5 Tips for Choosing the Perfect Engagement Ring

Hey, everyone! Some of you are familiar with me by now, but a few of you may be reading the blog for the very first time. Since this is my first solo post, I'd like to take this opportunity to properly introduce myself. My name is Sam Hartman and I am Anna's fiancée. At this point in my life work is pretty consuming but when I am home I love to spend time with Anna and Oliver, either in the city or on Tighlman island. I thoroughly enjoy trying new restaurants throughout Baltimore but I'm also perfectly content with staying in, cooking dinner and snuggling up with my loves for a good movie.

I asked Anna out on our first formal date in June of 2011. It was only a little over six months before we had fallen in love and I knew what we had was truly unique. Christmas that year I had bought her a Tiffany ring as a promise that one day I would ask her to marry me. As the years began to pass we would talk about getting engaged, romantically and emotionally we were ready, but we weren't exactly at the stage in our life that we wanted to be. Our relationship had been growing stronger each year but there were other factors holding us back, like finishing college and finances. I started to consider looking for a ring when Anna graduated in December 2015 and I was set to graduate the following Spring. I had paid attention when she had showed me pictures of rings over the years, so I had a pretty good idea of what styles she liked and what she absolutely loathed.

Finding the perfect ring isn't actually what I was nervous about, it was how I was going to execute a memorable, meaningful proposal that Anna would truly find special. I thought about it quite often. I didn't want to just take her to a fancy dinner, because truthfully, we do that frequently living in the city. I thought about maybe taking her to the top of a mountain or a waterfall during a hike. I scoured engagement forums and blogs looking for ideas, but they all seemed too extravagant, not our style, or just plain cheesy. Eventually it occurred to me that nothing would be more meaningful than to do it while we were in Canada. We go every June to celebrate our anniversary, so she wasn't suspicious. We had already planned for two nights at the cottage, two in Toronto and one at Niagara Falls.

I made reservations for dinner at the Restaurant 360, an upscale joint 1,200 feet high at the CN Tower. I had the notion to propose before dessert came out but it was so crowded that it didn't feel intimate enough. Besides, Anna and I aren't the type to make a scene, so after dinner I took her to the observation deck and waited until the glass floor was empty. I was trying not to think about it throughout the whole dinner, but it was on my mind because I was searching for the perfect moment. When I didn't seize the opportunity before dessert, I really started to get inside my head. I was wondering if I missed my chance and I knew that I had to do it before we got back on the elevator, no matter what. Anna wrote about the full proposal in this post, in case you missed it. 

Anna was raised by her step father so I felt it most appropriate to ask him for permission to marry her. The day I picked up the ring from Radcliffe, I immediately drove down to show Eric and Diana the ring and ask them for her hand in marriage. Her mother wasn't home but I asked Eric anyways and showed him the ring. To which he replied something along the lines of, "Do you even have to ask?" I had a feeling that I would garner a response along those lines because I am very fond of her parents and I believe the feeling to be mutual. Anyhow, I had gotten the ring forty five days before we were set to go on our annual Canada vacation, so I was very anxious the entire time. I was showing the ring to everyone that wanted to see it, from neighbors to her best friends, hoping they all loved it. 

I had been looking at rings for nearly a year and a half before finding "the one". I focused the majority of my research on diamonds and learned a great deal more than what the average jeweler will tell you is important (the four C's). Because of this, I decided that I would exert most of my effort looking for the best quality and largest diamond I could afford and the setting would be secondary, as both Anna and myself feel that the stone should be the focal point. Jewelers emphasize the four C's (cut, clarity, color, carat) because they are arguably the most important for a consumer. However, there is much more to a diamond. When grading a stone, a gemologist examines nearly 20 different factors; polish, fluorescence, culet, girdle, etc.

