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Top 10 Rules on Shopping for an Engagement Ring

A Guide to Finding an Affordable Engagement Ring that Your Sweetheart Will Love

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If things go right, you'll only be buying one engagement ring in your lifetime. But an engagement ring is a big investment. With your lack of experience, how are you going to make sure you find one that your sweetheart likes but is still a wise purchase? Follow these ten steps, and you're sure to find the perfect engagement ring.
  1. Determine Your Budget When a guy's shopping for an engagement ring, salespeople often do a sneaky thing – they make him think that the amount of his love is tied to how much he spends on a ring. Better to figure out how much you can afford to spend before you step foot in a store. The standard rule is two months salary – but – this is also a rule that the diamond industry created! However it's still a decent place to start, but then figure out your personal budget.

  2. Pay Attention You're going to have to make a lot of choices – platinum or gold? Modern or traditional? Flashy or understated? It's easier if you've done your homework beforehand. Look at the jewelry your sweetheart wears on a daily basis – if it's all silver with intricate designs – look for a platinum engagement ring with intricate designs (often called filigree). If it's just a few heavy gold pieces, well, then go in that direction.

  3. Choose a Stone While jewelers will sell you a preset ring, you can often get a better deal if you choose the diamond separately. It helps if you know what shape your sweetheart wants – round, pear, marquis, etc. The most classic shape is a round solitaire. More homework – read The Four Cs of Diamond Buying. You'll thank me later. Another money saving tip – look for a diamond with high color and cut, but with slightly lower clarity. Make sure you look at the stone with a jeweler's loupe (like a magnifying glass) – but most flaws (or "inclusions") can barely be seen even with a loupe.

  4. Choose the Setting After you've got your stone, then comes the setting. You could go for simple with a solitaire setting, or you could add filigree, extra side stones, and other details. You can choose gold, white or rose gold, platinum, or even titanium.

  5. Maximize Your Budget If your intended is always talking about huge diamond engagement rings, but two months of your salary wouldn't buy a Big Mac, you're going to have to stretch the budget. Ask for a stone with more surface area – it won't sparkle as much but it will look bigger. Ask for stones that are slightly less than the next carat (0.8 instead of 1 or 1.9 instead of 2) – the almost indiscernible difference can add up to big savings. Instead of a diamond solitaire engagement ring, consider a less expensive center gemstone (such as tourmaline, blue topaz, sapphire) flanked by two small diamonds. Choose white gold instead of platinum. And consider an antique engagement ring.

  6. Get a Buddy Don't go into a jewelry store alone. They're scary places full of way too many choices. If you can, bring your sweetheart's best friend or mom along to help you choose. But if you're worried they'll spill the beans, bring a trusted buddy of yours. Make sure they have taste, or you'll be trying to propose with a ringpop. Also, assuming they like the person you're buying it for, this is a great moment to bond with your parents and get their advice.

  7. Think About Bringing Your Sweetheart With You You'll lose the element of surprise, but you'll be sure that she likes her engagement ring. More and more couples are doing it this way.

  8. Get a Quality Jeweler Ask for recommendations from friends and family. My advice is to stick to the mom and pop jewelers and try to avoid the national chains – they often sacrifice quality for mass marketing. But make sure the store is accredited by the Jewelers of America or is a member of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Before you buy, find out what the return policy is so that you can exchange it if you didn't do your homework properly.

  9. Plan Ahead You may not be able to just walk out of a jewelry store with a ring. Not only will you need to save up for it, but depending on what you order it could take a couple weeks for them to set the stone, do any engraving, or even custom design your ring (like Brad Pitt did for Jennifer Aniston). So if you want to propose on a certain date, make sure you start working on the ring early.

  10. Get it In Writing Would you buy a house without an inspection? No? Well then don't buy a diamond without an independent diamond-grading report from the GIA or the American Gem Society. It should include the 4 c's of color, cut, clarity and carat, as well as the shape and size. And, like your house, don't forget to get the ring insured.

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