The practice of presenting a ring to your intended spouse dates back to the 1400s when Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposed marriage to Mary Burgundy. Afterward, it became popular among royalty and the wealthy but didn’t catch on in mainstream society until the early 1900s. If you’re in the market for an engagement ring but don’t know where to start, check out these tips before heading to the jeweler.

Learn the “4 C’s”

Before you embark on your ring search, it’s crucial to arm yourself with the proper knowledge. Learning some basics about stones can save you time and money at the jeweler. Enter the 4 Cs of diamond shopping: color, cut, clarity, and carat.


Diamond colors range from D down to Z, with D being completely colorless. These diamonds are scarce and therefore cost a pretty penny. Depending on the metal used in your setting, you can choose a color grade that looks perfect to the untrained eye yet costs much less than a colorless stone. For silver, white gold, or platinum settings, a color grade of no greater than I is recommended; otherwise, the stone will look yellow compared to the setting. For yellow gold settings, you can go all the way to L or M, and the stone will still look crystal clear; if you’re on a tight budget, this may be the best option.

Brightly colored engagement rings are not only bold and trendy, but they can also be significantly less expensive than their colorless counterparts. If your partner has a favorite shade that they always wear or a particular attachment to a specific gemstone, choose a ring that shows off their distinctive tastes by adding a splash of color. Select or design a ring for your special someone and add a unique center stone, or surround a traditional diamond with a halo of colorful gems. Emeralds, sapphires, and amethysts are some gorgeous choices for a colored stone, but there are also tons of alternatives that’ll be sure to impress your love. 


The cut of the diamond is arguably the most important because it is the main factor that affects a diamond’s sparkle. “Ideal” or “Excellent” is the highest possible grade; these stones are optimized for maximum sparkle, symmetry, and shine. You don’t want to select anything graded below “Very Good” because the reflective properties drop drastically at that point.

Cut also refers to the shape of the diamond itself: round, princess, pear, radiant, etc. Each unique shape reflects light differently and usually has different price points. Round cuts are by far the most popular and also the most expensive, so try for a different, more unusual shape. Radiant, cushion, and marquise cuts are all gorgeous, and they’re much easier on your wallet. 


Clarity refers to the number of inclusions, or flaws, in the stone. Things like cracks, carbon deposits, and feathering affect how light passes through the diamond, which can alter its shine and brilliance. Diamonds graded internally flawless (IF) are very pricey. Still, any clarity grade of VS2 or above is considered “eye clean,” meaning the stone has flaws only visible under a jeweler’s magnifier. 


Carat is the one that everyone knows–the size of the diamond by weight. To get the most bang for your buck, ask for a diamond just under a desirable carat weight. For example, if you’re looking for a one-carat stone, ask to see one around .9 carats; it’s very hard to tell the difference between the two visually, but the slightly smaller stone will cost significantly less. 

Consider Estate Jewelry

If your partner is into anything antique or vintage, estate jewelry may be the way to go. Many jewelers have a specific section for estate pieces–also known as preowned jewelry–that are generally available at a lower rate than traditional engagement rings. Since many of these rings are one of a kind, you’ll be giving your sweetie a piece as unique as they are. 

Now that you’re armed with some stone shopping know-how, you can hit the jewelry store with confidence and select a ring your partner will treasure forever.