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How to pick a diamond engagement ring

A Step-by-Step Guide for Dudes

Diamonds might be a girl’s best friend, but for the average guy, the couch, a cold beer and the game on a bigscreen will suffice. So, what are we to do when it’s up to us to brave the Diamond District and choose our fiance’s best friend? Ditch the couch, the beer and the game and consult this guide — offering advice on how to pick a perfect diamond for the engagement, and on a budget, to boot.

Read. Learn. Wow your honey with the best (and most affordable… but she doesn’t need to know that) diamond ring in town.

Step One
Set a budget

Creating a budget is the first step to choosing the perfect diamond for the lady in your life. Find out how much money you’re currently taking in from your salary, estimate your fixed monthly expenses and calculate the amount of time you will need to save up that cash reserve for the diamond. The best way to budget is to talk to professional jewelers about which diamonds fall in various price ranges, so you can target the price range you are looking for and work from there.

According to popular wedding site The Knot, the average ring costs $5,978. Obviously, these don’t come cheap, so any way to reduce costs is worth exploring. Creative ideas for lowering the overall ring price include choosing a halo setting that makes the stone appear larger, going with a more minimal prong setting, considering pavé diamonds, going for gold instead of platinum and opting for a fancy shape diamond or even a diamond alternative. You can also find deals that include both the engagement ring and the wedding band in one less expensive package.

Step Two
WWFD: What Would Fiance Do

There is only one person in the world who knows exactly what type of diamond ring your fiance dreams about. That person is your fiance. You’ll likely be playing the guessing game, but there are ways to find out what she’s looking for. One option is to ask her friends. Take her best girlfriend out to dinner and ask her if she’s ever discussed diamonds and ring types with your soon to be bride. She will happy to talk about it since it will mean the perfect diamond for her friend. You could also talk to her family members -- maybe mom would know, or her sister.

There is simply no substitute for knowing what your fiance likes, and the only way to determine this without ruining the surprise is through her friends and family members. So get on the phone, and start making arrangements.

Step Three
Before The Bling, Choose the Ring

Of course, the diamond is the most important object you will choose for your future wife. But what good is the bling if the ring doesn’t fit? You will need to choose a ring size, and it’s not a good idea to guess or estimate on this one. Trust me. Instead, “borrow” one of the rings she keeps in her jewelry box. Go ahead. We won’t tell. You aren’t stealing, you’re borrowing… see the difference? Take the piece to the jewelry store you have decided to buy from and ask the jeweler to size the ring, then order your engagement ring in the exact same size. Just don’t forget to return that borrowed ring!

You know the styles she likes and the size she needs, but we aren’t ready to select the diamond yet. You will want to find the ring band that suits your fiance. Metals to choose from include platinum, gold, rose gold and yellow gold.

Step Four
The 4 C’s: Cut, Color,
Clarity and Carat

Now you’re ready to find the perfect diamond. To do so, you need to remember your four c’s. They are cut, color, clarity and carat. Again, it is helpful to find a jeweler you trust to review the options in each of these categories that fit your budget. While there are other factors in determining what kind of diamond and ring you are going to buy for your lady, the cut, color, clarity and carat are the most important.

  1. Cut
    1. The cut of the diamond refers to the light that gives the diamond that special sparkle and brilliance. The cut is the factor that largely determines what the diamond is going to look like. The Gemological Institute of America, or GIA, grades the cut based on seven components that determine if it is excellent, very good, good, fair or poor. The components are, according to the GIA website, “brightness (the total light reflected from a diamond), fire (the dispersion of light into the colors of the spectrum), scintillation (the pattern of light and dark areas and the flashes of light, or sparkle, when a diamond is moved), weight ratio, durability, polish and symmetry.

      The top-selling diamond cut is the round brilliant. Signature is the absolutely best cut possible for maximum brilliance — it is the top 1% of cut quality with the highest grades of polish and symmetry.

      It is important to keep in mind that sparkle isn’t the only factor to consider when selecting an engagement ring that best suits your fiance. Still, it is important to understand which cuts provide optimum sparkle and which cuts are duller. You are after the best quality at the best price, so speak to experts, do your research and find the engagement ring with the most magnetizing sparkle on the market. Your future wife will thank you later.

  2. Color
    1. Diamonds get their color when the crystals grow inside the Earth. Diamonds come in many colors, ranging from D (colorless) to Z (light color). Highly valued colors such as yellows, pinks and blues are graded on a separate color scale. Between colorless and light color, there are near colorless, faint color and very light color options. Colorless diamonds are the more rare and also the most expensive. Changes in color from one grade to another are very hard to detect, even for many gemologists. Once the diamond is set in the ring and placed in an environment with color, it becomes even harder to tell the difference. Since you are on a budget, go for F, G or H — colorless to near colorless. Remember, the lower the color, the lower the price tag. 

