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Buying An Engagement Ring 101

Buying An Engagement Ring 101

By Jeffrey House Photography



Are you getting ready to "pop the question" to that special someone, but you're not quite sure where to start when it comes to buying an engagement ring?

In this article we are going to help you with the process of buying an engagement ring.  Welcome to buying an engagement ring 101!  There are several factors you will need to consider and we're going to explain what they are and how they will impact your buying decision. 

One of the first questions you will need to address is whether the ring will be a surprise or not.  Traditionally, the ring is purchased without the future bride knowing, however, it has become more popular for couples to ring shop together.  

The 4 "C's" of Buying A Diamond

At some point you have heard, or will hear, about the 4 "C's" of buying a diamond - cut, color, clarity, and carat.

We will take a much closer look at each factor to help you better understand how they are measured in order to determine the quality of a particular diamond.  It's important to understand when you are buying a diamond, buy a loose stone.  There are other factors in addition to the stone that will greatly impact the appearance of the ring, and of course, we will address those a little later in the article.  

However, there's something we need to address first and it's regarded as the most important step in buying an engagement ring - the "shape!"

Is "shape" the same thing as "cut?"  The short answer is no.  This is a common misconception, but let's understand why they're not the same.  


The shape simply refers to the appearance of the stone itself - round, square, heart, etc.


Cut is the stone's ability to reflect light through facets and angles.  The number, proportions, and symmetry impact how the stone will ultimately reflect light.  

The Importance of Shape

Now that we understand the difference between shape and cut, why is the shape considered to be so important?  Because shape is the visual appeal - it's what you see - you want to select a shape that best compliments her hand.  For instance, a woman with short fingers looks best with elongated shapes, while a woman with long fingers will look best with a square shape.  Women with larger hands should avoid slender and delicate rings with narrow shapes.  

That being said, let's take a look at the different shapes available.  This shape chart also provides some insight into the meaning of each shape.  Photo is courtesy of  

How Important is Diamond Cut?

The cut of a diamond has the biggest impact on the diamonds sparkle, brilliance, and fire.  Even smaller diamonds can look stunning with a great cut, however, the majority of diamonds being sold are not the greatest cut quality according to  

Sparkle, brilliance, and fire are common terms used in evaluating the cut of a diamond.  What does these terms really mean?

Sparkle is obviously the overall appearance of the sparkle.  

Brilliance describes the reflections of white light coming from the diamond.  

Fire is the rainbow of colors seen in a diamond as a result of disperson.  

Again, cut is the diamonds ability to reflect light through facets and angles.  Their number, proportions, and symmetry all play a role in the overall beauty of a diamond.  To better understand cut refer to the "ideal-scope reference chart" courtesy of

What About The Color of a Diamond?

While most people prefer "colorless" diamonds or "white diamonds" most diamonds have at least a hint of color and even subtle differences in color can have a significant impact on the price.  The most common color tints are yellow and brown, however, diamonds can be found in many colors.  The most common color grade is an F-H color.  What does that mean?  It's a colorless to near colorless grade and below is another reference chart to help you with color grading.  Photo is courtesy of

The Clarity of a Diamond

Clarity refers to the inclusions or blemishes found in the diamond.  While clarity is said to have the second biggest influence on price, it's also considered to have the most wiggle room.  In other words, you can sacrifice the clarity and still maintain the diamonds "sparkle" as a lot of inclusions found in diamonds are not visible to the untrained eye.  Perfect or flawless diamonds are very rare and most diamonds will have at least microscopic imperfections.  

Let's take a closer look at how the clarity of a diamond is judged.

The 4th "C" - Carat

Contrary to popular belief, a "carat" is not actually a measure of the diamonds size - it's a measure of the diamonds weight.  However, diamonds with more carat weight tend to be larger; therefore, carat is the standard used when discussing the size of a diamond.  

