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How To Buy The Perfect Engagement Ring: Your Ultimate (And Alternative) Guide

handmade alternative and contemporary gold engagement ring by Kate Smith Jewellery Birmingham

Type unique engagement ring into Google and you're faced with page upon page of all things sparkly.

Maybe you've had a tentative look in some jewellery shops local to you and found the choice too much?

I get it.

It's overwhelming for me, and I'm a jeweller.

One of the most common remarks I hear from our clients, who've previously spent hours looking for the perfect engagement ring is this:

They all look the same

If you still haven't found what you're looking for - to quote a certain glasses wearing Irish singer - or you just don't know where to start, fear not.

It's simply time to employ some different tactics and get creative in your search.

And that's exactly why I wrote this post.

I'm here to guide you through the process from start to finish so that you find the perfect engagement ring to fit both your budget and their expectations. Whether you're choosing it for them as a complete surprise, you want to involve your partner in this magical of processes, or you want to learn more about the options out there and arm yourself with ideas for your own ring, you've come to the right place.

Here's what we'll be covering - and the steps you can skip to if they are more relevant for you:

To surprise or not surprise?

You may well have this one already figured out.

You know you're going to surprise them and you're feeling good about it...heck, you may even have the day and time of the proposal nailed down to the nearest minute.

If so, pass go, collect some serious brownie points and skip to the next step my friend, because we'll be looking at ways to get the style nailed down, choices of material and gemstones to consider as well as the all-important getting their finger size right!

However, if you're more along the lines of "I really want to keep it a secret, but I'm also scared of getting it wrong"

Well, that's what I'm here for - in fact, it's the number one reason why I created this post.

And if you've decided you'd like to involve them in this most magical of journeys, there's still lots here to help you both make those important decisions, so you find the perfect engagement ring together.

1. HELP! What style? Some secret (and sneaky) ways to get it spot on

Going for the big surprise but holding back? Let me tell you a quick story...

I always knew I was going to be difficult to propose to, but I had to actively take my husband to look at the ring I had fallen in love with. Before you ask, I didn't want to make my own wedding or engagement rings, too much of a Busman's holiday vibe.

Anyway, I pointed it out at craft fair I was exhibiting at and said very plainly "If you're ever going to propose to me, this is the ring I want!"

Reading that back, I realise it does sound a little extra of me.

But if I tell you we'd been together 9 years and unless I took matters into my own hands, I knew it was never going to happen, it doesn't sound so drastic.

My husband has since informed me he hadn't proposed before then because he just didn't know what ring to get for me - which is completely understandable, given my profession.

However, I'd advise against leaving it simply because you don't know what to choose, because, well it doesn't need to be a reason.

It's time to take action.

It's time to tune into hints they may be dropping. And if there aren't any hints to be tuned into and you need some extra help, fear not, we've just got to get a little bit creative...

Pick up on the clues you already have

As their partner, you already know their style inside out.

What do they like?

Are they fashion led or more alternative in their dress?

Look at the jewellery they already wear, check out their jewellery box for clues. Is it a sea of silver and white metal, or are they more of a yellow gold person?

Do they love coloured gemstones or like to keep it more classic with diamonds?

Think about their lifestyle and, if they work, their job. Some professions either won't allow rings that have sticky out bits (yes, that's an actual jewellery term) or they just wouldn't be practical anyway. That's not to say your partner wouldn't want to take it off for work, but it's something to consider.

I wear my wedding and engagement ring all the time because I think that's what jewellery this special should be about - something that is durable and has lasting power.

Enlist help

Asking someone who knows your partner really well to help you on this mission can prove invaluable. Just make sure you're confident that they can keep the secret to themselves.

Their sister, brother, mum, dad, best friend can provide some much needed suggestions.

Run your ideas past them, show them pictures of what you have in mind to get some valuable feedback. My only advice on this would be to limit the amount of people you talk to and show. Too many differing opinions can make your head spin and may send you off course.

Use social media to your advantage

I'm going a little off-piste here, but bear with me...


