Trust, commitment and love are three cornerstones of a healthy marriage. The fourth is much more expensive, tangible and downright shiny: the engagement ring.
Choosing an engagement ring causes countless grooms to sweat bullets and empty their bank accounts of about two months' salary, the average cost of an engagement ring according to diamond industry experts. Grooms lucky enough to pass down an heirloom bauble can breathe a sigh of relief -- resetting or cleaning the family stone isn't nearly as expensive as purchasing a new ring.
With any luck, a happy bride will sport her engagement ring for the rest of her life, so it's vital that the setting, cut and quality are in line with her personality. Grooms should consider the bride's personal style when selecting a ring, and it's also smart to consult one of her friends. Women are pretty perceptive when it comes to engagement rings, and they've probably discussed ring preferences before. A little lighthearted window-shopping in advance of the big proposal can also prove valuable. Discerning women will certainly appreciate the opportunity to let their heart's desire be known.
However a would-be groom chooses to proceed, we've assembled a list of 10 classic engagement ring styles to fit every taste, quirk and budget.
A slender band with a single diamond, the solitaire -- especially a round stone -- is the ultimate in classic engagement ring styles. Both graceful and elegant, this ring complements any woman's hand and will never go out of fashion. As with any engagement ring, the composition of the band can affect the overall price and quality. Platinum is the most durable metal available, although it has a steep price tag. Yellow or white gold are beautiful as well and significantly less expensive, although gold does wear away over time and is more likely to sustain damage than platinum.
9: Fancy Shapes
There's no shortage of fancy shapes for grooms considering the solitaire setting. If the bride has classic taste but yearns for an air of distinction, the groom is wise to opt for something besides a round stone. Second in popularity to the round diamond is the princess cut, which is an elegant square shape. Other cuts include emerald, oval, asscher, marquise, cushion, radiant, heart and pear. Celebrity brides helped in part to popularize some of these alternative shapes, particularly princess and emerald cut diamonds. Found on the famous fingers of actresses Katherine Heigl and Eva Longoria Parker, these styles have worked their way into the hearts of style- and celebrity-conscious women everywhere.
8: Big Rocks (Quality Negotiable)
For some brides, the size of the rock is more important than the quality of its color or overall sparkle factor. If size is the most vital consideration, grooms should consult with a reputable jeweler to find a diamond high in carat size.
A quick crash course in the 4 Cs will help you understand diamond lingo. Diamonds are graded for quality on a scale of how their carat, clarity, cut and color measure up. Carat actually refers to the diamond's weight, not its size. Clarity is determined by the number of flaws (inclusions) in the diamond. The diamond's cut refers to how beautifully it sparkles, which is dependent on how expertly it was cut from the rough diamond. Cut is graded on a scale ranging from poor to ideal. The final "C" stands for color. Ideally, all diamonds would be clear/colorless, but they often have slight tinges of yellow or white.
All diamonds have some naturally occurring inclusions, but many flaws are invisible to the untrained eye. It's hard to find a diamond that's colorless and that's been cut perfectly -- and if you do, you'll pay handsomely for it. Remember this when choosing a stone for a bride who likes big rocks.
7: Designer Distinction
Few things set women's mouths to salivating quite like the sight of that little blue Tiffany & Co. box, and when it's presented on bended knee, it's doubly tempting.
The jeweler's signature six-pronged Tiffany setting is said to raise the diamond so that light can clearly show the top-quality diamond assured to be on display. Over the years, Tiffany has expanded its line of diamond rings to include bands, settings and diamonds of all varieties. For grooms concerned about prices, Tiffany offers diamond rings to fit any budget, as well as payment plans for added flexibility. For the bride who yearns for Manolo Blahnik heels or Prada bags, this timeless designer ring is surely the way to go.
6: Three-stone Ring
Although three-stone rings tend to be more expensive than solitaires, they do offer much greater potential for variety. Each stone is rife with symbolism, with a rock representing the past, present and future of the couple's relationship. Three-stone settings can feature two smaller stones on either side of one dominant stone, or a groom might choose to select three diamonds of similar size.
Three-stone rings are glamorous and certainly up the sparkle ante. A ring-building tool, such as the one offered by online jewelry retailer Blue Nile, allows you to build your own three-stone ring by choosing the setting, center stone and side stones. You can even specify the carat, clarity and cut you want.
5: Split-shank Setting
Some women opt to forego the wedding band altogether in favor of a wider and more eye-catching engagement ring. The split-shank setting actually splits the band in half as it approaches the center diamond, widening the central focal point of the ring so that it can be decorated with other smaller diamonds or details. This elegant option, which often conveys an antique aesthetic, stands alone beautifully, doubling as both a day-to-day or evening piece with ease.
4: Major Sparkle
A woman with glamorous taste and an affinity for bling might appreciate an engagement ring with pavé or channel-set diamonds in the band. Both types of bands feature tiny diamonds throughout the length of the band, creating more sparkle than solitaires or three-stone rings.
Pavé and channel-set diamonds differ in the way they're embedded into the band. Channel-set diamonds are placed into a groove inside the ring so that the tables (the tops of the diamonds) are flush with the band. Pavé diamonds are set on top of the band so closely together that you can't really see the metal.
Of these two classic options, channel-set diamond bands tend to be the more affordable. They may also be the most practical since pavé diamonds are more prone to falling out over time -- they're simply not secured as well as channel-set diamonds.
3: Engagement Ring and Wedding Band Sets
Many a bride-to-be has skipped off to the jeweler's to pick out a wedding band, only to return frustrated at the lack of options that work with her engagement ring. Some engagement rings are difficult to match because they're constructed in such a way that it's impossible for a band to sit flush against it. Jewelry designers have caught wind of this dilemma and are creating more engagement ring/wedding band sets that are designed to fit together perfectly and that have a complementary style.
Many of these sets are crafted with interlocking grooves to help the rings sit flush. This engineering technique renders many wedding bands less than attractive when worn independently from the engagement ring. Women who plan on wearing their wedding band solo on occasion might want to steer clear of this option.
2: A Pop of Color
Diamonds may be the traditional stone of choice for engagement rings, but there's no law that says you can't add a little color. Many women prefer the rich hues of sapphires or emeralds to the clear sparkle of a diamond. A gemstone engagement ring will certainly stand out from the rest.
When choosing a gemstone, grooms need not pay so much attention to the clarity as to the color. The ideal stone will be evenly colored throughout. Note that brightly colored gems tend to be pricier than paler ones, such aquamarine. Because gems are typically less expensive than diamonds, the groom can get more bang for his buck. Grooms wary of selecting a gem for the dominant stone can always add some extra flair by using smaller jewels for side stones paired with a larger diamond.
1: Cubic Zirconia
During these tight times, grooms on a budget are turning more and more to cubic zirconia, a man-made diamond simulant. Costing a fraction of the price of diamonds, cubic zirconia purchased from a reputable dealer is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing without professional-grade tools.
Prior to purchasing a cubic zirconia ring, grooms should casually poll their beloved to find out her personal preference. Some might be appalled and prefer a real diamond -- no matter how small or flawed -- whereas others jump at the chance for an impressive-sized rock, the authenticity of which will likely never be questioned.