Wedding Ring Shopping: Care. Define Style. Define Price

The closest I get to wearing jewelry is the beer-koozie-on-a-necklace contraption my friend created for our annual river rafting trip.

Needless to say, shopping for a wedding band proved troublesome. In fact, I’m quite certain that finding the engagement ring was considerably easier, although luck might have something to do with that. But the reality is most guys aren’t accustomed to wearing jewelry — it’s tough to have a sense of style and comfort when you have no fashion frame of reference.

The stereotypical guy might not enjoy shopping, but dump him in a shoe store and odds are he can pick out a pair that fits his aesthetic needs — not to mention his feet — without much thought or effort. And that’s at least in part because we’ve been wearing and buying shoes for years.

But for many soon-to-be grooms, the wedding band is one of those rare first-time purchases that’s truly pioneering. Maybe you’ve bought cuff links or even a pair of earrings during those sad and sordid high school days. For most, though, picking out and purchasing jewelry is a new experience.

And it can quickly become one rooted in frustration.

As with most things in life, the key is preparation and patience. Here are a few tips to help make the process easier on you, your fiancée and your bank account:

Do You Care?
It’s probably the best place to start. There are definitely guys who simply throw up their arms and grab whatever’s handy and cheap. If you’re in that camp and have an approving bride-to-be, skip the jewelry store excursions, hop on a site that sells sterling silver jewelry or titanium rings and click with your eyes closed. There are cheat sheets and guides online that “show” you how to calculate your ring size. It still might be best to stop by a jewelry store, if only to get an accurate read on your ring size — paying to mail back ill-fitting wedding bands can quickly undo the savings registered by an online purchase.

But the plug-and-play formula doesn’t work for everyone. For those who are a bit more discerning, start by defining your style.

Define Your Style
The selection isn’t nearly as diverse as engagement rings, but there’s a surprising array of wedding bands out there. Check out some of the national jewelry chain websites to get a taste of what’s available. At the same time, start to narrow your field — are you turned off by the sleek and modern? Bent on having a diamond or two in your band? Matte finish? Brushed look? Channel set? Beveled edges? Looking for something weird and outrageous?

Get a feel for your ring style. You can worry about the type of metal and the price later.

So. Many. Decisions.

Choosing a Metal
Part of the design quandary invariably involves choosing a metal (titanium, tungsten, platinum, white gold, cobalt, sterling silver, etc). The look and weight changes depending on the type. And, of course, so does the price. If you plan to wear your band nearly nonstop, it’s also important to factor in the type of work you do.

Laborers, construction crew members and others who do heavy, hands-on work might want to opt for something ultra-durable (tungsten, perhaps). Those whose hands spend more time on a keyboard might opt for a more lightweight option (titanium or sterling silver).

Purchasing a Band
Once you’ve settled on a look or a particular design, take some time to shop around, especially if you’re not staring down an impending wedding date. Prices can vary wildly depending on a host of factors, from where you live to where you’re shopping. Smaller, local jewelry stores often feature products from major national hubs like Scott Kay and ArtCarved.

If you’re set on a particular make and design, do some homework (both online and on foot) and see who’s selling your band for what. Jewelry store mark-ups leave some room for negotiation, especially if you’ve got a laundry list of stores with lower prices. You typically can’t buy jewelry direct from those big national companies.

But if you’re looking for something relatively plain and widely available, it’s probably not even worth getting up from your laptop. Find an online jeweler. They don’t have hundreds of stores and thousands of employees to pay. Most are wholesalers and can offer ultra-competitive prices.

Chris Birk (@cjbirk), a recovering journalist, is director of content and communications for VAMortgageCenter.com, the nation’s number one dedicated VA lender. His business and personal finance writing has appeared in dozens of publications, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Insurance Journal and Comstock’s magazine. He also teaches at a private Midwestern university.

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