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How to Find the Perfect Engagement Ring

Karin Jacobson custom design design process engagement rings jewelry design wedding rings


Picking out an engagement ring is tons of fun … but also pretty overwhelming! So much emotion and excitement rides on this one decision that selecting the right ring can feel like an impossible task. What if it’s too flashy? What if he wanted something chunkier? What if she flat-out HATES it?

Fear not, Nearly Newlyweds! I’m here to help! 

I’ve worked with hundreds of couples to select or custom-design their dream rings, so I’ve learned a thing or two about how to narrow the field. I’ve got a series of questions—almost a decision tree—that will guide you toward a ring that your beloved will cherish forever.

Karin Jacobson Jewelry Design custom engagement and wedding rings
Here are just a few custom engagement & wedding rings that I have created...including my own!
Clockwise from top left; my fair trade sapphire & 18 karat yellow gold engagement ring with matching recycled diamond and 18K band and husband Adam's platinum band; palladium & Moissanite solitaire and palladium band with silver stripe; a canary yellow and white 3-diamond ring in 18 karat yellow gold with accent diamonds; palladium and 14 karat rose gold bands with client's diamonds.

Is the engagement ring going to be a surprise?

A surprise proposal is undeniably romantic, but also pretty risky.   Does the ring need to be a surprise or would you consider collaborating with your partner-to-be to design it? Designing a ring together can be an incredibly rewarding process, so if you think you’d both enjoy it, consider working with a jeweler to create a custom ring. (You can always let the designer know if you don’t want to discuss price in front of your partner.)

If you have your heart set on a surprise, do you have any hints about what they’d like? What’s their style? What other jewelry do they wear? Have they said anything that might help you figure it out? Keep your ears open for hints they might be dropping! Also, there's a good chance your person already knows what they want and has discussed it with their friends. Flying blind is never wise, so get some input, if you can.

Do you know your partner’s ring size?

Some rings can be adjusted after the fact, but for others, sizing isn't easy and sometimes isn't possible.  Also, it’s a little anticlimactic to hand the ring back after the proposal so it can be sized. But there are a couple of ways you can find out on the sly!

  • Would a friend know? If not, could you enlist one to do a little espionage on your behalf?
  • Does your beloved wear a ring on the correct finger? One of my clients came up with a clever way to find out his partner’s ring size using a ring she already owned. He took a piece of paper, made a little tube shape inside the ring, and taped it shut. Iit worked great and was accurate! Of course this needs to be done with a ring worn on the left ring finger; The right ring finger will get you close, but probably won’t be exact.

Again, surprises are grand, but so is presenting your partner with a ring that actually fits. Is it possible that your person knows “the big question” is coming and would just tell you their size? If not, here are a couple more work-arounds:

  • Buy an off-the-shelf ring with the intention of exchanging it after the proposal. Custom rings are generally not returnable, so you’ll need to pick something pre-made. If you plan to go this route, discuss it with the person you’re buying it from. You’ll need to make sure that you understand the return policy, and the seller will truly appreciate knowing that a return might be part of your plans.
  • Design your custom ring knowing that it might need to be sized later. This is a snap with some designs and nearly impossible with others, so it helps to start the process knowing that resizing might be necessary!
Karin Jacobson Jewelry Design custom engagement and wedding rings
Here are some examples of rings that are impossible to size and rings that can be easily sized.
In the upper left photo, the engagement ring can be sized because the stone is on top, but the two diamond bands are another story - the one with evenly spaced stones will end up with an uneven segment where the sizing was done and the one packed with stones cannot be sized; with the upper right ring, it is possible to work around the diamonds, but again, it will leave the pattern uneven.
The bottom row would be much better for sizing later: in the bottom left photo, there are 3 rings which could all easily be sized later (and I chose this photo for its similarity to the one above) - the solitaire and little rose gold band are no problem and the yellow gold band will also be fine because the row of diamonds is only on top, leaving space on the bottom of the ring shank for easy sizing; and in the lower right, most solitaires are just fine to size because the sizing can be done far from the stone, at the bottom of the ring.

What is your engagement ring budget?

Are you obligated to plunk down three months’ salary for an engagement ring? HECK NO! The “three months rule” was started by the diamond company DeBeers to sell more diamonds. The campaign started in the 1930’s and back then, DeBeers recommended one month’s salary. In the 1980’s it became two months’ salary, and these days marketers tell you to spend three months’ salary. If you happen to be comfortable spending that amount, well, go for it! Spend as much as you want! But remember that sinking 25% of your annual salary into an engagement ring is not a requirement, and it is not a rule…it’s just a very clever marketing ploy. So there.  

The amount you spend should feel reasonable and comfortable to you. That may mean $300, $3,000 or $30,000. Starting your married life neck-deep in debt does not prove that you love your person more! There’s always a way to find or design an incredibly meaningful engagement ring within your budget.

Designing a custom ring can be more expensive than “off the shelf,” but not always. With custom, you’re paying more for design time and the creation of your piece; If you compare two rings with the same amount/type of metal and same size/type of stone, the custom version will definitely cost more. But custom can also allow you to substitute a smaller or less expensive stone or metal, so it’s definitely worth exploring.

