Choosing an Engagement ring

The Complete Guide to Buying an Engagement Ring

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Decisions abound when you’re purchasing an engagement ring. Should you choose a ring out of the case or order something custom, what style best suits your partner, how big should the center stone be, and what size is your beloved’s ring finger?

We’ve been in the engagement ring business for over forty years, and we’ve fielded every question imaginable from proposing partners. 

To help you get your engagement off on the right foot, and with the right ring on your loved one’s finger, Peter Norman has compiled this guide to buying an engagement ring, which is one of the most important purchases you’ll ever make. 

 

The basics of buying an engagement ring

Before delving into some of the more technical aspects of engagement rings, let’s review a few basics.

1. Setting an engagement ring budget

In an ideal world, everyone could cast their financial shackles aside and purchase the engagement ring that catches their eye without worrying about the cost. This isn’t the reality for most of us, though, so before you begin ring shopping, it’s best to spend some time setting a budget.

You’ve probably heard the three-month “rule,” which suggests that an engagement ring should cost the proposing partner the equivalent of three months’ pay. Although now a modern tradition, it’s not viable for all couples. Interestingly, the three-month tradition stems from a 1930s De Beers campaign that suggested one month’s salary as a suitable expense. Over the years, two extra months were added.

It is usually best to look for a ring that fits your current budget. Remember, you can always upgrade the ring later. 

However, an engagement ring is a major purchase, and you want something that you will love. The ring will be in your family for years to come and will adorn your partner’s finger for the rest of their life.

When setting a budget, there is no right amount or rule that works for everyone. It’s highly individual and ultimately comes down to how much you’ve earmarked for the purchase.

2. Sizing matters

It would be a shame if, after your loving proposal, you tried to put the engagement ring on your partner’s finger only to discover that it refuses to slide on. Avoid this unfortunate situation with a little detective work. 

Find one of your partner’s rings, one that they wear often and you know fits well. Take this ring to a jeweler and they can provide advice on what size ring will fit your partner’s ring finger. However, if you are truly unsure, make an educated guess; the ring can always be resized after the proposal.

Of course, surreptitiously discovering your lover’s ring size is only a concern if you’re surprising them with their engagement ring at the proposal. Some couples prefer to design the engagement ring together, so a jeweler can easily size your finger in the store.

Surprise Engagement3. Should you surprise them or involve your partner?

There are some definite advantages to purchasing a ring without the help of your partner: you get to make the proposal a total surprise, and you’ll avoid any awkward discussions over how much should be spent on a ring. Plus, you can always enlist the help of your partner’s best friend or family member so you can pin down your loved one’s style preferences. 

According to Brides magazine, 62 per cent of couples go engagement ring shopping together, so pre-buying is less popular than it once was. Many couples now eschew traditional gender roles, and involving your partner in the ring decisions means a much better-shared grasp on the finances and the engagement ring’s design. 

If you choose to shop together, you can still keep the details of the proposal a secret to maintain an element of surprise. Alternatively, you can propose with an empty ring box. While your partner might be surprised at first, you can let them know you’re taking them shopping to create the ring of their dreams. Objects aren’t everything, though, and you don’t need a ring box or anything else. Sometimes the right words are more than enough.

4. Off the Shelf or Custom?

Many people buy pre-made engagement rings directly out of the case. The key benefits here are cost (these rings may be cheaper) and immediacy (if you decide to propose on a relative whim, you can quickly purchase a ready-made ring).

Today, a growing number of people are choosing custom-made rings though, which offer personalization and a greater number of options. For example, with a custom ring, you can choose the specific center stone, setting, style, and precious metal.

The major benefit of a custom ring is that you’re more likely to get a ring your partner loves. You’ll also have a ring that no one else has, one that’s unique to your relationship and love.

Custom rings aren’t always more expensive than their ready-made counterparts either. The beauty of custom is that you control the final price and decide which elements are important to you.

The center stone is a key part of any engagement ring

Once you’ve considered the above-listed factors, it’s time to start thinking about the engagement ring’s specific characteristics, including the center stone. 

5. Choosing the stone 

You have several options for the engagement ring’s center stone. When shopping for a ring, remember that you’re not limited to diamonds, although they are the most popular choice. Other precious stones such as sapphires, emeralds, and rubies offer lots of sparkle and impact too. 

If you want to stick with tradition and have a beautiful center diamond in the ring, you have two options: a natural, mined stone or a lab-grown diamond. Note that the latter is chemically and visually identical to the former. Its provenance and its price are the main differences – lab diamonds are more affordable.

