Traditionally, an engagement ring was expected to have a diamond and cost three months of the groom’s salary. These days, you don’t have to buy a diamond unless your fiancée insists. And – allegedly – you only have to spend the cost of your car. That said, there are varying ideas on the subject of engagement rings. And many of these theories are oddly contradictory.
The areas that raise the most fuss are cost and heritage. Should you use a family heirloom or buy a new ring? In a family with multiple kids, whose bride gets grandma’s ring? Or mum’s? Should you let the girl pick her own ring or recruit her friends and surprise her? If the bride has a challenge with her fingers or hands, are there viable alternatives to engagement rings?
Could she – for example – get a necklace pendant or an anklet of she’s differently-abled? And is the engagement ring being paired with a wedding ring? If it needs to match her bridal band (or the groom’s ring as a trio) then you have a smaller selection. Generally speaking, engagement rings are classified by shape, setting, metal, mineral, or style. Let’s start with ring components.
Consider the Metal
You’re probably thinking about the stone, but let’s start with the metal. Non-traditional wedding bands are getting popular among millennials. It’s not just about the cost – sometimes it’s about reflecting the couples’ lifestyle or love story. Other times it’s about potential allergies. Silver is a soft metal prone to tarnish and manual damage, so it doesn’t work well on a ring you wear daily.
Color preferences and style selection come into it as well. But engagement rings are still largely gold or platinum. The purest 24-karat gold is too soft. It has to be alloyed with copper (rose gold), copper + silver (yellow gold), or nickel/zinc/palladium/rhodium/silver (white gold). If the ring is above 20 karats, it’s too soft for daily wear. Maybe for trimmings or special occasions.
In the US, gold must be at least 10 karats (41.7% gold) to be classified as ‘pure’. 14-karat gold has about 58.3% gold, while 18-karat gold has about 75% gold. Light/yellow colored beer is great for shining gold rings. Darker skin tones look better with yellow metals, while lighter skin tones are more flattered by white gold, platinum, or rings that veer closer to grayish and silverfish hues.
Consider the Stone
It’s easy to assume an engagement ring should have diamonds in it. But we’ve already reviewed alternatives such as emeralds and rubies. For some couples and jewelry experts, this is where it gets tricky. Some believe any stone is fine, especially if it’s emotionally significant to the couple.
Others are solidly against the use of pearls, opals, amethyst, morganite, and tanzanite in particular. These gemstones are softer and show dirt more easily. So they’ll need extra attention and maintenance. Plus, all these stones have harder alternatives that look similar in color and luster but last longer and need less care. You could replace amethyst with purple sapphire.
Or tanzanite with violet spinel. Sapphires, spinels, and topaz might replace morganite, and they’re all available in pink. You can also think about the shape and length of your finger – particularly the gap between your knuckles. Larger gaps need longer ring settings. The five most common shapes for engagement ring gemstones are round, oval, cushion, emerald, and pear.
Consider the Style
Whenever we discuss types of engagement rings, we focus on the setting. It’s the most popular method of describing and categorizing engagement rings, so we’ll dedicate the bulk of this article to the techniques used to link your gemstone to your chosen metal. Some rings mix silver and gold on the band and engagement rings often combine different gemstone colors as well.
As a rule, if you have longer fingers – particularly the distance from your knuckles to your finger joints – you want a longer ring setting, so you could get a halo, marquise, or emerald cut ring. But if your fingers are shorter, get a round ring, princess cut, or side stone setting.
We’re going to look at the various gemstone iterations and alignments. We’ll also look at how the metal is carved around the stone. Some jewelers divide engagement rings into ten categories. Other lists go as high as fifty. Our list will cover the 19 most common types of engagement rings. It will have some crossover categories that describe the shape, setting, size or cut of the stone.
Modern Types of Engagement Rings
1. Solitaire Engagement Ring
This is a ring that has one single gemstone, usually a diamond. It could also be a ruby or a sapphire, which are both hard stones. If you want to use a softer stone like emerald, put it in a setting that partially protects the stone. Recessed settings are good since the stone is sunken. A solitaire ring can be any shape, style, or setting, but there’s only one stone on the ring.
2. Halo Engagement Ring
You may think of a halo as the ring of light around a saint or angel’s head in church images. Or maybe you’re thinking of those hazy rays around the sun or moon. Halo rings are the same. They describe a ring that has one main stone and a set of smaller stones surrounding it. The main stone could be any shape or size, and you can have multiple halos on a single engagement ring.
3. Cluster Engagement Ring
Some people conflate cluster rings with halo rings, but there’s a slight difference. In a halo ring, smaller stones circle one bigger stone. In cluster rings, many smaller gemstones are grouped in a ‘cluster’. The stones might be different sizes, but there’s no main stone that draws your focus. The cluster takes various shapes so it could be a round, square, or hexagonal group.
4. Marquise Engagement Ring
This shape is sometimes called a ‘royal ring’ because it’s so popular among monarchies. Some say the ring was first commissioned by King Louis XV to ‘resemble a pretty girl’s lips’. It’s an elliptical/oval shape that’s pointed at both ends. The shape can be applied to any setting, whether it a solitary stone, a halo, or a cluster. It can be used decoratively with mixed metals.
