How to buy an engagement ring
It’s one of those special moments in life: asking someone to marry you.
Your first concern: will they say yes?
But not too far behind: what about choosing the engagement ring?
Helping you make the big decision
We can help you make decisions on choosing such a significant piece of jewellery.
This guide will help you to decide: What type of gemstone? What colour of metal? Brand new or vintage?
A classic style or something very individual?
If you knew you’d got the ring right – or at least, that you could get some help to do so – wouldn’t that make the proposal easier?
We understand engagement rings
At Goodwins, a long-standing Edinburgh jeweller, we understand these concerns.
Finding the right piece of jewellery can bring years of enjoyment to the wearer – and to the person buying it for them.
That’s why we’ve put together a guide to buying an engagement ring – probably the most important piece of jewellery you’ll ever buy.
Some of those choices are down to personal preference, but there are lots of ways to simplify finding the right ring.
You don’t have to be an expert on the jargon to buy an engagement ring – but it can help if you know someone who is.
So we’re passing on some tips on how to find the right jeweller too – someone who can help you through the whole process.
We’ll also give you our take on some of the extra choices you may have read about, like certification or laser cutting.
And we’ll help you think about how to take care of your ring – hopefully for many years to come.
Joe Goodwin, one of our directors, offers his expert advice in this article, as we take you through the whole process of choosing the perfect engagement ring.
Looking at cost
Set your budget
It may seem a shame to think about money up front, as opposed to focusing on the big romantic gesture.
But a jeweller will also try to find out how much you have to spend. It will help them work more effectively with you, so they can select suitable rings for you to consider.
Knowing what you can spend can save you time in looking – and helps you be realistic about what you can achieve on your budget.
If you go in and pick purely on look, or the wow factor for your fiancée, you may both end up disappointed if that doesn’t match what’s in the bank.
In the past, people may have suggested a figure of one or two months’ salary as a price guideline. But it’s really up to you.
Use a form of reckoning that makes sense to you – especially if you are also looking at wedding costs down the line.
Once you’ve selected a figure you’re happy to spend, now you can enjoy the search more.
Looking at Size
The ring that fits the hand
It’s crucial to choose a ring to fit the look of the wearer’s hand.
Here’s a useful tip to narrow it down quickly:
If they have long slim fingers, they won’t suit a wide ring. You are therefore looking at a one-stone (solitaire) ring, maybe one with a longer rectangular shape that follows the line of the finger.
If they have shorter and/or wider fingers, a wider ring can work e.g. a three-stone band, or a chunkier single stone.
Joe comments, “If in doubt: a three-stone ring suits most hands.”
What kind of stone(s) should I choose?
Diamonds are often the first choice for engagement rings. They are hardwearing, and will go with any outfit.
But you don’t have to stop the search there. Coloured stones are back in fashion. Precious stones also include emerald, ruby and sapphire.
You can equally buy rings with semi-precious stones such as amethyst or aquamarine. These are cheaper, but be prepared that they don’t last as well as precious stones. You may get around 30 years’ use out of them.
As Joe will tell you, coloured precious stones can chip but can be repolished in that 30-year timescale. Also, if you have a ring with smaller side stones, these can also be replaced if damaged, keeping the overall appearance of the ring.
You may have heard of cubic zirconium as an alternative to diamonds. This is cheaper but fewer good jewellers will stock it.
The importance of colour
So, you’ve decided on the type of stone – and maybe the number too. But how do you pick between similar rings?
If you search online, you’ll soon come across what are referred to as the 4 Cs: the colour, clarity, carat (weight) and cut of a gemstone.
This makes it easier to compare what you are looking at. But how do you interpret that, in a shop, with the rings in front of you?
“Colour is particular important, because it dictates the value of the stone. Clarity comes next: how clean, bright and white the shine of the stone is. Size of stone comes after that.”
At Goodwins, we only sell the best two grades of diamonds: colourless and near colourless.
There are also specific names for the shape of different cuts of stone. You may have come across some already: round, oval, princess, and so on.
You can get an idea of these shapes through looking online – but it will also help to see examples of actual rings in a jeweller’s store.
Different eras, different styles
Now we come to the question of old versus new. Vintage rings have become more popular in the last few years, and can offer a look that is more distinctive than the high street styles.
At the same time, it’s good to be clear on whether what you see is actually vintage, or a modern reinterpretation of earlier styles.
