Are you shopping for an engagement ring this holiday season and planning to pop the question to the love of your life? Yippppeeee… we are so excited for you! But with so many ring options out there from the different metals to the settings, it could be very overwhelming. Darren and I have been there, so let us offer you some tips and advice on selecting the right engagement ring for you and your soon-to-be fiancee!
When we got engaged in 2004, we did a lot of research on the rings together. It was fun learning about the 5Cs (yes, there is a 5th one, and we will cover all of them below), and talking about the styles that we both like and don’t like! The more knowledge you have before the purchase, the less intimidating it is when you finally walk in to a store.
Alright, let’s dive into it, shall we? Every engagement ring is comprised of three parts: (1) the diamond itself – sometimes it’s known as the “center stone,” and then there’s (2) the metal and (3) the setting. If you want your fiancee’s wedding band to match the engagement ring (just like in the photo above), then you should look at the “wedding set” together.
For the metals, the most popular ones are:
Platinum is the top of the line metal for engagement ring and wedding band, and is the leader in both beauty and quality. It is the most durable as well as the heaviest and most expensive option. It never wears out and only needs period gentle washing with soap and water to keep it shiny and bright. Platinum is naturally white and offer superb stone security because they have minimum “spring back,” the tendency of metal to spring back to its original position and not stay in the place it was bent.
Platinum is a very heavy metal, weighing 60% more than 14 karat gold, and is also very dense. When other metals are scratched, they actually lose a slender thread of metal. Platinum will scratch, but it generally will not chip or splinter. Over time, with wear, platinum will develop a patina that is unique to this metal. If you prefer a brighter, cleaner look platinum can be buffed to return it to its original brightness.
Palladium is one of the world’s rarest metals and it is a member of the platinum family with properties almost identical to platinum. It is much lighter in weight than platinum, hence the lower price tag as well. Its wearability is equal to that of platinum, and far superior to the more commonly used white gold. It’s a bright white metal, and unlike white gold which is only 58% pure, it is used in the same 95% pure state as platinum, so it is very hypoallergenic.
Made from alloys of yellow gold and various white metals such as palladium, manganese and nickel. It is not a true white metal. White gold rings often contain nickel, which provides the strength needed for a durable setting that lasts. If you like the look of platinum but want to spend a little less, white gold is a fantastic choice. It is often plated with Rhodium, a white and reflective metal that provides an excellent protective coating. However, rhodium plating will gradually wear off and require re-plating.
The purity of gold is measured in karats. If gold is 100% pure, then it is 24 karat gold (24K). In its pure form, gold is soft and malleable, but scratches easily and is unsuited for jewelry wear. Consequently, it must be alloyed with other metals to give it strength.
- 18K Gold – 18 parts gold, 6 parts other metals by weight (75% pure)
- 14K Gold – 14 parts gold, 10 parts other metals by weight (58.3% pure)
- 10K Gold – 10 parts gold, 14 parts other metals by weight (41.7% pure)
Rose gold is a gold and copper alloy that is sometimes referred to as red gold or pink gold. As it was popular in Russia at the turn of the nineteenth century, was once commonly referred to as Russian Gold, although the term is rarely heard these days. Rose gold is gaining popularity over the past few years. It works well in all types of settings but is particularly appealing in vintage-inspired engagement rings and wedding rings. This softly romantic colored gold is the strongest compared to white gold and yellow gold, as copper is very sturdy and the resulting alloy is tougher than yellow or white gold. On the downside, copper can cause allergic reactions in some individuals, and is not considered to be a hypoallergenic metal. If shopping for someone with very sensitive skin, yellow gold may be your best choice.
Titanium is a white metal and 100% hypoallergenic, but unlike gold it is used in jewelry in almost its pure form (approximately 99% pure). Titanium is extremely long wearing. Its natural color is a gray color. Titanium has superior structural integrity and is 3 times stronger than steel. Titanium is very light weight (1/3 as much as gold). Although a very hard and durable metal, titanium can still be scratched by abrasive materials like rocks or hardened steel tools.
