Lots of questions, with answers that can be as varied as the individuals involved.
But, if approached correctly, the process of buying and then giving a diamond engagement ring can be incredibly rewarding and enjoyable too. Giving such a gift is an amazing way to make someone very happy and the buying process can also be a fun learning experience. Following the steps below will help guide you through the minefield of buying the RIGHT ring without unduly arousing the suspicions of the person for whom it is intended.
Things You Will Need
To do this right, you will need to give yourself a little time. Although it could, in theory, be done very quickly by just walking into a jewelers and simply buying a ring - and that might be fine for some people - the approach I'm going advocate requires some time. Expect to spend some time doing a little research into the type of ring your girl would like, a little time checking out the various jeweler options and finally, if you have to order one up, a little time waiting for it to be made.
Diamonds don't come cheap (unfortunately!), so you're going to need to have some finances available. Although there are various supposed formulaic 'rules' about how much you should spend on an engagement ring, personally I don't believe that's a good route to take. Each person's circumstances are different; you'll know how much is the right amount for you to spend, given your own circumstances (hint: it's a tiny bit more than the amount that, if you told her how much you'd spent, she'd be 'midly' fake-angry at you for spending so much money on her!).
Research your girl's jewelry 'style'
This is the first step in your quest to buying the perfect ring, and the great thing is, this step is pretty easy but it also reaps invaluable rewards. The idea here is to work out the 'type' or 'style' of jewelry that your girl admires and likes to wear. For us guys, at first glance all jewelry might be hard to tell apart - yes it's shiny, yes it sparkles, but it just all looks the same that, right? Wrong.
Jewelry comes in all shapes, sizes and styles, and you can bet that just as your lady will be particular about the way she dresses, she will also have favorite bits of jewelery that she likes to wear. You can learn a lot about the type and style of jewelry she likes just by studying those pieces that she wears a lot - I'd wager that there will be similarities to all the pieces she likes.
To work out what that style of jewelry is, ask yourself the following questions: does she wear 'statement' pieces? Do they tend to be large and striking, with bold colors and large stones? Or alternatively, is her jewelry more along the lines of classic and simple? Does she choose gold or silver (or platinum) for the settings of the pieces she has already? Would you describe the jewelry she already owns as 'antique' in style - you know, kind of delicate and dainty - or are the they slick and modern in design? Is there a particular color stone that features a lot? Once you spend a little time answering these questions, you'll begin to get a good feel for the style of jewelry that your lady likes.
Now that you have that knowledge, you've taken the first step to getting a diamond engagement ring that she will love.
(optional: ask her friends. This is a GREAT resource in terms of working out what your girl would like and what style of jewelry would suit her best. However, decide beforehand whether you are comfortable doing this, because as soon as you start asking her girlfriends for their opinion on jewelry you might buy your lady, you risk the cat getting out of the bag!)
Familirise yourself with the different cuts (shapes) and the four C's
When you finally hit the shops and start looking at rings in earnest, you are going to be faced with a myriad of shapes, set in an equally large range of settings. Before doing this, it will help you enormously if you are familiar with some of the more popular diamond cuts, so that when the salesperson in the shop starts taking you through the various options you at least have a basic idea about what they are talking about.
The cut of a diamond refers to the proportion, symmetry and quality of the facets (flat edges) that have been used to shape a particular stone. The standard of a diamond's cut will affect its brilliance (sparkle) dramatically.
By far the best way to become familiar with the various popular cuts is to run a couple of image searches on Google using the search terms: "diamond cuts" and "diamond rings". This will return you a great selection of the various different cuts that are available and the pages you see will often explain many of the differences. In general, there are probably, 6 or 7 cuts that are the most popular for engagement rings and these are: Round Brilliant, Oval, Marquise, Pear, Princess, Baguette, Emerald and Radiant.
Your classic, single stone, solitaire engagement ring will most usually be a round brilliant. This cut generates the most sparkle due to the perfect symmetry of the design.
It's at this point that you'll probably see a lot of mention of the "4C's". In brief, this refers to the particular characteristics of a finished diamond and are a useful way of comparing different stones, the number of Carats (weight), the Cut (shape and quality), the Clarity and Color. The importance of these will be discussed more in step 4.
Find a reputable jeweler
Let's recap: you've done your research and feel confident that you know what style of jewelry your lady likes and you've armed yourself with a basic knowledge of diamond cuts. Now the fun can begin - time to do some dummy-shopping.
Finding a good diamond dealer who you trust will make the whole process of buying the right engagement ring much easier. But where do you start? One good idea is to ask friends or colleagues that you trust whether there is anyone they would recommend. Lots of people have been through the process of buying an engagement ring before you and they are often eager to pass on advice and words of wisdom.