At Goodwins, we tend to sell art deco and vintage, but we also sell new rings, made in classic styles.
A quick note: if jewellers are talking about gold for the band of the ring below, they refer to karat (different from carat of stones we mentioned earlier).
Karat is a measure of how pure the gold is. 24 karat is pure gold; 18 karat means 18 out of the 24 parts are gold (and the rest is a different metal like copper).
Here’s Joe’s guide to the different eras and styles:
These tend to offer a simple, uncluttered look, using white metal, platinum or 18 karat white gold for the band. You’ll see single, three-stone or art deco inspired designs.
These rings date from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Coloured stones are seen more often in this era. Rings come in traditional styles with choices of coloured stones, set using both yellow gold and white gold.
Examples of vintage rings would include emerald, sapphire, or ruby, as a three-stone ring, but diamonds are also used in this period.
Art deco rings
True art deco designs are geometric and angular. They particularly use platinum, and some yellow gold, for the setting of the stones.
The official period is 1901-1910 (but in terms of rings, up to 1915). These pieces are more ornate than for the later periods. You won’t find any rings with platinum bands before 1910-1915.
Edwardian rings are single stone or three-stone, with some colour available. From around 1905 onwards, stones are cut better and more uniformly. You’ll also see a bit of fret work (a more decorative setting).
You’ll find rings in yellow gold only, no white gold or platinum. You will also see yellow gold and silver used together e.g. diamonds set into silver to make them sparkle, but the rest of the ring in gold.
Styles are ornate, and can include rococo detailing, like the scrolling on the sides of an antique clock. Coloured stones are popular too, and rings use one, three or even five stones.
Anything goes! You’ll find a whole range of ring types. Bear in mind that the cutting of stones in that period is cruder.
NOW CHOOSE YOUR JEWELLER
How do I narrow it down?
Lots of shops, lots of rings… where do you start in your search?
The High Street will typically offer diamonds in single or three-stone rings, set in platinum. That’s their core market.
It can make it quicker to pick a ring, but it does mean there’s less variety for you to look at.
That’s partly because jewellers can buy those kinds of ring in bulk, as part of buyers’ groups. So you’ll see more of the same in the next store up the street.
Goodwins doesn’t do that. We offer more unusual pieces; not just diamonds but also coloured stones.
We sell new, but also vintage rings.
Joe comments: “If we were to sum it up: we offer individual, bespoke, one-off pieces.”
Something old, something new
What if you have an existing ring, or stones, that you want to use? The High Street may not be interested, but other places can help.
If you have an existing ring which is missing one or two stones in its setting, we are likely to have those in our stock, as we keep a wide range of stones for repair purposes.
If you have an existing ring and you want it reset in an arrangement similar to the original, we can help.
If you want a more unusual setting, it may be worth looking elsewhere. In Edinburgh, Clarksons (link) and Liam Ross (link) do further resetting of stones.
If you have bought an individual stone, say online, we are less likely to make it into a ring from scratch. But we can set stones to look like existing classic rings.
We can also help you use older stones as part of a new ring e.g. an old Victorian diamond as the centerpiece of a modern ring. We work with an artisan ringmaker in London, who is able to match the look of his pieces to actual rings of a given period.
If you want to have something completely bespoke, you may find it helps to work directly with a ringmaker, who can help to mock up the design of a ring.
Lifestyle and ring choice
A flatter setting to a ring can be helpful if you are concerned about it getting caught. Claw settings to a ring – i.e. the small metal strands which grip the gemstone – may sometimes catch on clothing or other items.
However, if you are very sporty or have a very active lifestyle e.g. doing a lot of gardening, you can risk damaging your ring.
Joe’s simple advice: “It’s wise not to wear your ring at those times.”
These days, you can buy individual stones online – but you’ll want to know that what you buy is still good quality.
That’s where certification comes in. It tends to be relevant to new rings or important old rings.
Certification can be done on any stones, and has now been made more retail friendly.
There are various organisations which certify gemstones. GIA (Gemological Institute of America) is well regarded; AnchorCert is a UK-based alternative.
“Do bear in mind that certification is also an opinion – and different organisations may give different opinions. It also takes time – typically six-eight weeks – and can cost around £300-£500 per stone.”
Only new rings can be guaranteed conflict free. The Kimberley Accord in 2003 resulted in all jewellers in the UK signing up to the agreement, meaning that you can trace the origin of the diamond back to its source.
