How to Pick an Engagement Ring You’ll Actually Like


Because yes, you get a say

by Meg Keene, CEO & Editor-In-Chief

An overhead view of five different engagement rings.

There is nothing particularly easy about picking an engagement ring. I should know, because I’ve done it… twice. Back when my now-husband and I first got engaged, I knew that I was not going to let somebody else pick out what I was going to wear on my hand for the rest of my life (guys, I’m picky AF). So before any questions were popped, we went shopping together at the mall (did not like), at Very Fancy Jewelry Stores (did like, could not afford), and at vintage jewelry stores (perfect for me). But what I hadn’t figured out was that helping to pick out an engagement ring was not enough. I still had to pick something I wanted to wear, not something that my partner imagined that I wanted to wear.

But really my problem was that I was trying to pick something “timeless.” Which meant that I was trying to pick a ring that I would love in some imagined future… not one that I loved right now, in the present.

But all that turned out okay for me, because about four years into our marriage, our house was robbed and my engagement ring was stolen. And the second time we picked out an engagement ring, I found the perfect ring for me. (In fact, you can see all the rings I loved and almost bought right here.)

So with two rounds of engagement ring shopping under my belt, here is my best advice for figuring out exactly what engagement ring is perfect for you.

Step 1: Find inspiration from your family and friends

Before you even think about taking to the Internet, look around and find some humans. Have you always loved the classic style of your grandmother’s beautiful diamond ring? Maybe you’ve seen your friend’s engagement ring and thought that it absolutely wasn’t your style. Perfect. People you know personally will generally be happy to give you as much advice as you want and need about engagement rings (maybe too much advice!). Not only do people love talking about their rings, but if you ask nicely, they might just let you handle, touch, and try on their rings as well. It’s an easy way to start feeling comfortable with the ring-buying process and getting a sense of what feels good on your hand, before you’re face-to-face with someone who’s job it is to make a sale. (Plus, Jewish tradition says it’s lucky to try on someone else’s engagement ring, so make people fork theirs over.)

Step 2: See what’s out there on the Internets

Okay, great. So you got off the Internet and saw some real live rings, and heard some real live stories. Now you can get back on the Internet and start looking around. We have an engagement ring Pinterest Board that’s a great place to start, but we all know that you can dive into engagement rings online and never hit the bottom. Start by searching Pinterest. Then hit Instagram. Find jewelers that you like, and see what they carry.

If looking at catalog photos of rings shining in brilliantly staged lighting leaves you feeling cold—you can also find photos of rings actually being worn or staged in different, warmer and more natural settings. (You know, like placed gently in a book, or precariously on a flower like wedding photographers are so fond of doing.) Pay attention to the different ring styles and colors that catch your eye. You’ll want to start noting what you DO like about certain rings.

A note on using the Internet to search for an engagement ring: buying expensive jewelry online can be a scary prospect. What if it doesn’t look like the picture? What if it doesn’t arrive on time? But if you live in the kind of area that only has one physical jewelry store, and that store really believes in their heart that every kiss begins with a certain letter, then finding something that suits your taste might require taking a leap of faith. But the good news is it’s totally okay. Most online jewelers know that shopping for jewelry online is scary, and therefore have really robust return policies, stellar warranties, and great shipping insurance. So the TL;DR there is don’t limit yourself to looking in your zip code for what you’re into.

Step 3: Diamonds are not the only option

Do you want a stone sitting on your engagement ring? Yes? No?

If you answered yes, do you want it to be a diamond? While the wedding industry has us all convinced that the answer is OMG OF COURSE YES, let’s back that answer up to a more neutral maybe. There’s literally an entire planet (Earth) full of different stones to choose from, and contrary to what’s everyone tells you—diamonds aren’t your only option. What about brilliant red rubies? Or deep blue sapphires? Or rich, vividly green emeralds?

What if you have your heart set on a diamond, but don’t want to fork over an enormous amount of money (or support unethical mining practices)? If that’s the case, see yourself to the lab-created diamond section of the Internet and behold the majesty. Because, yup, synthetic diamonds are not just indistinguishable in a lab from mined diamonds, in some cases they actually have superior properties. (Including the property of being way cheaper.) Similarly, you might want to start researching Moissanite rings, which is a popular diamond substitute.

Step 4: engagement ring sizes and shapes

Precious stones are generally cut into a few different shapes designed to be placed on rings. Some of your options include a princess cut, or emerald cut, or oval cut, or heart cut, or pear cut, or even cushion cut. I know.