5. Princess Engagement Ring
These rings are rightly royal as well and are considered somewhat dainty. It’s a shape description – princess rings are squares with flat sides and rounded corners. The top of the ring is usually flat, while the mounted underside could be beveled or pyramid-shaped to suit its setting. This shape is sometimes described as a ‘modified square’ or ‘cushion’.
6. Round Engagement Ring
This is probably the most common ring description. The shape is circular and the setting varies. Round rings are usually small, and they work well if you have shorter fingers. Round engagement rings are classic, so they’re ideal if you have simple tastes. But if you’re worried the shape is too plain, you can use fancy features on the ring band or the setting to jazz things up.
7. Three-Stone Engagement Ring
This is sometimes described as a side-stone ring, but this category is specifically for three-stoned jewelry. The stones here are arranged horizontally, so they’re good for shorter fingers. If your fingers are longer, you may better off with vertically-aligned triple-stone rings. The stones may be the same size, representing past, present, and future (or love, and fidelity, and friendship).
8. Emerald Engagement Ring
We’re not talking about the green precious rock here. We’re talking about the shape. Emerald-cut engagement rings are rectangular with flat sides and ‘snipped corners’. The rectangular is usually set in a vertical position, following the longitude of your finger. This symmetrical cut can be set as a solitaire or it could be flanked by other shapes to form a halo or a mixed-gem cluster.
9. Oval Engagement Ring
Round rings are popular because they feel familiar and comforting. They also reflect light well. Ovals are similar but are elongated. Set the stone sideways for shorter fingers and vertically for longer hands. Oval ring settings work well with mixed gems and bold color combinations.
10. Pear Engagement Ring
These rings have a distinct teardrop shape. You could choose the shape to point upwards or downwards, but confirm before you buy, since not all ring designs can be flipped. The ring might have grooves on one side to clip onto your wedding band. Or it may have legible engravings.
11. Bezel Engagement Ring
Think of a brooch or earing with a thin metal ring enclosing the stone on all sides. You can only see the front of the stone, which might be flat or convex, rising above the rim. This is called a bezel setting, and it’s popular with smaller, rounder gemstones. You can set your gemstones in a full bezel (all round) or partial bezel (top and bottom, just the sides). It’s a contemporary look.
12. Tension Engagement Ring
Every ring type has advantages and disadvantages. Some styles – like bezels – have smoother finishes that won’t snag strings on your fabric. But they’re solid casings, so they let less light through and your ring sparkles less. A tension ring uses pressure or suspension to hold the stone in place. It offers maximal light transmission and unique styling options as you carve the metal.
13. Claw Engagement Ring
Visually speaking, this is the opposite of a bezel ring. The stone is as exposed as possible, with strategically positioned claws or prongs holding it in place. The sides of the stone stay open. You’ll have to inspect the claws regularly to check whether they’ve come loose. And clean them carefully since they easily trap dirt and grime. Tiffany rings have six prongs and plain shanks.
14. Pavé Engagement Ring
This describes a ring that uses ‘beaded’ or ‘encrusted’ settings to attach gemstones to the band. It could be a cluster, side-stone, or even a halo ring. The gemstones have a textured, studded appearance. It creates the same scattered sparkly effect as rhinestones but is susceptible to ultrasonic cleaning. If the pavé goes all around the ring, it’s called an eternity engagement ring.
15. Split Shank Engagement Ring
Rings have three parts – the (gem)stone, the setting that holds the stone, and the band or shank that slips around your finger. In split-shank rings, the band is split into two or three ‘rows’ with venting or pavé studs between. They have a larger surface area with more crevices than flatter, smoother rings. Sometimes, shanks are swirled into symbolic infinity rings or Claddagh rings.
16. Cathedral Engagement Ring
The word cathedral makes everyone think of arches and a cathedral ring is no different. The stones are raised above the band or shank of your ring, held in place by arches. These arches can be in any style – halo, cluster, or bezel. Coiled or cross-hatched cathedral rings are sometimes called trellis rings. Also, many cathedral rings are combines with pavé studs on the ring shank.
17. Bar Engagement Ring
The sparkle of your engagement ring is driven by its clarity, cut, and access to light. Some stones are covered at the base – the part that touched the metal. Others are open at the bottom and sides, letting more light through. Bar rings have a vertical bar, prong, or claw on either side of the stone, allowing light into the top and bottom and giving the ring more shimmer and shine.
18. Flush Engagement Ring
The stone and metal on your engagement ring aren’t universally positioned. The gemstone might be raised in cathedral rings. It may be sunken in halo rings or recessed in bezel rings. But sometimes, the top of the stone and the surface of the metal are even. The stone is set inside the shank then leveled out. Flush engagement rings are ideal for hectic, hands-on lifestyles.
19. Coded Acrostic Engagement Ring
Have you watched one of those military shows or cop shows where they say things like ‘Alpha Foxtrot Tango’? You may have assumed you can interchange words, but each alphabet letter has its assigned code word. Similarly, in acrostic rings, each gemstone specified a letter, so you could spell out your lover’s name in their engagement ring. Cool, no? Here’s the colored gem key.
What types of engagement rings are you considering? Tell us all about it in the comments!