Tungsten carbide, or Tungsten for short, is one tough precious metal. They are 10 times harder than 18k gold, 5 times harder than steel, and 4 times harder than titanium. Tungsten wedding bands are created with the hardest metal on Earth. Tungsten alone is a very hard, heavy and dense metal and has the highest melting point of all metals at 6100 degrees, but is still vulnerable to scratches and damages like other precious metals. Tungsten is also naturally brittle and can crack or shatter if struck against a hard enough surface.
Next, we will talk about the ring setting. When deciding on a diamond engagement ring, the setting is one of the most important factors to consider.
A bezel setting is held in place by creating a metal frame around the circumference of the stone or at its girdle (the thin edge of the stone). It can wrap all the way around the stone or only partially surround it, depending on the style of the ring. This type of diamond ring setting is good for protecting the girdle and often makes the stone look larger.
Invisibly set gemstones sit very close together with their metal settings hidden underneath. So you see a continuous, uninterrupted surface of diamonds or gemstones. We think this type of setting is a great way to showcase the brilliance of princess cut diamonds, because there are no prongs or bezels blocking the light as it enters and illuminates each stone.
The most common type of setting style, especially for solitaire rings, is the prong setting which holds your stone securely while still allowing a good deal of light to enter your diamond or gemstone. To increase this effect, the center stone is sometimes raised above the shank, to give it a larger, more important appearance, with only a suggestion of metal showing.
In such a setting, the prongs are attached to the central setting of a ring, known as the head or basket. Each prong extends upward and outward from the head, gripping the diamond with an arch at the top.
Prongs can be placed at four corners of a stone or at five or six points evenly spaced around the stone. Other variations include V-prong setting which is used on marquise and pear shape gemstones to protect the pointed tips from chipping or breaking.
In a channel setting, diamond(s) or gemstone(s) are set flush between two strips of metal that holds them in place side by side with no additional prongs between the stones. This type of setting protects the edge, or girdle, of the gemstone, and is a very secure setting. Channel-set gemstones provide a smooth setting making them less likely to get snagged on hair or clothing.
Similar to channel setting, a pave ring setting has a band that is covered with dozens of tiny diamonds – so much so that the metal band barely shows through. The difference is that these diamonds are often very small and held in place with small prongs or beads. The result is a band that looks almost like it’s made entirely of diamonds, whereas in a channel setting, the diamonds are bigger, more distinct and clearly set within the metal band.
When diamonds or gemstones are set close together in a group, the result is known as a cluster setting. Sometimes the stones can be arranged in the form of a stylized flower, or just in an abstract arrangement. Cluster rings are usually multi-level, with considerable height above the hand. The arrangement of the stones can be open and airy looking, or they may be more tightly arranged.
Similar to a channel setting, a bar setting uses a thin bar of u- or v-shaped metal to hold diamonds or gemstones in place on two sides. When there is a series of stones set next to each other using this technique, you will see a narrow bar between each one.
This sleek, modern diamond ring setting uses pressure to hold a stone between two open ends of a metal mounting, creating the illusion that the stone is floating. This setting is a beautiful choice for any bride-to-be who appreciates modern, cutting edge style.
A type of prong setting, this technique adds a faceted, shiny metal plate around the girdle of a diamond or gemstone. The reflective plate makes the stone appear larger and more brilliant.
Here’s the 5C’s of diamond quality, be sure to check the certificate that comes with the diamond:
The cut of a diamond has the biggest effect on its sparkle, also called brilliance. Even with perfect color and clarity, a poor cut can make a diamond look dull. A diamond’s cut grade is an objective measure of a diamond’s light performance, or, what we generally think of as sparkle. When a diamond is cut with the proper proportions, light is returned out of the top of the diamond (which gemologists refer to as the table). If it is cut too shallow, light leaks out of the bottom; too deep and it escapes out of the side. Here are the different types of cut:
- Ideal: Represents roughly the top 3% of diamond quality based on cut. Reflects nearly all light that enters the diamond. An exquisite and rare cut
- Very Good: Represents roughly the top 15% of diamond quality based on cut. Reflects nearly as much light as the ideal cut, but for a lower price
- Good: Represents roughly the top 25% of diamond quality based on cut. Reflects most light that enters. Much less expensive than a very good cut
- Fair: Represents roughly the top 35% of diamond quality based on cut. Still a quality diamond, but a fair cut will not be as brilliant as a good cut
- Poor: Diamonds that are generally so deep and narrow or shallow and wide that they lose most of the light out the sides and bottom.
