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How to choose the best engagement ring

An engagement ring is a big deal, there’s no getting around it. What type of stone? What type of gold? What type of design? Is it sustainable? Vintage? Bespoke? What size of stone? Here's what you need to know

An engagement ring is a big deal, there’s no getting around it. And so there are various factors to consider in purchasing one. It might even be that you purchase it with your partner and, in the interim, buy them a “proposal ring” – which marks and celebrates the moment while you can then go shopping together to find the perfect piece. Because, sometimes, your special someone will already have a very specific and special something in mind and the likelihood is that no matter what you buy, you can’t compete with that. And, also, there are a lot of questions to ask – and answer – from the outset anyway.

What size? – check our size guide for that! What type of stone? What type of gold? What type of design? Is it sustainable? Vintage? Bespoke? What size of stone? Is it something showy or something subtle? What’s the budget?

Keep in mind this is a piece of jewellery that your partner will be wearing every day for the rest of their life, so going with a current trend is likely not the answer. Brilliance, clarity, cut, colour and carat are just as important as the feeling. Jewellery is emotional and sentimental.

And, so the story goes, it was in 1477 that the Austrian Archduke Maximilian came up with the idea to give Mary of Burgundy a diamond ring to celebrate their engagement. He placed it on the third finger of her left hand, which was believed by Egyptians to have a vein that led straight to the heart!

If you’re shopping together… what kind of shape are you after? Every cut is priced differently with round cuts being the most expensive and pear and marquise less so. A pear cut typically is teardrop shaped and works to lengthen one’s finger, plus has plenty of sparkle. A marquise cut is oblong and angular and was fairly popular in the 1980s though has experienced a comeback of late. It’s a good idea to have a look at all the types of cut available before you venture out. There are also: brilliant cuts, cabochon cuts and step cuts – which include emerald cuts and baguette cuts. Mixed cuts combine those of brilliant with step. And there are yet more besides – so worth swotting up to see what you – or your partner – like first.

Jewellers often refer to “The 4 Cs”, which means: cut, colour, clarity and carat weight. It’s these four elements that define a stone’s quality. A beautifully cut diamond will boast lots of sparkle; a pure stone – measured by its lack of colour – will have a bright white appearance; inclusions are found on all stones, look for those that can’t be seen to the naked eye (unless that’s what you want to see); the carat is the weight of the diamond or stone, not the physical size.

On the point of clarity, the stone should be graded SI1 (Slightly Included 1) or better aka IF is Internally Flawless with the worst being Is or Imperfect 3.

Traditionally both wedding bands and engagement rings are made from yellow gold, white gold, silver or platinum. Some scratch more easily than others, however; and personal style and preference play a role – do you/they wear more silver or gold jewellery? What do they already wear?

Size, carat, are also important – but just because you think you want a certain size doesn’t mean you will when you try it on. Which is why any kind of pre-detective work for those going solo shopping for a ring is required. While for those doing it as a couple, try on for size – because what you thought you wanted might not actually be what you wanted after all. See it in situ. And while of course you may not want to get bogged down by the practicalities of such a purchase, do keep them in mind – how much do you use your hands and what for every day? Of course the bigger the carat the more expensive the ring – half and whole carats for example.

It’s also worth considering what your engagement ring will look like with your wedding band, which is another significant purchase. Seeing as they’ll be worn together, how do you want them to look? And, not forgetting, that the wedding band is the ring that symbolises the actual marriage, you likely don’t want this one to be entirely overshadowed by the engagement ring… or maybe you do?!

Which brings us to settings – which has a direct impact on the way the ring will look overall. Halo, cluster, solitaire or three-stone?

While you obviously don’t have to pick a diamond necessarily – there are plenty of beautiful stones out there – they are often a traditional pick for an engagement ring. Princess diamonds have a square shape, and feel modern, glamorous and elegant. Oval diamonds are an update on the brilliant round diamond and have a vintage feel. Marquise diamonds add length to fingers, supposedly, owing to their “boat” shape. Pear diamonds are deemed unique but sometimes dated. Emerald cut in its long rectangle shape also has a vintage appeal, as are cushion-cut diamonds. While baguette diamonds hark of Art Deco design; and round brilliant is thought to be a timeless classic.

In terms of metals, platinum is the most precious (and therefore expensive). Its natural white colour will not tarnish or fade and is the most secure setting for a diamond. It can scratch, however. White gold – a mix of yellow gold with white metal alloys – has a champagne appearance naturally and therefore is coated in rhodium, which may in the future need to be reapplied. Yellow gold, a symbol of success and love, does not tarnish, rust or corrode. Of late, rose gold has also become a popular metal choice in jewellery and lends itself well to vintage designs.

It’s worth booking an appointment and doing your research. You may need more than one store visit – and to a variety of jewellery maisons. You could also consider purchasing a ring from an antique shop or auction. But remember to ask lots of questions then about its provenance.

It is a good idea to request a “cert stone” which is a diamond that has been assessed and graded by an independent gemmological lab. The most recognised is issued by the GIA or Gemmological Institute of America. They guard against buying diamonds made with substitutes aka not real diamonds but those that can be mistaken for them owing to their lack of colour, or even synthetic ones.

Consider, also, the ethics of your stone. Some mines are among some of the world’s most conflicted locations. Do you want to be helping arm a rogue militia group? Advice from the United Nations is to ask about the source of origin. Look for a reputable jeweller and ask the right questions – once again it comes down to research and instinct.

But you don’t have to go the diamond route – and lately quite a lot of millennials are not. Cocktail rings of all sorts of colour have become the in thing. And famous names who have eschewed such traditions have included Ariana Grande and Emma Stone – who both added pearls into the mix. Scarlett Johansson chose a light brown diamond for her engagement ring.

Look to more vivacious and distinctive brands then, such as Shaun Leane, Sophie Bille Brahe, Suzanne Kalan – or De Beers for its selection of rough diamonds among the Talisman collection. The ring should reflect your personality, your style, ultimately your love! And while there might seem like a lot of questions to answer and research to be done, ultimately it’s something to enjoy.

Read our guide to the best alternative engagement rings

How to buy the right sized ring

Stephen Webster on his ring for Megan Fox

And the story of the Cartier Love bangle

For Her

For Him

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