Are your social media feeds flooded with photos of happy couples sharing good news? That’s because engagement season is here.
While the timing has become routine (surveys from The Knot say the most popular month to get engaged is December, and only one in three proposals is a surprise), what *is* unexpected is the 14% of grooms going online to buy the ring. With the average rock costing over $6,000 and the majority of grooms saying they face challenges in the ring-shopping department, here’s what to know if you’re buying online — and how to know you’re getting the best deal.

Match the Ring to Your Partner’s Lifestyle

A diamond may be forever, but what about the other trendy gemstones? Your partner’s occupation, hobbies and lifestyle are all important factors.
“Some gemstones are soft and porous,” explains Caitlin Mociun, a Brooklyn-based jeweler and founder of MOCIUN, “which are probably not the best choice for someone that works with their hands and lives a very active lifestyle — as in, most people.” Turquoise engagement rings, for example, are popular in Mociun’s shop. But the stone is on the softer side, so it’s not recommended for everyday wear and can change color over time. Check the Mohs scale to understand a stone’s hardness and how it’ll stand the test of time.
For the band, Mociun recommends platinum, which is soft and durable. If you’ve got your sights set on gold, stick to 14 karats or 18 karats — 22 karats is too soft for stone settings. While gold is harder, it can also be more brittle and susceptible to breakage under certain circumstances.

Get to Know Your 4 Cs

If you’re going the diamond route, make sure it comes with a GIA certificate, says Robert Moskovitz, a diamond expert and president of Robert Moskovitz Company in New York. This diamond grading report will tell you exactly the stone you’ve bought, which you can take in for an independent appraisal (more on that later).
Though a GIA certificate will tell you the type of stone you’re getting, you’ll still need to study up on the four Cs of diamond quality to understand what you’re looking for in the first place: carat weight, color grade, clarity grade and cut grade. “If something has a GIA certificate, it just means the color and clarity is what they say it is,” Moskovitz says. “But you have to understand the different types of cuts, because that affects the brilliance, and that’s something that can be difficult to see online.”

Research Your Designers

Instagram feeds and Etsy pages can reveal design aesthetic, company origins, price points and even brand loyalty (read: follower count). To get a better picture of customer service and satisfaction, check out the business’s Google and Yelp reviews.
Of course, not everything can be found online. “Reaching out to customer service and seeing how quickly they respond and how helpful they are is an excellent way to judge their business practices,” Mociun says. Likewise, tap your real-life network for recommendations, suggests Moskovitz.

Check Your Sources

While researching sellers, you might be curious about how materials are sourced and mined. A reputable site will have this information readily available, Mociun says, and a call to customer service or directly to the designer can give you more insight. As Aryn Baker, TIME magazine’s Africa correspondent, writes, “A responsible jeweler will know every step in the path from mine to market. If he doesn’t, move on.”
The Kimberley Process aims to prevent conflict diamonds, or rough diamonds used to finance wars against governments, from entering the United States. Other ways to find an ethical ring is to avoid diamonds from countries like Zimbabwe and Angola (where human rights abuses in and around mines have been documented); look for diamonds mined in Canada, Namibia and Botswana (where labor and environmental standards are strictly enforced); or consider alternatives to newly mined diamonds, like recutting a vintage ring, buying a synthetic diamond or bucking tradition with a colored gemstone.

Read the Fine Print

If you’re not the type to buy clothes online unless there’s a free return policy, you should be just as picky when it comes to your fine jewelry. Some details to look out for: a warranty policy (plus how repairs are handled if the warranty expires), insured shipping and returns, a third-party insurer the company can recommend, your window for returns, how refunds are handled and customer service availability.

Get an Independent Appraisal

Whether you buy online or in a store, get a second opinion about your purchase to ensure you’re getting your money’s worth. Go to an independent jeweler to assess whether the stone matches the paperwork you got with the ring, Moskovitz says. An appraisal is also necessary if you get the ring insured (hint: you probably should).

When in Doubt, Take It Offline

When buying online, Mociun suggests asking customer service to send you video and imagery of the ring on a hand and in sunlight to get a fuller picture.
But even after you’ve researched the designer, stone and band you want, it can help to take your search offline and visit a brick-and-mortar store to see things in person. At worst, you may feel uncomfortable stopping by without the intent to buy.
At best? You end up with the intel to make a confident decision on one of the biggest jewelry purchases you’ll make.