“With this ring, I thee wed.”  Those words have long been spoken to signify a couple’s ever-lasting commitment to one another.  The exchanging of wedding rings marks the beginning of a new life together for the bride and groom.  The circular shape represents eternity and the presence of the ring on the finger leaves no doubt as to the wearer’s marital status.  It is one of the most universally recognized symbols in the United States, if not the world.

In addition to all the significance behind a wedding ring, it is a major investment in fine jewelry.  When the wedding is over and life settles down, you still have the ring on your finger.  Needless to say, it’s a purchase that you want to get right.

Most jewelry stores will be able to take care of you once you’re ready to shop for a ring, but if you want to make sure that the jeweler is reputable, there are a few things you can do.  First find out how long the store has been in business.  Ask about their qualifications.  Do they have a gemologist on hand?  How long have their employees worked in the business.  You should also ask what kind of warrantees, trade-in policies and care programs they have.  A good jeweler will probably include life-long care such as cleaning and polishing in the price of the ring.  If you still want additional assurance, check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the store has received any complaints.

Although an engagement ring is certainly a major purchase, it does not have to break the bank. Some jewelers don’t agree with the old theory of spending two months’ salary.  One shouldn’t think that one’s love will be determined by the size of a diamond. There’s something beautiful for every budget. Often a man will buy a small stone for the engagement ring and then trade it in for a larger stone later, perhaps on an anniversary, when he can afford to do so.

When looking at rings, ask to see the diamond grading report.  This report is a document issued by the Gemological Institute of America or other independent laboratory and is the ultimate authority in determining the quality and value of the diamond.  It is a non-biased opinion, and the GIA or other lab has no investment in whether or not the diamond is sold.  If you do not get a grading report, you are relying on the word of the person who is selling it to you.

The grading report will analyze the diamond on four different characteristics – cut, color, clarity and carat weight. Commonly known as the 4 C’s, these are the attributes that determine a diamond’s value.

The first quality, cut, is probably the most important.  A diamond’s cut is the single most important factor that will determine a diamond’s brilliance.  The diamond’s brilliance is what gives it that sparkle, as if the stone was lit from within.  If a stone is cut poorly, the proportions will be off, and the diamond will appear dull or lifeless.  A diamond that is cut too shallow will lose light from the bottom and one that is cut too deep will lose light from the sides.

Color is the second most important factor.  Cut and color both contribute greatly to the visual aesthetic of the diamond.  A colorless diamond is considered the most valuable and is assigned a “D” grade.  The grades continue through the alphabet as the stone has more color.  While traditional engagement rings have used colorless stones, pink and yellow diamonds are becoming more popular.

Clarity rates the purity of a diamond.  Most diamonds contain natural flaws called inclusions that cannot be seen by the naked eye.  Because some inclusions can only be seen with a microscope, there is a little more room for error in this category.  A diamond that is graded Very Slightly Included (VS1, VS2) or Slightly Included (SI1, SI2) will be less expensive, but still attractive.

Finally, there’s carat weight.  While many women will say that one carat is sufficient, it really comes down to personal preference and budget.  It is important to note that often times the description of a ring will give the total carat weight, including all the stones on the ring.  So if you are looking at a three-stone ring and the total carat weight is listed at one carat, the weight of center stone plus the two side stones equals the total weight.  Don’t get fooled into thinking you’re getting a larger diamond than you really are.

Of course, looking for the perfect ring is about more than just budget or the 4 C’s.  Personal tastes, lifestyle and current trends should all be considered.  The use of white metals in rings has skyrocketed over the last few years.  Many brides prefer white gold or platinum over yellow gold.  In fact, the selection of yellow gold rings has considerably diminished recently due to the popularity of the other metals.

Vintage rings are also very popular right now.  A period piece is timeless and classic. And, with all of the improvements in technology, you can have a new ring with a vintage design that has a few modern touches added for a fresh look.

While typically a man will purchase the engagement ring as a gift for his fiancé, the couple should shop together when picking out wedding bands.  Wedding bands serve a different purpose.  The engagement ring represents a promise or a betrothal, but wedding rings symbolize a new life together, and thus should be chosen together, to reflect the personalities of both the bride and groom.

Today’s bride and groom have more options than ever before.  The bride is no longer restricted to choosing a matching band, and in fact, most brides don’t opt for a matching set.  The idea of a different but complimentary band, one that may even include colored gemstones like sapphires or rubies, is becoming increasingly popular.  Some women even forego the wedding band altogether, and simply use their engagement rings in the ceremony.

The days of every man wearing a simple gold band are no more.  New, more durable metals like titanium and scratch-resistant tungsten are ideal for guys who are active in sports or weight-lifting.  There are also many different styles and finishes, and even bands with diamonds, allowing men to show more personality with their choice of ring.  And while the bride and groom don’t necessarily have to get “matching” bands, they should at least be the same color.

Manufacturers make engagement and wedding rings knowing that they will be worn everyday, but this doesn’t mean they are indestructible.  Experts agree that you should never wear your diamond to the gym. Metal on metal is never good for the jewelry.  A wedding band with no protruding stones will probably be more durable, but still needs proper care.  Take your ring to the jeweler three to four times a year for maintenance.  The jeweler can make sure the stone is secure and polish and clean the ring.  Remember to ask if this service is available when you purchase the ring.

Engagement rings and wedding bands are outward symbols of love and commitment, but they are also very personal possessions.  With so many options available, look for something that reflects your personality and use this as an opportunity to express something about yourself. 

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