Colorless diamonds are most highly valued and are priced accordingly. For the best value, choose a colorless or near-colorless diamond that has no noticeable color, grades D to J. A color grade of D is the highest possible, while Z is the lowest. Color manifests itself in a diamond as a pale yellow. This is why a diamond’s color grade is based on its lack of color. The less color a diamond has, the higher its color grade. After cut, color is generally considered the second most important characteristic when selecting a diamond. This is because the human eye tends to detect a diamond’s sparkle (light performance) first, and color second.
Diamonds free from internal flaws, or inclusions, are very rare and highly-valued. The best value in diamond clarity is a diamond with no inclusions visible to the unaided eye. Much is made of a diamond’s clarity, but of the Five Cs, it is the easiest to understand, and, according to many experts, generally has the least impact on a diamond’s appearance. Clarity simply refers to the tiny, natural imperfections that occur in all but the finest diamonds. Gemologists refer to these imperfections by a variety of technical names, including blemishes and inclusions, among others. Diamonds with the least and smallest imperfections receive the highest clarity grades. Because these imperfections tend to be microscopic, they do not generally affect a diamond’s beauty in any discernible way.
The different types of clarity:
- FL/IF (Flawless/Internally Flawless): No internal or external imperfections. Internally Flawless: No internal imperfections. Very rare.
- VVS1, VVS2 (Very, Very Slightly Included): Very difficult to see imperfections under 10x magnification. An excellent quality diamond.
- VS1, VS2 (Very Slightly Included): Imperfections are not typically visible to the unaided eye. Less expensive than the VVS1 or VVS2 grades.
- SI1, SI2 (Slight Included): Imperfections are visible under 10x magnification, and may be visible with the unaided eye. A good diamond value.
- I1, I2, I3 (Included): This grade of diamonds will have minor inclusions that may be visible to the unaided eye.
Since larger diamonds are more rare than smaller diamonds, diamond value rises exponentially with carat weight. With a clear understanding of cut, color, and clarity, you can balance the overall diamond quality with the size of your diamond. As the name suggests, carat weight specifically refers to a diamond’s weight. However, much as a person’s weight does not necessarily correlate with height, carat weight, by itself, may not accurately reflect a diamond’s size. To gain a precise understanding of diamond size, there are 2 other characteristics that you should consider: (1) the distance across the top of the diamond measured in millimeters, and (2) the diamond’s cut grade. It is important to measure the distance across the top of the diamond as this is how we view a stone when set into a ring.
A diamond’s cut grade should also be considered because, as we noted in the cut grade section above, when a diamond is cut with the proper proportions, the maximum amount of light (or sparkle) is returned out of the top of the diamond. Thus, when a diamond is well cut, the light reflected out of the top makes it appear larger. In addition, much of the weight of a poorly cut diamond, for example, may be “hidden” in the base of the diamond, making the diamond appear smaller than its carat weight would imply. It is therefore possible to have a diamond of a lower carat weight, but higher cut grade, that appears larger than a diamond with a larger carat weight, but poor cut.
Once you’ve selected your cut, color, and clarity grade, it’s easy to determine the carat weight of diamond that will fit within your budget.
This is an emotional event, and a purchase that will last a lifetime. The two-months salary convention is a common starting point, but we believe that regardless of the amount you budget, your most important considerations should be quality and value.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
We hope you have a slightly better understanding of how to select a diamond and the setting of an engagement ring. It can be a little overwhelming the first time you shop for the ring, but our advice is for you to check out different stores and talk to the jewelry experts. After visiting a few places, the shopping experience will get easier… we promise!