How To Go Engagement Ring Shopping; A Couple’s Guide

a guy shopping for an engagement ring

I’ve been wanting to write about this topic ever since Ryan and I went shopping for my own engagement ring together. That’s right- we went and looked at rings together! When we told friends that was what we were doing, the majority of responses was, “that’s a thing!?”. I quickly realized that many people had no idea about the different ways of going about picking a ring. So I’ve decided to write a whole guide on how to go engagement ring shopping for all couples!

First off, I’ll start by saying that there is NO “right” or “wrong” way to pick out an engagement ring. You can go alone and choose the ring for your partner, you can go try on rings yourself and let your partner know what you like, or you can go ring shopping together! Everyone has their own preference, but as with all major life decisions in your relationship, I find the best answer can be found by communicating with your partner on how you’d like to do it.

There is no need to listen to experts on what the proper engagement ring etiquette is, because it’s the 21st century and rules are meant to be broken. The process can also be very personal so it’s hard to write out an exact a step by step guide for engagement ring shopping. I’ll give you some tips and tricks we learned on how to go engagement ring shopping from our own experience, as well as from interviewing an experienced jeweler.

Our Story

Ryan and I knew for a long time that we wanted to get married. While I’m more relaxed on the traditions of it all, Ryan still wanted to go get a ring and propose. But, he had no idea where to start. There aren’t really any guy’s guides for engagement ring shopping, and when he called up and asked his guy friends how they picked out their partner’s rings and how much they cost, the answers he got from his friends on engagement ring advice were all over the board.

Some of his friends spent over $10k on their rings, some only spent $1,500. Some had their stone gifted to them as a family heirloom, while others picked theirs out themselves. One of his friends even hand made the ring himself! Wow! But he also got mixed messages on whether they got any input from their partner or if they went out in secret to a jeweler and designed it themselves.

Ryan didn’t want to risk getting me a ring I didn’t like. And after all, he knew I was the one that would be wearing it for years to come, not him. After talking about it over drinks, he also admitted that he had know idea how much he should be spending on, or what all these terms he kept seeing meant such as cut, clarity, and so forth. So I basically told him;

“Then let’s go look together.”

So we did! We looked up some local ring designers in Denver, and came across The Diamond Reserve, and went ring shopping before the proposal. We booked an appointment with them, reminding ourselves that this was an educational trip. We wanted to learn about cut, clarity, size, and more, but see if there was any other pieces to the puzzle we were missing.

Kaeleigh at The Diamond Reserve sat us down and explained everything to us. (More details on all that info below!!). She asked us what we were willing to spend on a ring, and showed us different size and style options that would work with our budget.

What I didn’t realize about the benefits of going in to try on rings and look at stones is that you might have an idea of what you want (maybe something you’ve seen on Pinterest), but once you see it on your finger, your preferences may drastically change! But with the examples right there in front on me, I could tell Kaeleigh and Ryan exactly what I liked and didn’t like. She would write down all of my thoughts, (including my ring size, which she measured right then and there), and wrote it down for Ryan. I told all my friends that my boyfriend took me ring shopping and they were so excited for us too.

Now Ryan was informed on not only how to buy an engagement ring, but also exactly what I wanted. All he had to do was place an order! A few months later, Ryan did a full on surprise proposal. You’d think even knowing that he was in the process of buying a ring that I wouldn’t be surprised by the proposal, but I was! It was magical and we’re so excited to get married!

Guy proposes to girl at sunset

When do you start shopping for engagement rings?

This can be a very open ended question and answer. It may depend on many factors. First off, I am a huge believer that every couple should have the marriage talk before getting engaged. And by that I mean not only ‘should we get married?’, but a deeper conversation about what does marriage mean to you? Are we ready to get married? How soon? As well as topics about finances, having kids, and much more. Here is a great article about 10 topics all couples should have before saying “I do!”.

But let’s say you’ve done all that work and you both agree you’d like to get married. Now when should you pick out an engagement ring and propose? A lot of couples have in their heads that ‘oh we will get married soon’ idea, but forget that the act of planning a wedding can take up some time! (Maybe even a year!). So if you wanted to get married next fall, back track from there. You’ll want to propose maybe a year (or preferably, a year and a half!) before that. Back track again from there, you’ll want to plan your proposal (if you want), as well as order and have the ring made. (See below for timeline of how long it takes for a ring to be made).

So, theoretically, you should propose about a year and a half before you both plan you will get married. Of course, this isn’t a rule. I’ve photographed lots of weddings where they got engaged only 3 months before!

Basically, what I’m trying to say is, if you’re already talking about getting married and have agreed to it…. what are you waiting for? Go get that ring!

romantic engagement proposal

Should you and your partner go ring shopping together?