Peter Norman offers both types of diamonds, and our natural, mined stones are always ethically sourced. Learn more about the history of lab-grown diamonds and how they compare to mined gems here

No matter which type of diamond you choose, the same grading standards apply:

6. The 4 Cs of diamonds

The four Cs stand for cut, clarity, color, and carat. Each stone is graded against these four parameters, and diamonds with higher ratings for each category come with a higher price tag. Note that when you choose a lab-grown diamond, carat doesn’t have quite as much impact on price, though.

  • Clarity involves how many inclusions (natural imperfections) a diamond has. The fewer inclusions, the higher the stone rates on the GIA clarity scale, which goes from Flawless (FL) to Included (I).
  • Color is self-explanatory and describes the gem’s natural tone. The color rating scale for diamonds covers D to Z stones, where D is colorless and Z is a light yellow tone. 
  • Carat is a measurement of the diamond’s physical weight. The GIA notes that one carat is equal to 0.2 grams. The more carats a natural stone has, the higher the price tag. 

Diamond Colors and ClarityWhen looking at diamonds, remember that the four Cs aren’t a black and white scale that rates diamonds as good or bad since they are as individual as fingerprints. What really matters is how much you like the gem and the combined and unique properties of each stone. For more on the four Cs, review our post on how to buy a diamond

7. Your diamond’s cut

Of these four Cs, cut is the only factor that’s created by jewelers. It refers to how we shape a gem and create facets (sides) to make the most of the stone’s refractive properties and bring out its natural beauty. 

You’ve probably heard of cushion cuts and emerald cuts, and your partner may have even dropped hints about their preferred cut. Below is a list of popular cut options Peter Norman offers:

Round Diamond

Round Diamond Engagement Ring

Cushion Diamond

Cushion Cut Engagement Ring

Oval Diamond

Oval Diamond Engagement Ring

Princess Diamond

Princess Cut Diamond Ring

Marquise Diamond

Marquise Engagement Ring

Emerald Diamond

Emerald-Cut Engagement Ring with Diamond Buckles

Pear Diamond

Pear-Shaped Diamond Engagement Ring

Radiant Diamond

Radiant-Cut Engagement Ring with Tapered Pave Band

Asscher Diamond

Three Stone Asscher-Cut Ring

Cut is subject to the GIA grading system. A diamond’s cut is rated as Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, or Poor.

8. Halo setting or no halo setting?

If you’re buying or designing an engagement ring with a single center stone, you can choose a halo setting, a ring of smaller diamonds encircling the center stone. The key benefits of a halo setting are that it can help a smaller center stone appear larger and really make it pop. It also adds that little bit of extra sparkle. 

“Hidden halos” are another option for those looking for something more subtle. A hidden halo refers to a ring of diamonds in the gallery that is seen from the side. The ring will face up like a solitaire but will have a little extra hidden sparkle.

9. Sourcing a center stone

When designing a custom ring, the center stone can come from a few places. Peter Norman can work with gems our customers bring us. Often, these stones are family heirlooms or have come from another piece of jewelry. However, we also offer wholesale pricing on stones, so whether you want mined or lab-grown diamonds, you are getting the best prices.

It’s not all about the center stone:

Other engagement ring considerations

While the center stone is the biggest factor, it works in tandem with numerous other factors. Let’s take a look at those now.

10. Style and aesthetic

We all have differing tastes, and luckily, there are engagement rings to suit everyone’s unique aesthetic. Consider your partner’s personal style: do they favor a minimalist modern look, or do they lean toward a classic style? Perhaps they love all things vintage, in which case an antique-style ring with more ornamentation, such as engraving on the band, would be preferred. Or maybe they love glitz, glam, and extravagance, so you’ll choose a setting encrusted with diamonds. Once you have an idea of what you like, browse our engagement ring selection for inspiration. 

If you’re looking for something totally unique or have an exact vision of how you’d like the engagement ring to look, a custom design is the best option. 

11. The number of stones

Numerous engagement rings feature more than one stone. You may prefer to have a larger center stone accompanied by two smaller stones flanking it in a classic three-stone style. This gives you a variety of options, from an emerald-cut diamond with tapered baguettes to an oval-cut center stone with half moon diamonds flanking it.

Round Diamond Engagement Ring
Round and Half Moon Diamond Engagement Ring

No matter how many stones you prefer, you will also need to consider the engagement ring’s setting.

