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Buying the perfect engagement ring

Congratulations - you've decided to get married! There are a multitude of things to think about when it comes to planning a wedding, but usually the first item on the agenda - often before the question has even been popped - is choosing an engagement ring.

An engagement ring is for life and a symbol of love, so it's important that you spend a significant amount of time pondering over the different options, to get this all-important decision spot on.

Choosing a ring

For such a small item of jewellery, your options are extensive when it comes to selecting an engagement ring. A gold ring set with a diamond is the classic choice, but, these days, there are so many other alternatives to choose from.

Style preferences.

If you're choosing a ring for your bride-to-be, it's imperative that you try to step inside the mind of your partner. Pick a ring that you know your partner would love, and not necessarily one that appeals to yourself; after all, you aren't going to be wearing it!

Before you go ring shopping, build up a picture of the type of jewellery that your partner likes or typically wears. Take a peek inside her jewellery box to get a snapshot of the style of jewellery that your partner favours. Does she prefer vintage or traditional styles or maybe contemporary? Is lavish, statement jewellery more of a feature compared to understated and subtle?

As well as particular styles, make note of any preferences your partner has for different types of metal, such as platinum, or variations of gold.

Look for a ring that is shaped in proportion to the dimensions of your partner's hands and fingers. A wide band on short fingers or a dainty ring on large hands will only emphasise the size of the fingers or hands. If you can, get an idea of ring size before you go shopping. Although the ring can always be resized at a later date, it's preferable to get sizing spot on when you pop the question.

If you're struggling to decide what type of engagement ring your partner would like, enlist the help of trusted family or friends who might be able to point you in the right direction.

Practicality

Deciding what a ring should look like is priority, but it's also vital to weigh up how practical the ring will be for your partner to wear every day for the rest of her life. Whilst a large, chunky rock will inevitably turn heads, it could get in the way of daily work tasks or lifestyle preferences, where it might end up getting snagged, scratched or damaged. Try, therefore, to achieve a fine balance between aesthetic style appeal and practicality when selecting the perfect engagement ring.

The wedding ring

It might seem a bit previous to be thinking of wedding rings when you haven't even bought the engagement ring yet, but it's worth sparing a thought for wedding ring choices at this early stage. Both engagement and wedding rings should sit harmoniously together on the finger, and not look mismatched. They should, ideally, be of the same metal type, as different types of metal can wear or scratch against each other.

Choosing a ring

Although it's traditional for the bride-to-be to receive an engagement ring selected by her partner, these days, more and more couples like to make it a joint decision-making process. There's nothing wrong with this, and often, it can make for a more practical solution, where you can rest assured that your partner is getting the ring she really wants. Obviously, by letting your partner get involved in the ring decision-making process, you might end up paying more than you originally intended, if your betrothed falls in love with a particular sparkler that extends beyond your budget!

The four Cs

Once you start hunting for an engagement ring, you'll soon hear people talking about the four Cs. The four Cs are at the very core of engagement ring buying, so familiarise yourself with them, to be certain of making the right decision.

The four Cs include carat, clarity, colour and cut, and each of these individual factors are measured or graded to reflect the characteristics and quality of a ring. Understanding the four Cs can help you to narrow your search down, and weigh up the different elements that make up a ring, particularly if you are shopping on a budget.

Carat

When we talk about carat, we refer to the weight of a diamond. The larger the carat, the more expensive the ring will be. Bear in mind that carat does not equate to size. You can find larger diamonds with a lower carat rating than smaller ones. Factors such as the ring's dimensions, cut and set can influence its carat, and if you choose a cluster ring, the carat weight refers to the total weight of the individual stones. How do you know what carat weight to choose? A single carat equals 0.2 gm and is divided into 100 units. The average engagement ring weighs in at around half a carat to one carat, but what you decide upon ultimately depends on what you can afford.

Clarity

Diamonds are natural products, so will inevitably contain flaws or inclusions. The vast majority of these minute imperfections are not visible to the naked eye, yet the measurement of these flaws (called clarity) will influence the quality and price of the diamond. Clarity measurement can range from 'flawless' (the most valuable) to 'included' (where flaws are visible), with a wide scope of variation in between. Since most flaws are not visible and won't affect the appearance of the ring, if you need to compromise on any of the four Cs to fit your budget requirements, this is the one C to be less fussy about.

