12 Essential Engagement Ring Shopping Tips

Everything you need to know about buying an engagement ring.
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, Backstage.com and Paste.com
Updated Jan 18, 2023

If you're planning to propose, expecting a proposal soon or you've already started to shop around with your partner, you should definitely have a few things in mind before either of you says "yes" to an engagement ring. After all, your forever sparkler is both a serious monetary investment and a piece of jewelry you or your partner will wear for life. Not sure where to start? We're here to help. Find expert tips on how to choose an engagement ring, below.


How to Shop for Engagement Rings

Determine Your Engagement Ring Budget

Throw out that old three-months' salary myth—you should buy the best ring you can without going into major debt. According to The Knot 2022 Jewelry and Engagement Study, the average cost of an engagement ring is currently around $6,000. If a sizable rock is at the top of your wishlist but your budget isn't super-sized, go for a center stone with a slightly larger table (read: surface area). Emerald, marquise, pear and oval diamonds are the shapes that look largest per carat. You won't get as much sparkle, but a one-carat ring will look much larger if the stone isn't cut as deep. Don't want to sacrifice the look of your stone? Buying just shy of the next carat (1.8 instead of 2) can equal a savings of nearly 20 percent. And when it comes to clarity, buying shy gives you the most wiggle room without affecting sparkle. Another thought: Halo settings or those with intricate diamond pavé details can create the illusion of a larger center stone, and are much less costly.

Decide Between Natural or Lab-Grown Stones

There are two main differences between a natural and a lab-grown stones: Origin and cost. First, natural gemstones were formed billions of years ago and are extracted via modern mining practices from deep within the earth, while lab-grown ones are created in laboratories by scientists in as little as a few weeks. Second, since their production and supply are controlled by man and they don't take millions of years to grow, lab-grown gems are anywhere from 30% to 50% less expensive than their mined counterparts. Otherwise, both natural and lab-grown stones are chemically and optically the same. Before purchasing an engagement ring, you should decide which option is right for you. If you or your partner are looking for a more budget-friendly center stone, a lab-created one could be right for you. Another pro? Lab-grown gemstones are always conflict free. However, it's important to note that the long term value of lab-grown engagement rings remains undecided. These futuristic stones are still new to the market, and could potentially depreciate over time. If you're looking for jewelry you can sell or upgrade later, you might want to consider going the natural route.

Buy Loose Stones

Unless you're buying an estate ring, chances are, you'll be looking at loose stones as opposed to stones in a setting. (The ones you see in the jeweler's case are often just samples to give you an idea of the finished product.) The center stone accounts for the vast majority of a ring's cost, so wouldn't you want to get the most gorgeous one imaginable—or at least in your budget? A good jeweler (more on that later) will be able to guide you and tell you what to look for.

Shop Smart

Always start your jeweler search with recommendations from friends and family. No leads? Check for industry organization affiliation. Stores accredited by the Jewelers of America or members of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) are good starting places. Psst, you can also find local jewelers near you here. Large, renowned chains are often reliable and offer sales. And always find out what a store's return policy is. If you're surprising your partner, you want to be able to at least exchange the stone if it's not the one they want.

Give Yourself at Least Six Weeks

Remember that once ordered, a ring can take up to six weeks to arrive, potentially longer if you're having it custom designed. If you want to engrave the inside of the ring, be sure to request the inscription when you place your order—and account for any extra time it may add to the process.

Get It in Writing

Diamonds one carat or larger should be accompanied by a diamond-grading report issued by an independent gemological association such as the GIA or the American Gem Society. You might also get a "fingerprint" of your ring on the bill of sale, which would include the stone's 4 C's, shape, dimensions and any cosmetic enhancements. Also, anything that affects its value—if it was made by a famous designer, is an antique or period piece, or is handmade or custom-designed—should also be noted.

Protect Your Purchase

Real talk: Ring loss and theft happens. Whether your wedding and engagement rings are $500 or $50,000, a ring insurance policy is a way of honoring not just their financial value but also their sentimental value. There are two ways to go about insuring an engagement ring: You can either add it to your renters or home insurance policy (called a "rider"), or you can purchase a policy through an insurance company specializing in jewelry. You'll need to provide your receipts, as well as an appraisal, which costs a small fee.

How to Pick an Engagement Ring

Spy On Your Partner's Style

It's totally normal (and encouraged) these days for couples to ring shop 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. But if you're more of a traditionalist and looking to surprise your partner with a ring they'll love, be sure to do some reconnaissance. You can ask their best friend or sibling for help (and swear them to secrecy, of course). But if you're set on not telling anyone, pay attention to the jewelry they already wear. Is it more often platinum and silver or yellow and gold? Do they gravitate toward vintage jewels as opposed to simple, modern pieces? Pay attention for a couple of weeks and take mental notes to size up their signature style. A surefire way to know what your partner wants? Just ask. There's nothing wrong with having an open conversation about their likes and dislikes—we promise it won't spoil the moment when it comes time to pop the question.

Choose Your Gemstone

Who says you have to go with a diamond? 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 is cost. Gemstones are usually less expensive than diamonds of comparable size, and come in a wide variety of colors—each with its own significance. For example, sapphires are associated with faithfulness and have inherently regal vibes, as the Royal Family's chosen engagement ring stone. Rubies symbolize passion and are an unexpected—but also totally timeless—choice. If you're looking to really stand out in a crowd of white diamonds, consider thinking even further outside the ring box. Tourmaline, morganite and aquamarine are all stunning engagement ring options. However, not all gemstones are made for everyday wear. (Pearls and opals are a great example of this.) If you have your heart set on a stone that's graded lower than a 7 on the Mohs scale, you may want to reconsider, as there's a higher probability it will crack or chip due to wear and tear. Another thought if you love a softer gemstone? Opt for a statement band and wear your engagement ring only on special occasions.

Select A Shape

Even before those 4 C's (cut, color, clarity and carat), have an idea of what diamond shape you or your partner loves. Shape indicates the actual geometry of the stone, as opposed to cut, which relates to the angles of the facets in the stone. The most popular shape is a round diamond, but that's not the only option. Oval, pear, emerald, asscher, marquise, rose cut and even heart-shaped diamonds are all on trend. You can find a more complete guide to the many diamond shapes out there, right here.

Settle On A Setting

A quality setting—the metal framework in which your stone is mounted—can set the tone for a ring. A classic round diamond gets a fresh and modern makeover in a bezel setting. A trendy oval can look more traditional in a four-prong setting. An intricate vintage-inspired setting with milgrain and filigree details gives an emerald-cut diamond heirloom appeal. Getting the right combo of shape and setting is key. If you can't find anything you like, consider going the totally custom route. While it's usually pricier than a premade design, you'll know you're getting exactly what you or your partner wants.

Consider the Metal

When it comes to the band, you've got a variety of metals to choose from. One popular choice is platinum—it's the most durable and especially pure, making it a great hypoallergenic choice for those with sensitive skin. There's also gold, which comes in a variety colors, including white, yellow, rose and even black. Beyond platinum and gold, you might also consider palladium (which has a grayer hue than platinum) or even a recycled metal band, which might include a mixture of platinum and gold. Think of it as "something old" and "something new" all rolled into one.

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