12. Engagement ring settings 

An engagement ring’s setting is critical to its overall look, and there are many details to consider. You want the ring to highlight your center stone and be expertly crafted. From adding pave or baguette diamonds to the band to having a cathedral, a ring’s setting can be designed to suit your exact preferences. There are also numerous setting options just in terms of how the center stone is placed, including the number of prongs (or alternatively a bezel) as well as if it is in a modern east-west setting instead of a traditional vertical look.

13. Which precious metal?

White gold, yellow gold, rose gold, and platinum are the main precious metals used for engagement rings. Icy platinum and white gold are eternally popular with a clean, crisp look, while yellow gold fell out of favor for a number of years but is now making a strong comeback (find more on engagement ring trends here). Rose gold is less popular for engagement rings but it’s an option you might like to explore and has a beautiful feminine appeal. Additionally, some people have metal allergies, and as platinum is purer than white gold, it can be a good option for those with certain sensitivities.

Consider your partner’s jewelry preferences. Do they typically wear white gold or yellow gold? Most people have a favorite, and your partner probably has a preference because it better suits their skin tone and style. Ultimately, your personal taste should dictate which metal you choose, as styles come and go.

Feeling inspired? So are we

Your engagement ring should be as special as your love story. Peter Norman would love to help you design and create your perfect custom engagement ring. We can guide you through every detail and source gorgeous stones from which you can choose.

Have any questions? Please get in touch. We would be thrilled to be part of your engagement ring journey. 

Engagement Rings Design FAQs

  • Should I surprise my Fiance with a ring, or talk to her about the design first?

    It depends on your preferences.

    When you’re about to make a big investment, it helps to ask an expert. You wouldn’t buy your dream house without having it looked over by a contractor, right? So should you keep the proposal a surprise or ask her for help?

    Chances are, you’ve already talked to your fiancée about your future together. Fewer people are keeping the engagement ring a surprise, so she’s probably aware that ring shopping is on your agenda. If this is the case, you have some flexibility when it comes to how involved you want her to be.

    For some people, getting general suggestions from their partner about their desired cut and color is enough to set them on the right path. Other couples prefer to shop together but keep the final choice a surprise, while others might collaborate closely on a custom ring design.

    Try to balance your own needs against what would make the proposal most special for her, and trust your gut.

    The vast majority of brides-to-be say they are happy with their engagement ring – the important thing is that you are thoughtful about your choice.

  • How do I discreetly find my girlfriend's ring size?

    Depending on your answer to the previous question, this one could be a challenge. Here are some suggestions for how to discreetly find out your fiancée’s ring size, ranked from least to most risky.

    1. Look at her rings 

    This is by far the easiest way to get the job done. Simply take out one of your fiancée’s rings while she’s out – preferably one she wears a lot – and measure its diameter with a ruler.

    Alternatively, you can trace its shape (inside and outside) onto a piece of paper – or if she won’t notice it’s gone, take the ring to a jeweler to get it sized.

    1. Try one of her rings on yourself and compare 

    If you’re short on time or don’t want to leave any evidence lying around, try on one of her rings yourself. Make a mental note of how well it fits you and on which finger.

    1. Ask her friends to help you

    A close friend of your fiancées will be able to ask a question like this without automatically arousing suspicion, so choose your confidant wisely! Not everyone can keep a straight face in a situation like this, and the worst-case scenario could see the surprise blown entirely.

    If you get her measurements on your own, it’s easy to convert them into a ring size using the following table:

     

    Ring diameter Ring size (US)
    15.6mm 5
    16.0mm 5 ½
    16.5mm 6
    16.9mm 6 ½
    17.3mm 7
    17.7mm 7 ½

     

     

     

  • How much should I spend on an engagement ring?

    One, Two, or Three Month’s Salary…?
    Once you’ve covered the basics, it’s time to think about an important aspect of your engagement ring design: the budget.

    The received wisdom is that you should spend two months’ salary on an engagement ring – but did you know this comes from a savvy marketing campaign thought up by De Beers diamonds?

    In reality, there’s no fixed sum that’s “right” to spend on an engagement ring, and the average range for most couples is between $2,000 and $10,000, though if are looking for something truly amazing, $10,000 should be viewed as a good starting point.

    Where you fall, whether it’s in or out of this range, will depend on a number of factors, including:

    • Your income, minus taxes and insurance
    • Your monthly expenses, including rent and utilities
    • Your savings and any money you’ve set aside for this purchase
    • Your upcoming spending, including debts and other routine payments

    Knowing these basic numbers will help you understand how the ring fits into your finances and put together a payment plan.

