The Ultimate Engagement Ring Buying Guide

Chances are, buying an engagement ring is one of the biggest purchase decisions you and your partner will ever make. Here is everything you need to know about choosing the right one.
shelley brown - the knot
Shelley Brown
shelley brown - the knot
Shelley Brown
Senior Fashion & Beauty Editor
  • Shelley writes and edits articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a speciality in fashion, beauty, jewelry and accessories
  • Shelley writes and edits articles for The Knot magazine, as well as styles the magazine’s fashion and cover shoots
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Shelley was a freelance Digital Editor at Conde Nast’s Lucky Magazine and freelanced for FLAUNT Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, and
Updated Jan 10, 2023
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Engagement ring shopping isn't exactly the secretive process it used to be. More than ever before, couples are breaking tradition and talking about—and even purchasing—engagement rings and wedding rings together. In fact, The Knot 2022 Jewelry and Engagement Study shows 75% percent of those proposed to are involved in selecting their ring, and 40% percent drop hints to their significant other about their ring preferences. Now that we've established engagement ring shopping is a shared experience for couples, how does finding a your perfect engagement ring work? If you and your partner are just beginning this—sometimes overwhelming—process, don't fret. Our ultimate guide to ring buying has you covered every step of the way.

How to Buy a Diamond

The 4Cs

Since a diamond is a big ticket purchase, it's important to know what you're paying for. As you shop around for an engagement ring, you will probably encounter the 4C's (also called diamond grading). The value of a diamond is typically determined using the 4C's, a standard grading scale developed in the 1950s by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). The 4C's are: cut, clarity, color and carat, and the grading reports are compiled to determine a diamond's quality and price. Cut is the most important of the 4C's, as it evaluates how well a diamond is cut and polished (not to be confused with a diamond shape, like round, oval or marquise). A diamond's cut determines how well it refracts the light (read: sparkles). Color is next, which grades a diamond based on the absence of color. Then there's clarity, or how clean the diamond is of inclusions or blemishes (aka flaws present on either the inside or outside of the stone). While a stone's clarity matters, it's also It's important to note that you can find plenty of what are called "eye clean" diamonds, or stones that may not be perfect, but look flawless to the naked eye. Last is carat, which is the weight of the diamond. The larger the carat weight, the more rare and thus expensive the stone is. Learn more about the 4C's here.

The Difference Between Natural and Lab-Grown Diamonds

The main difference between a natural diamond and a lab-grown one? Their origin. Natural diamonds were formed billions of years ago and are extracted from deep within the earth, while lab-grown diamonds are created in laboratories by scientists in as little as a few weeks' time. There are two ways to create a lab-grown diamond: The High Temperature, High Pressure (HTHP) and Chemical Vapor Deposition ( CVD) methods. While natural diamonds and lab-grown diamonds come from different places, they are physically, chemically and optically the same. Since their production and supply are controlled by man and they don't take millions of years to grow, lab-grown diamonds are anywhere from 30% to 50% less expensive than mined diamonds. Want to know more? Check out a complete rundown on lab-grown diamonds here.

Alternative Engagement Ring Stones

More couples are looking for nontraditional engagement ring options that express their personal style, so it's no surprise non-diamond engagement rings featuring precious and semiprecious gemstones are on the rise. According to The Knot 2022 Jewelry and Engagement Study, 10% of couples opt for a sparkler with a non-diamond center stone. A big pro of opting for an alternative engagement ring? Gemstones are often less expensive than diamonds of comparable size, and come in a wide variety of hues—each with its own special meaning. On the other hand, not all gems are suitable options for an engagement ring you wear every day. Do you research and avoid stones that are soft (read: easily cracked or chipped). Pro tip: Look for a stone that's at minimum at 7 on the Moh's scale, which measures a stone's hardness and durability.

Engagement Ring Settings

The frame around your center stone can determine the style of your ring, and there are lots of options out there. Choosing a unique engagement ring setting is one of the best ways to personalize your sparkler. Below, a breakdown of some of the most popular engagement ring settings. Want more? There's a more comprehensive guide here.