Colour

Diamonds are graded by colour, from pure white to yellow, with slight variations of these shades in between. The most expensive engagement rings are those that veer towards the colourless or pure white scale (graded as D), as these are the rarest, with the most affordable being yellow or with a hint of brown (graded as Z). It can often be hard to tell the difference between neighbouring shades on the graded scale used by jewellers, yet there will be a variation in price. If you are limited by a budget, opt for a more affordable graded colour of diamond.

Cut

When a diamond is mined from under the ground, it is rough and dull. It needs to be cut and polished by experts to bring out its brilliance and sparkling beauty. The way a diamond is cut and angled will reflect how well light hits it to produce that all-important sparkle that makes diamonds renowned as a girl's best friend. If you need to compromise on any of the four Cs, experts recommend that you should never scrimp on the cut of a diamond, as the cut can help to prolong its brilliance over time. Look for a cut that is neither too deep nor too shallow, but one that reflects as much light as your budget allows.

Shape

Although you should not confuse the term cut with shape, there is often an element of overlap between the cut of a diamond and its shape. When selecting the perfect engagement ring, you should pay attention to the particular shape of the cut, as this will be one of the most obvious and defining visual characteristics of the ring. As with many other elements of engagement ring buying, you have a number of different shape options at your disposal:

Round brilliant

Arguably the most popular and classic of all shapes of cut diamonds, the round brilliant cut works well with any setting, style or metal type, so if you are unsure which shape to choose, you can not fail to get it right with this one. Round brilliant shapes are much revered as they have been cut to reflect maximum light, so are considered the sparkliest of all cut shapes. This also makes them the most expensive shape of all diamond rings.

Princess cut

This brilliant cut diamond is square in shape, and almost as popular as the round brilliant diamond. The advantage of this shape is that it offers almost as much sparkle potential as the round brilliant diamond, but is not as expensive. The princess cut is the ideal choice if you are looking for a shape that is feminine and contemporary, and will stand the test of time.

Oval

If you like the look of the round brilliant shape, but can't afford its price tag, the oval makes for an excellent compromise. Oval cuts are like stretched versions of the round brilliant shape, but can vary significantly in the length to width ratio. Providing sparkle levels comparable to the round brilliant shape, the elongated shape of oval cuts creates an illusion of additional size, which is ideal if you are looking for a unique ring that will catch the eye.

Marquise

Dating back to the 17th century, the marquise shape is a timeless classic that has enjoyed eternal popularity over the years. Brimming with elegance, this elongated oval shape is able to maximise its carat weight, which can create the illusion of being bigger than it actually is. Sophisticated and practical, this shape of diamond is guaranteed to enjoy fashionable status for many more years to come.

Heart

The ultimate symbol of love and romance - it is not hard to see why the heart shape of diamond might appeal for an engagement ring. Heart shaped diamond rings can actually be quite hard to source. This may be due to the fact that achieving a perfect cut is tricky with this complex shape.

Pear

The pear shape is a pleasing mixture of round brilliant at the base and marquise at the top, affording excellent sparkle ability. Although you tend to find pear shaped diamonds used more on pendants or earrings, they make for a refreshing and attractive change when set as an engagement ring. One of the advantages of choosing this type of shape is that it can create the illusion of making the finger appear longer. Pear shaped rings can be tricky to find, so you might need to shop around a bit if this is your preferred style.

Cushion

Cushion cut diamond shapes used to be the most sought after before round brilliant took reign, but this classic cut is still a favourite choice today, especially amongst celebrities. Rounded square or rectangular in shape, this style of cut is able to maximise the light potential of the diamond, ensuring it glistens beautifully and makes a statement. The brilliance of this cut makes it an affordable and popular choice that works well with many types of styles and settings.

Emerald

A rectangular shaped cut, the emerald is a classic but elegant style that is favoured by those looking for a vintage inspired ring. The stepped cut of this ring makes it distinctive in style, where it catches light in flashes rather than sparkles. If you are looking for a sparkly ring, this may not be the one for you, but this, by no means, reflects on its captivating qualities and ability to look eye-catching on the finger.

Asscher

The Asscher cut is formed of stepped sides and squared off corners, and is often labelled as a square emerald. The Asscher shape has been around for many years, but dropped out of favour for a while. It has recently been making a steady comeback, with more people recognising the beauty of this cut for an engagement ring. The benefit of choosing an Asscher cut is that it's a cost-effective cut for those who may be limited by a budget. The squared off corners also ensure the diamond is less likely to catch on items, get snapped or be damaged, making it a durable, hard wearing and practical choice of ring.

