Think you’ve got to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what she wants? What color gold? Does she even want gold? A single big diamond, or several stones? Didn’t even know diamonds came in different colors??
Choosing an engagement ring is a quite elusive task, but you don’t really need an assistant named Watson to know what she’ll love – just follow these 20 easy, foolproof steps, from folks who have been there.
# 1 Who’s she closest to?
Before you pick out a ring, find a woman to talk to – a friend, a sister – the closer in age to your girlfriend, the better. Her mother, grandmother and aunts are not your best bet: their taste lags behind hers by at least a generation. Katie says, “My fiancé, Drew, picked out my engagement ring and my wedding band. He took my sister with him to the jewelry store, so that made it a lot easier. She picked out a few rings she knew I’d like and put them in front of him.” Drew just needed to pick the one he liked most. “He asked my sister and she said, ‘She’ll love it; great choice…’” Katie adds, “It was; I do!”
# 2 Get someone on your side
Can somebody on your side of the family help? Maybe the girlfriend or wife of a buddy? “I was amazed what a good job Daniel did buying a ring for his surprise proposal (in a hot-air balloon…),” says Kim. Daniel agonized over the choice for six months until finally, “he consulted his best friend’s wife, who has a thing about rings. I’m glad he did, because he has no sense of fashion or style. It’s not that I wouldn’t trust him, but there are times you want an expert on your team.”
# 3 Check her dress sense
How does she dress? How long does it take her to get dressed for typical occasions like going to work or school, going to the grocery store, or going out for a special evening? Does she take her time and come out late but polished to perfection? Or is she ready to go at a moment’s notice, more into jeans and spontaneity than hair and makeup? Hone your powers of observation, starting now. But use this information carefully; A woman who dresses for comfort and practicality may be more likely to admire a ring with fewer bells and whistles, but not necessarily a tiny, modest jewel. Think about a single impressive stone instead of an elaborate princess-style cluster.
# 4 Be tech-savy
Should you go the e-snooping route, peeking at her email, browser favorites and other trails online? If you’re both open about sharing devices, it’s fine – within reason. Type in a few letters of the word “diamond” or “engagement” into her browser’s address bar to see if any recent visits pop up. If you have more privacy and time, a peek through her browser history might turn up jewelry websites or frequent visits.
# 5 …But don’t be a creep
Be honorable. Draw the line at wedding or engagement message boards: don’t stop by to see what she’s said about you or your relationship. Unless she’s already said you could go into her personal email account, keep it off limits. Even if she’s stepped away leaving it open and it’s calling to you, resist. But it’s worth noting that, in legal terms, peeking at emails on her computer is not illegal. According to the Michigan Bar Association, “Just as reading a letter left on a desk is permissible conduct, so is reading an opened e-mail.” That doesn’t mean it’s the gentlemanly thing to do.
# 6 Do you know the lingo?
You don’t have to make a career of diamond-buying to learn a few basics before you get started. These are the things women seem like they’re born knowing. Like the choices of metal: yellow gold, white gold, or platinum, for example. Will the band be plain metal or pavé, lined with tiny diamonds or other gems? Diamonds also come in shapes, like round, princess, asscher, marquise, baguette. And the ring itself can range in style from a simple solitaire to a very ornate vintage setting. Do your research at home, where there’s no pressure, to get a general idea of what you’ll see once you start to look around.
# 7 Taken her (window) shopping lately?
You don’t have to go into jewelry stores, or even peek at price tags, to get a sense of what she loves. Next time you’re out at the mall, walk slowly past the jewelry stores and let her linger if she’s interested. Notice where her eye lands; you can come back another time to get a better look and start your idea factory brewing. Even when it’s a store you’d never consider buying in (perhaps too low- or high-end for your taste), it’s still a good starting point. Some guys also plan a trip to a larger, “destination” store that specializes in engagement rings. Do this well ahead of when you plan to start shopping so your timing will be a true surprise. Let her know you’re just window-shopping, and don’t let a salesperson pressure you into a price point or style you’re not comfortable with.