Again, this answer is going to come down to that part where I said you both should have serious discussions about getting married first. During that discussion might be a good time to get a feel for what sort of route your partner wants to take on how to go engagement ring shopping. As mentioned before, there is no right or wrong way. You could go trying on engagement rings alone, or together with your partner.

When I took a poll on how many people went ring shopping either with their partner or on their own, it was split pretty evenly! 48% of pollsters said they did go ring shopping with their partner, and 52% said they went solo. Wow!

Kaeleigh over at The Diamond Reserve had this to say about the topic; “Lots of couples go shopping together and it is totally normal! Just because you go shopping together doesn’t mean there can’t be a surprise element. Many couples choose to go to several jeweler’s together, gathering notes on what their significant other would like to see in their engagement ring. After a day of shopping go to the jeweler you trust, felt most connected with, and took thorough notes.”

When it came to their partner going ring shopping for them, 7% of people said they would prefer that their partner picks the ring completely on their own. 69% said they would like to suggest engagement rings advice, but they would like their partner to take it from there. 24% said they would like to go ring shopping together.

So from these results, you can either make up your own decision on how to pick out an engagement ring, or….you could talk to your partner about it.

Guy picking out an engagement ring

How do I know what type of engagement ring my partner wants?

Let’s say you are going to go the route of picking or designing an engagement ring on your own. Awesome! Now…how do you do that with still making sure it’s something they will like? Well, there are some sneaky ways….

First option, ask a sister or a best friend to do some detective work for you! This is a very common, and almost fool proof way of finding out what your partner might like. Of course, you run the risk of their friend spilling the beans, but let’s hope that risk is low! Maybe that friend can straight up ask, or maybe they already know. Or, maybe they would suggest that the friend and your partner go try on rings, “just for fun”. Let them report back to you their findings.

Second, the majority of girls these days will actually make a Pinterest board of wedding ideas and engagement rings for this very purpose! It’s a cute way of them to dream up a vision, (without throwing it in their partners face and being too obvious about it! haha!). If the board is ‘public’, you can see what they have pinned and what their style might be. Feel free to take some screen shots and show it to a jeweler! I’ve actually had a few friends say this is how they and their partner knew what they wanted. It’s a great subtle hint from your partner, without being too obvious about it all.

Another tip would be to observe the type of jewelry your partner already wears. Is it understated? Gold? Silver? Flashy? Make sure it fits their all around day-to-day style too.

Where do I buy an engagement ring?

Like most best things in life, you will get great quality and service at higher-end boutique jewelry stores. They will provide the proper (and true) stone certification, and hopefully a more personal experience. In the end, you’ll have to go with what is available to you and your budget, but there are a few tips on where to NOT buy an engagement ring.

First off, do not trust any online seller. They will be the most likely to scam you with what they are actually selling. Same goes with the ‘big name’ jewelry stores that you will see advertise on commercials during the holidays. Apparently they grade their own stones, so they will be selling you actual low-quality diamonds for a steeper price.

Try going to a few different stores. Talk to the sellers. Ask for proper certifications. Hopefully you will know who seems right to you and who seems scammy. This is a big decision with a high price point, so do not take it lightly!

unique engagement ring in jewelry box

How much do engagement rings cost?

When it came to price range, it can vary. It also depends on many different factors. There used to be an old (and in my opinion, outdated) status quo that “you should spend about three months worth of salary on an engagement ring”. Well, welcome to the 21st century. Don’t listen to rules. There shouldn’t be a engagement ring price calculator. How much you spend on an engagement rings is up to you and your partner.

From a poll I took, everyone’s price ranges varied on what they spent on their rings. Keep in mind, some people had been given a stone as a family heirloom, and may have only spent money on a band. Others may have gone the non-diamond route. Some might have found a very expensive natural diamond that cost more. There is a reason that prices vary, and again, it all comes down to what makes sense to you and your partner. In the poll, 15% of people said their rings cost less than $2k. The “median” answers seemed to be split between the following two answers, with 34% saying $2-5k, and 37% saying $5-10k for their rings. Lastly, about 14% said $10k and up.

Not just for girls! Men’s engagement rings.

That’s right! Engagement ring shopping isn’t just for rings for girls! Girls can buy rings for guys. Guys can buy rings for guys. Girls can buy rings for girls!

If you are shopping for an engagement ring for a guy, a lot of the same advice can still be applied. Talk with your partner about what they like. Still learn about the 4C’s (as mentioned in a section below). Get advice from an expert. There are so many different styles of bands, shapes, and sizes.

Tiffany’s has a great choice of men’s engagement rings. Over the last few years of photographing weddings, I’ve noticed that men’s wedding band trends are also starting to really get creative and exploring different options for their styles. Whether it be a band, or a full on engagement ring with a stone, options are endless. Thicker bands, hammered bands, brushed bands, twists, engravings, in set diamonds, you name it! Here are some more creative options of men’s engagement rings from Brides.com!