If you and your partner are on Instagram, you can see who they follow.

No, not in a creepy way, but in a this-is-a-potential-mine-of-information way!

It could lead you to designers or styles of jewellery that they already have their eye on that they admire. Just click the 'following' tab in their profile and this will give you a full list of who they follow to take a scroll through.


Pinterest may not be somewhere you personally spend your time, but your partner might.

Not sure what Pinterest is all about? Let me enlighten you, because it could provide you with a treasure trove of ideas.

Pinterest is like a huge, visual search engine that allows the user to create lots of individual mood/research boards. It's like a personally curated Google, but for all the prettier things in life.

Type anything into their search bar and you will be shown picture after picture. However, it's likely Pinterest will show you the more unusual finds (which is what you are there for, right?) compared to Google.

Why is Pinterest helpful?

Us dreamers and planners do love a Pinterest board.

Anything from new bedroom décor to our next tattoo, and we will create a board on Pinterest. We can then virtually 'pin' all these ideas and suggestions to for safe keeping and future reference.

If your partner uses Pinterest (you could ask a close friend of theirs for their username if you can't find them on there) taking a look at their public boards (they can also be set to private) might show you some little gems of designers they follow or styles they are particularly in to.

2. How much should you spend? (The answer may surprise you)

I'm going to throw the belief right out of the window now, the one that's still bandied around that pushes men to spend three months' salary on an engagement ring.

There it is, gone...along with the notion that it's also only guys doing the engagement ring buying these days.

Welcome to 2023 people.

No, that was a marketing ploy by the advertising guys at De Beers. During the Depression they created a campaign that encouraged men to spend one month's salary on a ring. By the 1980's, it had increased to two months, then up to three in recent years. If that doesn't put the pressure on you, then I don't know what will.

Over the years, here at Kate Smith Jewellery we've created modern engagement rings that have ranged in price from £170 - £10,000. Surprised? Well, there is no one size fits all (although more about finger sizing shortly) so it's important to really consider a combination of what you think they will love with what you have to spend.

When clients get in touch, I will often ask if they have a budget in mind. It's just really helpful for me to know this, because that way I can tailor my recommendations and advice accordingly.

However, it's likely that this is the first time you've ever bought an engagement ring, so it's likely that you don't know what the ring you have in mind might cost.

The key here is simply to ask.

And say if you are on a tight budget. Any jeweller worth their salt (or gold dust) should be able to talk through options with you without any issue. When I'm working with clients, I want them to love the process from the very start, so there is no such thing as an awkward or silly question as far as I'm concerned.

We have many rings on our website that are available to order and are displayed with their price. And if you are thinking of going down the bespoke route (having a ring made specifically to your requirements) we also have a really useful price guide for pieces such as this, to give you an idea from the off.

3. High street, bespoke...or somewhere in between?

If what you've seen so far on the high street has you considerably less than enthused, here are some alternative places to look:


LoveDazzle - Alternative jewellery finds that are truly contemporary.

Not On The High Street - Although they are known mainly for personalised gifts, they do have a precious ring section

Local art galleries, museums and craft shops

Many local art galleries and museums have shops that display jewellery by independent artists. They will have been selected because of their unique approach to design or unusual use of materials.

If you can't physically get to them, check out their website to see what they are showcasing online. Independent craft shops and contemporary jewellers may also have work that you wouldn't find in a high street jewellery store.

We supply a select number of independent craft shops and galleries throughout the UK with our jewellery. You can check out our current list here.

Thinking of going bespoke?

So you want something truly original to present to the love of your life that no one else will have?

Before you break out into a cold sweat at the idea of commissioning something from scratch that you may also think will cost far too much, let me tell you why it's actually a really fabulous option to consider.

It might be that you have a piece of heirloom jewellery that you'd like to use elements of in the engagement ring. We offer this service - it's a personal favourite of mine.,

Or maybe you haven't found the right shape of sapphire in the right style of ring in your search so far.

Or there might be a personalised element you'd like adding to a ring you've already seen.