But honestly? It’s not your responsibility to know a lot about diamond size and shape. Do you like how it looks? Can you identify the difference between a circle and a square? You’re most of the way there to explaining to a sales person what you’re into. But to get you started, if you like a lot of brilliant sparkle to your jewelry, then you’ll probably want a princess cut or a round cut. Those two shine brilliantly because they have the most light-reflecting facets and cuts. (You can see a definitive sparkle ranking of cuts right here.) If you’re selecting a stone other than a diamond, than you may want to consider a heart, oval, or pear cut, as they highlight the unique qualities specific to colored stones.

Step 5: Precious Metals

You already have an idea of the stone you want (or don’t want), and now you need to put it on an actual ring. The most common selections are gold, silver, and platinum. A main consideration here isn’t so much the materials but the color. If you generally wear silver for your everyday jewelry, then platinum might be a good matching option for your engagement ring. (Silver is a much more affordable alternative, but remember that if it’s not worn constantly, silver will tarnish.) Consider what metal colors look best with your skin tone, and remember that mixing metals is way on trend right now (and can give you many more options, particularly if you’re shopping for vintage rings).

Step 6: engagement Ring Settings

That precious stone you’ve selected now needs to be permanently affixed to that precious metal you’ve chosen, and it needs to look damn good. The ring setting is arguably more important than the precious stone. A super cool stone isn’t going to make up for a setting you don’t love. And a super cool ring setting can do a lot of the work of making your ring look like a million bucks.

It’s also important that you pay attention to how your ring will look and feel on your finger. Sometimes a setting that looks totally normal in a product shot will turn out to be much bigger and bulkier when you see it on the hand model (and a big setting can feel clunky in relation to your finger size). So don’t forget to think about how your setting will work with your stone and your hand. (Hence why you want to start with trying on rings in real life.)

Step 7: Indulge yourself

Selecting an engagement ring is not math. Or it doesn’t have to be, and it shouldn’t be a formula. Aside from the usual “pay attention to what you like” advice, pay attention to how you feel. Put on a test ring and sit for a moment. Sit for a few moments. Walk around (but not out of the store) and move your body. As a symbol of love, and commitment, and promise, your ring will have an energy to it that your body will feel. Pay attention. Listen to yourself. I’m not talking about what makes sense in the does-it-look-pretty or will-my-friends-and-family-approve kind of way. I’m talking about what feels good deep in your bones kind of way. This ring or that stone or that style.

You can choose anything you want. You can pick a newly designed ring or something off the shelf or accept a meaningful family heirloom. This is your engagement ring, and it means something.

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. She has written two best selling wedding books: A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two children. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com.

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • Lisa

    Sometimes I wish I’d gotten the opportunity to go ring shopping, but I’m so happy with the vintage, heirloom set I ended up with that I mostly don’t care! One of the things I was convinced of was that I always loved how my mom’s wedding band and engagement ring were designed to be worn as a set. (The rings intertwine around a center stone.) Luckily for me, one of the heirloom options I was given was a set that locked together. It is perfect!

    “Or rich, vividly green emeralds?”

    One word of advice on this. Emeralds are actually not a great stone for engagement rings because they are very soft and can be broken. I remember a commenter a few years back who said that she split her the center stone of her ring at work when she knocked it against a counter. If green is your color (it’s definitely one of mine), you’ll want to look into other gemstone options if you plan to wear your ring on a daily basis.

    • Eenie

      Center stone hardiness was one of the main things I considered when picking my ring. I love opals and pearls, but there’s no way I wouldn’t end up breaking them. A blue sapphire was my final choice, but sapphires come in a lot of different colors!

      • Cassy

        I have a peach sapphire and I’m in love with it!

      • penguin

        I did the same thing! I ended up with a lab created blue topaz, and I love it.

    • Max DeVore

      I was sure I wanted a green stone but didn’t want to spend all that $$$ on an Emerald just to have it crack or fall out (and I work with my hands and am constantly banging them against things) so in the end we chose a green Tourmaline which was very affordable and with so many color variations! So I’d also say, it doesn’t have to be a ‘precious’ stone either. Semi-precious is just fine if it’s what you want :)

    • emilyg25

      Yes, alternate gems are groovy, but do pay attention to durability. My faves are opals and pearls, but both are very soft and fragile and not great for everyday jewelry.