Radiant

Combine the sparkle ability of the round brilliant with the cut of the Asscher and the elegance of the emerald, and you come up with the radiant cut. One of the more modern shapes of ring, this hybrid cut makes for a cost-effective choice. Both practical and durable, there is no compromise on brilliance, so if you are looking for a decent all-rounder, this makes for a solid choice of engagement ring.

Ring settings

The setting of a ring holds the diamond in place and creates the overall look and feel of the engagement ring. There are different types of setting to choose from.

Prong

One of the most common and affordable of all settings, a prong setting consists of several prongs, which can be of different shapes, which act like claws to hold or grasp the diamond in place. This raises the diamond, so it takes centre stage, and gives it the ability to capture maximum light levels for boosting that all-important sparkle.

Bezel

A bezel setting consists of a thin, flat piece of metal surrounding and protecting the diamond. Since the diamond is protected within the metal rim, this equates to a practical and durable choice of engagement ring.

Channel

For this type of setting, you can find small diamonds laid side by side in the band of the ring. This is the perfect choice if you want to add more sparkle to a ring.

Pave

If you choose an engagement ring with a pave (or bead) setting, expect small diamonds to be set closely together around the ring, creating a continuous sparkling effect.

Halo

There are different variations of the halo setting, but essentially with this style you get a set of smaller diamonds surrounding a central gemstone. This is a good choice if you want to boost the appearance of a small diamond.

Three stone

A three stone ring has three diamonds sitting next to each other, where the central stone is often bigger than the side stones, and may even be a different colour. Popular as a choice of engagement ring, the three stones are said to represent a couple's past, present and future.

Types of metal

The type of metal you choose can influence the price, appearance and longevity of the engagement ring, so give this aspect special care and attention. There are various options to choose from, with platinum, gold and silver the most popular.

Platinum

Although one of the metals with the highest price tags, platinum is sturdy and resistant to damage so offers excellent durability, and is a good choice for those who enjoy an active lifestyle. Its natural white colour ensures this metal works well with different shapes and settings of diamonds. Palladium is a subset of platinum and is starting to make a name for itself in the engagement ring market.

Gold

Traditional, classic and versatile, gold is the mainstay of metal choice for many types of ring. The standard yellow gold is perennially popular, but there are other variations under the gold umbrella that you might wish to consider. White gold is attractive and fashionable, and lends itself a vintage inspired vibe. Rose gold is also fast becoming the gold colour of choice for an engagement ring, with its soft pink tones giving it an incredibly feminine feel. Some rings combine two or more of the different variations of gold metals, to create an eye-catching and unique piece of jewellery.

Silver

Contemporary and cost effective, sterling silver is the ideal choice for those limited by a budget. Varying from bright white to greyish white, silver is a mixture of metals that creates a matte or shiny appearance. It is a soft metal, so bear in mind it can be susceptible to getting scratched or marked.

Cost

One of the biggest considerations when buying an engagement ring is how much you should spend. The commonly-held notion that at least one month's salary should be splashed on the ring is not necessarily a practical option for everyone these days; just try to go for what you can afford. Once you have set your budget, aim to stick to it.

By carefully weighing up your different options, including establishing a fine balance between the four Cs, the various settings and metal types, you should be able to seek out the perfect ring to meet your budget.

Where to buy the ring

Another dilemma you will face is where to buy the ring. Choose a reputable jeweller who is knowledgeable, helpful, impartial and happy to listen to your desires, discussing all of the different options with you. If you ever feel under pressure to buy a ring, choose to shop somewhere else. Don't just stick to well-known chains, look at independent jewellers and smaller shops such as Albone, where you may be able to find something more unique and enjoy a more personalised experience.

Don't dismiss the idea of looking online. This is fast becoming a favourable option for many people purchasing jewellery, where you might be privy to wider choice and better deals. A high street jeweller may also have an online presence, so this can give you a chance to browse online before you visit a store. If purchasing a ring online, make sure there are plenty of pictures of the ring at various angles, and that comprehensive descriptions also include all of the information covering the four Cs. If you have any specific questions, don't be afraid to give the store a call.

Certification

Wherever you decide to purchase your engagement ring, always ask for an independent grading report or certification of the diamond. This will detail specific information about the diamond, including the value and rating of its four Cs. Getting certification is also a bonafide way to ensure what you are buying is authentic, and not a substitute or fake. If you've spent a lot on the ring, consider taking out insurance for peace of mind.