All About Engagement Rings I
An Engagement Ring Guide
This is the first part of a three part article and the very first post on this website! These first three posts will cover, in broadbrush fashion, all of the areas that you should be considering as you choose your perfect engagement ring. As I publish more articles, I will cover various aspects of engagement ring buying in more detail. Feel free to sign up so that I can notify you of new posts. I would love to accompany you on your journey!
My mother says I didn’t open my eyes for eight days after I was born, but when I did, the first thing I saw was an engagement ring. I was hooked.
Before looking at practical matters, lets start with a short history of the engagement ring. Hard to imagine as it is now, diamond engagement rings were not always the norm. The facts that follow will likely surprise you and give you a new perspective on the engagement ring tradition. They may even affect your ultimate choice of engagement ring…
Engagement rings can be traced back to the second century B.C. in ancient Rome. They were simple iron hoops, worn on the fourth finger of the left hand, as the Romans was believed that a special vein, the vena amoris, ran from this finger to the heart. Among the gentry, brides-to-be were presented with two rings by their betrothed, one made of gold, to wear in public, and one made of iron, to wear at home while attending to household duties.
The wealthy started using rubies, emeralds and sapphires to adorn engagement rings in the Middle Ages. Cutting techniques of the era tended to leave gems looking dull and so jewellers devised elaborate settings to compensate for the lacklustre stones. The tradition of giving diamond rings was born in 1477, when the Archduke Maximilian of Austria commissioned a diamond ring for Mary of Burgundy upon their betrothal in the royal court of Vienna.
This sparked a new trend and diamonds quickly became a popular choice for engagement rings for the European nobility.
Engagement rings during this period were often silver rings engraved with flowers. Diamonds, usually from Brazil were expensive and remained the preserve of the upper classes. When used for engagement rings, they were often set in gold or silver rings with two side stones. Queen Charlotte, wife of George III of England, wore a diamond band.
In the 1860s, after diamond deposits were discovered in South Africa, the first large-scale diamond mine opened. Together with the widespread wealth in Europe that arose from the Industrial Revolution, this made diamonds accessible to more people.
At the same time, developments in cutting and polishing techniques were revealing the true brilliance of diamonds, leading to a fashion for solitaire engagement rings, displaying a single beautiful stone.
However, simple unadorned engagement bands were still often chosen over diamonds, which tended to be viewed as a waste of money by any but the wealthiest, and this preference persisted into the next century.
20th Century and Today
Everything changed in the late 1930s. Following the decline in the popularity of diamond rings during the Great Depression, the diamond cartel De Beers began a marketing campaign that would aim, “to create a situation where almost every person pledging marriage feels compelled to acquire a diamond engagement ring”.
Pictures of glamorous movie stars swathed in diamonds appeared everywhere with the now classic slogan, “A Diamond is Forever”. This marketing campaign was also responsible for the widely accepted custom, which persists to the present day, that a man should spend the equivalent of two months’ salary on an engagement ring.
Even De Beers itself could not have predicted just how successful this campaign would be. In 1939, 10% of engagement rings had diamonds; by 1990, the percentage was 80%.
Today, especially within Western civilization, it has become a common expectation for the bride-to-be to be presented with an engagement ring, usually with a diamond or even several diamonds.
If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it.
The stone is the centrepiece of the ring and will generally make up the majority of the cost (the 80/20 rule is often used as a guide to the respective cost of the centre gem and its setting). It is worth putting a lot of thought and research into your choice. Settings can be changed at a later date, albeit at a cost, but the stone (or stones) will be a constant.
Over the past century, diamonds have become by far the most popular stone for engagement rings. Though this is due to the marketing efforts of De Beers, the diamond is nonetheless a remarkable stone. Formed one to three billions years ago from crystallized carbon occurring beneath volcanoes, diamonds are the hardest naturally occurring substance known. This durability, together with the brilliance and sparkle that emerges during the cutting process, has made the diamond into an apt symbol of everlasting love.
I don’t mean rhinestones!
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.
Sung by Marilyn Monroe
If possible, you should aim to buy a certified diamond with an independent grading report from a respected grading entity, such as the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Diamond certificate issuers generally use a standardized system, evaluating a diamond’s, cut, clarity, colour and carat weight. These are known as the 4 Cs and a basic understanding of these is essential when choosing a diamond.