All these are possibilities!

If you have a found a jeweller whose style you love, their website will often say whether they create bespoke pieces. And if not, ask! It's a service that I offer and something you can out find more about here.

4. Metals and gemstones: Your one stop guide

As the title of this post suggests, we do things a little differently here at Kate Smith Jewellery and if you've read this far, this is likely something you're thinking along the lines of too.

While there are the obvious choices of what it could be made from and the gemstone that generally springs to mind when someone says engagement ring is a diamond, I'm here to walk you through the not-so-obvious too, that might set your choice apart from the rest.

Firstly, let's do a run through of the different metal options.


Not the obvious choice for an engagement ring? Maybe, but have you seen how stunning silver and diamonds can look together?

If your budget isn't vast, then this is an ideal choice - our silver engagement rings start from just £167.

Silver's 'whiteness' is particularly attractive and looks amazing with diamonds and blue gemstones (sapphires, aquamarines, topaz).

It's an unusual choice - brilliant for the non-traditionalists amongst you.

It is the softest of the metals we work in. This doesn't mean it isn't durable, but it does mean more care would need to be taken of it over the years.

It's wise not to wear it next to another ring made of a much harder material, ie platinum as the harder metal will wear away at the silver over time.

Envisioning a large diamond taking centre stage in the ring? Then silver may not be the best choice for the setting as it's important to have a really robust setting for an especially valuable gemstone.

And something to remember: Silver does not like chlorine as it can tarnish it heavily - so swimming is a no no in silver. Care needs to be taken so the silver doesn't come into contact with other strong chemicals as well.

General tarnishing can happen with silver, but usually only when it is sitting in a box, unworn.

And jewellery is meant to be worn!

Hallmark to look for: 925

Gold - what's the difference between 9ct & 18ct?

The difference here is the precious metal content.

9ct gold contains 37.5% pure gold.

18ct gold contains 75% pure gold.

The remainder is an alloy of different metals, which can include copper, zinc, palladium, or platinum. What they are and how much depends on the colour of gold desired. For example, white gold may include silver, platinum and palladium (the 'whiter' metals) whereas rose gold has a higher content of copper, to give it the desired colour.

18ct gold is denser than 9ct, so the same ring would feel heavier in 18ct gold.

Cost wise, 18ct gold is generally two times the price of 9ct - due to the difference in pure gold content.

18ct gold is more durable, whereas 9ct gold is harder. But what does that mean in terms of jewellery? The best way to explain the difference is to compare a sheet of glass (representing the 9ct) with plastic (representing the 18ct).

Glass is the harder material, but more brittle.

On the other hand, plastic is a softer material, but it is more durable if pressure is applied.

Which is better for jewellery?

18ct gold is more durable and is ultimately the best choice for items that are being worn all the time, i.e., engagement and wedding rings. However, 9ct gold is also fine (we make lots of rings in 9ct) and may also be the more desirable option if you are on a tighter budget.

Metal colours

Yellow gold

9ct yellow gold has a lighter appearance than 18ct yellow gold, which has a deeper, yellower tone - which you can see in the image a little further down.

However, both work fabulously well with diamonds - it happens to be one of my favourite combinations. In fact, yellow gold sits wonderfully with any coloured gemstone!

White gold

Can I let you into a secret? White gold isn't actually white.

Most of the white gold you see in jewellers has had a plating applied, to make it look 'whiter'. This is common practice throughout the industry and rhodium plating is widely used - we offer it as an option too. A rhodium plated 9ct white gold ring is shown above and you can see how it compares to white gold in its natural state here:

What are the colour differences between white gold, platinum or 9ct and 18ct yellow gold?
Difference in colours between the precious metals

9ct white gold naturally has a slight yellow tone to it and 18ct white gold can appear quite grey. Some prefer it in its natural state, but lots of people favour the look that rhodium plating gives, as it brightens up the look of the jewellery.

It is a plating, so over time will wear and most likely need re-plating. We're talking years, not months, but some people don't want to be bothered with this.