Carat is a truly objective measure of a diamond, unlike the other "C's" of a diamond, and carat has the first biggest influence on a diamonds price.  Thanks to we have another useful reference chart to better understand carat.

What Else Do I Need To Consider Besides the "4 C's?"

Remember earlier we mentioned there are other important factors that need to be considered when buying an engagement ring?  We are about to address the first of these considerations - the setting!

The setting is essentially how the diamond is attached to the band.  This may seem like a little detail, but the setting can make a huge difference in the overall appearance of the ring.    

Let's discuss the different settings and their advantages, and disadvantages courtesy of The Knot.  

The Prong Setting

The prong setting is considered the most common engagement ring setting.  It uses "claws"  to firmly hold the stone in a "metal" head.  The prongs come in different shapes as well - rounded, v-shaped or flat.  It's important to understand the more prongs used to hold the stone, the more secure it will be.  However, it's a trade off because more prongs will also show less of the diamond.  

Advantages of the Prong Setting:

  • It allows the most light exposure from all angles maximizing the diamond's brilliance, and lightens up richly colored gems.
  • Less metal and less time is required compared to other settings; therefore, that ultimately results in less money
  • Stone is easily cleaned
  • Holds even the most fragile or soft gems securely

Disadvantages of the Prong Setting

  • Offers less protection to the stone compared to other settings since the perimeter of the stone is exposed
  • The prongs can easily get in hair or snag clothing
  • High-set prong settings can scratch and hurt other people if brushed against them, and are hard to fit in gloves

The Tension Setting

The tension setting uses compression spring tension of the shank to hold the stone firmly in place.  There is minimal interference of metal and this setting gives the appearance that the stone if "floating."  This setting has some limitations - only hard stones can withstand the required pressures.

Advantages of the Tension Setting

  • Allows a lot of light into the stone

Disadvantages of the Tension Setting

  • The ring is built to fit and is very difficult to resize later if needed
  • The repair options are very limited and the manufacturer is the only one who can fix it
  • Because this setting uses less metal there is less protection of the diamond's perimeter (this setting is not recommended for everyday wear)
  • This setting is not recommended for stones other than diamonds, rubies or sapphires

The Bezel Setting

This setting uses a metal rim with edges that fully or partially surround the perimeter of the stone.

Advantages of the Bezel Setting

  • It protects the stone's perimeter from being "nicked" or "chipped"
  • It can conceal any nicks or chips that are already existing
  • It secures the stone very well
  • The rings surface is completely smooth eliminating "snagging"
  • The metal that holds the stone can be molded to fit any stone shape snugly
  • A white metal encircling a white stone can make the stone appear larger
  • Yellow gold bezel settings can enhance the color of red or green gemstones

Disadvantages of the Bezel Setting

  • Using a yellow or gold bezel setting can make "white" stones appear less white because the color of the setting creates a "color cast" that is reflected in the stone

The Channel Setting

This setting is very popular with wedding bands and it sandwiches a row of stones.  There is no metal separating them between the two horizontal channels for part or all of the ring.  

Advantages of the Channel Setting

  • It protects the perimeter of stones
  • It provides better security for smaller stones than a prong or pave setting
  • The stone's surface is completely smooth and unobtrusive

Disadvantages of the Channel Setting

  • A ring that has stones all the way around can very difficult to size; therefore, leave at least one third of the shank unset for the greatest flexibility and cost savings too)
  • This setting is not recommended for fragile gems (emeralds, opals, tourmalines, etc.)

The Bar Setting

The bar setting is similar to the channel setting except it uses thin vertical bars of metal between stones, as opposed to channels holding the stones, to keep them firmly in place.  

Advantages of the Bar Setting

  • Protects the sides of each stone's perimeter
  • The surface is relatively smooth
  • It's puts a contemporary spin on a classic look

Disadvantages of the Bar Setting

  • The top and bottom of the stone remains exposed
  • The uneven edges of some designs may cause discomfort

The Pave Setting

Pave is the French word meaning "paved."  A pave setting (pronounced "pah-vay") has three or more rows of several small stones fitted into holes that set them at the same height of the surface of the ring.  Surrounding metal - white gold or platinum for white stones so it remains unnoticeable is then raised to form beads that secure the gems.  The setting can be flat or domed.  