# 8 Hear her… right
If she’s hinting, make sure you’re really listening. “Men tend to think more globally, while women tend to focus more on details and subtleties,” says psychologist Dr. George Simon (more differences between the sexes here). You might think you’ve gotten the idea – but be very, very certain. Ryan thought his girlfriend Emily didn’t want diamonds – “She said, ‘you don’t need to buy me a diamond’” – so when he was given a family heirloom ring, he went and swapped out the original diamond for an expensive sapphire… and she wound up furious. It turned out she was crazy about diamonds, but just didn’t want him to splurge, since they were joining finances soon and needed to save for the wedding.
# 9 Design a ring yourself
This is a big step for a lot of guys. On the one hand, it’s the ultimate romantic gesture, customizing your ring and ensuring that it’s unique, just like she is. If you don’t have a background in design, it’ll be harder to create a piece she can show off. After window-shopping with his girlfriend Andrea, Kyle thought he thought he’d do something special and designed a ring himself… and she told a friend it’s terribly tacky and word got back to him. They’re currently in the market for a “backup” ring she can wear every day. That doesn’t mean designing a great ring is impossible; Maybe a local artisan can work with you and help create something perfect. The downside is that you have zero options if she doesn’t like it. That’s a lot of pressure on her, so make sure you consult with people who know her well.
# 10 Borrow a ring
Finding her ring size professionally is way better than guessing or measuring with string. You’ve got two ways to do this: ask her, or sneak another ring away. If you ask outright, she’ll have some idea what you’re up to, but that’s not all bad. She may see this as the right time to drop a few hints and help you out. It is possible to maintain the element of surprise if you borrow a ring she doesn’t wear very often. (Make sure it’s one that’s sized right for her ring finger) Keep it for the shortest time possible – ideally, while she’s out of town and unlikely to miss it at all. Then, sneak it right back into her jewelry box before she has a chance to notice.
# 11 Notice the jewelry she loves
Have you looked at her jewelry lately? Not what she owns, but what she wears regularly and really loves. Maybe she only wears one treasured childhood necklace every day. Or maybe she has a regular rotation of colorful bracelets or earrings. Is her watch tiny and delicate, or chunky and bold? These are clues you can’t afford to miss. If she doesn’t wear jewelry, that’s not a dead giveaway that she doesn’t like it. She may be waiting until she can afford – or be presented with – a piece that’s simply stunning.
# 12 Are you budget-savvy?
It may not always seem like it, but you’re on the same team financially, and most women don’t want you breaking the bank on a ring. You’ll be joining lives and bank accounts soon, if you haven’t already. That doesn’t mean you have to embarrass her with a ring that screams “bargain!” While the 2-months-salary guideline is helpful, don’t take it as gospel. Keep an eye out for sales before, during or after the holiday season, but even a lackluster time of year may offer sweet price deals. When buying online, always search for coupon codes – it’s perfectly legit to use these and they may help you afford a better class of ring than you’d been planning on
# 13 …But don’t let your wallet make the final decision
You’ve put so much thought into what kind of ring she’ll adore. Don’t let a sale flyer or website popup with great prices steer you away from the decisions you know are right. Noriko says, “I wanted a square diamond; Bryan bought a round one. I wanted an antique-inspired classic; he bought me a very plain, modern style” It’s pretty clear what Bryan was thinking about when he bought that ring… and it wasn’t Noriko. Price is important, we’ll never say it isn’t. But don’t let a fantastic price on a ring she’ll hate derail you from finding the best ring for a reasonable price. Psychologist Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne writes in Psychology Today that despite aggressive sales tactics, it’s okay to turn down a “low price” that may not be such a bargain. “If you hold your ground, you’ll find that there are lower-priced options that will still make the recipient happy.”
