So, you’ve found the one and now you’re looking for the perfect ring you’ll propose with— congratulations! Shopping for an engagement ring is exciting. But it can also be a bit daunting. Once you start browsing engagement rings, you’ll notice that there are thousands of options out there. With such a dizzying variety of engagement styles, center stone options, and setting options, it can be hard to know where to even begin. But never fear— we’re here to break down exactly how you can find your perfect engagement ring with our Guy’s Guide to Engagement Ring Shopping!

This step-by-step guide to buying an engagement ring will take you through every step of the shopping process. We’ll cover four steps: what to do before you start shopping, how to select your center stone, how to select your ring setting, and what you should know about the ordering process.

Step One: What to Do Before You Begin Shopping

Set a Budget

The very first thing you should do when engagement ring shopping is set your budget. Deciding on your budget early will allow you to explore every option within your budget— and also make sure you don’t accidentally fall in love with something way outside your budget.

So, how do you decide on a budget? You may have heard that you should spend two months salary on your engagement ring or that the average cost of an engagement ring is $6,000. While you certainly can spend either of these amounts on your ring, really, there are no hard and fast rules that govern how much you “need” to spend. We recommend spending only what would be comfortable for you.

Understand How an Engagement Ring is Sold

Another thing you should do before you start shopping for an engagement ring is understand how an engagement ring is sold. Today, it’s most common for engagement ring settings and their center stones to be sold separately. (Note: If you don’t know, a ring’s “setting” is the metal part of the ring that holds the center stone in place.) This means that when you shop for an engagement ring, you’re actually shopping for two things: your center stone and your setting.

There are some engagement rings that are what’s called “pre-set,” which means the ring setting is already set with a center stone. But pre-set rings are more rare and, generally, most stores will have center stones and settings sold separately. In our opinion, this is a good thing, because buying these things separately allows you to truly customize your engagement ring. But whether you opt to buy in the standard way (buying separately) or opt for a preset ring, it’s important that you understand how these options differ when you shop so you know what you’re shopping for.

Understand Timelines

Last up in our pre-shopping section, we have thinking about timelines. We generally recommend that you start looking for an engagement ring 2 to 3 months before you plan on proposing. This will give you enough time to explore your options, think about what your partner would like, decide on a ring, and then have the ring made and shipped. Since most engagement rings are made to order, it can take anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks to receive an engagement ring (the upper end of this range is usually the timeline for custom designs). So keep that in mind while you shop, especially if you have a specific proposal date in mind.

Step Two: Select Your Center Stone

Now, onto picking out the ring itself! We generally recommend choosing your ring’s center stone before your setting, since your center stone sets the overall style of your ring. Plus, certain more unusual center stone shapes cannot be placed into every engagement ring setting. So if you pick your setting first but then decide you want an unusually shaped center stone, you may find that it won’t fit and you’ll have to start over from square one. With all that said, if you want to pick out your setting first, you certainly can. Just swap around steps two and three in this guide if that’s how you would prefer to shop.

Decide on a Type of Center Stone

The first thing you should do when picking out your center stone is decide what type of gemstone you want. The most popular option, by far, is a diamond. Around 90% of all engagement rings feature a diamond as their center stone. But though diamonds are a popular (and gorgeous!) option, they aren’t your only option. Engagement rings can also feature any number of different gemstones as their center stone. Some popular gemstones for engagement rings include blue sapphires and rubies.

So which type of center stone should you choose? Generally, we would say that unless you partner has a more unconventional style, a diamond is your safest bet. But if your partner has an eye for the unusual and does not like conventional, traditional styles, take a look at some gemstones and see if you think there’s one she might prefer over a diamond.

Pick Your Center Stone Shape

After you’ve decided on your type of center stone, it’s time to think about its shape. There are 10 common gemstone shapes: round, princess, asscher, cushion, oval, emerald, pear, marquise, radiant, and heart. Each of these shapes has its own unique style, which we’ll summarize below:

Round Cut: A classic, traditional shape.
Princess Cut: A sleek, angular shape with a contemporary style.
Asscher Cut: A vintage shape with an Art Deco Era style (think: The Great Gatsby).
Cushion Cut: A highly romantic vintage shape.
Oval Shaped: A sophisticated, traditional shape.
Emerald Cut: A vintage shape with a Retro Era style (think: Old Hollywood).
Pear Shaped: An elegant, unique shape.
Marquise Cut: A highly unique, eye-catching shape.
Radiant Cut: A glamorous modern shape.
Heart Shaped: A unique, highly romantic shape.

