Heirloom Engagement Ring Buying Guide


Our simple guide covers the essentials you need to understand or have decided on when you are planning your purchase.  

This is practical engagement ring advice.  You don’t have to be in the jewellery trade to understand it!

01 The Anatomy of a Ring

1. The STONE

Where a ring contains one or more diamonds, these will account for the greatest portion of the ring’s cost.  The quality of the stone will directly affect the ring’s price and value.  Other stones will impact cost on a sliding scale, dependent on the type.  Heirloom will advise on the right stone for you, dependent on your budget and needs.

For more information - see our Diamond Guide.


The part of the ring which secures the stones.  There are a variety of settings available, which give a ring it’s personality.  This has the biggest influence over the ring design, different stone shapes may dictate particular settings.  This is where we consider personal style, and ensure that it matches.  You can see the basic settings at the end of this article.

3.  The BAND or SHANK

The band is the metal encircling the finger of the wearer.  There are a wealth of considerations here to, from size, to finishes as well as style.  The term shank is less commonly used by consumers, but one you may hear from a goldsmith or industry insider.  Dependent on finger shape, bands may be narrow or wide, straight or shaped.  There are advantages and disadvantages to different designs dependant on lifestyle, finger shape and preferences.


The hallmark identifies the type and purity of the metal which has been used in the band and the setting.  In the UK jewellery sold as precious is required by law to be hallmarked when it is over a certain weight – otherwise it cannot claim to be the description.  Heirloom mainly offers 18Kt yellow gold (750), and 950 Platinum, as being the most hard wearing yellow and white precious metals respectively.  Read more in our metals section.

02 Starting with Her

What is her Personal Style?

If your intended has always styled herself like a rock chick, then potentially a classic setting is not going to work on her. Likewise, if she dresses like Audrey Hepburn, ultra-modern style is going to seem a little out of place.  She will wear this ring every day.  Make sure the ring is her. (Have a look at our hand shape guide to help match style to shapes that will suit her hand.)

What is her lifestyle like?

Does she teach pilates, or work in an office? Does she have or work with young children, is her passion DIY or is she a chef? Little things, but there is no point buying a skyscraper diamond setting, if she’s going to be severely limited when she can wear it because it won’t fit under her cycling gloves.

Does she have a preferred jewellery colour already?

Her jewellery box may comprise mainly white jewellery. In which case choosing her a yellow engagement ring unless she’s specifically requested it may not be the most practical approach. Go with the leading colour.

03 Establishing Her Preferences

If she isn’t already directing the whole process, and you are confident, you can ask her a few questions. Bear in mind, you can be as subtle as you like – you may be rumbled even if you don’t know you have been!

1. Ask her about rings in general.

If you’re going past a jeweller pretend to be interested in a watch.  Then casually drop a comment about the styles of rings, saying you like a certain type and asking her what she likes. If you’re very good, she won’t notice the ruse.  If you’re more like the general population, she’ll probably put two and two together but she still won’t know when!

2. Friend’s engagement ring?

You could try making a comment about a friend’s engagement ring to see if you get a reaction/opinion from her.

3. Ask her family for ideas.

This will depend on whether or not you want them to know before she does, but if you were planning on seeking her father’s permission first, then may be helpful.

4. Get one of her close friends in on the plan.

They may be able to canvas some opinion from a celebrity engagement ring, or again discussion on mutual friend’s ring.  Pick one you know will be behind the idea, and can keep quiet about it!  This is not always the best option if you’d prefer to keep it quiet until the moment of the proposal!

In addition, you may already have received some hints from her directly – does any of the following sound familiar?

  • Pepper Hinting: She peppers conversation with mentions of preferred styles, stones or metals.
  • Pointed Hinting: Hand gestures are deployed, to point out designs she finds ‘interesting’ on the high street.
  • Crowd Hinting: She’ll use her family and friends to drop less subtle verbal hints to you.
  • Subtle Hinting: She accidentally ‘leaves’ her Christmas wish list lying around, or sticks a ring design on the fridge..

04 Finding her Finger Size

Keeping it a surprise is never easy when you want the ring to fit perfectly!  But you have a few tricks available..

