Selecting an engagement ring is a deeply personal, and at times, daunting process. There is so much pressure to choose the "right" ring that couples can lose sight of the original purpose: as a symbol of love and commitment. I often remind people of that but am still asked to guide them through finding the perfect combination of cut, color, and carat.
Approach the purchase as if you're buying a work of art. There are many aspects of "wearable art" that can reflect personal aesthetic, make a statement, and can be passed down generations. Some pick out an existing ring, and others commission a designer to make a piece that reflects themselves and/or their experience as a couple. The bottom line: there is no set path, but there are ways to hone in on the right choice by considering certain questions before you put a ring on it.
1) What's your approach?
While some couples ring shop together, many opt for the element of surprise. Stylistic preferences vary from a more traditional look with the stone as the centerpiece to form being the focal point and the stone as a mere accent (if at all). Other considerations include choosing between something universal that is off-the-shelf, an existing design you can customize, or something personal that is custom-made.
2) What's your budget?
Set a budget for yourself from the get-go. Traditional materials are high in value; traded commodities (metals) and even gemstones can come at high cost on the market. These costs can fluctuate on a daily basis, and have different resale value. An engagement ring is sculpture on a small scale that requires proper training, engineering, skill, and (hopefully) talent to showcase precious materials properly. Your money may go a longer way by purchasing a mass-manufactured piece but make sure it's not at the sacrifice of unfair labor practices or questionable quality. Take into account the pricing for the stone(s) separately from the setting as custom or even semi-custom settings cost more than off-the-shelf finds. Your budget may shift as you shop around to see what options are available to you, but proceed with caution and ask yourself if this is how you want to spend your money right now. If purchasing the "perfect" ring will put you in the red in a serious way, stay open to alternatives.
3) What are the "ingredients" of the ring?
Materials, to some degree, are dictated by budget, but also are a reflection of lifestyle, personal aesthetics and values. Most opt for incorporating precious metals into everyday rings not only because of their value, but their ability to age well. The specific "ingredients" can incorporate repurposed elements from an heirloom piece of jewelry, make a statement about values in sourcing, and can also reflect color preferences for every-day wear. When selecting these materials, pay attention to how different stone and metal colors pertain to the wearer's skin, the colors as they relate to each other, as well as the scale of the materials overall. What may look great on the shelf may not translate to the finger of the wearer, so it's important to truly keep all ingredients in mind.
4) Will the ring fit the lifestyle?
If the wearer works with his/her hands, consider a low profile stone setting that is sturdy. Keep in mind that both metals and stones have different properties regarding resiliency. For example, 22-carat gold is soft and not ideal for thin rings, while emeralds rate high on the Mohs scale of hardness but can shatter easily. Your jeweler can help recommend the right stone or specific mountings for softer stones that can fit the lifestyle and won't poke out an eye in the process.
5) Where should I purchase the ring?
Choosing the right jeweler is imperative, and doing your homework is key. Approach a jeweler having considered the questions above, as it will help them guide you and also create a proper estimate on a bespoke piece. Ask yourself how important supply chain transparency is to you, and if valid third-party verifications are provided by the jeweler as a way to ensure authenticity. Some considerations in responsible sourcing include: the use of certified metals from artisanal miners, the inclusion of recycled metals, diamonds that go beyond the "conflict-free" Kimberley Process Certification, and gemstones that consider human rights in the production process. What does that production process look like; is the ring made in small runs and crafted locally, or are the pieces made in large production by corporate luxury brands that outsource? Both establishments can provide equally beautiful work, and many do so without the expense of people or the planet.