If you really want to wow your girlfriend, but aren’t ready to propose—or you’re already married and want to surprise your wife with some serious hardware—take a look at this advice from Brian Watkins, president of online engagement ring and jewelry retailer Ritani. We get it, and he most definitely gets it (as a diamond expert… and, you know, a husband): Shopping for jewelry is stressful on its own, but Valentine’s Day ups the stakes. 

We’re throwing you a line and offering up some sage advice about what to consider before you shop, how to score a great deal, where guys usually go wrong, and the research you must do whether you’re looking for earrings, bracelets, or a necklace.

“Try to have fun with the process,” Watkins urges. This shouldn’t be a pain-staking ordeal where you’re miserable every step of the way. “It might feel a little daunting, but ultimately, you’re buying a special gift for someone you love,” he adds, “There’s no way they won’t appreciate it if you put thought and effort into it.” 

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Get to know her taste

Pay special attention to your girlfriend or wife’s preferences when it comes to style before you shop. What metal does she wear most often: gold, rose gold, white gold, silver, platinum? What style does she seem to like best: drop earrings, hoops, studs? Or maybe she loves delicate necklaces or stacks multiple bracelets on one wrist. Look at the jewelry she wears on a day-to-day basis, and what she puts on for special occassions. “Looking at the jewelry styles she already wears is the best way to gauge what she’ll want in a new piece,” Watkins says. You can ask her friends, too. So long as you can trust them to keep the surprise, her friends can give you insight on what she’s commented on previously. (Trust us; all women talk to their friends about the jewlery they love and hate. They also talk to each other about the crappy Valentine’s Day gifts they receive…) 

Focus on the cut

When shopping for diamonds, be aware of something the diamond pros refer to as the 4 C’s: cut, color, clarity and carat weight. The CliffsNotes version of diamond buying requires you to know most about the first C: Cut. “Cut is the most important since it’s the biggest indicator of how much sparkle a diamond will exhibit,” Watkins explains. Cut is how proportionally manufactured the diamond is, not its shape; for round stones, look for cut grades ranging from “ideal” to “excellent” for highest sparkle, and if you’re buying a non-round shape, “very good” or “better” cuts work great. 

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Cut the right corners to save some money

“You can get top of the line diamond stud earrings for $400. They’ll be small, but you’re still getting good quality diamonds for well under $1,000,” says Watkins. We’re not saying go cheap by any means, but know that there are a multitude of ways to save some cash. A simple way to reduce cost is to opt for silver or white gold instead of platinum, Watkins says.

“If you’re looking to save a little extra money, consider the next [clarity] grade down; it’s unlikely anyone will be able to notice.” (There are six diamond clarity grades ranging from “included” to “flawless.”) “A lot of people don’t realize differences between one color or clarity grade and another and it is barely detectable to the naked eye,” Watkins says. “And when it comes to carrat weight: “While it’s the most common reference, it doesn’t necessarily tie back to quality, so worry less about the absolute weight.” 

You can also look for halo settings and other embellished styles that make the center stones appear larger than they might otherwise,” he adds. In this instance, you don’t need to put as much emphasis on the 4 C’s as you would with an engagement ring. “You want quality still, of course, but these factors are less noticeable in a necklace, bracelet, or pair of earrings,” he explains. 

Shop around

You didn’t shack up with the first girl you dated, so don’t settle on the first piece of jewelry you come across, either. Do the legwork: Go into specialty chain and independent jewelry stores, and search online retailers’ websites in search of deals, sales, and pricing ranges. “We might be biased, but our customers consistently tell us that shopping online has allowed them to make smarter, more affordable purchases,” Watkins says. “You can take your time, do your research, and not feel pressured by a salesperson,” he explains. That being said, independent jewelry stores are an incredible outlet for exploring lots of different settings, colors, and offerings at the beginning of your search. 

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