# 14 Keep the receipt
Check the terms before you buy. Whether online or in-store, be sure you’ll have the flexibility to make small changes – and find out how to do it, just in case. Even if the ring is perfect, there’s a chance something will need to change. Janice says, “He picked out my ring, and it was lovely… apart from the ruby.” Shane originally picked out a wonderful trilogy ring with princess-cut diamonds flanking a slightly larger ruby. “He didn’t know I don’t love colored stones in an engagement ring,” she says. It was an easy fix, and everybody went home happy.
# 15 Go with your gut
Take a leap of faith: buy the ring that thrills you. If it doesn’t, put it down and walk away. If it does, it may be the one, even if it’s something different from what you’d planned on. You know her better than anyone else, right? You might even know her better than she knows herself… Tracy found herself shocked and surprised by Steve’s pick… but blown away by how wonderful it was. “My stone of choice has always been a pear-shaped diamond. Steve picked me out a marquise and I am completely in love with this ring!”
# 16 Timing is everything
Once you have the ring, don’t just run over to her house and … hand it to her. She’s already dreaming about the special moment, so make it an occasion. Girls love to talk to their friends; swapping engagement stories the way guys talk sports scores. They’re fascinated, sure, but they’re also all trying to have the best story. Give your girl hers; Is she the type who wants to glimpse the ring for the first time on Christmas morning? Will she prefer a getaway weekend, a simple restaurant dinner, or a big splashy public “Will You Marry Me?” You’ve planned and saved for the ring; think of your timing as a frame that shows that well-chosen ring in the best possible light.
# 17 Is it hard to be humble?
If you’ve followed all these tips, you should be feeling great about the ring. But stay humble. Remember, it’s impossible to get mad at a teddy bear, and that’s what you should look like when you hand her that box. Big eyes and a loving smile are all the psychic power you need. Let them speak for you, convincing her that you have gone to the ends of the earth to find a jewel that expresses the power of your love for her. Karin says, “Every time I look at the ring, it reminds me of Jarrett and the effort he put in.”
# 18 Let her know how much you adore her
Once she’s seen the ring, tell her why you picked it. What made you think of her when you saw it? How is it unique or special? Tell her anything that comes to mind (except the price tag). This helps her know that you thought about her and made a careful decision. Let her know how proud you’ll be to see her wearing the ring you chose. Before she got engaged, Matthew’s girlfriend Courtney thought she knew what she wanted, but decided to trust him completely instead of trying to steer his decision. “I was going to marry him, after all…” she says. He picked something completely different from what she’d been thinking… and it was perfect. “I love it more then I would have loved one that I picked out myself.”
# 19 If she hates it, suck it up
If she doesn’t like the ring after all that, she might have a good reason. Shanell’s fiancé Emory tried, but failed. “He proposed with his mom’s old ring. He was so sweet; I totally tried to like it.” Shanell got the ring remodeled, but the diamond simply “wasn’t what I ever wanted.” His mother’s marriage had ended in divorce, so the symbolism behind the ring also bothered her. “I pretended all was good, but eventually, I had to speak up.” She finally told Emory, “and he was great. I don’t know why I was scared of telling him.” They bought a new ring that weekend. “It’s not the biggest, but it symbolizes our fresh start, and I love it”
# 20 If at first (second, third), you don’t succeed…
Yes, these are foolproof tips. But what if a ring just doesn’t speak to you? If it seems like the decision is getting tougher and tougher, and each new ring you see, each new website, each new store, just adds to the confusion, go easy on yourself. Take a deep breath. And then head downtown to a funky import-jewelry store or even the mall accessory shop. Grab a ring that’s cute, or funny, or simple… but above all else, inexpensive. This is not the ring – it’s a “decoy” that you can use instead (fake rings are HOT – even Kim Kardashian did it). This is the ring that will send her the message that you love her more than anything else in the world, and that you want to spend your life with her. And it also tells her that you tried and tried… and you’ll be looking forward to ring shopping together someday soon.