Choosing a singular piece of jewellery that’s supposed to symbolise a lifetime is no easy task; but we tried to put together a comprehensive guide on how to get started when looking for the perfect engagement ring.
Diamonds engagement rings may seem like a tradition passed down over the centuries, but it only became a rite of passage when, in 1947, the copywriter Frances Gerety coined the famous phrase, “A Diamond is Forever”, for De Beers. It was further exacerbated when Marilyn Monroe famously sang a rendition of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” in the 1953 production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and, since then, no proposal has been complete without a diamond ring. But finding your one true love is hard and finding the courage to propose is even harder. To make the task of finding that one engagement ring to symbolise your eternal love, commitment and your promise to your significant other slightly less formidable, here’s our guide to point you towards the direction of happily ever after.
As easy as the 4Cs
When you walk into any shop, large or small, the first thing all jewellers will ask for is your budget, as this will determine the types of gemstones they’ll be able to show you. This is where the 4Cs come into play. The 4Cs refer to the cut, colour, clarity and carat weight of diamonds, a universal standard established by the Gemmological Institute of America (GIA) to grade diamonds, and first adopted by De Beers to help its clients find the perfect diamond. The cut of a diamond determines how brilliant and sparkling it can be. Expert cutting, with perfectly symmetrical and aligned facets, yields a more radiant diamond. For brands such as Hearts on Fire, cut is the most important of the 4Cs. Cut quality refers to the proportions, symmetry and polish that ultimately result in the performance of the diamond. You could have the world’s most perfect diamond and ruin it
by poor cutting. Hearts of Fire prides itself over its diamond-cutting skill and guarantees a perfectly cut diamond every single time. It’s highly specialised, so the brand only cuts round diamonds.
White diamonds come in a variety of shades, ranging from colourless to warm whites. GIA grades diamonds on a scale of D (colourless) through to Z (light colour), but all D-Z diamonds are considered white diamonds. D, E and F are colourless, and the differences are so minor that only a gemologist can detect them in side-by-side comparisons. These diamonds should be set on only white-gold or platinum bands to maximise the colourless effect. G, H, I and J are considered near colourless, and are still suitable on a white-gold or platinum setting. K, L and M are faintly coloured white diamonds, usually with a subtle yellow tint; however, set on yellow gold, these warm coloured diamonds can be appealing to some. From N onwards, these diamonds usually have a yellow or brown tint that’s discernible by the naked eye.
Clarity refers to any internal traces of organic substances, called inclusions, in the diamond that can be seen under 10X magnification. Flawless diamonds have no inclusions and no blemishes visible. Internally Flawless (IF) has no inclusions visible. VVS1 and VVS2 have very slight inclusions that are difficult for a skilled grader to see. VS1 and VS2 have minor inclusions that can be observed with some effort. SI1 and SI2 have noticeable inclusions, while I1, I2 and I3 have inclusions that may affect transparency and brilliance. Carat is measured by weight, with 1 carat equalling 200 milligrams. The larger the carat, the more expensive the diamond, but a diamond’s worth is also affected by the other characteristics of the 4Cs.
Terminology: Shapes vs. cuts
People often confuse a diamond cut with a diamond shape, but they’re not the same thing. A diamond cut determines how its facets interact with light. A diamond’s shape refers to the geometric appearance of a diamond, typically described its form when viewed from above. Diamond shapes are categorised into two groups: round diamonds and fancy shaped diamonds. A diamond’s final shape is often determined while it’s still in the rough – a more uniform one will usually result in a round diamond, while less uniform diamonds tend to be cut into fancy shapes, including princess, cushion, emerald, oval, pear, marquise and heart. At De Beers, you’d find the largest diversity in shapes for diamonds. Round brilliant-cut diamonds are the most popular diamond shapes, for one very specific reason: they’re also the most radiant, with the most intense sparkle. Round brilliant diamonds are cut in a way to optimise their brilliance, with 57 facets in total throwing a spectrum of colours and reflecting light within the diamond.
A cushion-cut is a square or rectangular diamond softened with rounded corners to give the diamond a “pillow” shape. It’s a unique spin on the classic round shape, and is a style that’s been popular since the 1800s, making this cut truly timeless. For a more contemporary take, princess-cut are modified square diamonds with pointed corners. They’re also extremely radiant, with more than 50 chevron-shaped facets, making the princess cut a popular choice as well. Emerald-cut diamonds are another classic choice, extremely sought after for their understated glamour and perceived depth. Emerald-cut diamonds are elongated, rectangular shapes with a step-cut facet that has less room for flaws than other cuts.