Once you have the details of two or three potential jewelers that you want to check out, organize to spend a couple of hours one day going to their premises and seeing what they have to offer. Don't be afraid to ask to see different pieces out of their boxes, this is all part of the process. A good jeweler will let you take your time and you will probably quickly find a store that you feel most comfortable with.
There are different benefits to buying from either a big 'name' jewelers or from an independent. The 'name' jewelers have a proven track record, good customer service and the latest styles available. Independent jewelers tend to be markedly cheaper than the 'names' - up to 30% - and can usually completely customize your order.
At this point, if you're feeling really sneaky you could actually ask you girl to come with you on this trip, under the pretence of, say, buying your aunt/sister/mum a nice birthday present. Even though you will not be looking at engagement rings, this is a great way to confirm the results of the research you did in step 1 and you can BET your girl will comment on what she likes from the different styles of rings and stones that she sees while in the shops, and all the while without her suspicions being raised.
You should now know where you are going to buy the ring from, have an idea of the type of ring you might go for, and a little knowledge about the options available.
Buying the diamond ring
When you got to buy the ring, it is best to do so alone to avoid distractions and allow you to concentrate (as you spend your hard-earned money!). From steps 1 through 3 you will hopefully have a good idea of the style of the ring, and cut of the stone that you are after. Give this information to your chosen jeweler and they will probably present you with a selection of possibilities. This might mean individual stones that are yet to be set in a ring, a selection of finished rings, or both.
It is at this point that your jeweler will probably bring up the 4C's again and with actual real stones in front of you it will much easier to get a handle on what each these mean and how they vary across each diamond. As mentioned above, the cut refers to the particular shape of the stone, but it also refers to the quality of the workmanship that has gone into creating that shape. The weight of a stone will be given in carats. 1 carat is equal to 0.2g, and the sub-unit of 1 carat is a 'point' and there are 100 points in 1 carat. Color ranges on a lettered scale from colorless (D), through colorless to the naked eye (E and F), to more yellow-ish stones (G-L). Clarity is based on the flaws that are present within a particular stone; most of the time you will not be able to see flaws with the naked eye, but at the poorer end of the scale you might be able to notice them.
With various diamonds in front of you and by being able to make side-by-side comparison between, say, two different color grades, you will begin to understand the subtle differences across stones that sit on various levels within the 4 classifications.
The 4C's are mentioned again here because once you have decided on the style of the ring you wish to buy the process choosing the right diamond will be a case of balancing between each of the 4C's within your the budget you have set. The most expensive diamonds will simply be the heaviest (Carat), the clearest (Color), the best shaped (Cut) and the most flawless (Clarity). Once you understand that, it is simple a case of deciding which aspect is most important in your diamond choice, given your budget. You can get a bigger stone for instance, by sacrificing on the clarity; or you can get diamond with less colour, but you might have to give up on it's size to some extent.
Once you have decided on the exact diamond and the setting that you want to purchase, you will need to agree on price. Absolutely expect to haggle with the jeweller a little, for such a big ticket item there is definitely room for their first price to improve. Also, jewelers tend to cluster together so you may be able to use the possibility of going elsewhere to your benefit.
Be aware that the price of diamonds does not increase linearly with their weight. A 1.0 carat diamond will be more than double the cost (everything else be the same) of a 0.5 carat diamond. The prices tend to 'jump' up slightly at each 0.5 carat increment.
Finally, two important things to remember before you close the deal and place your order 1) ring sizing and 2) Diamond Certification
1) Getting the correct sizing on the ring, without your girl knowing is going to be tough. The best way to go if you cannot sneak a ring from your girl's collection (not advised) is describe your lady's height and build to the jeweler and they will suggest a sizing, erring slightly on the larger side. This can always be adjusted to an exact fit after you have popped the question.
2) It is EXTREMELY important that you ensure that the diamond you buy comes with a certificate from a reputable laboratory. The certificate will independently validate the diamonds characteristics and can be important for insurance reasons and if you ever need to sell the ring. If your jeweler does not have a certificate for the diamond in your ring, whatever you do, do not buy the ring.Good luck with your purchase, and I hope this guide has been informative!
Tips & Warnings
1) When you are in the jewelers at the point of selecting the diamond ring you are going to buy, be aware that you will probably be shown some rings with larger diamonds that are a little above your budget. This is just standard sales practice, and you should stick to you guns if you are happy with what you have chosen.
2) Think about insurance costs. You will want to think about insuring the diamond ring after you have purchased it. This will allow your lady to wear it with peace of mind after you have given it to her, but bear in mind the cost of this insurance when you set your budget.