We offer a free re-finishing service as standard for all of our jewellery, so we can easily re-rhodium at the same time for a small cost (approx. £25 per ring) when the time comes.

Rose gold (sometimes referred to as red gold)

9ct rose gold has a more intense 'rose' look to it than its 18ct counterpart, which is a lighter colour. If you are going to choose rose gold and it's for a surprise engagement ring, I'd encourage you to be sure that the wearer really loves rose gold. Firstly, it is a very specific look that isn't necessarily to everyone's taste. Secondly, it works really well with some skin tones and less so with others.

However, rose gold looks wonderful with pink gemstones, such as sapphires, pink diamonds and morganite.

Hallmark to look for in any colour of gold: 375 (9ct) or 750 (18ct)


Traditionally viewed as the most desirable of precious metals, it is very durable and hard wearing. It is a dense metal and when used to make a chunkier ring, you will definitely know you're wearing it! Stunning with diamonds.

Hallmark to look for: 950 - in little house shaped rectangle.


Notice how I didn't name this section Diamonds?

That's because they are just one of the options available to you and you may want to think outside of the box when it comes to the gemstone(s) you choose. In fact, I actively encourage it!

Now, don't get me wrong, I LOVE a classic, white diamond.

Diamonds are the hardest of all precious gemstones (hardness rating: 10/10), this makes them just perfect for engagement rings that are made to last a lifetime. You can read more about the grading of diamonds here.

However, there are other beautiful options to consider.

Here are a few and some of the reasons why I love working with them. I've also mentioned things to consider when choosing your gemstone as well as their hardness rating, which is often referred to as the Mohs hardness scale.

Various shapes and colours of coloured diamonds
Various shapes and colours of coloured diamonds

You want the durability of a diamond but would like to inject a pop of colour?

A coloured diamond may just be the answer you're looking for. These are available in a range of colours, as shown above.

Naturally occurring coloured diamonds, such as pinks, are rare and therefore can be extremely expensive. Most coloured diamonds in the marketplace are actually treated by irradiation and temperature in order to produce the desired colour, making them more accessible.

Hardness rating: 10/10

Octagonal Moissanite
Octagonal Moissanite

If you've not heard of this gemstone, you're certainly not alone. Natural Moissanite (discovered in 1893) is incredibly rare, so Moissanite available today is laboratory-created. Moissanite, referred to as a diamond simulant, is engineered to give the illusion of similarity to diamonds.

They are very durable, but less expensive per carat, than a diamond. A great stone to consider if you would like to opt for a large diamond in your ring, but at a much lower price.

Hardness rating: 9.5 /10

A selection of different shaped and coloured sapphires
A selection of different shaped and coloured sapphires

Next to diamonds, sapphires have to be my go-to gemstone of choice for an engagement ring.

Why? Two reasons.

Firstly, they measure 9 on the Mohs hardness scale - second only to a diamond, so they have great durability.

Secondly, they are available in a variety of colours. Yes, you may automatically think of a sapphire as blue, but they are also available in pink, yellow, green, purple. (shown above).

Hardness rating: 9/10

Clear round mid-red ruby
Clear round mid red ruby

Interestingly, rubies are actually part of the same family as sapphires (Corundum) but it is only the red variety that are named ruby.

We can source rubies from the deepest of red to a lighter, vibrant pink. Great quality rubies (clear with a good colour) can be expensive, so an alternative - but less robust gemstone - to consider could be a Garnet.

Hardness rating: 9/10

Pear shape Swiss blue topaz and oval shaped London blue topaz
Varying shapes and shades of blue topaz

A stone available in a variety of colours, from colourless, yellow, orange, blue, pinky-red, red, violet to light green, Topaz is a good alternative to sapphires because of the range of colours available, yet it is a more pocket friendly option. However, they are not as hard and more care is needed to be taken of a ring that features a topaz.