How do you pick the perfect engagement stone?

If you’re like most people, then you have no idea the first step on how to go engagement ring shopping. So don’t get overwhelmed with all the options and decision making you’ll have to do. I asked Kaeleigh her advice on how to pick the perfect engagement stone, and her response was very informative;

“You always want to ensure you view a lineup of diamonds. Never just pick from one lone diamond. If you love the oval cut for example, your jeweler should put together a lineup of options that work for you. This allows you to see different silhouettes, different length to width ratios, and allows you to choose the diamond that speaks to you.”

This is exactly what she did for us at The Diamond Reserve! I thought I knew what I wanted, but she still gave us a few options to look at. Once I knew I was going for an oval, she then educated us on the different types of ovals (what!?). We found a great length to width ratio that was best fit for my finger and went with that.

I let Ryan do the rest. He came back a different day and found ‘the one’. He let his gut let him decide which was the best stone for us after reviewing a few options.

Go with your gut!

oval solitaire engagement ring

What do you look for in a diamond?

This is where I found a lot of people felt a little clueless on going about shopping for engagement rings. Basically, you’ll need to know about the 4C’s; Cut, Clarity, Color, and Carat. While these four attributes will be on a scale, note that where to land on this scale will depend on the cut and shape of your diamond! Also, when reviewing things to know before buying an engagement ring, it is important to see the GIA certification of a diamond or stone. This certification will tell you where it lands on the scale of cut, clarity, color, and more. GIA stands for the Gemological Institute of America.

Cut

One of the first things you will need to consider and maybe settle on, is the cut. Another way to view this as, is the shape. And there are so many to choose from! There is oval, princess, emerald, pear, cushion, radiant, and much much more. Along with the overall style and shape, there is also shallow, ideal, and deep.

Different cut options;

  • Princess
  • Round
  • Cushion
  • Emerald
  • Oval
  • Heart
  • Pear
  • Marquise
  • Radiant
  • Asscher

Picking a cut will also determine the other “Cs” and where they should fall on the GIA grading scale. Note that every cut might affect pricing. Some cuts are “trending” and will have a higher price tag. Others will have the opposite pricing. Every cut will have a different way that it sparkles.

Clarity

Clarity of a stone will be how clean a diamond is. Natural diamonds will inevitably have blemishes in them. These imperfections are part of the charm of natural diamonds. These inclusions and blemishes can be “eye clean”, or flawless, which is what most people are looking for. This all depends on the cut of the diamond though. If it is cloudy, that will not be very eye clean. Below is the different grades of clarity;

  • FL (Flawless)
  • IF (Internally Flawless)
  • VVS1 (Very, Very Slightly Included 1)
  • VVS2 (Very, Very Slightly Included 2)
  • VS1 (Very Slightly Included 1)
  • VS2 (Very Slightly Included 2)
  • SI1 (Slightly Included 1)
  • SI2 (Slightly Included 2)
  • I1 (Inclusions 1)
  • I2 (Inclusions 2)

Color

Color is a very important, and noticeable, aspect to picking out and engagement ring. Stones can be “colorless”, all the way up to a yellow tint. Some shapes actually are optimal NOT at a ‘colorless’ grade. This is something that your experienced jeweler will know. Price points can drastically jump from one grade to another, just the visual difference might not be noticeable to the naked eye. This is where costs may play a factor is choosing your engagement stone.

Here is the color grading scale from “colorless” to having more color;

  • Colorless; D, E, F
  • Nearly Colorless; G, H, I, J
  • Faint Yellow; K, L, M
  • Very Light Yellow; N, O, P, Q, R
  • Light Yellow; S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z

Carat

One of the biggest misleading assumptions is that carat = size. This isn’t necessarily true. Carat actually refers to weight. The size might vary a lot depending on the cut, meaning different cut rings might have very different weights, but look similar in size. Also, the cut and brilliance should be one of the main priorities to consider when choosing a ring, rather than size. A large stone won’t be as beautiful if it isn’t as brilliant!

it is also important to note that price point can jump drastically between certain carat sizings. The pricing between let’s say a 1.75 carat diamond and a 2.0 will have a big jump, but not so much from a 1.75 to a 1.9, therefore it might be in your price range to get a diamond slightly smaller, yet look almost the same size!

The lesson here is that; size sometimes doesn’t matter. Don’t get fixated on numbers.

examples of different cuts of diamonds

What is the difference between a natural diamond vs a lab diamond?

You might have heard about ‘lab’ diamonds, or like many, you might not have known this was even a thing! It’s nice to know what TYPE of diamond you are purchasing. Whether it be a natural diamond (grown naturally from the earth) or a lab diamond (grown and produced in a laboratory).