  • Should an engagement ring always feature a diamond?

    A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but engagement rings mean diamonds, right?

    Diamonds are the go-to engagement stone, and we won’t pretend that’s not for good reason. They come in a range of colors but are generally neutral-toned; they’re hard-wearing, and they have a ton of sparkle.

    With that said, diamonds aren’t the only option for how to make an engagement ring special, and many couples are now opting for less traditional gems.

    Sapphires and rubies are examples of stones that make for striking alternatives to diamond engagement rings, and depending on the symbolism of the stone you choose, it can make your engagement ring design extra special.

    However, you need to keep an eye on durability.

    If all goes well, your beloved will have this ring for the rest of her life. It takes a hard-wearing gemstone to weather this kind of wear, and not all stones are this durable.

    Diamonds rank as a 10 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness, meaning they’re unlikely to be scratched by regular wear, but the same cannot be said for lower-scoring stones like moonstone or opal.

    We’re not saying you should abandon your vision for a unique custom engagement ring, but you should ask your jeweler’s advice on how to make it a reality. How can you achieve the look you want with the durability necessary to suit your fiancée’s lifestyle?  This question should be front-of-mind when creating a custom engagement ring.

  • Should I choose an ethically-mined or lab-grown diamond for my engagement ring?

    Choosing conflict-free diamonds is an important part of your engagement ring design journey, and you have two basic options available to you: ethically mined or lab-grown.

    What’s the difference between ethically mined and lab-grown diamonds? In terms of the end result, nothing. Even experts can’t tell them apart without specialized equipment! However, they do have different considerations attached to them.

    Ethically mined diamonds are conflict-free: in other words, your token of undying love won’t be used to finance civil unrest.
    They’re naturally grown, which makes each one a miracle of nature’s invention, and therefore, more rare. Also, when the mines are run ethically they can be a boon to the economies they come from.

    Lab-grown diamonds (so their creation is always ethical) are a newer alternative and have a few pros and cons of their own:

    The Pros and Cons of Lab-grown Diamonds

    Pros Cons
    Always conflict-free, as they are grown in a lab setting Not as highly-sought-after as natural diamonds, because they are not considered as luxurious
    More environmentally friendly, as they don’t have the carbon footprint associated with mining
    Cheaper due to the reduced cost of production
    Available in the same quality as natural diamonds

    With a bespoke jeweler as your guide, you can choose ethically sourced diamonds, mined or lab-grown, suitable for your style and budget.

    At Peter Norman, we offer only ethically sourced diamonds at wholesale prices straight from the cutter, with certifications and ethical guarantees for every stone.

  • What is the best band style for an engagement ring?

    The gemstone you choose may be the flashy frontman of the piece, but just like in rock’n’roll, a lot of the real work is done by the band. The same stone can look wildly different in different settings, and choosing the right band is key to getting the overall look juuust right.

    Back in the Victorian era, it was common for engagement rings to have thicker bands, more like what we would expect from wedding bands today.  Around the turn of the 20th century, the Tiffany’s-style setting took over, seeing brides favor slimmer bands with a diamond set proudly up off the finger.

    Thinner bands are fashionable and stack well with wedding rings – however, the thinner they are, the higher the likelihood of warping and even cracks occurring over time.

    To compensate, you would have to set the ring in a harder metal, such as platinum.

    It’s also worth noting that a straight band isn’t your only option.

    Different shapes can add interest and support to your central stone, and you might consider any of these options:

  • Should I add diamond pave to my engagement ring band?

    You’ve decided on your center stone and the shape of the band – now it’s time to ask yourself the question: how much bling is too much bling? Including inlaid diamonds on your engagement ring’s band can be a master stroke for the right bride.

    It adds sparkle and dimension, but it’s not right for everybody, and there are a few questions you should ask yourself if you’re considering bedazzling your band.

    1. Does it suit your budget?

    As you would expect, adding diamonds to a ring is expensive. You might need to compromise on your center stone in order to afford the extra sparkle, but this would be worth it if it delivered the overall look that you’re hoping for.

    2. Does it suit your fiancée’s style?

    Every bride is different, and some might prefer the sleeker look of a smooth band to one with inlaid diamonds. Think about the other jeweler your partner wears. Does she like a lot of sparkle, or does she prefer more minimal pieces?