When you select your center stone’s shape, think about your partner’s style and what they might like. If, after doing that, you’re still unsure what they might like, you may want to simply opt for a round gemstone, which is easily the most popular shape, especially for diamonds. Over 50% of all diamonds sold today are round brilliant cut diamonds.

Understand the 4Cs

Once you’ve decided on your type of center stone and your center stone’s shape, it’s time to pick your specific gemstone. If you’ve decided on a diamond, you’ll want to understand the 4Cs of diamonds before you select one. The Four Cs (cut, color, clarity, and carat) can help you understand the quality of a diamond. Here’s brief overview of the 4Cs:

Cut: A grading of how well a diamond was cut (which affects how well it sparkles).
Color: A grading of how colorless a white diamond is.
Clarity: A grading of how flawless a diamond is.
Carat: An objective weight measurement that can give you an idea of a diamond’s size.

Each of a diamond’s 4Cs will affect its quality, but will also greatly affect its price (carat weight in particular has the largest impact on a diamond’s price). Generally, for an engagement ring, jewelers and gemologists recommend that you prioritize diamond cut, since this has the biggest impact on a diamond’s brilliance (its sparkle). Then, jewelers recommend that you consider how important color, clarity, and carat are to you and find the right balance of qualities that works within your budget.

To learn more about the 4Cs, view our Diamond Education page.

To have one of our diamond experts hand select a diamond for you, use our Diamond Concierge service.

Step Three: Select Your Ring Setting

Choose Your Setting Style

Now, let’s move onto selecting your engagement ring setting. Alongside your choice of gemstone shape, your engagement ring’s setting style will have the biggest impact on the ring’s overall style. So, to find the right setting, you’ll want to think about your partner’s personal style. The easiest way to do this is by thinking about the type of clothes and accessories they like to wear. Does she like classic pieces? Or does she have a more modern, glamorous, or vintage-inspired style?

Once you have an idea of your partner’s style, you can start thinking about what type of setting would best fit her style. If you’re not sure about the styles of common engagement ring settings, here are some style notes on the most popular types of settings:

Solitaire: A truly classic engagement ring setting style.
Halo: A glamorous style that enhances the visual impact of your center stone.
Three Stone: A traditional and romantic setting style.
Split Shank: An elegant setting style with beautiful lines.

Browse engagement ring settings.

Choose Your Precious Metal

Engagement ring settings come in four common precious metals: platinum, white gold, yellow gold, and rose gold. Most women have a precious metal preference and we recommend selecting the precious metal your partner prefers. If you aren’t sure which precious metal she prefers, pay attention to the type of jewelry she usually wears.

Step Four: Ordering

Figure Out Her Ring Size

Once you’ve picked out your center stone and setting, it’s almost time to order your engagement ring! But there’s one more thing you need to do before you purchase: figure out her ring size. If you don’t care about surprising her with your proposal, you can always ask her what her ring size is. But if you want to figure out her ring size without asking, you may need to do a little detective work. One way you can find out her ring size without asking her is to sneak a ring out of her jewelry box and take it to be sized by a jeweler (or, you can trace one of her rings and do the same thing). Another option is to ask her friends and family if any of them know her ring size.

If you have to guess at her ring size, don’t worry— most rings can be resized fairly easily. However, if you do have to guess, we recommend erring on the larger side. You’ll want to be able to slip the ring on her finger when you propose and not have it get stuck. To give you a starting point for your guess, know that the most common women’s ring size is a size 6.

Place Your Order

With your center stone, setting, and ring size all ready to go, it’s time to finally order your ring! Remember that engagement rings can take 1 to 4 weeks to arrive after you place your order, so be sure to give yourself some breathing room if you have a specific proposal date in mind.

Final Thoughts

This concludes our comprehensive Guy’s Guide to Engagement Ring Shopping! We hope this guide has been helpful as you shop for your perfect engagement ring. If you have any questions about engagement ring shopping or about shopping with Bridal Rings, please feel free to contact us. We love hearing from you!