No bride-to-be feels like she’s really getting married until that all important ring adorns her left finger. You know the one, swooned over at the office water cooler, eliciting looks of envy from all who witness its sparkle. The engagement ring may well be the only pre-wed accessory sweeter than an actual, adoring fiancé.
It’s best to face every big purchase equipped with a little savvy. Here’s what you need to know about engagement rings before you start shopping.
The two-months salary convention is a common starting point, but in reality, the ring’s cost should be what the couple can afford without going into major debt. Cost varies for a lot of reasons – especially when diamonds are involved. Carat size is just one factor. In fact, a one carat center stone can cost anywhere from $1000 to $20000. Choice of metal also affects the bottom line; there’s a significant cost difference between a setting of sterling silver and one of platinum – anywhere from a few hundred to over a thousand.
With that said, the average cost of an engagement ring in the U.S. is between $3,500 and $4,000. (according to About.com). This engagement ring savings guide offers many useful tips to get costs down.
Now – put together the perfect engagement ring with these three easy steps:
1) Choose Pick Your Ring Metal
It’s valuable – King Louis declared platinum the only metal fit for a king. Need we say more?
It’s durable – platinum is resistant to tarnish and great for holding prong settings
It’s hypoallergenic – platinum is 90-95% pure and won’t irritate the skin
It’s expensive – it’s rare, making it more price sensitive
It’s malleable – platinum nicks and scratches easily; however, since no metal is lost – it can be buffed to look good as new.
It’s traditional – gold has withstood the test of time to be the most common wedding ring metal
It’s less expensive – gold is more abundant than platinum, making it more affordable
It’s soft – making it susceptible to denting
It’s not as pure – gold is always mixed with metal alloys (copper, silver, nickel) to make it stronger. The lower the karat, the higher the percentage of other metals.
It can irritate skin – metal alloys can cause allergic reactions.
It can’t be resized
It’s the least expensive precious metal
It’s extremely soft – even when combined with other metals, it shows wear over time
It can irritate skin – usually combined with nickel to make it stronger, silver can cause skin irritations
Denbei Shoami, a 17th century master metalsmith from the Akita prefecture is credited with inventing mokume and using it for the admornment of samurai swords. Using the mokume gane technique the smith would create laminated metal billets that were fused by heat and pressure. The billets composed of various metal combinations, were forged, carved and finished to produce uniquely patterned metal stock; this stock was then used to fabricate parts for the samurai sword.
Mokume gane as traditionally practiced, was a very difficult process to learn; this was partly due to the difficultly of successfully fusing the metals and partly due to the skill required to forge the laminated billet down to usable material without separating the layers. More on Mokume Gane.
2) Choose your Engagement Ring Setting
Settings are the mountings that attach the diamond to the ring’s band. Setting and stone shape selection should go hand in hand, as getting the right combination is key in creating a desired look.
Prong settings usually have six or four prongs (or claws) that cradle the diamond. Prongs allow the maximum light to enter the diamond from all angles, making it appear larger and more brilliant. The prong setting with a solitaire round brilliant stone is the classic engagement ring look.
A variation on the prong setting, rather than individual claws, prongs on each side of the setting are fused into elongated bars to hold the stone in place. This option highlights more metal without obscuring the stone as much as bezel or channel settings might.
The diamond is set with a metal rim around the perimeter of the diamond to hold it in place. A bezel setting can be a full bezel, or a part bezel. In a part bezel setting, the metal only partially surrounds the diamond, leaving the top and bottom of the stone exposed.
The diamond is held in place by the pressure of the band’s metal, resulting in the startling appearance of the diamond being held in midair. The result is a highly contemporary, fashionable look.
Diamonds of similar size and shape are lined in a row between the band’s two horizontal sides. A variation of the channel setting is the Channel End setting – which features thin vertical bars in between each of the stones.
This design coats the entire surface of the ring with gems, each set into either a minute depression or secured with thin, unobtrusive prongs. Because of their vintage antique look, pave settings are becoming increasingly popular.
This setting surrounds a larger center stone with several smaller stones. It is designed to create a larger ring from many smaller stones.
Baguettes are rectangular shaped diamonds that can be added to the sides of a larger stone, adding dimension to a solitaire setting.
Three Stone Setting
This setting features a trio of stones (symbolizing yesterday, today and tomorrow). The stones can either be of equal size or the center stone slightly larger.
3) Choose your Diamonds
As the stone is the most noticeable – and costly – component of the engagement ring, picking the right diamond can be a formidable task. Here’s everything you need to know to get the look, quality and cost that suits you.
Shape is the overall form of the finished stone, (opposed to cut, which describes the angles of the stone’s facets) and is the biggest factor in the diamond’s appearance. Even before the 4Cs (cut, color, clarity, and carat), you must determine the stone shape you prefer.
The 4 Cs
Cut: Cut refers to the number, placement and quality of a diamonds facets. The cut of a diamond has the biggest affect on its sparkle – or brilliance. Even with perfect color and clarity, a poor cut can make a diamond look dull.
Rankings – Ideal, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor
Color: The less color present in a diamond, the more rare it is, which in turn makes the value higher. The majority of diamonds used in engagement rings show very little to no color to the untrained eye.
D – Absolutely Colorless (extremely rare)
E – Colorless – Only minute traces of color can be detected by an expert gemologist. (also rare)
F – Colorless – Minute traces of color can only be detected by a trained gemologist.
G-H – Near-colorless – Noticeable color only when compared to higher color grades.
I-J – Near-colorless – Slightly detectable color.
K-M- Faint color noticeable.
N-Z – Noticeable Color
**Note that fancy yellow or other hued diamonds are graded on a different color scale than white diamonds.
Clarity: Diamond clarity is determined by the internal and external imperfections visible under 10x magnification. The fewer inclusions and blemishes, the better the clarity – and more valuable the diamond.
FL – Flawless – Shows no inclusions or blemishes.
IF – Internally Flawless – Contains no inclusions; minor blemishes tolerated.
VVS1 & VVS2* – Very Very Slight Included – Contains minute inclusions that are extremely difficult to locate.
VS1 & VS2* – Very Slight Included – Contains minute inclusions, such as clouds, crystals, or feathers, which are difficult to locate.
SI1 & SI2* – Slightly Included – Noticeable inclusions such as clouds, knots, crystals, cavities, and feathers.
SI3 – Slightly Included – Contains inclusions that are very easy to see with 10x magnification.
I1, I2, I3 – Included – Contains very obvious inclusions, which can usually be seen with the naked eye.
*Note – size, position and number of inclusions determine distinctions between VVS1 & VVS2, VS1 and VS2, SI1 and SI2.
Carat: Diamond weight is measured in carats; the greater the carat weight, the rarer – and more expensive – the diamond. Once you’ve determined what cut, color, and clarity grade you’re looking for in a diamond, it’s easy to determine the carat weight of that quality of diamond that will fit within your budget.
**Note – Before you buy your stone, ask the retailer to provide you with a diamond report issued by an independent gemological association – such as the GIA or AGS.