    3. Does it suit how high or low maintenance you want this ring to be?

    Smaller-set diamonds are prime real estate for built-up residue that can cause stones to loosen over time. This needn’t be a problem, as any good jeweler will offer lifetime aftercare for your engagement ring, cleaning and tightening stone settings as necessary.

    However, it’s worth thinking about your fiancée’s lifestyle and if a higher-maintenance ring would fit into that. Would she want to take her ring for regular checkups? If not, consider fewer inlaid diamonds or none at all.

  • Is a classic solitaire or multiple stones better for an engagement ring?

    Even once you’ve decided what main stone you want, and what band you want it in, and whether you want extra stones added to it, you still have to choose between a single center stone or multiple gems.

    There are countless ways to incorporate multiple stones, but here are some classic examples of single and multiple stone rings to get you started:

    The Solitaire
    The solitaire is the Tiffany-style classic – probably what everyone pictures when they think of an engagement ring. It features a single diamond, lifted off the finger on delicate prongs.

    Three Stones
    This is a good option if you want to introduce color to your ring by flanking your central diamond with colored gemstones. Or you could simply triple down on your diamonds! This is also a great option for those who want multiple stone shapes.

    Halo
    Circling the center stone with smaller diamonds adds protection to the main setting while adding more overall sparkle. Princess Diana’s engagement ring is probably the most famous example of this style.
    As with any detail of your custom engagement ring, a bespoke jeweler can help you make an informed choice about which option best suits your future fiancée’s style and your budget.

  • What color metal is best in an engagement ring?

    This is one of the most obvious questions when it comes to engagement ring design, but many grooms find it the hardest to answer – partly because there are so many options!

    Here’s what you need to know about each of them:

    1. Platinum

    The purest choice, but also the most expensive. Platinum’s rarity and density put it at a higher price point than gold, but its hue makes it attractive and wearable, and its strength gives you more options when it comes to design.

    1. Yellow gold

    Long-lasting and non-tarnishing, you might associate yellow gold with your mother’s jewelry box, but recent engagement ring trends have seen it come back in a big way.

    1. White gold 

    White gold’s silvery hue provides the wearability of platinum at a lower price point, but it also comes with more maintenance. It requires regular rhodium plating to keep it white and bright, and will periodically yellow with wear. It is also not hypoallergenic.

    1. Rose gold

    Complementary to a range of skin tones, rose gold is less traditional but still very attractive and has a soft, feminine feel. Like any variation of gold, it can cause allergic reactions in some wearers.

    1. Silver

    The least hard-wearing of these metals, silver’s main attraction is its classic beauty and its comparatively low price point. Tarnishing will be a big problem with a silver engagement ring, which is why most couples opt for a similar hue in another metal.

  • Can I remodel a family heirloom into an engagement ring?

    Heirloom rings are a beautiful thing. They represent generations of your family’s love as well as stories passed down through time.

    But, let’s face it: designs become dated over time, and yesterday’s premiere style might not be in fashion today. Using old stones is a wonderful way to take a piece of your family history and redesign it into a stunning and modern piece.

    Redesigning a family ring is one of the most ethical and sustainable ways to create a custom engagement ring, and many bespoke jewelers – including Peter Norman – are experts in modernizing and personalizing family jewels.

    In addition to resetting your ring, we also offer bespoke additions, such as designing wedding bands to match the heirloom piece, allowing you to blend the traditions of the past with the romance of your modern love story.

  • Where can I buy moissanite engagement rings near me?

    At Peter Norman! Moissanite is actually silicon carbide, an incredibly rare, and therefore expensive, mineral. But the moissanite you’ll find in engagement rings is created in a lab. 

    Because lab-made moissanite is affordable and is a close approximation of a diamond, it’s a popular alternative. It almost begs the question: why buy synthetic moissanite to masquerade as a diamond when lab-grown diamonds are also affordable, and they’re exactly the same as the real deal?

  • Custom Design Request

    Want to request custom features or pricing for a ring? Peter Norman and his associates are happy to help you with all your jewelry needs.

      What is 7 x 2 ?

      By Peter Norman

      Peter Norman is one of Los Angeles’ most celebrated wedding jewelers, with his custom-made engagement rings and wedding bands taking center place in hundreds of weddings over the last 20 years. Each engagement ring is custom designed, built to order, and can suit any budget: from the simply elegant 1-carat solitaires to the exquisite pieces fit for (and sometimes purchased by) royalty.

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