Laser cutting – pros and cons
Laser cut rings can provide a flawless shape, but they can lack something of the character of earlier hand-cut diamonds. (You can see more about this above, in our section on the history of ring styles.)
However, laser cutting can be useful for e.g. putting identifying numbers on a stone, in case of burglary, so it can be traced.
Making The Purchase
Visiting the shop
If you are buying an engagement ring, you want to have faith and trust in the company, and also in the individual serving you. Put simply: they know what they are talking about.
In the past, people went to a family jeweller, and there was less shopping around.
In the Internet era, we expect to browse before going into actual shops. So how do you work out which ones to visit?
Edinburgh has a range of jewellers around its grid pattern New Town streets: some on Princes Street, some on George Street. Jewellers have typically been associated with Rose Street, but there are fewer businesses now open.
By going just slightly further across to Queensferry St, you come to Goodwins. We tend towards classic styles and settings for engagement rings.
Who’s looking? And who’s paying?
It used to be the case in the past that a man would come in looking to buy the ring on spec, without the woman’s involvement.
If that’s you, and you’ve not got the choice of the ring right, don’t panic. For example, Goodwins will take a ring back and allow you to exchange it for another that works better for the bride to be.
“What we see more of now is that the couple come shopping together – but it is still typically the man paying.”
Bringing along other family members or friends can give you a second opinion, but the more people you involve, the harder it is to come to a consensus.
Ultimately, you need to decide what the right ring is for you as a couple.
Try, try, try again
Looking at rings will only get you so far. Joe comments:
“Buying jewellery is like buying a bespoke suit – you wouldn’t buy it without trying it on.”
It’s worth trying on a good number of rings to be sure that what you like works for you. At the same time, you can get ‘ring fatigue’, going from place to place.
To simplify things: often the woman does have an idea of what she likes. (Remember, she may have been thinking about this for some time!)
She may have done some browsing online, or visited shops to narrow down the choice. Still, she may well want the husband to be with her towards the end of the process, so they can make the final selection together.
Sometimes the bride has an idea of a particular look to a ring, but it isn’t necessarily available in the shops.
If what you have in mind is particularly personal, or different in style to conventional rings you may have looked at already, it may be wise to go with a specialist ringmaker, who can work with you to mock up a design.
Whatever your final decision, know your consumer rights when buying, whether in store or online.
Size of ring
It’s hard to guess the size of a ring just by looking, if you’re not used to choosing jewellery. There are over 50 ring sizes to select from.
If you are buying an engagement ring on spec, better to buy a bigger ring that can be resized down.
At Goodwins, we can resize a ring for the perfect fit. In fact, some customers may do so twice a year, given that what fits the hand in winter will not be the same as in the summer.
Looking After Your Purchase
How do I protect what I’ve paid for?
The receipt covers you for the first five years. You can choose to insure after that.
If you have bought the ring, but aren’t proposing straight away, leave the ring at the jeweller’s – or add it to your household insurance policy to cover it.
“You can use general contents insurance, but if you are paying a higher premium to cover the cost of an engagement ring, think about how much that will add up to over time.”
Alternatives include buying your own safe, of a good quality, or using a specialist insurer like T H March, used to working directly with jewellers’ stores.
Day to day ring care
While it’s popular to keep your engagement (and wedding) band on all the time, a jeweller will advise that 24/7 use will wear out the stones on a ring, although it is OK for a plain gold wedding band.
The difference an experienced jeweller offers
We hope we’ve given you a good idea of how to choose the right engagement ring for you. But a good jeweller can cover much more than that.
Goodwins is an all-service jeweller – that means we cover everything.
In fact, we are one of the last full service jewellers in Edinburgh, covering second hand, antique and modern.
If anything happens to your engagement ring over the coming years, let us know. We can help with repairs, such as replacing smaller stones as part of a setting.
We can also help with repolishing existing stones, repointing (where we renew the elements of the ring that hold the stone/s), and cleaning the ring.
You may want to consider engraving: this can be a useful way of identifying your ring were it to be lost or stolen. Couples may like to engrave their wedding rings with that special date.
As of 2016, Goodwins has been in business for 70 years. We are a family business, with knowledge passed from father to son, over three generations.
We understand the importance of learning through doing, handling lots of stones, with an expert alongside to guide and inform.
Our main valuers have worked in the shop since the early 1990s. All of our staff have significant levels of experience in the jewellery industry, in many cases more than 25 years’ each.