Prong Setting: Designed for solitaire rings (read: a ring with a single center stone, no accent stones or a halo) a prong setting features four to six prongs that hold a center stone in place. Because a solitaire engagement ring is one of the simplest settings, it puts the focus directly on your center stone. Opt for six prongs for maximum security, or go with four if you have a smaller stone that could be overwhelmed by additional prongs.

Halo Setting: Halo engagement ring settings include a larger center stone encircled by pavé or micropavé accent stones (think: a shimmering halo that surrounds a larger stone). A halo setting is also one of the most popular styles when it comes to engagement rings, particularly because it creates the illusion of a larger diamond.

Pavé Setting: From the French word for "paved", a pavé diamond setting involves rows of several tiny stones that are set level with the surface of the ring. The surrounding metal is raised to form beads that secure the gems. The result is an ultra-sparkly setting that looks like a road paved with gemstones. If you're not into the look of halo setting but want to give your ring a blinged out boost, a pavé setting is a great option.

Cathedral Setting: As one of the more sophisticated diamond ring settings, a cathedral style uses sweeping arcs that extend from the shank to frame the center stone, making it the focal point of the ring. This elegant setting tends to sit higher on your finger and allows for extra details on the crown of the ring—just be careful not to snag it or knock it on surfaces.

Bezel Setting: A stylish option if you have a more active lifestyle, a bezel center entails a ring of metal which either partially or fully encircles the center stone. This sleek setting tends to have a lower profile (read: it sits lower on your finger) and protects a diamond from snags or chips because of how secure it is.

Types of Engagement Ring Metals

Not all metals are created equal. Whether you opt for classic platinum or trendy yellow gold, you should know how the metal you choose will affect your ring's durability and overall aesthetic. A brief breakdown of some of the most popular engagement ring metals, below. You can find a complete guide here.

White Gold: The most popular engagement ring metal, white gold has a silvery finish similar to platinum. Unlike platinum, white gold is actually a combination of yellow gold and alloys, that is then plated in rhodium. Because its bright finish comes from rhodium plating, it can wear off over time.

Yellow Gold: As the purest of all gold ring metal types, a yellow gold engagement ring or band is the most hypoallergenic and the easiest to maintain. Its warmer tones are flattering on most skin tones, and work well with diamonds of a lower color grade. And, its popularity is also on the rise. According to The Knot 2022 Jewelry and Engagement Study, one in four engagement rings are yellow gold.

Rose Gold: Like its name implies, rose gold metal has a gold base with a pinkish tint. It's an alloy that's made by combining pure gold, copper and a hint of silver. The higher the copper content, the pinker the rose gold. Thanks to its distinct pink hue, rose gold is an inherently romantic option for those who don't want a white or yellow gold ring.

Platinum: Platinum is the most durable engagement ring metal, as well as the purest. While this pure white metal will show wear and tear over time, it loses less metal mass over the years when compared to gold. Its bright finish is also natural, meaning it won't wear off over time. Platinum's durability comes at a cost, though. Platinum is the most expensive metal for jewelry and more difficult for jewelers to work with.

Engagement Ring Cost

No matter the center stone, metal or ring setting you choose, an engagement ring is an investment. Setting a ring budget will help you narrow down your search and prioritize what aspects of an engagement ring matter most to you. With that said, the three month's salary rule no longer applies—your ring budget should be determined by your comfort level. According to The Knot 2022 Jewelry and Engagement Study, the average cost of an engagement ring is currently about $6,000. While $6,000 is the national average cost of a ring, the spend per couple varies. Our study found that roughly one-third of all respondents are spending between $1,000 to $4,000 on their engagement ring. In fact, 8% of ring shoppers are spending under $1,000.

Where to Buy an Engagement Ring

Start your jeweler search with recommendations from friends and family. No leads? Check for retailers with an industry organization affiliation. Stores accredited by the Jewelers of America or members of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) are good starting points. And always find out what a store's return policy is. You want to be able to at least exchange the stone if it's not the one you want—especially if you're purchasing online and not in person.

National Chains

Kay Jewelers: For over a hundred years, Kay Jewelers has been a go-to destination for fine jewelry. With over 1,000 stores, this national chain carries a wide range of engagement ring and wedding ring designs from notable designers and brands like Neil Lane, Adrianna Papel and The Leo Diamond. It's a savvy choice too, with options starting at under $100.