Hardness rating: 8/10

Octagonally cut mid blue aquamarine
Octagonally cut mid blue aquamarine

Aquamarine is one of those gemstones that work equally well with both white metals and yellow gold. A classic green Emerald looks amazing with 18ct yellow gold. Both are a variety of Beryl.

Many emeralds are clouded by inclusions. These are not necessarily classed as faults, but more as evidence as to the genuineness of a natural stone.

Octagonal cut emerald
Octagonal cut green emerald

A little extra care is needed of jewellery that includes either of these stones.

Hardness rating: 7.5 - 8 / 10

Oval shaped pink and peach coloured gemstones morganite
Oval shaped morganite

Morganite is a pinky/peachy gem that has a very warm quality to it and looks particularly stunning in rose gold. I feel it works less well in silver (which can appear to drain its colour somewhat), but looks great paired with white gold or platinum.

Hardness rating: 7.5 /10

a mixture of different coloured and shaped tourmaline gemstones
Selection of different coloured tourmalines

You might like to choose tourmaline if you're after a coloured gem that looks just a little different. I think it's the slightly subtler colour palette (mossy greens to soft raspberry pinks) that tourmalines offer that draws many to them. Not as hard wearing as some of the others, but very beautiful. Hardness rating: 7- 7.5 /10

Oval shaped garnet gemstone
Oval shaped garnet

The most commonly thought of Garnet colour is a red, with a brownish tint. They are a great alternative to rubies if you are opting for a larger stone but don't quite have the budget for it.

However, they are softer than rubies, so extra care of an engagement ring would need to be taken that included a Garnet. Hardness rating: 6.5 - 7 /10

Jewellery designer at her workbench in Birmingham UK
Kate at her workbench in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter

5. Finding the right jewellery designer: My top tips

If you're thinking of commissioning a jeweller to create the ring especially for you, here are my top tips for finding and working successfully together:

Find a designer who's style you really like. It will be much easier for them to create your dream ring if it echoes a style they usually create/work within. I am passionate about originality in design, therefore only consider commissions that reflect the existing style of my work. I am happy to create pieces that are not derivative of other's designs/styles of jewellery.

Read what others have to say. Possibly an obvious one, but in addition to the jeweller's website, where you can see images of past pieces they have made, Google and Facebook are great places to look as they will show you genuine reviews that give a feel for how others found the process. You can read what our clients have to say here.

Tell them what you like...and what you don't! Communication is key and giving a designer as much information as you can is very helpful for them in building up a picture of what you have in mind. Talk to them about your partner, so even though they may not be present, your jeweller can understand a little more about who they are making for.

Allow yourself to be guided but never pressured. We've all been there: a salesperson who seems so keen get your business that they start applying the pressure, creating urgency for a decision or piling on the reasons why you should work together. Sure, we want enthusiasm and a genuine belief that they would like to work with you, but not at the cost of feeling uncomfortable or rushed.

Trust that a professional jeweller knows their job. And has experience of what works and what doesn't - both visually and from a practical aspect.

Having said that, if they can't seem to envisage the dream ring you have in mind or it isn't something they seem enthusiastic about making, then maybe it's time to look elsewhere.

It doesn't make them a bad jeweller or you a difficult client, it may be that you're just not a good match for each other. And that's fine, you will find someone who ticks all the boxes - I promise.

Ask about timeframe. If you have a date planned for your special proposal, let them know. Bespoke pieces can take weeks to create, so planning ahead is essential, especially at traditionally busier times of the year, such as the run up to Christmas and Valentine's Day.

Agree on a final price and find out what their payment terms are. We ask for a 50% payment to confirm that you would like to proceed with a commission and then the balance is payable upon completion. It's wise to check with the designer so that you can plan accordingly.

Understand that a bespoke piece is usually non-returnable. Bespoke will mean that it has been individually created for you. This will usually mean that it is non-returnable. However, if size adjustments are needed (as they sometimes can be, with the best will in the world), a jeweller should be open to this and also welcome contact from you (and your now fiancé/e!) if there are any issues with the piece.

jewellery tools on workbench
Tools of a jeweller, including a finger sizing gauge

6. Don't know their finger size? Here's three ways to find out

You've worked out your budget, the design you have in mind, what it's going to be made from and the gemstones it might feature.