Technically speaking, they are both diamonds. They both will pass any gem test to see if it is “real” or not. They have the same qualities of any diamond (such as hardness). The main difference you will note, is that lab diamonds will be ‘flawless’. A lot of couples, when searching for diamonds, like the imperfections they can see in the diamond because this means that it is natural and unique. Just know that you should always ask your jeweler for proof of certification before buying/picking a stone, as it will tell you if it is lab or natural.

Some people specifically ask for lab diamonds, because the biggest difference between a lab and natural diamond is the price point. Lab diamonds will be significantly cheaper than natural diamonds, mostly due to supply and demand. That being said, this hasn’t always been the case! A few years ago, lab diamonds were more expensive!

Some advice from Kaeleigh over at The Diamond Reserve when deciding between Lab vs. Natural diamonds;

“Lab Grown Diamond and Natural Diamonds look the same, but there are many important factors that make them different. Lab Grown Diamonds are sold for about 1/4 the price of natural diamonds, allowing couples to get a bigger diamond for their budget. Unlike Natural Diamonds, Lab Grown Diamonds do not hold their value. Depending on your budget this is one of the biggest things to take into consideration when deciding between the two.” Kaeleigh is right on this; the value of a natural diamond fluctuates over time, and it can be nearly impossible to resell a lab diamond. So this may be a factor when deciding which type of diamond is right for you.

If you’d like to read up more on the topic, this article from 1215 Diamonds is very informative!; Mined Diamonds vs. Lab Diamonds; A Guide

how to go engagement ring shopping; the ultimate guide for couples

What are other engagement stone alternatives to diamonds?

I feel like this is a very important topic when it comes to how to go engagement ring shopping. There are SO many options when it comes to engagement rings. While the saying may be true, (“a diamond is a girl’s best friend”), that doesn’t mean that a diamond is the only option. There are other stones such as sapphire, opal, and moissanite. Just remember that there are no engagement ring rules.

You may be thinking, “Wait, what is Moissanite?”.

Yeah I had never heard of it either until my ring shopping research! Moissanite is a great alternative to a diamond. It is a gemstone composed of silicon carbide. It has the illusion of a diamond, and is also a very hard gem compared to most. Of course, diamonds are the hardest gems, so you know they wont scratch! The majority of moissanite is laboratory-created, and the reason they make a great alternative to diamonds is that they are dramatically cheaper in price than diamonds. So while they might look similar (with their unique differences), they are technically not the same, and the price point is a great reasoning for going the moissanite route.

But even the diamond or ‘diamond look-a-like’ route isn’t necessary! Sapphires, rubies, opals, and even black diamonds are all the rage now! Kaeleigh from The Diamond Reserve gave me some intel that sapphires are the most common alternative to diamonds for an engagement ring center stone

Or here’s another idea- no engagement ring! (What!?) Traditions and rules are meant to be broken, right? Some couples are even doing away with engagement rings and just wearing traditional wedding bands. One couple said they only wanted wedding bands and not an engagement ring, so they actually bought a $30 plastic ring to “show” to inquiring friends who wanted to see “the ring!”. (They got rid of the ring after the wedding and now only wear the ‘real’ wedding bands!). So, this just proves that you can do whatever you want.

How long does it take to make an engagement ring?

Every jeweler is different, and every ring is different. The timing of how long a ring takes to make will mostly depend on what you chose as a ring. If you’d like a designer or boutique ring, the average turn around time would be 3-5 weeks. If you’d like an off the shelf ring (already made and designed, but you might need to adjust the ring size), it could be a lot quicker. Most rings still need a few weeks to be made though, so factor this timing in when planning your proposal! Plan for maybe 5-7 weeks, but hopefully you’ll get that ring in 3-4!

Guy proposes to his gifrlfriend

If you thought this post was helpful and full of tips on how to go engagement ring shopping, great! I have some more awesome tips on the wedding planning process for you! If you are looking to take engagement photos in Colorado, I’d suggest reading this article on the 20 Best Colorado Engagement Photo Locations. Or, if you’re looking for some rad venues in Colorado for a wedding, you can read this post on the Best Colorado Mountain Wedding Venues with Epic Views and Scenery!

  1. John Carston says:

    I like the tip that you gave that trying something could help you identify what you want. My cousin told me the other day that he was planning to buy an engagement ring that could provide the love he has for his partner, but he doesn’t know what to buy and asked if I have any idea what is the best option to consider. Thanks to this informative article, I’ll tell him that he can consult well-known custom jewelers in town as they can provide more information about the process.

  2. Diana says:

    Great tips! Love these tips so much. Thanks for sharing helpful tips.

  3. I love that you described how you’d find the best style for your partner’s engagement ring. I want to propose to my girlfriend in a few weeks, so I’m looking for the perfect ring for the occasion, and I think your tips will help me. I appreciate your advice on checking your loved one’s jewelry pieces and which one they use more before shopping for an engagement ring.

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