Let’s get something out of the way right now, guys. The engagement ring shopping process is wildly unfair.
She’s known the kind of ring she wants for years, maybe even decades – long before you showed up.
Then there’s the actual diamond shopping process, where jewelry salesmen throw out jargon like “VVS2 clarity” or “F color.”
“Really, the guy should only be worried about budget, finding the right diamond, and not screwing up. If you get those three things down you are a hero,” says Brian Watkins, the president of the online engagement ring retailer Ritani.
Watkins knows diamonds. Ritani’s got 85,000 you can needle through to find the right one - then match with a custom-made band. He’s also got a wife who said "yes."
These are his tips for brushing past the jargon so you can get to one knee. Here’s all a guy needs to buy an engagement ring – assuming you already have the girl of course.
You’ve heard two months' salary is right, or maybe it’s three months?
Watkins says ignore that advice and pay what you can actually afford.
“This shouldn't be a purchase that should linger for a lifetime,” he says. “The reality is if someone spends two months of their salary but then has to take five years to pay it off, I don't think that's a good purchase.”
Usually, you will pick a diamond before you pick the matching band. This is where all the jargon sneaks in, and where diamond shopping gets confusing. Before you make the purchase, you really need to know the characteristics of the stone. Change just one and the price can soar from $2,000 to $22,000.
Cut: This doesn’t mean shape. The easiest way to explain cut is how sparkly the diamond looks. Gemologists measure the quality from “Ideal” to “poor.”
Color: This is ranked on a lettered system from D to Z. D means colorless and Z means a lot of color. The most important thing to know is that that D, E, and F are colorless and G, H, I, and J are near colorless. The jump from one letter to another is usually so minute that only a microscope can pick it up.
Clarity: This is probably the most confusing ranking system. The best ranking is “FL” which stands for “flawless.” The worst is “SI2” which means “Slightly Included 2.” It signifies rough edges or markings found on the outside of the diamond. Again, the difference from one ranking to another on the scale is minute.
Carat: This means weight. Watkins says most people stick with a one-carat diamond because it is a nice round number. Keep in mind that you don’t have to. You can get a .91-carat diamond and save a little extra money. Also know that price goes up exponentially. A 50% bigger diamond is going to be at least twice the price, all other C’s kept equal.
Here’s the challenging part. You have a set price point, but now you have to play with each C to get the highest quality diamond. Do you go smaller with better clarity? Or a bigger diamond with a less pure color?
Watkins says clarity is the easiest to sacrifice. He recommends going the lowest you can while the diamond is still “eye clean.” Usually that’s at a VS1 grade or higher.
This is what makes a diamond actually look like a diamond. The higher the cut, the more sparkly the stone.
“Whenever I am flying on an airplane, there's a woman next to the window. She looks at her hand, and she gets the sun hitting that diamond. It’s like a rainbow hitting the inside of the airplane,” Watkins says. “She loves that.”
The diamond isn’t the end of the road. She’ll expect a matching ring band that pairs with her style.
If you don’t have a clue, Watkins says it is common to get a “throwaway” band that you can return after the proposal. Then she can pick out her own style. If you want to take your best shot, Ritani lets you custom-make one on their website. Then you can either purchase it right away, or have it shipped to a nearby jeweler to inspect before spending any money.
An engagement ring will be one of the most expensive purchases you’ve made up to that point in your life. You really don’t want to mess it up. So some input from the bride-to-be is fine.
That being said, Watkins insists that you pick the diamond and put some effort into a proposal surprise. Your fiancée can help pick out the band, but the stone is all on you.
“As a guy is going into considering the piece, all he cares about is satisfying his fiancé,” he says. “What she cares most about is, is this unique , is this mine, and does it have the maximum sparkle?”