Everything you need to know before buying an engagement ring

Jewellery experts share their tips for engagement ring shopping (Alamy/PA)
Jewellery experts share their tips for engagement ring shopping (Alamy/PA)

Engagement season (generally defined as December to Valentine’s Day) is in full swing, with beaming betrothed couples sharing their happy news on social media and save-the-dates winging their way to family and friends.

If you’re planning on popping the question or have talked about tying the knot with your partner, you may soon be on the hunt for the perfect engagement ring and wondering where to start.

Is a gold or silver band best? Does it have to be a diamond? And how much should you really spend on this once-in-a-lifetime purchase?

In a bid to find the answer to these common questions, we asked jewellery experts for their advice…

Choose your metal

Whether the ring is for you or your partner, the first decision you need to make is what metal it will be made from.

“The most popular precious metals for engagement rings are platinum, white gold, yellow gold, and rose gold,” says Claire Beatson, general manager of ethical jeweller Nightingale (nightingale.co.uk).

“Your choice of precious metal will affect your ring’s style and how much upkeep it may need. From there, you can start to think about different gemstone cuts and designs.”

Pick a gemstone

Colourless diamonds are seen as the classic engagement ring choice, because they’re so hard-wearing, which is key for a ring that’s intended to last a lifetime.

“When choosing a gemstone, make sure it’s at least an eight on the Mohs hardness scale, meaning that it is durable for everyday wear,” Beatson says.

“Some popular gemstone choices, such as emeralds, rank lower at 7 to 7.25, and if you or your partner is 100% on wanting an emerald, your jeweller will be able to advise on choosing a robust setting to give extra support.”

To get the best of both worlds, you could opt for coloured diamonds instead.

“Brides looking for a standout, heirloom-worthy ring that’s one-of-a-kind often gravitate toward coloured diamonds,” says Nicole Fraenkel, co-founder and CEO of Or & Elle (or-elle.com).

“It’s a way of staying timeless while also completely unique, because few really high-quality coloured diamonds exist.”

Don’t believe budget myths

“Set a budget beforehand that you’re comfortable with and don’t feel pressured by the age-old myth that you need to spend three months’ salary on an engagement ring,” says Beatson.

“It’s completely up to you how much or how little you want to spend, and you may want to discuss this with your partner as well.”

Custom creations will likely set you back more than ready-made rings, Kasun Ekanayake, creative director of Kasun London (kasunlondon.com) says: “If you are looking for something bespoke, most likely it will start from £1,000.”

Do your diamond research

If you’ve got your heart set on a diamond ring, you need to know about the universal grading standard, known as ‘the four Cs’.

“The four Cs refer to the cut, colour, clarity and carat (size) of a diamond. The higher a diamond is scored in each of these areas, the more expensive it will be,” Beatson explains.

“Getting a basic understanding of these will make everything else you research much easier.”

Timeless or trendy?

Should you keep it classic with a solitaire diamond on a gold band, or opt for something more modern, like the trendy ‘toi et moi’ asymmetric styles favoured by celebrities in recent years?

“There’s no wrong answer,” says Fraenkel. “Look at your wardrobe, your home, what art you’re drawn to. An engagement ring should reflect both your personal taste, your history, and your future.”

Beatson warns against being swayed by trends that come and go: “Remember this piece of jewellery is going to be worn by you every day for the rest of your life, so it needs to be timeless.

“By that, I don’t mean a style considered timeless by society, but timeless to you – you need to choose a piece you are going to love forever.”

Size matters

Not sure what size the ring should be because you’re buying it secretly?

“The most accurate way is to use a metal ring size gauge or size a ring that has been worn on the correct (or similar-sized) finger,” Ekanayake says.

“They’re super easy an inexpensive to pick up online, or you can use the Ring Sizer app,” available for both Apple and Android phones.

But don’t worry too much if you can’t work out the exact size, he adds: “A lot of the time, we have to resize rings – for jewellers, this is a very standard practice.”

Buying as a surprise?

If you haven’t discussed your partner’s engagement ring preferences or want the design to be a surprise, think about how the ring will fit in with their life.

“This can range from the super practical to the more sentimental,” says Fraenkel.

“For example, she’s a doctor and wants the diamond to sit low-profile, or she’s proud of her family’s heritage and would like to honour that by incorporating a particular cultural design element.”

Ekanayake suggests an ‘initial proposal ring’ is a failsafe way to pop the question, without committing to a particular design.

“This is usually a plain band with ‘Will you marry me’ engraved on the inside, that you can melt down and create something with together,” he explains.

“This means that both partners can come into our store and be involved in the all-important process of designing and making of the engagement ring.”