Getting engaged? Here's how to find the perfect ring

Banu Ibrahim, CNN Underscored
Fri January 31, 2020

There are few purchases as daunting as shopping for an engagement ring. There are hundreds of thousands of designs out there to choose from (and that's not even counting custom-made rings), as well as a huge range of styles, cuts, cushions, bands and gemstone choices, that make buying a simple diamond ring not so simple. And we'll be the first to say that the process of ring shopping is even more head-scratching if this is your first foray into buying luxury jewelry.

In an effort to demystify the process of planning and buying the perfect rock for your partner, we spoke to some ring and wedding experts who break down everything you need to know to find an ideal engagement ring that will soon have your partner saying — scratch that, screaming — "yes."

Don't wait until the last minute

First and foremost, this is not a process you want to rush. Your ring can take anywhere from a few days to upward of six weeks to produce (it will err on the longer side if it's a bespoke creation). If you're purchasing your ring online, retailers such as Verlas will allow you to try up to three pieces at home for 15 days before you make your final decision, a critical process that will also extend your ring shopping timeline. And as you'll quickly see below, when our experts delve into the research that everyone should do ahead of purchasing jewels, the information you'll want on hand prior to setting foot in a jewelry shop for the final time will take at least a week to gather. So do yourself a favor, and give yourself ample time to go through the process of ring shopping.

Figure out what your partner wants

The million-dollar question: How do you purchase a ring your partner actually wants to wear for the rest of his or her life, without spoiling the surprise of your proposal? Olivia Landau, founder of direct-to-consumer engagement ring brand The Clear Cut, says social media can be your best friend during the inspiration process.

"Pay attention and take notes when your partner drops hints, and if possible, look at their Instagram saves or Pinterest board to get some initial ideas," she says. "Be sure to also consult their close friends and family. This will all help greatly narrow down your search."

Wedding expert Lauren Grech, CEO & co-founder of event management company LLG Events, also suggest making a day out of ring shopping. "Surprise them by going to lunch near a jeweler in your area," she says. "Make it casual, and suggest stopping in the store as you walk by. However, the partner who's proposing should have stopped in the store days prior, talked to a representative that you feel comfortable with, and pick out a few rings that you like. Then when you show up on your date, that representative will know to casually pull out the rings you were interested in."

Regardless of your sleuthing methods, remember that an engagement ring should be a reflection of the person wearing it.

Name your final price

That being said, rings come in all shapes and sizes, as well as budgets, and as all our experts tell us, the money conversation should take place between both partners ahead of purchasing a ring. "Choosing a ring is ultimately a joint decision, and often part of a larger conversation regarding wedding budgets," fine jewelry brand Mejuri's creative director Justine Lançon says.

And with diamonds, budgets can soon become a slippery slope (after all, there are always ways to spend more on jewelry). So to ensure you aren't fudging your final numbers, Landau suggests finding a price that you and your partner are comfortable with and drawing a firm line in the sand. From there, you can find the right ring (at the right budget) for them.

Understand today's biggest ring trends

As Lançon told us, "Being open to less traditional designs and bands is becoming especially trendy, although engraving continues to be one of the most important details for our consumers." This includes different shapes of diamonds (including pear-shaped), nontraditional gemstones such as rubies or emeralds, and different colored bands such as rose gold (we've got a whole explainer which breaks down today's biggest engagement ring trends). Below are some ideas to consider.

  • Pear-Shaped Emerald Diamond Crossover Ring ($1,799.10, originally $1,999; zales.com)

  • Adrianna Papell Diamond Engagement Ring with 14K Rose Gold Band ($799.99, originally $999.99; kay.com)

  • Vintage Morganite Engagement Ring Set (starting at $898.40, originally $1,123; etsy.com)

Additionally, the rule book as to who proposes has been completely thrown out over the past few years. As Grech notes, "Heterosexual couples are switching up who's proposing, such as Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn to her hockey star fiance, P.K. Subban. And as gender norms are becoming less defined... we'll see more and more females proposing."

Fine jewelry brand Mejuri, for instance, recently launched a new line of men's bands that work beautifully for both weddings and engagements. All the designs are crafted from 14-karat solid gold and can be engraved for a personalized touch. Kay and Brilliant Earth also have plenty of stunning options for men.

  • Neil Lane Diamond Band ($3,199.99, originally $3,999.99; kay.com)

While shopping, remember the five C's

"Diamonds are probably one of the most expensive commodities you will invest in before your wedding," Grech says. "Before investing, it's important to learn about each of the five C's and which you're willing to compromise on in order to keep the cost close to your budget."

The five C's are color, clarity, cut, carat and certificate, the five most critical factors when shopping for a diamond. The first four deal with the gemstone itself; these features will ultimately determine the look and value of a diamond. As our experts tell us, in terms of color, you'll want your diamond to be nearly colorless. For clarity, the minimum you should be looking at is VVS or "very very slightly imperfect," which tells us that the stone has minimal flaws. Cut refers to the brilliance of a stone, so the right cut can make a diamond sparkle; and carat is the unit of weight for the diamond. (Jewelry brand Blue Nile has a really handy guide that can walk you through all the aforementioned features here.) The last of the five C's, and what Grech argues is one of the most important factors to ring shopping, is obtaining the certificate (but more on that in a minute).

For those who are concerned about the materials used in the process, it's even more important to look for brands that uphold rigorous standards for the entire ring creation process, from sourcing the materials to the finished product. Brands such as Verlas, Mejuri and Brilliant Earth all specialize in conflict-free and ethically sourced diamonds.

All these factors should be considered when you're finalizing the choice of your ring, so be sure you do your research on your engagement ring prior to purchasing.

Lastly, don't forget the certificate

Remember the last of the five C's? When you're finishing up the purchase of your engagement ring, make sure you get a certificate. Not only will it help you authenticate the ring, but if it unfortunately gets stolen or lost, the certificate can speak to the value of the ring for insurance purposes. As Grech suggests, the certificate should be considered "even more valuable than the diamond itself."

Once you've gone through all of these steps, you'll be in the ideal place to purchase the perfect ring for your soon-to-be fiancé or fiancée.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed prices at the time of publication.