Jared: With over 200 stores and hundreds of options to choose from, Jared offers a seemingly endless supply of engagement rings, wedding rings and fashion jewelry from trusted designers like Vera Wang, Neil Lane, Forevermark and Tacori. Options start at just $75 and go up from there.

Zales: Established in 1924, Zales has been in the business for almost a decade—and with good reason. The jewelry store offers a range of popular wedding and engagement ring collections engagement collections from Vera Wang LOVE, Enchanted Disney Fine Jewelry and Marilyn Monroe. And, similar to Kay Jewelers and Jared, Zales keeps their offerings budget-friendly.

Independent Jewelers

Ashley Zhang: Calling all vintage lovers. Ashley Zhang offers a collection of both vintage pieces and new designs, made for the couple looking for an engagement ring with modern heirloom appeal. Ranging from delicate 14K pieces to large carat high quality diamonds, this jeweler offers something for an array of budgets and aesthetics.

Blue Nile: Founded in 1990, Blue Nile is an established ecommerce destination for loose stones as well as diamond and gemstone jewelry. It launched lab-grown diamond jewelry in 2020, in collaboration with the brand Lightbox.

Brilliant Earth: If you're looking to design a ring from start to finish, Brilliant Earth is an excellent resource. You simply pick your preferred lab-grown diamond, select a setting from dozens of options and finish off by choosing from white gold, yellow gold, rose gold or platinum. And, they also offer unisex ring options.

Catbird: One of the OG sites for bohemian engagement rings, Catbird offers unique options for the couples with less traditional taste (including unisex and men's styles). Delicate center stones, alternative engagement rings and vintage-inspired designs make up this more eclectic collection.

Forevermark: A diamond brand from De Beers Group, Forevermark boasts over 130 years of diamond expertise and approximately 450 independent jewelers in the US. Every Forevermark diamond is natural and conflict-free, as well as cut and polished by master craftsmen.

Gemist: As one of the first digital platforms to allow users to custom-design rings and try them on at home before making a purchase, Gemist is changing the direct-to-consumer engagement ring space. Choose from settings and styles and then customize your piece by selecting your preferred metal, gemstone and stone shape.

Grown Brilliance: This lab-grown diamond brand is new to the scene—but is already making a splash. Offering both loose lab-grown diamonds, lab-grown diamond engagement rings and lab-grown diamond jewelry, Grown Brilliance styles run the gamut from classic to über-luxe, for a fraction of the cost of what you'd spend on natural diamond jewelry.

James Allen: The largest privately held diamond and jewelry retailer in the world, James Allen offers a selection of over 500,000 diamonds—both natural and lab-grown. If you're looking to go the more custom route, check out the site's Ring Studio, where you can choose a ring with the center stone, setting and metal of your choosing.

Jean Dousset: Known for upscale natural diamond engagement rings, Jean Dousset launched Oui by Jean Dousset, a lab-grown engagement ring collection in 2021. The line offers the same luxe craftsmanship of Jean Dousset, at a more accessible price point.

KatKim: This LA-based brand designed by Katharine Kim is all about clean lines and unexpected silhouettes (think: toi et moi designs, abstract settings and reimagined statement bands). Sustainability is a core pillar of the KatKim; all of the pieces are handmade by artisans and use exclusively ethical stones as well as recycled metals when possible.

Kwiat: If you're willing to splurge on exceptional quality, look no further. Owned and operated by the Kwiat family since 1907, Kwiat is one of the most iconic jewelers in New York, known for their superior quality and craftsmanship. Fun fact: Their store on 47th Street was one of the first in what is now called the Diamond District, an international destination for diamond and jewelry buying. Today, the brand has a flagship store on Madison Avenue, and is celebrating over 110 years in the jewelry industry.

Ritani: Ritani is known for its large inventory of lab-grown and natural diamonds in every cut and carat weight, as well as settings in a seemingly endless amount of styles. With price points starting at around $300 for a setting, Ritani's collection has something for every budget.

Vrai: Vrai uses lab-grown diamonds from a zero-emission foundry in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. As one of the first trendy jewelers to bring lab-grown diamonds into the mainstream in 2014, they offer a variety of stone shapes and settings—from classic to more edgy.

Looking for more? Find local jewelry stores near you.

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