      • Rose_C

        I was pretty spooked by the durability warnings when we were shopping for a vintage engagement ring. My finace and I had talked about an opal and everyone seemed to try to dissuade us… but when we found our ring it was just absolutely the one. It’s rose gold with a large fire opal center stone and four small diamonds in a delicate pronged setting (c.1870). I’d seen it online the week before and thought it was garish and impractical, so I really have to recommend putting the jewelry on your hand if at all possible. I don’t wear the ring sleeping, exercising, or doing any more physical work, but I love that it’s special and something I wear consciously and carefully. After the wedding we will wear simple bands and the engagement ring will become a special occasion piece (and probably a right hand ring because matching bands are a bit tough in this case). I know it’s not for everyone, but I like that our engagement is a special time with my ring and that I didn’t make practicality my primary focus when choosing it. It’s romantic.

        • Rose

          Someone I know had a gorgeous vintage pearl engagement ring, and handled it the same way (including not wearing it daily after the wedding). Seemed to work well for her!

        • suchbrightlights

          I love opals. Your ring sounds beautiful, and I would love to see pictures if you care to share.

    • Katharine Parker

      I always assumed emeralds were like sapphires and rubies (a ruby is just a red sapphire) since they’re the non-diamond precious stones and were a 9 on the Mohs scale. I just looked it up and emeralds are 7.5. So yes, definitely softer!

    • Aimee

      +1 on considering durability. If you want to wear your engagement ring every day and not have to replace the stone, your options are limited to stones with a mohs hardness of 8+. I felt kind of mislead after seeing tons of amazing and affordable gemstone rings marketed as engagement rings that aren’t really hard enough to withstand daily wear. Obviously you don’t have to wear your ring daily and replacement is an option, but be aware of those caveats up front!

    • suchbrightlights

      Good call on considering stone durability- think about the setting security, too. I am a horsewoman and although I leave my ring in a box when I’m at the barn, I went with a six-prong setting for security. I didn’t like that with a four-prong setting, one prong could come loose and the stone could fall out. Single points of failure don’t work for my agile brain. Bezels are another good one for this.

  • Fance

    Shout out for Moissanite rings as a diamond alternative if you like clear stones but want something more affordable / have feelings about the diamond industry. I’ve been obsessed with it since I learned it was discovered in meteors and is highly rare on earth (heck yeah, space diamonds!) Its slightly less durable than a diamond (but more so than a sapphire) and is doubly refractive, so throws a lot of sparkle. We went through Brilliant Earth and had a great experience sourcing one with the properties we wanted in terms of size and color, and then putting it into a cool solitaire setting.

    • Katelyn

      I love my moissanite! I was able to get a pear shape, which ends up being one of the more expensive diamond cuts. We went through Rosado’s Box – a very popular Etsy retailer – but they are Chicago based so my fiance was able to go in person!

      • Fance

        Holy moly – their stuff is beautiful! We’re in the market for wedding bands now, and I think I’ll have to spend my lunch break clicking around their Etsy shop…

    • Rose

      I also have moissanite! I love it! I was honestly originally planning on a colored stone, but I ended up really liking the look of the clear, and moissanite is great.

    • Yup! Again on the Moissanite! I knew I wanted ethical stones and metals. I found our jeweler on Etsy, and she gave me the low down and sold me on the option for the stone. Given our budget and my love of big/substantial jewelry, I was able to get the size stone/setting I wanted in our budget and in line with our values. I’ve had my ring about 2 weeks, and I love it!

    • suchbrightlights

      I have my grandmother’s stone, which according to Family Lore was taken from a brooch that belonged to her own grandmother (this may not be true. No one can confirm.) If I did not, I would be 100% here for moissanite. Sparkly lab-created space rock that refracts rainbows? SIGN ME UP.

  • Jan

    We chose my ring together after we got engaged, and I was SO sure I would end up with a moissanite, for various reasons. I’d had a very specific but hard to come by ring style in mind, and we looked both in person and on the internet and couldn’t find the right one. Then I ended up stumbling on the perfect ring on Brilliant Earth. It’s an antique diamond with a not-insignificant inclusion, and at first I was like, “No, I can’t do this one! It’s a diamond! It’s got this dark spot in the middle of it!” Then eventually I realized I kept coming back to it while browsing the Internet on my phone, and I wised up. I’m so glad I went with my gut because I looooove my ring. It is somehow both dainty and understated, while also being intricately detailed and gorgeous. I still get all happy when I look at it.