The cut of a diamond does not refer to its geometrical shape (round, princess, emerald, etc.) but rather to its overall symmetry, proportioning and polish of its facets. The beauty of a diamond depends more on cut than on any other factor, with a high quality cut noticeably enhancing a diamond’s brilliance (brightness), scintillation (flashes of light and dark or ‘sparkle’) and fire (flashes of colour).
Learn More About Cut Grades
Excellent Reflects nearly all of the light that enters the diamond. Excellent Cut diamonds display maximum fire and brilliance.
Very Good Reflects most of the light entering the diamond. This cut appears similar to the Excellent Cut under normal lighting conditions.
Good Reflects the majority of the light entering the diamond giving an above average appearance. This cut can be excellent value compared with higher grades.
Fair Allows much of the light that enters the diamond to escape from the sides or the bottom. This can be a suitable cut for diamonds below 0.75 carat weight as the difference in sparkle is harder to perceive.
Poor Most of the light entering the diamond is lost, giving a noticeably dull and lifeless appearance. It is generally best to avoid Poor Cut diamonds of any size.
Most diamonds contain very tiny imperfections known as inclusions (inside the diamond) or blemishes (on the surface of the diamond). Diamonds with significant inclusions or blemishes tend to be less brilliant as the imperfections interfere with the path of light through the diamond. The clarity of a diamond is determined by viewing it both with the naked eye and through a loupe (a 10x magnifying glass).
Learn More About Clarity Grades
Flawless (FL) No inclusions or blemishes are visible to an experienced grader using 10x magnification. Flawless diamonds are extremely rare and priced accordingly.
Internally flawless (IF) No inclusions, only blemishes are visible to an experienced grader using 10x magnification. FL and IF diamonds appear identical to the naked eye.
Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1, VVS2) Inclusions are barely visible to an experienced grader under 10x magnification. As the inclusions are invisible to the naked eye, VVS1 and VVS2 appear identical to the higher grades without magnification.
Very Slightly Included (VS1, VS2) Inclusions are clearly visible under 10x magnification, but can be characterized as minor. The inclusions are not visible to the naked eye.
Slightly Included (SI1, SI2) Inclusions are clearly visible to an experienced grader under 10x magnification. SI2 diamonds, in particular, will often have inclusions that are visible to the naked eye.
Included (I1, I2, I3) Inclusions are obvious under 10x magnification and may affect the transparency and brilliance of the diamond. The inclusions for these grades are almost always visible to the naked eye.
Diamonds come in a multitude of colours and hues – blue, green, yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, brown and even black. For the most part, however, white diamonds are chosen for engagement rings. Except in the rarest cases, white diamonds contain impurities that give a yellowish tint. The fainter this yellow tint, the higher the grade of the diamond.
Learn More About Colour Grades
Colourless (D, E, F) Diamonds with these colour grades are to all intents are purposes colourless. Only a trained gemologist can detect any differences in colour between the colourless grades.
Near Colourless (G, H, I, J) These grades indicate just a trace of colour. Diamonds with these grades can still be used in white gold or platinum settings, which normally betray any yellow tint in a diamond.
Faint Colour (K, L, M) These grades describe warm colour diamonds that can work well in yellow gold settings. The yellow tints are more easily detectable by the naked eye.
Very Light Colour (M – R) The diamonds in this colour range have an easily detectable yellow or brown tint and tend to be very good value compared to higher grades.
Light Colour (S – Z) If you are interested in a white diamond, these colour grades will likely contain too much colour. However, some people specifically seek yellow diamonds. The Z grade is applied to bright yellow diamonds.
I like it, but it’s yellow, and I’m like, I didn’t want yellow for my engagement ring.
The weight of a diamond is measured in carats or points. One carat is equal to 200 milligrams or 100 points. Diamonds of greater weight are more rare and hence the price of diamonds rises disproportionately as carat weight increases, with sharp jumps around the milestone carat weights.
