Tis the season… to get down on one knee and ask her to marry you. The holidays offer plenty of opportunities to propose, and often buying the ring is more stressful than the actual act of asking her to marry you. Buying jewelery for a woman is a minefield as it stands. Buying a piece of jewelery that she’ll wear for the rest of her life? That’ll drive a man to drink. Pour yourself one (just one) and let’s walk through how to do this:
Know her style: Modern Minimalist, Traditional, or Vintage
Think of the kind of jewelery she already wears. Women have jewelery personalities like guys have car personalities. Some dudes are truck guys, some guys are sports-car guys. Some women like shiny, clean, and simple looking jewelery. Others like intricate pieces that look like something a young heiress would have worn in the 1920s.
- Modern Minimalist – Her jewelery collection is modern and simple. You’re probably looking for a diamond solitaire. Tiffany made these famous and it’s what most people think of when they think of an engagement ring. Diamond quality is going to be highest priority since it’s the star of this show.
- Traditional – Her jewelery collection contains a variety of styles, but nothing really too flashy, too risky, or too antique looking. A solitaire works here, but a lot of guys end up going with a multi stone. A hybrid would be a large stone in the middle with smaller diamonds on the side for sparkle support.
- Vintage – Her jewelery collection could one day own an episode of Antiques Roadshow, but it’s not dusty or decrepit, and it’s far from boring. You’ll want to look for a ring where there’s artistry not just in the diamond, but in the ring itself. Intricate detailing like filigree is a solid bet.
Left: Two examples of traditional multi stone rings. Right: A Tiffany Solitaire. Top: A vintage looking ring w/ filigree
Your goal is to match her personal style with the ring. Has she ever made a comment (good or bad) about a friend’s engagement ring to you? Steal a glance into her jewelry box. Is it all new, modern, shiny stuff? Are there pieces that her Grandmother wore when she was young that she handed down to her? Does she like earrings and necklaces that don’t have just one stone, but clusters that bounce together as one? These are all clues.
Know her ring size
Proposing and knowing she loves the ring is like hitting five numbers in Powerball. Being able to slide it on her finger and have it fit right away is all the numbers plus the ball. Jackpot. Commandeer a ring she’s worn recently if possible. Make sure it’s one she wears on her ring finger. That’ll give the jeweler her size. You can also take a very sharp (or mechanical) pencil and trace the interior circle on a piece of paper. Not exact, but, something.
Know where to shop
- Aside from Tiffany (which is outrageously expensive) skip the internet all together. You need to see the diamond and the setting in person.
- Unless you’re on a serious budget, skip department stores.
- Avoid the jewelery stores in the mall. They’re pricey and someone might see you shopping there.
- Discreetly ask around. Go on reputation, not advertising. You want a jewelery store that’s professional, free of pressure, and lets you take your time to think about this. You want a place that’ll show you settings you can order and match with loose stones if there’s nothing in the case that appeals to you.
- If you start to feel any pressure from a salesperson, walk the hell out of there. Jewelery, suits, and cars all have one thing in common: there are far too many terrible salespeople selling these things.
Know those four C’s: Color, Cut, Clarity, Carat weight
Color: Most diamonds have a yellowish tint to them. The more colorless it looks, the more expensive it’ll be.
Cut: The shape of the stone and its facets. Facets are the small lines that bounce the light around. Each stone will look different when light moves through it, so spend some time with your options in the store.
Clarity: Diamonds have these tiny specs of imperfections inside of them called “inclusions.” They’re easy to see under a microscope. They almost look like roughed up or scratched glass inside the stone. The salesperson will be able to show you the different inclusions in different stones. The more inclusions, the less brilliant the diamond will appear because light won’t pass through and bounce aroud as easily. A diamond with few inclusions next to a diamond with tons of inclusions would look like the crystal clear Caribbean sitting next to the Cuyahoga.
Carat Weight: The bigger the rock, the higher the carat weight. That’ll obviously impact the price too. More here.
Slightly smaller diamonds with terrific clarity can cost oddly less than bigger diamonds that appear cloudy.
Know your budget. And know that bigger isn’t always better
The old rule of thumb is the ring should cost three months salary (no Michael Scott, not three years,) but NASA didn’t get men on the moon by making measurements with their thumbs. There’s leeway here. Just know that a bigger stone doesn’t always mean it’s the best decision.
When I purchased my wife’s engagement ring, I spent almost an hour looking at two different diamonds. One was noticeably larger and more expensive, but it just didn’t sparkle nearly as much as the other. The bigger one looked dirty in comparison. It took a team of internal horses not to go with the bigger diamond (I didn’t want to feel cheap), but it just didn’t look as good. When I finally made my decision, the incredibly helpful saleswoman told me that I had made the right choice. Maybe she was just saying that, but I’ve never regretted the pick for a second. Quite the opposite.
Know a few final, key details
- Some couples choose to pick out the ring together. It’s practical, sensible, and it’s guaranteed to fit. It also runs the risk of being as romantic as a Jean Claude Van Damme movie. Make a day or a weekend out of it. Consider dinner out and a one night stay at a great hotel if headed this route.
- Get it insured. That way, she can wear it worry free. Some homeowner’s and renter’s policies have this built in, but make sure. Be prepared to get your insurance company paperwork from the jeweler.
- When someone tells you that they just got engaged, don’t immediately ask to see the ring. It puts the guy (and potentially his financial situation) on the spot and makes the ring the focus of the event. Congratulations come first. Maybe ask how he proposed. If she shows you the ring? Then pay a genuine compliment.
Ever bought one? Other suggestions for engagement ring shopping, or, mistakes to avoid, should go below…