You're really firing on all cylinders now my friend.

One problem; you don't know their finger size and it's meant to be a surprise - eek!

I've worked with lots of men and women over the years, trying to keep their proposal as a surprise. And as a result I've advised on (and observed) some great ways to find out a finger size undercover.

1. Measure a ring that they already wear.

It's likely that your partner already wears other rings.

Firstly, make a mental note of which hand and finger they usually wear it on. Then sneak it out the way when they aren't wearing it.

You can then either take it to a jeweller and ask them to size it or you can measure the internal diameter (to the nearest 0.5 mm), as well as the width of the band, shown below. If you can, take a picture of it, showing the shape of the band.

How to find out a rings size by measuring it
How to measure the dimensions of a ring

Pass all of this information onto your jeweller who will be able to work out their size. If you're from outside of the UK, just pass on the international size, as we can convert it.

Why is it important to know which hand it's worn on? Because your dominant hand is usually the larger hand, us jewellers need to take this into account when working out your partners engagement ring finger size - which is the left hand.

2. With a little help from friends... and family

Ask their friend/sister/brother/mum/dad to let your partner casually try their rings on to see which fits well on their ring finger. If they are not sure of the ring size, ask them to measure it. (as in Step 1.)

Get them to take your partner shopping and start trying rings on - they'll want to join in too, I'd bet money on it!

If they have a sister or brother who has a similar physique to them, ask them to get their finger measured as it is likely to give you a better approximation than simply guessing.

3. Ask them to try a ring on!

No, I've not lost my mind - I know it's meant to be a surprise.

The idea here is that you buy an inexpensive ring under the ruse that it's for your sister/mum/dad. You show it to them and ask their thoughts, saying you're not sure if it's going to fit. This will likely prompt them to try it on their own hand for comparison.

Just remember to actually gift the ring as you said you would, otherwise you might get busted.

Taking an educated guess?

If it's an educated guess you are taking, I advise going slightly larger in size, meaning your fiancé will at least be able to fit the ring on their finger on the day of the proposal. This is great for those all important celebratory photographs, like the one below of our gorgeous couple and their baby moments after the proposal - ring on finger!

Want to find out your own finger size?

We send out, free of charge, a sizing gauge for you to use at home. Just drop me a line - with your address - and we will send one out in the post to you.

And if after all that, the ring doesn't quite fit?

Fear not. Most rings can be altered slightly if the fit isn't quite right. We actually offer this service for free, within 1 finger size of adjustment either way.

What are you waiting for? You've got this!

And there we have it.

Yes, it may have felt like a diamond-encrusted minefield a little while ago, but if you've stuck with me, you'll now be armed with the ideas, knowledge and inspiration you need to find the ring; whether you're opting for the big surprise or shopping for your very own unique engagement ring.

If you haven't already, check out some of our stunning bespoke engagement rings we have created in recent years, or head over to our alternative engagement ring section to browse.

If anything in this post has given rise to more questions, I'd love to help.

Just drop me an email and I'll get right back to you.

Now go forth and find that ring!

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When I’m not at the bench creating jewellery or sitting at the laptop writing my next blog post for you, I can usually be found cuddling our fluffball of a cat, Kenji, watching Tottenham getting thrashed with my eldest son, or playing table tennis with my youngest at the kitchen table. Oh, and I happen to be married to the most supportive man, who still makes me giggle after all our years together. Yep, I lucked out there didn't I?


And here's the thing: I'd love to share with you my latest commissions that are hot off the bench, new additions to the website, with some life chat thrown in there for good measure ...

and give you special discounts. 


Sound good?


Just pop your email below.

I'm Kate


Solitaire twist 0.80ct diamond gold engagmement ring by Kate Smith, Jewellery Quarter. UK.
contemporary gold pendant by West Midlands jewellery designer Kate Smith

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