Asscher-cut refers to a square emerald-cut diamond, another understated classic shape with strong brilliance. Oval diamonds are a happy cross between a round brilliant cut and a marquise cut. Oval-cut diamonds are a more unique shape, suited for those who crave individuality; the oblong shape has the added benefit of giving the illusion of longer fingers.
A marquise-shaped diamond is a polished diamond with a boat-shaped outline, with triangular and kite- shaped facets similar to a round brilliant cut diamond. Pear-shaped diamonds are also known as tear drop- shaped diamonds, and are extremely flattering on the fingers, especially when worn with the narrow tip facing the nail.
Heart-shaped diamonds are for hopeless romantics. They’re cut in a similar way to the pear-shaped diamond, but with a cleft at the top. Extra care has
to be taken to ensure that the curves on both sides of the heart are symmetrical. If a particular shape calls out to you, then great. There’s no better gauge than to follow your heart to find the perfect engagement ring.
If you’re still struggling to pick a shape for the engagement ring, here are two factors to consider that might help make your decision easier. First, the diamond shape ultimately determines the sparkle in the diamond. How the diamond is cut will determine the number of facets on the diamond, thus determining its sparkle. A round brilliant diamond will definitely be the most sparkling and radiant. An emerald cut, with its stepped facets, showcases the clarity, rather than the brilliance of the diamond, and thus is a more understated than the rest.
The second factor to consider would be this: which diamond shapes appear the largest? Many people would agree that fancy-shaped diamonds appear larger. Oval, pear and marquise cuts appear larger, due to their elongated shapes. Even cushion cuts, princess and asscher cuts can appear larger, because the corner-to- corner length is greater than that of a round diamond.
Engagement ring trends of 2021
As a newlywed myself, I love my engagement ring: a cushion-cut diamond with a halo setting. I knew early on that I wanted a cushion-cut diamond and love the vintage vibe the halo adds to it. While halo engagement rings are extremely trendy right now, they’re also not everyone’s cup of tea. You may prefer a solitaire (single diamond on a band), or a more unique setting. You might even eschew diamonds altogether and opt for coloured gemstones.
Jessie Thomas, a London-based goldsmith and designer, says that for 2021 there’s definitely a shift towards statement engagement rings. Yellow gold is making a comeback, as are fancy-cut diamonds, especially the pear. There’s also a shift from the standard solitaire or the three-stone rings, as people start exploring more adventurous designs and find more unique pieces.
“I also think there’s a shift towards people looking to invest in good design and craftsmanship, rather than simply looking to purchase a large rock,” says Thomas. “This could certainly be due to the pandemic: I feel people are leaning towards buying fewer, high-quality special pieces. Or perhaps this has to do with the fact a lot of more women are choosing to design their own rings after the proposal!”
Emma Clarkson Webb, a certified GIA gemologist and bespoke jeweller, agrees that people are making more meaningful purchases than ever. “Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve certainly noticed a movement towards bigger spends and more impactful stones,” she says. The rise in popularity of sapphire rings and the new season of The Crown is no coincidence. “Sapphire rings have always been extremely popular but they seem to have come full circle, thanks to the renewed focus on Princess Diana’s ring. The variation in tones and shades that blue sapphires come in makes them appealing to a wide audience; they’re also very hard wearing and don’t come with quite the same price tag as a diamond, which definitely adds to their popularity.”
Bespoke ateliers are also popular choices these days for those who prefer to flex their creativity. Having a bespoke engagement ring made by an independent jeweller tends also to be a fraction of the cost of buying something ready made from a big-name brand Webb owns her own private atelier and offers her clients an incredibly personal service that’s tailored to their budget and design specifications. “I love incorporating special details into each design: be it a meaningful birthstone, a personal motif or a hidden message hand-engraved in the client’s handwriting,” she says. “I’m essentially helping my clients create a future heirloom; something that will be treasured and hopefully handed down from generation to generation.”
Lucy Crowther of Minka Jewels, who’s also a certified gemologist with a workshop in England, shares the same sentiment. The design process of the engagement ring could be just as important and romantic when shared with your other half. “Each jeweller has their own style and will go that extra mile to make sure everything is just perfect.”
Still lost? No matter what, you should always aim for quality. Says Crowther, “Ask your jeweller to source a variety of colours and cuts to choose from. The right stone will jump out at you and it means you can trust your own judgment while being educated along the way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and do spend time considering the setting and the practicalities of the design.
(Main and featured image: Graff)
This story first appeared in Prestige Hong Kong.