Tips for buying the right ring


Photo illustration: Ryan Damman/Iowa State Daily

Knowledge is key to choosing a perfect engagement ring.

Sarah Gonzalez

The history of the engagement ring can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. The ring was initially not a romantic symbol, but one that sealed the business deal of marriage. Later, the Greeks were credited with the fourth finger on the left hand tradition, where the vena amoris, or “vein of love,” was believed to lead to the heart.

By the ninth century, an engagement ring was an expected standard in gold, silver or iron. Despite its unromantic beginnings, the tradition has stayed alive and strong. In the 21st century, a variety of metal and gemstones are available, but the diamond and its cut, color, clarity and carat are what drive the engagement ring industry and lighten bank accounts.

The price of diamonds and the complexity of their production and grading make them significant investments. Local jewelers and international resources can help a couple make a wise ring purchase.

The most important thing to consider is the grading quality used by a jeweler. The Gemological Institute of America is a leading source for gemstone education, research and grading. Many national chain jewelers do not use the GIA grading scale, but aim for mass marketing to sell less expensive and less quality stones.

Gary Youngberg, owner of Ames Silversmithing, said, “What I find most challenging about the diamond industry is misgrading. A lot of people sell diamonds; not a lot of people know diamonds.”

Youngberg said that Ames Silversmithing and the GIA are “strict and conservative graders.”

In the 1940s and 1950s, GIA developed the Four C’s and the GIA International Diamond Grading System to enable universal and objective comparison and evaluation. However, it is important to know that the jeweler is grading each diamond accurately and strictly.

Youngberg has discovered that some chain jewelers grade a stone higher than he would because they use the European Gemological Laboratory scale, which, according to Youngberg, is much more liberal than the GIA.

“People tend to forget that a diamond is a product, like a house or a car,” he said. “Knowledge is the key to making an intelligent purchase.”

This knowledge can begin with the GIA’s online resources. The website describes the Four C’s and the GIA grading scales used to determine quality. This information can help consumers be familiar with their jeweler’s terminology before going out to buy a diamond ring, or any other gemstone.

The clarity of a diamond is determined by the flaws or the internal inclusions and external blemishes, seen in a stone under 10x magnification. The GIA developed an international grading system with 11 categories. According to the GIA, most diamonds fall under the VS — very slightly included — or SI, slightly included, categories.

The quality of the cut depends on the diamond’s shape. The basic shape used in most jewelry is round brilliant, but other “fancy shapes” include marquis, pear, oval and heart shapes, among others. A jeweler determines cut quality by the following factors: brilliance, fire and scintillation.

These factors determine how light is reflected, dispersed and flashed within the diamond. According to the GIA, a well-cut diamond directs most light directly through its crown, or the top of the stone.

The GIA developed the standard grading system for the color of diamonds. The system ranks from D, which is colorless, to Z, nearly colorless. Nearly colorless diamonds have hints of yellow and these slight differences make significant price differences.

Carat, or weight, of a diamond is measured on a 100-point scale. A 50-point diamond would have 0.50 carats. The modern metric carat is 0.2 grams and the carat scale is universal around the world.

Choosing the metal to accompany the diamond is another decision that requires some knowledge. Before handing over the down payment, consider the pros and cons of today’s most popular metal choices. White gold is the most popular choice, Youngberg said. He says that while the metal is economical, it also may require maintenance over time. White gold is made from yellow gold by adding nickel and zinc, he said. To make the metal appear pure white, it is plated with rhodium, which wears away after a few years.

About 50 percent of people notice a difference and pay approximately $50 to have it repaired, Youngberg said.


Understanding the differences between diamonds and gemstones is important when making an engagement ring purchase.

Knowing these differences and making decisions based on the information and the individual’s values is what makes a quality ring-buying experience, Youngberg said.