting a smaller stone. It will look better and last longer. If you aren't going to go with diamonds you should be able to allocate more of your budget on the metal.

Take your time and find the right ring. It took me 6 months to find the one and another 2 to get it from the jeweler. Protip - if you can get it from a mom and pop shop from out of state, no sales tax! This might be illegal so maybe pretend you didn't read that.

Step one for you is picking a price range. The rest will follow after that. Good luck my friend.

Pimping my blog for a second since it is about weddings: http://www.soimarriedamedstudent.com/

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What follows is purely MY preference. (of course.) I prefer yellow gold, 14K & above. Diamonds? My choice is a larger stone w/color & clarity not at the top end. IOW, eye-clean. Diamonds? I own many white & colored diamonds. Yellow & pink being favorites.

Caveat: I own platinum; think it's overpriced & closely resembles white gold. Even silver. I strongly urge you to ask your 'fiance' what SHE prefers. That's ALL that matters.

Sapphires are beautiful. You said she likes them. Get that stone if you wish. Some people like sapphires set in white gold. Some don't. (me.) Rubies are also gorgeous. . One of the platinum rings I own is set w/a tanzanite. Gorgeous purple/blue stone. Have another tanzanite that's set in 18K yellow gold...an 8 carat solitaire.

Enough of me. Please do not buy a ring w/o her right there w/you. As others have said before me...she may not care for 'any' of that ring stuff. I find a gold (white or yellow) band to be simple and beautiful. .

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Thanks for all the advice everyone!

She has shown me pictures of a few rings she likes so I think I am going to risk not letting her pick and try making it a surprise.

Right now I am leaning towards yellow gold because she said she is allergic to nickel and I read that white gold can sometimes contain nickel, so I feel like yellow gold may be safer?

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@portezbie: White gold nearly always contains nickel. If she's allergic, you should also stay away from 10k, because it is likely to have nickel as well. Yellow gold is best, and in addition, white gold is a thing that comes and goes. Luckily for you, there has been a recent, similar question, and it is just filled with useful answers.

http://deals.woot.com/questions/details/db8852a5-a0e8-4236-b1a0-d97fefc2fb7f/whats-my-next-step-now-that-i-want-to-propose

Ah, @lavikinga, the kids are growing up, and leaving home. What on earth shall we do?

{She will now show up and smack me.}

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The first thing you need to decide is what is important to you and what you can let slide if it represents a significant cost savings. There are 3 basic things to consider when choosing a ring.

The gem(s)
The metal
The design

If you choose to go with a diamond remember that often times a girl will love a larger lower quality diamond over a small perfect one. There are also some important terms to be familiar with when picking out a diamond: Inclusions are flaws within the diamond that make it anything less than perfect. They are rated based on the size, type, and frequency of inclusions. This makes each diamond unique so don't expect all SI rated diamonds to have the exact same inclusions. This gives you an opportunity when looking for a diamond to pick what inclusions you wouldn't mind having and which ones are deal breakers. I bought one diamond that had one large inclusion but was otherwise flawless and the jeweler was able to hide it under a prong.
To be continued...

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Contd...

Color, Cut, and Carat are the other three grading terms. Color is the most noticable when talking quality of the diamond. Cut and Carat depend on personal preference and pocketbook respectively.
Also, you can get a huge, amazing looking cubic zirconia for cheap if she wants the look of a diamond but doesn't mind the fact that it wasn't dug up by a starving man in Zimbabwe.
If the person you're buying a ring for doesn't like diamonds, good for you!

Choosing a metal is easier than choosing a gemstone, I think. If she is active and the ring will get banged around a lot, it might be better to go with a lower karat gold because they are much harder to bend/dent. The color of the gold or the metal you choose will largely depend on what she likes. Take a look at the other jewelry she wears and base what you decide on that.

The design is the single most inportant part of buying a ring. Find a ring that will match her lifestyle and activity level.
to be continued... again...

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continued...
I bought my wife a channel set ring because she didn't want it to get caught on anything. Some girls like fancy settings with lots of diamonds (they call it infinity set when it has diamonds all the way around) and some girls like simple one gem on a plain band. Again look at what she already likes to wear to see what she'll like in a ring.

To wrap up, private jewelers are amazing. They can often make something with you and then craft it themselves or modify something they already have to make it special to you. I went with one for my wife's wedding ring and she loved it. Also, don't go to a department store looking for an engagement ring. I've worked in the shipping yard of a JCPennys and they mark up their jewelry about 500% and that means crappy gems and metals for the same price.

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@shrdlu: THWACK!

@portezbie: If you love the woman at all & still insist on a surprise ring, please think long & hard as to HER preferences.
I've never liked white gold & prefer marquis or pear cut stones. What I got "stuck" with was exactly what I hated (including my M-in-Law's wedding band--she had upgraded her band to one with bigger diamonds).
Being a young & naive kid at the time who never rocked the boat, I swallowed my disappointment, but it has been a tender spot over the last century. As a result, all my anniversary bands (I wear a few stacked together because DIAMONDS!) are also set in white metal, which frankly doesn't suit my skin tones.

