The Cool-Girls' Alternative To The 4Cs Of Engagement Rings

When you set out to research the engagement ring of your dreams, the word "daunting" may come to mind. Spending a hefty chunk of change on one piece of jewelry you’re expected to wear for close to forever, and represent your life-long commitment to a human being is kind of a big deal. Plus, there's all those rules. Even if you have no idea what they mean, you probably can recite the 4Cs by heart (Color, Clarity, Cut, and Carats). You know that size matters, shininess kind of does, and the price should make you feel some way...but does it have to?

A lot of the old rules no longer apply when it comes to diamond ring shopping, and keeping that in mind will make your search that much easier and enjoyable, too. It’s not to say that you should ignore them altogether — knowing these characteristics can help you better understand what you’re spending a pretty penny on. But even more important is knowing your own taste and personal style, and thinking ahead to what that might mean 20 or even 30 years from now.

To find something you’ll actually love and wear forever, you kind of have to say f*ck the rules and go for what you’re drawn to deep down — whether that’s traditional or not. And to help you out, we’ve developed our own acronym for diamond ring shopping that sums up what really matters: PALS (Price, Appearance, Lifestyle, Source). Complete with tried-and-true advice from our friends at Erie Basin, Catbird, and Forevermark, read on for the cool girl’s guide to diamond engagement rings, made easy — and just take in all the sparkly eye candy, too.
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The most straightforward way to kick off your engagement ring research is by having a clear idea of your price range. When you think of a diamond ring, you probably expect to pay thousands of dollars. Some brides dream of shelling it out for the diamond of their dreams, while others prefer to spend more modestly and not break the bank (and perhaps, keep swapping it out for a pretty update every decade or so). Fortunately, there are plenty of gorgeous diamond rings to suit all budgets, from the under-$300 set to the sky's-the-limit budget.
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Russell Whitmore of Erie Basin says that when prices start skyrocketing, understanding what the 4Cs mean might come in handy. But if you're not looking to spend a lot, then it's not as important. You'd never guess that this one is under $400.
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Your search will only be simplified when you settle on a cost window that works for you. If shopping online, you can always sort by cost, and if browsing in-person, make sure to relay this intention to a sales associate up front so that you don't get your heart set on something out-of-budget.
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This intricate, deco-inspired ring comes in at under $500, and is perfect for stacking with your existing favorites.
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Although it's not in the few-hundred-dollar range, this modern take on the diamond ring by Anita Ko still isn't as expensive as some top-tier diamonds that can run close to $10K plus.
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They say looks aren't everything, but when it comes to your ring, it sure is important. Pay attention to first impressions — simply make note of what about a ring excites you.

The experts agree: "Everyone shops for diamonds differently, but my recommendation would be to first look at rings without paying too much attention to the 4Cs. See what you like, and then find out the specs," urges Whitmore. No matter how much commentary you've gotten from the peanut gallery, you're the one that has to wear the ring.
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"There is a lot of variation in the way a diamond looks, based on its cut and quality, and these things are more subjective than the diamond industry would have you believe. Not everyone likes a super-white diamond. Not everyone likes what is defined as 'an ideal cut.' Not everyone likes a big diamond," Whitmore says. Sure, you can approach trends and recommendations with an open mind, but your own opinions are more valid than anything else. If your idea of a perfect ring is in the shape of an eye, so be it.
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Leigh Plessner, Creative Director at Catbird, seconds that sentiment, saying, "Look for what makes your heart beat fast, and don’t be hindered by what you think you should be looking for. Try everything on, and pay attention to your first reactions." So, sometimes what your friends and the industry tell you don't apply. For example, the diamond in your ring doesn't always have to be the focal point.
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What you should still pay attention to though, is the setting — it's more important than you might think, and can totally change the way a diamond looks. "I’ve seen some truly amazing engagement rings with such nice settings, that it doesn’t matter that diamonds are subpar. The setting will ultimately have the most impact on how the ring looks," Whitmore explains. Finding a more affordable diamond that has a killer setting can save you some Benjamins. And, this statement-making setting from Erica Weiner is unlike anything you've seen elsewhere — it makes the smaller-sized diamond really stand out.
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"When shopping for a diamond engagement ring, you want to find something that fits your own personal aesthetic. Nothing feels better than when a friend or family member comments on how 'you' your ring is!" says Forevermark Diamond Expert, Kristen Trustey. So, it's also good to keep in mind what metals you typically wear and shop in line with that preference.
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It's okay if your ring of choice isn't considered "on-trend." Says Trustey. "Trends come and go, but your engagement ring should be something that you will want to wear forever. We definitely suggest doing your research on designs and trends, but in the end, you can’t go wrong with following your heart."
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When choosing a ring that suits your everyday life, keep in mind that different diamond styles actually suit some lifestyles better than others. "You should also consider how it's going to be worn," says Whitmore. "Some rings are less durable than others, and depending on your lifestyle, you may want to avoid certain styles (for instance, micro-pave diamonds will most definitely fall out with heavy wear). Lots of vintage rings are more delicate too, but some are particularly sturdy — especially many rings from the 1930s." We hope you're taking notes, because if your daily life is hustle-and-bustle, you'll want to stray away from the more delicate styles.
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And if you live a trendy life, it might be tempting to find a ring that is especially in — and if that's the case, a more affordable ring might be your best bet (you can always swap it out later on for something else that your future self will be into). But if you're a contrarian, it helps to ignore trends: "I find that a lot of New Yorkers in fashion and design are often especially conscious of trends, and seek to avoid them. We sell a lot of our EB line to that community— I think because it’s pretty classic, without being boring or ordinary. I love it when people appreciate the more peculiar and rare antique diamonds I find," explains Whitmore. This cluster ring breaks all the rules with its eye-catching formation and mix of black diamonds, white diamonds, and an emerald.
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If you're not so into polishing a ring and keeping it shiny, you might want to go for something that's already got a more matte finish. Plessner adds, "With our clientele, we find that the right ring to symbolize their union isn’t necessarily always a white diamond. They’re inspired by sapphires, rubies, black diamonds. Lately, black and white diamonds paired have been really popular. They have a really bold sensibility and reflect beautifully off of one another." So again, you're not put into a box when it comes to the color of your diamond.