  • Katelyn

    I used Pinterest to hone in on style “themes” and made a list of options I wanted: Moissanite, pear or oval shape, rose gold, either stones on the band or halo setting. That way my fiance still had some say based on what he saw in person, but my desires were well-communicated. We joke about the “flow chart” but it was a happy medium between his desire to surprise me and my demand to actually like what sat on my finger.

    • Clare C

      This is what we did also. I created a pinterest board to outline my preferences, then armed with this he went shopping with his sister (which I think turned into an online chat with links).
      He told me last week he’s bought a ring and I’m super excited!

    • penguin

      We did something similar – I was really good at knowing what I didn’t like, but not as good at knowing what I liked. So we looked at tons of rings together, and I also emailed him ideas I had. It was important to him to pick out the actual ring and have it be a surprise, and it was important to me to like it enough to wear every day. We also agreed that if I hated the ring, we would trade it in and pick something together.

  • alexis

    This post is super helpful! Picking out a ring together can be awkward (it was for me at first, because I saw the prices and freaked out and then later freaked out because I thought I was being “pushy” or “forward.” I got over that pretty quickly). Let me just say that as two people with VERY different tastes, it was essential to shop around with my now-fiance. He wanted to surprise me in some way still, but together we were able to look at metals, shapes, stones, settings, and all of that helped him pick something that we both were happy with. I love my ring and I love that it’s got the elements that I wanted, as well as a surprise since he chose/designed it himself!

  • Katharine Jane Schweitzer

    My husband is a mechanical engineer and is also trained as a machinist. We talked about what I liked and what metals I thought were cool, and he made me my engagement ring and later, our wedding rings. This blog post gives good advice, but I’m super glad that we bypassed buying rings!

    https://www.instagram.com/p/BPlTts3B8zE/?taken-by=kjswiss

  • Katharine Parker

    There are plenty of reasons that you may prefer a lab diamond (ethics, sparkliness, science), but they aren’t typically less expensive than a mined diamond when you consider the differences of certification by GIA and other places: https://www.diamonds.pro/education/lab-diamonds/ Also, the lack of resale value is worth considering if you’re picking on expense alone.

    I would also suggest to anyone interested in a diamond ring to buy the diamond online from James Allen or a similar place, then have it set locally. You get a much wider variety of diamonds for far, far better prices. I also loved the Diamond Pro’s advice. And think about the color of your metal when you buy your stone–if you’re getting yellow gold, you can go yellower on the diamond and it will still look white.

    • Katharine Parker

      And yes to trying stuff on. I thought I wanted an emerald cut stone. It turns out I dislike emerald cut stones on my hand and I wanted something with some sparkle. I now have a v sparkly pear shape. It’s dope and I know no one with a ring like mine, which is fun.

  • jem

    I think people also forget that colored diamonds/diamonds with inclusions can get you more bang for your buck. My engagement ring & wedding band have “chocolate” diamonds in 14k gold and I love how the stones and the gold are almost the same color. Gives the rings a really warm, glowy vibe that I love.

    I also loooooooooooove inclusions they’re so interesting and make each stone seem so special.

    • Great point. My oval center stone is colorless (D) but has an inclusion that you can only see if you’re really looking hard with a loop. Totally cut down on the price of my stone and allowed my husband to get me a slightly larger stone for the price.

    • suchbrightlights

      A friend of mine has the daintiest rose gold band with the tiniest chocolate diamonds. The colors play beautifully together and it suits her wonderfully. I think they and the gray diamonds are beautiful! I would love to see pictures of yours if you’d care to share.

    • BSM

      Mine is a gorgeous cloudy grey/champagne diamond with inclusions; it has flecks of pink and copper and is warm and cool at the same time. It took my husband and the jeweler about 9 months to find the *perfect* rustic diamond, and his hard work really paid off in that it’s gorgeous, I love it, and knowing how much time and effort it took to create makes it extra special.

    • Colleen

      I have a chocolate diamond in yellow gold, too, but my wedding band is set with small “normal” diamonds. I often get compliments on how colorful they are together. I think some folks – myself certainly included – really like the difference in what can seem like a sea of white (big white diamonds set in platinum or white gold) these days. I love my inclusions as well. They make me feel like my ring is truly a one-of-a-kind.

  • Nichole

    I got a (lab-created) alexandrite marquis and my wife got a (lab-created) pink sapphire round. We bought them online then sent them to James Allen to get them set into their settings. Trying on rings was hugely instrumental for me, based on online pictures I thought I would want a pear shape and I did not at all want that.