Armed with my new found knowledge, I went to Zachary's and Cezanne jewelers in Annapolis to see what they had in their inventory. The next day I went to Nelson Coleman and Radcliffe in Towson. All of the stores had a great selection of stones but emerald cut diamonds are not as popular as other cuts right now so there were not as many to choose from. However, Radcliffe had some truly remarkable emerald diamonds. I handled and inspected several loose stones but ultimately the ones I liked were a little too expensive and the ones I could afford were smaller than what I was looking for. I had asked Shirley, my consultant, if it was possible for them to bring in some more from their vault for me to look at the following weekend.

I was about to walk out the door when she remembered that they had one similar to what I was looking for already in a setting. She brought it over and showed me the GIA report. I checked it out with the 10x magnifier and knew immediately that it was the perfect stone for the girl of my dreams. I asked if they could move the stone from the setting it was in to another one which was more simple but in my opinion more eloquent.

Two weeks later, I got the call that the ring was finished and when I saw it in person for the first time I was floored. I knew Anna was going to love it from the first moment I saw it.

If you are thinking about proposing to your significant other or have just started looking at engagement rings, here are 5 tips that I used throughout the process that lead me to the perfect one: 

01. Pay attention

Find out what she likes, if you've discussed getting engaged then she has probably dropped hints. If the topic has never come up before, then try to bring it up without being too conspicuous; you don't want to tip her off that you are going to ask. Ideally, have the conversation months before you are planning to propose. If you are looking for a more indirect approach, you could try buying a magazine with different pictures of engagement rings and just flip through nonchalantly and comment on a couple to see her reaction. Pay attention to her current selection of jewelry; does she gravitate toward the more delicate, simple pieces or something that is more intricate in design? Is she usually wearing white gold, gold, or rose gold? These are things that you definitely want to pay attention to before ring shopping. 

02. Take your time

Chances are you have been with your significant other for awhile now and you plan on spending the rest of your life with this person. Don't rush out and buy the first ring you see. Besides a house or possibly a car, this is going to be the largest, most important purchase of your young adult life. You want her to cherish this piece of jewelry; remember that she will be looking at it every day as a symbol of your marriage. Plan for a day of shopping at several different stores with your closest buddy, your father, or someone that you trust has your significant other's best interest in mind. 

03. Do the research

You wouldn't just walk onto a car lot and drive off in the first one that catches your eye. Settings are usually secondary or complimentary and in my opinion should be less expensive than the focal diamond. But you don't have to spend a small fortune to get a nice stone. If you take into consideration and understand all of the characteristics of a diamond, you can decide which indices you are willing to sacrifice a little bit to enhance another. For example, you may be willing to go from a D color diamond to a F in order to go up a tenth of a carat in weight for the same price.

04. Buy local or family owned

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with buying from one of the big retailers, but it is nice to support small businesses. And often times a nice boutique jeweler will provide better customer service through a more personalized experience, frankly because the sale means more to them than it does to Joe Shmo at the franchise jewelry store. It was also my experience that the four stores I named earlier had more of what I was looking for than say, Zales. Another bonus of buying from a small business is that you are able to form a close relationship with your jeweler. Then, down the road when you are searching for another piece like an anniversary gift or a ring upgrade, they remember what you like and will most likely go above and beyond to maintain your relationship. 

05. Spend the money

Now, obviously I'm not advocating putting yourself in the poor house over a ring, but this isn't the time for frugality. If you can afford to spend the money or finance a portion of the purchase then just do it. If you have a few months before you are going to ask, plan on setting aside a small portion from each paycheck to save. If you are disciplined and consistent about it, you'll be surprised with how quickly it adds up. I spent twice my initial budget on Anna's ring and I don't regret a thing. I love looking at it as much as she does and just seeing how happy it makes her is totally worth it. Your girl might tell you that it doesn't matter, she's not materialistic, but trust me she isn't going to be upset if you bring her home a stunner.

Are you getting ready to propose to your significant other? Were these 5 tips helpful? Let us know in the comments!

Until next time, Sam