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How to Pick an Engagement Ring You’ll Both Love

Engaged man and woman smiling with the woman showing off her engagement ring
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Planning a proposal (or expecting to get proposed to), but not sure how to go about picking the ring? Here are a few tips to help ensure the ring you choose is perfect for both of you.

We’ve divided up our tips into two sections, one section focused on the person proposing with the ring and one focused on the person receiving the ring, but before we dive into our practical tips and tricks, there’s one thing for both parties to consider.

As recently as the 1930s, proposing with a diamond engagement ring was rare. It wasn’t until the late ‘30s—when the De Beers company set out to get more people buying diamonds—that diamonds became associated with marriage. A few smart ad campaigns later, and diamonds became the engagement-ring standard. Other than adhering to a very recently instituted tradition or because you love the look of diamonds, there’s no real reason you have to stick with a diamond as your engagement stone—you could easily go with another precious gem or even a high-quality synthetic diamond alternative like Moissanite.

This is just one example of how engagement ring standards have changed over time. Traditionally, the person doing the proposing picked out the ring as a surprise. But traditions are changing again, and today, people often want a say in the ring they’ll be wearing every day. So whether you opt to get a diamond ring or not, to read this list in secret or share it with your significant other to plan the ring purchase together, or to otherwise adhere (or not adhere) to traditions, we encourage you to do things the way that makes you both happiest.

If You’re Proposing

If you are the one proposing, there are a few different ways to tackle the challenge of picking the right ring, while still maintaining an element of surprise.

Decide on a Budget

No matter what, if you’re buying the ring, start by deciding on your budget. That way, you won’t choose a ring that you can’t realistically afford.

You don’t need to spend two months’ salary on a ring—that was another smart De Beers ad campaign. Just pick whatever budget works for you, with your income and expenses. Spend enough to show you care, but not so much that it will negatively impact your quality of life (otherwise, you could start to feel resentment toward the idea of marriage).

Don’t worry if your budget is lower than most. The ring is just a symbol, and can always be upgraded later when you start making more money if you’d prefer something fancier.

Consider Heirlooms

Some people have family heirlooms that they want to use as engagement rings. Make sure to ask your partner if that’s their situation before you buy something.

Also, you might ask your family members if they have any heirloom rings that could be put to good use. This can be a romantic and unique gesture: a ring with a story behind it. It’s also much less expensive than buying a new ring.

Pay Attention to Your Partner’s Style

To get an idea of the kind of ring they’ll like, look at your partner’s current style. Is their jewelry classic and straightforward, or bold and trendy? Do they have a favorite color or precious stone? Do they wear gold, rose gold, or white gold?

This will help you pick a great engagement ring, and it’s also useful knowledge for general gift giving.

Consider Stone Shape

Traditional engagement rings feature one prominent stone that stands out. If you plan to buy a ring like that, you’ll need to consider the stone’s shape above all else.

Other factors, like color and clarity, also matter. But the stone’s shape is the thing people will notice first, so you need to make sure you choose a shape your partner will like. Do they love a trendy pear or a classic round cut? If you can’t tell from their current jewelry, you might need to ask them directly.

Discuss Possible Designs

Although some people love surprise proposals, you should talk about the prospect of getting married before you ask. While you’re at it, you can also discuss ring preferences.

Your partner should have the ultimate say since they’ll be wearing the engagement ring. But you can also make suggestions—that’s why knowing their style is essential.

Also, if there’s an heirloom ring on the table, you’ll need to make sure the current design works for your partner. If not, you can have it redesigned into a new ring that uses the heirloom stones.

Know Their Size

You probably want the exact moment and details of the proposal to be a secret from your partner. So when it comes to finding out their ring size, you might need to get crafty.

Ask a close friend or family member of theirs to get this information for you, or find a ring they usually wear on their ring finger and have a jeweler size it. (Make sure it’s one they don’t often wear; otherwise, they’ll notice it missing—but in the same breath, make sure you don’t get one they haven’t worn in so long you can’t be sure it fits.) There’s nothing more awkward than trying to propose with a ring that doesn’t fit, so don’t skip this!

Consider Shopping Together

Happy couple looking at an engagement ring in a jewelry store
Serhii Bobyk/Shutterstock

Bring up the idea of engagement rings a few times with your partner, so you can get an idea of how particular they are.

Some people love the idea of a complete surprise, while others want a ring that will suit their particular style. If your partner falls into the latter category, suggest going ring shopping together. They might be much happier with something they chose themselves.

To keep your actual proposal a surprise, bring this up early—after you’ve decided you want to get married, but at least a few weeks before you’re going to propose. That way, they won’t expect it when the moment arrives.

If You’re Getting Proposed To

Your partner is planning a proposal, but you want to make sure they don’t pick the wrong ring. Here are a few ways to steer them right.

Look for Clues

If you’ve discussed marriage before and one of your rings goes missing, or your partner suddenly seems interested in your favorite jewelry, they might be planning a proposal. Keep an eye out for these clues, so you’ll know when to start communicating what your ring preferences are.

Drop Some Hints

If you think a surprise proposal is romantic, you might want to keep the element of mystery going and avoid discussing ring choices directly.

However, there are a few ways to drop hints to your partner when you think they might be ring shopping.

You can bring up engagement rings you see on your friends and mention what you like or dislike about the styles. Discussing celebrity rings works well, too.

To go even more subtle, look up some rings you like, then leave the tabs open on your phone or laptop right before your partner borrows it. Try tagging them in pictures of the rings you like on social media. You could even send them pictures of random things and have an ad for a ring you like “accidentally” appear in the background.

If you want a particular style, make sure to only drop hints about that style. Don’t hesitate to make your hints obvious, so your partner gets it. Have fun with this and get creative!

Enlist Your Friends

When you’re confident your partner is planning to propose, you might want to use one of your friends to communicate your ring preferences.

Pick a mutual friend or someone you’re both close to, and tell them you need their help steering your partner toward the perfect ring. Show the friend what you like, and then trust them to help your partner pick the right one out.

Be Straightforward

If you’re into the idea of being coy and dropping hints for a surprise ring, by all means, do it. But if you prefer straightforward communication, don’t hesitate to come right out and tell your partner what you want.

Keep in mind that even hints that seem obvious to you can easily get misinterpreted. If you’re picky and want a particular style, you might need to say it outright. Engagement rings can rarely be returned for the full value, so help your partner pick the right one on the first try!

Remember, communication is a huge factor in relationship success. Navigating the process of picking out a ring is a great time to practice good communication and set the stage for continued successful communication.

Take the time to follow these steps and communicate your wishes or plans to your partner, and you’ll end up with a ring that you both love.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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