Plus, today's bride is likely stacking her rings with other daily-wear, less-expensive counterparts, so that may affect her ring choice. "[Brides] might buy a smaller diamond as their engagement ring because they want to stack it with pavé bands, or hug their first stone against another curved band, or even build up center stones and wear them in a staggered cluster," says Genne Laakso, Wedding & Engagement Manager at Catbird. "They work on their wedding ring stack over time, to make it truly their own." So when it comes to styling your bling, think outside of the (ring) box and feel free to create a stacked hand that suits your personality.
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"We are also seeing fun twists like east-west settings and off-set center stones for a unique take on a traditional bridal look," Trustey states. These types of settings are less likely to fall out, like a princess cut, and if you work a lot with your hands and move around, rings like this stunner by Katie Diamond might be better suited for your lifestyle.
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Cool brides know where their rings are coming from — and have made a decision about whether non-conflict diamonds and retailers that have committed to ethical sourcing are a priority for them. It's vital to be informed about the journey your diamond has taken so that you can wear your ring with pride, and Forevermark is a great example of a diamond brand that will help you do so.

While there are some programs in place to prevent the sale of "conflict diamonds," which are illegally traded to fund wars, terrorist insurgencies, and slave labor, the ideal retailer goes even beyond that certification program, called The Kimberly Process, to ensure that your diamond is of ethical origin. For example, Forevermark has developed their own sourcing standards and are committed to only working with mines that operate with environmental consideration. "Almost 500,000 acres surrounding the De Beers Group of Companies’ mines are set aside for conservation — an area five times larger than the mining footprint, and equivalent to two-thirds the size of Yosemite National Park," explains Forevermark Diamond Expert, Kristen Trustey.

Forevermark by Rahaminiov “Kiss Me” Ring in 18K Rose Gold, price upon request, available at Forevermark.
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Another option to consider are lab-grown diamonds, which look the same as conflict-free natural diamonds, but are grown in controlled lab environments using a technological process that replicates the natural conditions that diamonds usually form in. And, they tend to sell at more reasonable pricepoints than natural diamonds do. So, not only are they guilt-free, but they can save you money, too.
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You shouldn't expect to pay more for a conflict-free diamond — there are a lot of things that can increase a diamond's price, but ethical sourcing isn't one of them.

Shop similar styles here.
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Another great option aside from an ethically sourced-diamond like the one pictured here is to shop for a vintage or second-hand diamond ring. "Buying a newly mined diamond directly increases demand for more mining, and all the bad things that come with it. There are more than enough diamonds already out of the ground," explains Whitmore. Plus, there's something special about a diamond that has a history and a story. It's a safe, easy way not to further contribute to more mining, and the possibility of poor conditions that process can involve.

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