Advantages of the Pave Setting

  • It makes the diamonds appear larger in number and size
  • It allows for uninterrupted design flow for varying width

Disadvantages of the Pave Setting

  • This setting is not recommended for fragile gems, although the proximity of the stones offers nice protection for the perimeter of each stone
  • While the surface is level it's not as smooth as a bezel, channel or gypsy settting
  • Beads are not as reliable as other settings when it comes to securing stones

The Gypsy Setting

This setting is more popular in men's rings and it sets the stone "flush" into a hole in the ring to eliminate it from protruding.  The ring's metal is then pressed and hammered around the stone's perimeter to secure it.  

Advantages of the Gypsy Setting

  • Protects the stone's perimeter from being nicked and/or chipped
  • It conceals any existing nicks and chips on the stone's perimeter
  • Secures the stone in the ring very well
  • Ring surface is completely smooth

Disadvantages of the Gypsy Setting

  • It' time intensive to set the stone into the ring and it's more expensive compared to prong settings
  • It's not recommended for fragile gems like emeralds, opals or tourmalines

The Last Step - Choosing A Metal!

Phewww, we've made it!  The final step in understanding engagement rings is understanding the metals you have to choose from.  Let's jump right in and not waste any time!  Thank you one last time to The Knot for this great information!


This is a rare, but natural metal regarded for its strength and purity.  Generally, platinum is 95% pure.  Platinum is extremely durable so it's makes a great choice for engagement rings because it will do a great job protecting and securing your diamond.  It's also hypoallergenic so it's a great fit for the woman with sensitive skin!  

While all metals scratch, platinum is unique in the sense it doesn't lose any metal when scratched; therefore, it will withstand years of wear.  A lastly, because the metal is pure-white it won't cause any cast any unwanted tints onto your center stone.

Yellow/White Gold

Yellow gold is the naturally yellow.  White gold of the result of the surface being plated with rhodium.  Eventually, this plating may breakdown and return the metal to it's original color.  Most yellow gold is 70-75% pure and the result is jewelry that can be found in a wide array of colors including white, green, and pink.  

If price is a huge issue, this metal tends to be more cost effective because it's widely available.  

Rose Gold

Another gold option, except this is a pink-tinted gold with an added copper alloy.  The more copper alloy used in the metal, the deeper the rosy tones.  Gold colors are associated with special meanings.  For example, white gold represents friendship - yellow gold means fidelity - and rose gold represents love.  Rose gold is durable and tends to look pleasing against many skin tones.


This is a lustrous natural metal that is silver-white in color.  The natural ore is used as an alloy in white gold.  Palladium is similar to platinum, however, palladium wont tarnish, is flexible, hypoallergenic, and has a lower density making it less costly.  It's overall color tends to have a darker/grayer tone compared to platinum. 


Titanium is very sturdy metal that has a cool gray finish or it can even be polished black.  Titanium is ideal for men's rings because it's so durable.  It's corrosion-resistant, hypoallergenic, and is as strong as steel, but it weighs far less in comparison.  

You're Armed & Dangerous

By now you're practically an engagement ring expert armed with a ton of information.  If you're not sure what the woman in your life likes or wants, take a look at the jewelry she wears most often.  Be sure to take some pictures with your cell phone to share with your jeweler.  This could be very helpful in finding the perfect engagement ring!  Don't hesitate to reach out to her friends too, however, you need to make sure they don't spoil the surprise.  

We wish you our best in your search for the perfect ring.  Give yourself a good 6-8 weeks to find a ring and don't get discouraged.  A good jeweler will be able to come with some creative ways to find a ring you both will love!


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