Mined rough diamonds are converted into gems through a multi-step process called ‘cutting’. The preliminary analysis of the rough stone is very important and several possible shapes are usually considered. Factors taken into account include the original shape of the stone, location of internal inclusions, preservation of carat weight and popularity of certain shapes among consumers.
Most gem-quality diamond crystals are octahedral in their natural state. These crystals are usually cut into round brilliants as it is possible to cut two stones from one crystal with minimal loss of weight. Oddly-shaped crystals are more likely to be cut in a fancy cut (cut other than the round brilliant), depending on the shape that the particular crystal shape lends itself to.
Brilliant Cut Engagement Rings
The first round or brilliant cuts were introduced in the 18th century with a mere 17 facets on the diamond’s crown (top half). The modern brilliant cut was perfected in the early 20th century with a total of 58 facets (33 on the crown) and is now the most popular of all cuts. It maximizes natural light and provides the most sparkle of any of the diamond shapes.
Princess Cut Engagement Rings
Princess cut engagement rings are second to the brilliant cut in popularity. Princess cut diamonds were created in the 1970s, originally with 58 facets. They are square or slightly rectangular and the intricate facets accentuate the diamond’s fire. This cut wastes the least of the original crystal of all the cuts and so tends to be slightly less expensive per carat weight.
Emerald Cut Engagement Rings
The emerald cut is a step cut. Emerald cut diamonds do not refract and reflect light as readily other cuts, but the cut clearly displays a stone’s clarity, whiteness and lustre. Simple emerald cut engagement rings have a minimalist, modern look. Slender, rectangular baguette stones, another step cut, are often added as side stones to flank a ring’s larger centre stone.
Royal Asscher Cut Engagement Rings
The Royal Asscher cut was designed at the beginning of the 20th century. It is similar to the emerald cut but square rather than rectangular and with additional facets, 74 in total, giving superior sparkle. The Royal Asscher cut has a chunky feel with clipped corners and stepped sides. Art Deco engagement rings often prominently feature the Royal Asscher cut and other step cut stones.
Cushion Cut Engagement Rings
The fashionable and elegant cushion cut has round corners and large facets. Cushion cut engagement rings have a soft look and hearken back to a romantic era. Cushion cut diamonds are often placed in a halo setting, which surrounds the centre diamond with a frame of pave diamonds. This adds significantly to the overall sparkle of the ring.
Marquise Cut Engagement Rings
The unique and majestic marquise cut, with its many-facetted cut and tapered points at two ends, has a dramatic look. The elongated nature of the marquise cut can be very flattering for short fingers, making them appear leaner and more slender. This cut also cleverly gives the illusion of a larger diamond compared to a brilliant cut diamond of the same carat weight.
Radiant Cut Engagement Rings
The radiant shape is relatively scarce and appeals to those looking for a unique look. It combines the geometrical lines of the emerald shape with the sparkling brilliance of the round cut. It has 70 facets to maximize light refraction. A radiant cut engagement ring can be a more unusual alternative to a princess cut engagement ring.
Oval Cut Engagement Rings
Oval shaped diamonds were created in the 1960s as a modification of the brilliant cut. They generally have 56 facets and deliver plenty of sparkle. Similar to the marquise cut, the oval cut tends to lengthen short fingers as the elongated shape gives the illusion of length to the hand. Oval centre stones are often flanked by side stones, sometimes smaller diamonds or sometimes coloured gemstones.
Pear Cut Engagement Rings
Pear shaped diamonds are also known as the teardrop shape as they resemble a twinkling tear. They combine the rounded end of the oval with the tapered point of the marquise. This shape usually has 58 facets and is another modification of the brilliant cut. Pear shaped diamonds can be fatter or more elongated.
Heart Cut Engagement Rings
Heart engagement rings are the ultimate symbol of romance and sentimentality. Another modified brilliant cut, the heart cut is a difficult shape to execute. However, the 59 facets of the unique shape give a high degree of sparkle. Heart cut diamonds also vary in the degree to which they are elongated so you should consider your preference.
I hope you have enjoyed reading Part I of All About Engagement Rings. In Part II you will learn about the different metals used for engagement ring settings, the various engagement ring styles available and the multitude of coloured gemstones that can be used as alternatives to a diamond. See you there!