Buying The Ring She'll Love

You've already made the biggest decision: You're going to propose. Now you need to find the ring. There's lots of ways to go about it, and some universal advice that should be heeded either way. We'll put you on track to presenting the perfect ring.

Know what she likes.
Of course it matters what you think; the ring is a symbol of your love, after all. But keep in mind that she'll wear this ring every day for the rest of her life. When making your choice, you don't have to wing it. There are lots of approaches you can take to finding out what she likes, with or without her help.

The "This-Is-A-Total-Surprise" Approach: You haven't even hinted that you're thinking about proposing -- you want her to be happily shocked. Get an idea of what she'll love by taking notice of the rings she has. Are they heavy on detail, or delicate? Does she favor platinum or gold? If she has a friend/sister/mother you're sure can keep a secret, ask her if she knows what your girl wants. You should also be alert for hints your beloved may drop. Leaving a magazine open to a particular ring is a clue. So is saying, "I LOVE so-and-so's princess-cut-solitaire-set-in-white-gold," every day.

The I'm-Not-Gonna-Risk-Messing-This-Up Approach: If it's no secret that you're going to marry some day, you can always ask the woman herself what she wants. Look online together at styles, go to a jeweler and try rings on, or have her tear pages out of magazines. Still want an element of surprise? Have her choose a few styles she likes, then you make the final choice. And just because she knows that you know the ring she wants, doesn't mean the proposal itself can't be a surprise.

The "What-About-My-Great-Grandmother's-Ring?" Approach: You have a family heirloom, so it's all decided for you. Right? Maybe. But don't let an heirloom make you feel trapped, like you have no choices. You can present her with the ring at the proposal as a "placeholder," saying it's to wear until you find the perfect ring together. You can also replace the stone with another, have the original stone reset, or melt down the metal and have the setting redesigned into a style she loves.

The "She'll-Like-What-I-Like" Approach: This is the riskiest approach by far, and requires thick skin in case she gently suggests some modifications, but needn't be a disaster. There are tons of different styles out there, and you don't have to be traditional. A beautiful band can be paired with another on your wedding day (followed by a third on an anniversary), or a diamond with side stones of a different gem may be what you're drawn to. You can research old customs, the meanings of different stones and settings, and find a ring that has so much sentiment that she's bound to love it.

Do your homework before you buy!
You wouldn't walk blindly into a dealership and buy the first car you found snappy. A diamond ring is a major investment, so there's a lot to consider before you buy.

The Four Cs: This is a term that you should be very familiar with before you put down a dime. It stands for Cut, Color, Clarity, and Carat weight - the traits that determine the quality of a diamond. A diamond's Cut affects how much light is reflected from the stone; the higher the rating, the more brilliant (and costly) the diamond. The ratings descend from Ideal cut (the highest possible rating) to Very Good cut, Good cut, Fair cut, and Poor cut. Color is actually a measure of how little color the stone has, and the less color the better. The rating system works on a range from D (absolutely colorless) to J (color slightly detectable to the naked eye). Anything lower than that will have visible color. Clarity determines how many flaws (a.k.a. inclusions) a diamond has, and how visible they are to the eye. A stone's rating descends from F (flawless inside and out, extremely rare) to IF (internally flawless), VVS1 and VVS2 (very small inclusions), VS1 and VS2 (very small inclusions, typically invisible to the eye), SI1 and SI2 (slightly included) and I1,2,and 3 (included). Carat weight tells you the size of the stone, with the price rising with the weight. Note that since larger diamonds are more rare, two half-carat diamonds will cost less than a 1-carat diamond.

Certification: To ensure that you're getting a diamond with The Four C's you're paying for, you must make sure that it comes with certification. A certification is a diamond grading report done by a gemologist who has inspected the stone under a microscope and evaluated its dimensions. This type of certification should be provided by an unbiased third-party -- preferably one of the most highly respected diamond labs in the country like the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) or the American Gem Society Laboratories (AGSL). A diamond certificate is your guarantee that you're getting what you pay for, and you shouldn't dream of buying a diamond without one.

Choosing A Setting: The main decision here is what type of metal to go with. If your girlfriend favors silver jewelry, platinum is the most popular metal right now. It's famous for it's strength, durability, and silvery sheen that will develop a characteristic soft shine over time. Although it's the most expensive metal, platinum won't wear away, making it worth the investment for the security it provides in holding your engagement diamond. If you prefer white gold for the savings in cost, or yellow gold for the color, either one is always a beautiful choice. White gold is another good option for the girl who prefers a silvery look, though it will need to be re-plated with rhodium to regain that bright white shine every few years. Gold of either color is softer than platinum, and must be mixed with other metals to give it strength, so having their prongs checked as they wear over the years is a must. Once you've decided on a metal for your setting, take your time looking at styles. If you're just not sure, a solitaire (a simple band with a center stone) is an excellent choice -- you can present it to her as-is and then chose a permanent setting together.

Finance wisely.
Beginning your marriage mired in debt is not a fun proposition, and nobody expects you to bankrupt yourself to buy a ring. With some planning and common sense, you can buy a ring that is beautiful and within your means.

Buy Smart: While you want to be sensible, this is not the time to bargain hunt. Your future wife will wear this ring every day for the rest of her life and possibly pass it down to future generations. You'll own your next car for 10 years, max, and how much are you willing to spend on that? Quality jewelry appreciates in value over time, unlike your new wheels, so keep all of this in mind when faced with the notion that two-month's salary is the norm to spend on an engagement ring.

Consider Quality Over Quantity: Buying the biggest rock you can find may seem the most logical way to go -- bigger is better, right? Not necessarily when it comes to diamonds. A two-carat diamond that is dull and badly cut is not nearly as stunning as a one-carat stone of excellent quality. Once you've decided how much you can spend, consider the highest quality diamond you can afford in the size range you know she'll love. If you know she'll be thrilled with a larger diamond, simply decide which of the remaining 4's you'd rather cut back on. If you're really not sure what size diamond she'd love, choose quality over quantity and you can't go wrong.

Stay In The Green: There are a few ways you can soften the cost of the perfect ring. If you must buy on credit, put down as much money as you can and negotiate the lowest possible interest rate. If you've got time, some jewelers offer layaway plans where you put down a deposit and make monthly payments in advance of acquiring the ring, negating interest altogether. You can also buy a stone separately and take it elsewhere to be set, reducing the cost overall.

Choosing the symbol of your enduring love can seem challenging -- in more ways than one -- but a little homework and a little romance goes a long way. And remember: She's saying yes to you, not to the ring, so you really can't go wrong.


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