Karin Jacobson Jewelry Design custom engagement and wedding rings
Another custom option is using a diamond you already have.  All of the rings above are made with diamonds that my clients brought in.  In some cases (the stacks in the upper left and lower right) the clients brought diamonds that had once belonged to mothers and grandmothers - which made the rings especially meaningful; and in the upper right and lower left, the clients brought in their own engagement and wedding bands to be remade - the style was no longer a good fit for them, so we designed new rings around the existing stones that would fit the clients' lifestyles and design preferences.

Do you know what your partner would like for a ring?

For starters, do they like stones? If yes, what kind of stones?

Notice I didn’t ask, “Do they like diamonds?” Like the three months’ salary “rule,” the notion that engagement rings should feature diamonds comes direct from the DeBeers marketing department. Starting in the 1930’s the company began claiming that diamonds were the “traditional” stone for an engagement ring. And, of course, if you two want a diamond, that’s fabulous! They’re sparkly, beautiful, durable, and a great choice for engagement rings. But this is a modern world we are living in, and your ring can be anything you want it to be. It can have a diamond, another type of stone, many stones, or no stones! There are no hard-and-fast rules and there is no one right choice for everyone. And if you like the idea of keeping to tradition, include sapphires in your search; They’ve been a traditional engagement ring gem for ages, but have been less heavily marketed.

Another reason that diamonds became so popular is that they are the hardest stone, making them a beautiful and very durable option. Or if you're like me and love color, sapphire and ruby are fabulous options for hardness and durability, and luckily, sapphires come in a gorgeous rainbow of colors. Synthetics, such as lab-grown diamonds and sapphires (just as durable as their natural counterparts), or Moissanite offer even more options for stones that will last. Other stones—opals, for example—are considerably less durable, which means they won’t wear well over time. Be sure to ask about the durability of the stone you’re interested in before popping it into an engagement ring.

Karin Jacobson Jewelry Design custom engagement and wedding rings
How about these gorgeous color choices? All of these rings are made with sapphires! Clockwise from top left; these are blue and purple Yogo sapphires from Montana that my client supplied; this golden brown stunner is an Umba sapphire from Tanzania; the next ring features a more traditional grouping of pretty blue sapphires set in white gold; and finally we have some fabulous bright pink sapphires in yellow gold.  Sapphires also come in white, black, green, yellow, orange and red - the reddest versions are what we more commonly know as Ruby!

With stone sorted out, let’s move on to metal. Do you know which one your partner would prefer? Gold? Platinum? If you don’t know exactly which kind, do you know what color? White? Yellow? Pink?

Karin Jacobson Jewelry Design custom engagement and wedding rings
There are lots of metal colors to choose from, and you can also use more than one color on a single ring.  I work in platinum, palladium, many colors of golds, and silver.  Clockwise from top left; this wedding set is 14 karat yellow and 14 karat rose gold with diamonds; these rings are palladium with a rose gold inlay with the clients' diamonds; the band in the lower right is palladium on the inside with 22 karat gold on the outside making a kind of secret two-tone ring; and finally a palladium and Moissanite ring with a palladium and sterling silver band.

Finally, consider ring style. Whether you are surprising your person or working on a custom project together, it can help to have some rough ideas about which ring styles you like and dislike. You definitely don’t need to have a specific design or style in mind; In fact, it can actually help the custom project if you don’t! Keeping an open mind allows the designer to suggest designs that you never would’ve considered, but love even more than what you’d originally envisioned.

Which designer do you want to create your engagement ring?

Picking a designer is another decision that’s equal parts exhilarating and daunting. As you begin your research, take a look at various designers’ past work. If you only see off-the-shelf designs, feel free to ask if they have a portfolio of custom pieces. If you and your partner love their overall design style, they may be a great choice for you!

However don’t assume that a designer who does “custom” work can create absolutely anything that you think up. If what you’re envisioning isn’t in their style range, or involves techniques they don’t specialize in, they may not be your best choice. When a potential client comes to me with a specific idea for a design that’s vastly different from my own style, I recommend other designers who would be a better fit and refer them out. I’m absolutely never offended when people say, “I’d like a ring that looks like X. Do you know any designers who do similar work?” I value my colleagues and am happy to send clients their way!

Does your person have something specific in mind?

My brother-in-law asked me for advice about getting an engagement ring for his girlfriend, and we discussed a variety of options. But very wisely, he decided to check in with her best friend before making a final decision. It turned out, his fiancée had created a Pinterest page with some very specific design ideas! Her dream ring was not a style that I make, but I knew a talented designer who did, and could talk him through diamond-buying as well! It all worked out fabulously! (And she said “yes”!!)

If your partner is looking for something really specific (as in, they already have found the ring they want and just need you to get it), a custom ring might not be your best bet. While it is helpful to bring in photos of designs you admire – maybe you like the type of stone, or the shape of the band – bringing in a photo of a ring that you want copied is a big no-no. Other designers’ work is protected by copyright (whether they have registered it or not), and reproducing it exactly is not only unethical, it is illegal. Not to mention the fact that no designer actually wants to copy another designer’s work.  

If you’ve already found the perfect ring, then go ahead and buy it from the person who originally made it! If someone shows me a photo of a ring and says, “I love this! Do you have any idea who made it so I can contact them?” I’m always happy to help them find it! But when someone asks me to copy a ring, the answer has to be, “No.”

Above all, try to focus on the excitement and joy that accompany the search for the perfect engagement ring. Getting married is exciting and tracking down the ideal ring for your ideal partner can be thrilling and fun. I hope I’ve helped make the process feel less overwhelming, and doubly hope you have a blast on your engagement ring search!

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