    I will give a slightly plug for my alexandrite though. It’s purple with artificial light, green with natural, and just an utterly gorgeous stone. Not sparkly, if you’re into sparkly, but fabulous for me.

  • Alli

    Gonna throw my setting into the ring (lol) as another option! I have a cluster setting, so 9 teeny diamonds in sort of a flower shape. I think they tend to look pretty vintage depending on how they’re arranged, plus because you’re using smaller diamonds instead of a bigger stone the price is significantly less than a similarly ring with a single diamond – which was important to me as a dragonlike money hoarder.

    • Cassidy

      Fellow money hoarder here and my tip would be really consider used/vintage. We had to wait a bit to get one to my liking, but I was able to get exactly the ring I wanted at an estate auction for around 20-25% of what it would have cost new. I think you can get good deals from jewelers that specialize in vintage jewelry, but if you are in a bigger market that has higher end auction houses, they have engagement or other precious stone ring pop up all the time, often with appraisals to provide you with some comfort if you aren’t a wiz with a jeweler’s loupe. Because it isn’t all they do, and not what the entire audience is there for, you can get really good deals.

  • Rose

    Another thing about settings–depending on the style, they can really change how large the stone seems. I have this ring in rose gold (https://www.wexfordjewelers.com/signature-rose-diamond-white-gold-ring-trieste-ros.html), and the way that the curves of the petals around the stone also reflect the light makes it seem larger than it is. That wasn’t a high priority for me, but if it matters to you (especially if you’re on a budget for the stone), it’s worth thinking about.

    • Lisa

      The setting can definitely change how the stones are perceived. My round cut diamond is set on a white gold square (in an otherwise yellow gold ring) that extends out past the sides of the diamond. It makes the center stone look MASSIVE. When we first got engaged, people would ask to see the ring, not look at it too carefully, and would exclaim over how gigantic/brilliant the diamond is. It’s got great clarity and color, but it’s a less than half a carat. That’s the setting doing most of the work.

    • Jan

      For sure. My stone is like 1/3 carat but the setting makes it appear to be huge. Size wasn’t really a selling point for me and it was super unexpected when people would be like “OMG, HUGE!” at first glance right after we got it.

  • Anne

    I’ll just make a quick plug for all the small jewelers on Etsy – we got both my engagement ring (peach sapphire) and our wedding bands from two vendors there. A lot of more affordable options, with all the benefits and protections of online jewelers Meg talks about in the post above. Also a great starting point to browse.

  • suchbrightlights

    Okay, but what is that ring on the top of the picture, because that stone is incredible and I have a mighty need.

  • LAinTexas

    I just came here to say that I LOVELOVELOVE seeing Alexis Russell rings in the photo for this post. I first learned about her in a girl power Facebook group I’m in, and I’ve been in love with her rings ever since and sincerely hope that I end up with one someday. :)

    Outside of that, all solid advice. This plus the open thread a couple of weeks ago about talking about engagement with your partner = v v helpful.

    • Colleen

      Yes for seeing Alexis’ rings! Her work blows my mind. She’s from Buffalo and I’m always a little inexplicably proud that I am, too! It’s like I’m talented by association or something.

      • LAinTexas

        Haha! Lucky you for being so close to her! I wish I was – it would be amazing to be able to go try on rings and see them in person before buying. *heart eyes*

  • Emei

    In the Scandinavian tradition, both parts of the couple traditionally wear engagement rings – and it’s pretty normal to pick them out together. My fiancee proposed to me this summer, and liked the idea of having rings from the very beginning. She picked out identical ones for both of us on a holiday, and hid them from me for a month. I loved that she did it, the gesture of it – and that she was very open to what I wanted to do with them. The rings have feminist symbols on them, and it’s sweet but they’re pretty tacky, a level of obvious symbolism I was into in high school… And not good craft. And I work in design.

    We decided to pick out real engagement rings together, from a great goldsmith who only works with ethical material and who designed them just for us. We wore the rings she chose while waiting for the permanent ones. The temporary rings were great practice for making us learn what we actually wanted in a ring (neither of us are jewelry people), my proposal ring is a sweet keepsake that I might wear for Pride, and I love both my engagement ring and the process that got me there. 10/10, would recommend.

  • Alexis Sophia

    Before buy engagement ring these tips are really helpful. gemstones simply look fabulous and all are looking for it. I like the Blue Sapphire Rings and I found a online store “Crescent Gems”. They have all collections of gems stones.