How to Pick an Engagement Ring

What to know before taking a knee

how to pick the perfect engagement ring

By Megan Collins | Last Updated: May 12 2022

For many of the guys I know who are engaged or married, the process of picking a ring was equal parts exciting and astronomically stressful. 

So if you’re ready to join their ranks, take a deep breath. Team SG’s going to to walk you through what you need to know about engagement ring shopping.

Below, how to pick the perfect engagement ring in 3 easy(ish) steps:

1. Set your budget

how to pick the perfect engagement ring
scalloped pavé diamond engagement ring: Brilliant Earth, starting at $990

First things first. A perfect engagement ring isn’t perfect if you can’t afford it.

You may still have some pretty old-fashioned ideas about engagement rings. Ideas like:

It doesn’t “count” unless it’s a brand-new diamond. It’s gotta cost two (or three) months’ salary. Her friends need to be able to see the gem from space.

And on the list goes.

But here’s the thing. Unless your bride is coming with a dowry of cattle, you can leave these dated beliefs in the past where they belong.

As our queen Taylor Swift sang, “I like shiny things, but I’d marry you with paper rings (Uh huh, that’s right).”

If you are super in love, your lady would be just as happy with a string around her finger. So do not break the bank on the ring!

Beyond that, a lot of women I know would be nervous to own something that costs as much as a car (and you can’t even drive to Target in it).

2. Consider all your engagement ring style options

Gone are the days when heading to the mall’s jewelry store and perusing what’s behind the glass is your only option when engagement ring shopping.

The good news? There’s so many more choices now that won’t require you to set foot in the mall.

Consider a lab-grown diamond.

Diamonds created in a lab allow you to maximize your budget by getting up to 30% more size for the same cost. And they’re optically and chemically identical to mined diamonds.

This is a great option, too, if the ethics of purchasing a diamond concerns you or your partner. Diamonds are mined in many countries where their sale has subsidized war and conflict, including Sierra Leone, Congo, and the Ivory Coast. 

And while many retailers try to guarantee conflict-free diamonds, organizations like Amnesty International have expressed skepticism about how successful these policies are.

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Another option?

Non-diamond gems, like birth stones.

Kate Middleton engagement ring
credit: Mario Testino

Not that you think about Kate Middleton as often as we do, but the Duchess of Cambridge really helped usher in the trend with her sapphire engagement ring from Prince William back in 2010.

You 100% do not need to feel locked into a diamond for your partner’s engagement ring. Gem stones are a great way to add some color to this special piece of jewelry. It’s also great for someone who has (ahem) hinted that she wants something different.

And of course, you can always go vintage.

Victorian milk tooth ring: Erica Weiner, $1,900

Which won’t mean the diamond is conflict-free, but you won’t be funding the continuation of such practices, either.

3. Do your research

diamond cluster ring: Mejuri, $2200

Now that you know what kind of ring you want to buy, it’s time to get into the homework phase.

For anyone who obsessively checks their fantasy leagues every day, this might actually be fun.

You wouldn’t walk onto a used car lot (or fire up Carvana) without a thorough Blue Book investigation. So think of buying an engagement ring the same way.

And hey, you’re already reading this, so we’re in good shape already.

Diamonds have four chief characteristics that determine their price:

Any of these factors can hugely influence your cash outlay. As no less an authority than the Gemological Institute of America points out, the price difference between a diamond that’s .99 carats and 1 carat can be substantial.

Wait for it…while also being nearly impossible to visually discern!

Have you torn your hair out yet?

RELATED: Learn more about the 4C’s of diamonds

Of course it’s amazing that you can buy anything on the internet today, but buying an engagement ring sight unseen? That could feel a little scary.

By doing your homework before starting the shopping process, you’ll know what to be on the lookout for, and what questions to ask.

> Check out all our wedding style tips & tricks