DO think about having your rings custom made. I've friends who did this. His gold band is large with Navy wings of gold deeply engraved across the top. Hers is a beautiful ring set with a large tanzanite stone. Both custom, unique, & stunning like them.
Congratulations on finding the woman who lights you up like a Roman candle.

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If you are comfortable picking out the ring and you want to surprise her then do it. She'll have a great story of how you asked and she'll remember the surprise forever.

I spent a lot of money on my wifes wedding ring (~4 yrs ago) and she loved it (the ring not the price) so I wouldn't change a thing. I spent money on the brand (Tacori) because they were the only ones who had the amazing detail work that I knew she would love. I would suggest a mid karat white gold, it just makes the diamond really pop. Most jewelers will refinish and clean your ring for free whenever it needs to be done (or at least Diamonds Direct will) If you go with white gold I would consider Color to be a very important factor. Poorer colored diamonds can appear dirty when set on white gold. If you are considering other stones for the sole purpose of saving money, just DON'T she'll have this ring forever and once she has it she won't give it back for you to change it later when you have more dough.

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Here it is. http://www.tacori.com/engagement/ht2258.html She's got the mtching band as well. We've been very happy with their customer service as they re-cast the ring for free and super fast when she needed it resized. they also have a "spa" service where they detail the ring in ways the jeweler just can't. It always looks great and we've never had a problem.

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As others have said, there is no such thing as "white" gold in nature, so it will start to turn yellow. What you can do to keep it looking silver is to get a rhodium finish put on it every so often. Ask the store you're buying the ring from if they'll do this for free under a repair plan of some sort. If you can afford it, go with platinum. It should keep its silver-ness much better than white gold.
Again, it really depends on what she likes. Yellow gold may look better on her skin tone. I went ring shopping with my wife so we could pick out exactly what she wanted. We actually came home with one ring and I found out a couple days later she REALLY wanted a more expensive one, but was afraid to tell me. Being the amazing husband I am, we went back and exchanged the ring and paid the difference. Of course, we decided to get engaged while drinking at a bar and we noticed the jewelry store across the street was having a sale, so maybe we're not the typical love story...

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You have the 6 Cs for diamonds

Cut the shape of the stone

Color although diamonds do come in many colors the standard color should be white or colorless

Clarity the amount of imperfections in the stone

Carat the weight of the stone (some think size)

Cost the is a no brainer depending on the other factors this will increase or decrease

Certification make sure you have papers to prove authenticity and where your diamond came from

I think the hard part is finding the style your soon to be fiance will like whether it is a simple solitary diamond or a lot of diamonds or some where in between. Once you have figured that out, use the 6 Cs to determine what your comfortable with. Be sure to do your research and know your stuff and your ring shopping experience will much less stressful.

Good luck and congrats

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Yay for you two not being diamond fans! Sapphires can be a gorgeous choice, and have a look at Moissanite as well. My wife wanted an anniversary ring, but says she'll not own another diamond, and settled on Moissanite, altho there's any number of quality stones like sapphires in interesting colours available.

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If you want a "white gold" look at palladium instead of platinum. It is about 1/3 of the price.

I have really bad metal allergies. I can only wear Titanium, Palladium, or Platinum.
Pretty much anything else has nickel or some other irritating metal in it.

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I found that blue nile has a great jewelry education course free. I don't think that they are the cheapest place to purchase from, but the information you can get from there courses is extremely useful, if like me you know almost less than nothing about jewelry

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@bsmith1: "maybe we're not the typical love story..."

Maybe not typical, but definitely sweet and memorable. And amazing.

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Here's my story from a couple of months ago. Went pretty well so pull out the info that you like.

• Found out what stone she likes via a friend. Her friend also sent cell phone screen shots of the rings she liked. This was very helpful.
• Went into a major, corporate jeweler, just to get a little intel.
• Researched local jewelers (friends, online reviews). Found several I liked. Visited w/ them and discussed the type of stone she liked and showed the screen shots. They were able to give pull out unique elements from the rings she liked to help select a ring.
• Bought the ring!

I really recommend a local or family place. You'll be there more than you think after the ring is purchased (resizing, cleanings, wedding bands) and the one-on-one attention you'll get is great. They'll remember you and help every step of the way. Maybe it's ordering something in specially or just giving advice.

Good luck! It's scary to do it on your own, but the total surprise is definitely worth it!

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Oh, and for the actual engagement, I recommend really trying to remember everything.
When I proposed my then girlfriend and I basically blacked out and forgot what was said in the moment. Five minutes after we had to recap exactly what went down. Fun, unforgettable day!

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Thanks everyone for your input and cute stories. I really appreciate it.

I went to a few stores and didn't find anything I liked but then I found a vintage ring on etsy that I think she will really like. It is 14K yellow gold with a center sapphire and 2 tiny diamonds on each side.

Thanks again everyone!