Take a ring she wears now – most likely on the ring finger of her right hand and;

  • Press it into a bar of soap or Blu Tac (or similar) and measure the diameter.  We can determine her approximate finger size if you can provide us with details about which finger she wears the ring on.
  • Trace the outline of the inner ring onto a piece of paper and measure it.  This is best if it is a round band that will lay flat.
  • Measure the inside diameter of a ring she has as accurately as you can (if you think it is a half or third of a mm let us know).  If you have something technical to do this, great.  But a tape measure or ruler will still give a rough.
  • Push it down as far as you can on your ring finger and mark the spot where it stops OR
  • Try “borrowing” any right hand, right finger rings she has left lying around (Even more fantastic if she already wears a ring on her left ring finger.)

From any of these we can then determine her proper size.  If you’ve ‘borrowed’ a ring we can tell you instantly so you can replace it quietly and quickly!  It is worth noting, that if she is right handed, is likely that her ring finger will be slightly larger on this hand.  However you can discuss this with your consultant.

If she doesn’t wear any rings, all is not lost, although you may need some help..

  • How does her hand compare to yours?  If you are a romantic soul for whom hand holding is commonplace, its worth considering how her hand fits in yours size-wise, or how her fingers compare to yours.  You are likely to have the larger hand, but your pinkie may be similar to her ring finger (the top part anyhow!).  She may also have a hand twin..  This may be her sister, mother, friend or work colleague. You need somebody you can trust not to give the game away, but you may find her best friend’s engagement ring actually fits her perfectly, and you can get the size from that.
  • Have you got a clear image of her holding a mobile phone?  Unbelievable though it sounds, we have worked out the dimensions for several engagement rings this way, and with one client, knowing the parameters of her handbag, and one from a champagne glass!  This will serve as a good reference point for getting closer to her finger size.

If all this fails the other option is to go for a ‘safe size’.

In the UK the average ring size for engagement rings is N.  By now with all the sleuthing you’ve been doing, you should have an idea of whether this seems like a safe bet, or whether you’ll still need something larger.  Most ring resizing is fairly straightforward, and will leave the engagement ring as perfect as when you received it.  A good jewellery consultant will advise you on this.

05 Deciding on Budget

Budget considerations will inevitable arise, probably fairly soon after you’ve decided you are going to propose! You want to get her the ring of her dreams, at the same time you want to be able to eat.. What should you spend?
  • The right answer is “whatever you feel most comfortable spending”. Inevitably when deciding on spend, the ‘one-two-three-month guide’ will come up. That is, your salary over one of those time periods has become a common benchmark to judge how much to spend. But this is marketing, rather than grounded in anything practical.
  • You may have a lump sum you’ve saved, or been awarded. Additionally you may have a very tight budget. You will be able to secure a ring of some description at any budget. It’s very personal to you, and there is no right or wrong way.
  • The average cost of a diamond engagement ring in the UK is around £1,600. The best advice is not to lose track of your personal circumstances. This is a very special purchase, however economically it should be something you can afford. Despite it sounding counter-intuitive, at Heirloom we recommend you spend what you have available on this ring, and avoid loans. Debt is one of the biggest causes of relationships breaking down!

06 Common Settings

There are a number of ways to mount a diamond – even with the settings below there are variations. However, this provides a general idea of the four most common in the UK .
No items found.
01 - Claw Setting

The original engagement setting where the stone is visible from all sides for maximum brilliance. A classic choice that appeals to a wide variety of tastes.

02 - Rubover Setting

The stone is framed in platinum, keeping it secure and adding an illusion of size. Clean and modern, especially suited to someone with an active lifestyle.

03 - Cathedral Setting

The stone is held high by raised shoulders that help to protect the diamond. Timeless, elegant, for a stylish woman who favors the traditional

04 - Halo Setting

The stone is surrounded by a band of platinum or diamond melee, framing it to appear like a halo. A classic vintage look that appeals to the modern woman.

Have a look at our online engagement rings to get a few more timeless design ideas.

Want to know more about buying an engagement ring?

We've made a comprehensive downloadable guide which you can see on the right (on a PC or tablet) or below (on a mobile phone). It is actually best to download on your mobile phone, you can read it more privately there!

If you would like to use one of our engagement ring buying services, get in touch with us to have a chat.

Still haven’t found what you’re looking for?

If you are looking for something not covered by our services just get in touch. We’ll be able to answer your question right away and our first conversation won't cost you anything.