  3. Clarity
    1. No diamond is perfect. There are imperfections and blemishes in every diamond cut. The closer you get to 100 percent clarity, the rarer the diamond and the more expensive. Impurities are measured through a 10x microscope and graded. Impurities can include black carbon spots, white clouds, feathers and tiny crystals. The GIA grades clarity on an 11-point scale. The grades range from IF (internally flawless) to VVS (very very slightly included)  to VS (very slightly included) to SI (slightly included) to I (included). With a budget, look into Sl1 or Sl2, slightly included. The Sl1 blemishes are visible to a professional under a microscope but aren’t detectable to the naked eye. Sl2 would feature imperfections noticeable to the naked eye, but only upon close inspection.

      External flaws include surface polish, cleavage or feather, pits and fractures. Internal flaws include cavities, nicks, carbon spots, irregularities in the crystal growth, scratches, chips and bearded or feathered girdles.

  4. Carat
    1. The carat is the weight of the diamond measured in carats. The word "carat" comes from the "carob" seed, the original unit of measurement for diamond traders. A carat is equal to .2 grams, or about the weight of a paperclip. For the budget-conscious shopper, you might want to consider a diamond that falls just under popular carat weights. For example, look for something that is a .90 carat diamond versus a 1.00 carat diamond -- there can be a big difference in cost. Diamond cutters often attempt to round up the carat weight to sell at a higher value, so be aware of this maneuver.

      The Diamond Council of America has a carat weight chart with diamond weight fractions. It is a handy reference when considering diamond carat weight.

Step Five
Find the

Right Jeweler

When determining a jeweler, it is recommended that you research your options thoroughly. Google the store name and the jeweler name. Are there testimonials, reviews? Check Yelp and other sites and read what customers have to say. What is the average rating? It is very important to find a reputable, honest jeweler. You are on a tight budget and don’t want to get ripped off. Word of mouth recommendations are also useful. What do family and friends say about particular jewelers? In some cases, this can be a more effective research option than checking the internet.

Be sure to ask the jeweler about professional cleanings. Just as a regular physical checkup, vision exam and dental cleaning is recommended, so too are diamond cleanings and inspections. These usually take place once a year. Does your jeweler perform regular cleanings and inspections? Are they free of charge? Are they covered under warranty? Look into this. Lastly, before purchasing the diamond ask for the diamond certificate. If the jeweler cannot present a certificate, this could be a red flag.

Step Six

The transition to environmental sustainability is also impacting the diamond industry. Many jewelers are choosing to use recycled precious metals such as gold and platinum. Recycling metals is far better for the environment, as it reduces demand for newly mined materials that are destructive to ecosystems and biodiversity, air and water. These practices also threaten the health of miners and the rights of indigenous people. For example, a single gold ring leaves 20 tons of mine waste. Metal mining was the number one toxic polluter in the United States in 2012, responsible for 40 percent of all reported toxic releases. Many gold mines use cyanide, which can be fatal to humans and fish. Metal mines also waste vast amounts of water and permanently damage the landscape with open pit mines that are so big, some can be seen from space.

SCS Global Services can confirm if your metals are independently certified as ‘recycled’. Also, see if your jeweler has joined the No Dirty Gold campaign that supports the efforts of groups working to end dirty gold mining practices that are harmful to the environment, mine workers and indigenous people.

Step Seven
Examine the

GIA Report

A knowledgeable consumer is the best consumer — whether you’re buying a toothbrush or a wedding ring. The Gemological Institute of America is the nation’s premiere diamond grading organization. The GIA’s grading system serves as the benchmark for jewelers, diamond cutters and gemologists all around the world. The GIA issues reports, regularly documenting the different characteristics of diamonds with the latest research and expert information. The analysis and grading includes cut, color, clarity and carat weight, along with finish, polish, symmetry, fluorescence and other criteria. It is recommended that you request the latest reports and read them thoroughly to become as educated as possible. This will give you a keen advantage in talking to the jeweler about what you want and the price range you can afford.

Final Step
Get the ring

Now you have a game plan. Think of this as the preseason. We are scrimmaging, watching tapes, learning. Kickoff is soon and you want to be ready before you enter the jewelry store. You should know what your budget is, what your fiance likes, what the sizes and colors and clarity and carat weight should be. If you read the playbook, and the GIA reports, you might just be more up to date in your information than the jeweler. You should feel confident that you got a great diamond ring at a reasonable price and that your future wife is going to love it.

Choosing a diamond for an engagement ring is certainly important, but remember not to lose perspective. You love your fiance, not her diamond ring or your wedding band. Get educated, get a budget and pick the best damn diamond in town… and have some fun with it!

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