Though the diamond is the focal point of an engagement ring, the metal you choose for the band and the setting provides the foundation for what is probably the most important jewelry purchase you’ll ever make. Where to begin?
“In general, we encourage people to choose a metal according to skin tone,” says Katy Beh of Katy Beh Contemporary Jewelry. For example, yellow gold might work best for darker complexions and those with warm undertones in their skin, while white gold and platinum are good choices for people who look good in cool colors.

While most women know what they want – and what looks good on them – the well-meaning men who love them may have no clue. And although more and more couples are shopping together these days, many guys still plan a romantic surprise proposal.
In one way or another, says Beh, most of those men are able to get feedback or input from their intended, usually through a sister or a friend. But sometimes they have to get crafty.
“I might ask a guy to come in anonymously with his girlfriend, just to browse or look at earrings or cufflinks,” says Beh. “That way, I can meet her and get an idea of what she’s like – her complexion, her style, her jewelry preferences, etc. – and I’ll be able to help him make decisions about her ring.”
Richard Mathis, gallery manager at Symmetry Jewelers, says, “Some men are actually proposing with a loose diamond, and then the two of them will come in together to choose the setting. The three-stone prong setting is always in demand, and the antique look is incredibly popular.”
“We’re using a CAD [computer-aided design] program that allows us to give our clients a photographic representation of the design beforehand, so that we can make adjustments before the ring is actually made,” says Mathis.

Platinum became a popular metal for jewelry in the early 1900s, but when World War II began, the U.S. government declared it a strategic metal, and its use in non-military applications, including jewelry, was disallowed.
Though gold then became the metal of choice for wedding bands, platinum has made a big comeback, especially over the past decade. Its natural white luster brings out the brilliance and fire of diamonds, making it ideal for engagement rings. Platinum’s purity makes it hypoallergenic, and its density makes it ultra-durable. It’s much heavier than gold and costs about $850 to $900 per ounce. And because platinum has a higher melting point, working with it is more labor intensive, which again, means it is more expensive.

If you like the look but not the price of platinum, white gold is your best bet. Made by adding other metal alloys to yellow gold, white gold is similar to but slightly warmer in tone than platinum. But by comparison, it’s much more affordable: 18-karat gold runs about $400 per ounce.
Yellow golds offer options, too. “We’ve been getting more requests for higher-karat golds, 20 karat and 22 karat, which have a richer yellow color,” says Mathis. “It makes a nice-looking wedding band, but for engagement rings, it’s better to [use in a] bezel, because it’s too soft for prong settings.”
“Recently, I’ve also seen a revived interest in green gold and in pink or rose gold,” Mathis adds. “It’s a look that was popular in the 1930s and ’40s, and then again in the ’70s.”
Katy Beh, whose gallery features non-traditional, contemporary designs, says that many of her clients are looking for something that is at once classic and out of the ordinary.
“Some couples are opting for an alternative look that doesn’t center around one large stone,” says Beh. “It’s a stacked-ring look: three to five diamond eternity bands in different metals and/or different patterns.”

Though platinum and 18-karat gold are the most popular choices for men’s wedding bands, there are some alternatives.
“Men like titanium for its gray-white color and because it’s virtually indestructible,” says Mathis. “But it’s also very light, so we often do a ring that’s titanium inlaid with gold.”
According to Beh, palladium/white gold is a new favorite for men’s rings. “It’s got the warm gray look of titanium but with more presence,” she says. “And it’s perfect for someone who wants white gold but looks better in warm tones.”
Another alternative: tungsten steel, a bluish-gray metal that’s equally durable but has the weight of 18-karat gold. –Kara Nelson