As much as we love swapping tips and tricks to solve our biggest fashion and beauty dilemmas, there are some questions we may not feel comfortable asking our friends about, let alone Google without going incognito. Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. In this series, we’re tackling those embarrassing queries by turning to experts in the field to get you the answers you need — minus any awkward feelings.

It’s engagement season, y’all. If you’re taking the traditional route, it means searching for the perfect diamond ring that meets just the right carat, cut, and clarity criteria. And since we all love the convenience of buying everything else online, we wondered (er, a friend of ours wondered) — is it safe to buy engagement rings online too? We’ve been conditioned to shop for expensive items like diamonds in brick-and-mortar stores, but there could be an advantage to buying online instead. But how do we know where to look? What are the best shopping practices, and how do we know whom to trust?

vintage, pre-owned, or new?

Long valued as a symbol of love and commitment, there’s really nothing that a bit of icy twinkle — no matter the price, cut, age, or size — fails to deliver. Vintage, pre-owned, and brand-new rings all have their pros and cons, but the first step to finding your dream ring is choosing your desired aesthetic. Antique rings are known to have high-quality stones and unusual settings, making them one of a kind. “The main advantages [to buying antique] are craftsmanship, uniqueness, and their inherent eco-friendliness,” says Nicole Corsini, Marketing Manager at Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry.

Unfortunately, vintage can cost you. Custom vintage rings tend to be more expensive as opposed to modern and more abundant styles that can lose value over time. “Mass-produced items retain less value because they are readily abundant,” says Sarah Thomas, Valuation Manager at The RealReal, a company that specializes in selling luxury consignment online. She recommends looking into pre-owned rings that aren’t considered vintage, as some of the initial costs (like labor, commission, etc.) have already been absorbed by the first buyer and can save you money.

Yet the more tried-and-true engagement ring option is brand new. Buyers are paying more attention to the source and opting for lab-grown diamonds. Vrai & Oro is an online jewelry company that only uses stones grown through solar energy complete with a traceable origin. “Now more than ever, people are taking a stand for their values with what they buy,” says Vrai & Oro’s founder, Vanessa Stofenmacher. “If you decide to use a reusable water bottle instead of a plastic one, why not take the same stand with a momentous purchase like your diamond ring?”

Whether buying vintage, pre-owned, or new, always make sure the ring you’re buying online is from a verified seller and coming from a trusted outlet with traceable origins. “The internet is an enormous place full of unknowns, and the number one rule is to trust who you are purchasing from,” says Thomas. “You can cover all of your bases when buying from a company you know has professional experts executing every inspection stage of authenticity.”

how to buy online

With so many unknowns, is it even safe to buy something so valuable online? “The short answer is yes!” says Stofenmacher. The industry has taught us that this purchase should be done in person, but things are changing.” And although expanding markets can often bring greater risks, following a few precautions can ensure peace of mind *and* purchase.

First, avoid sellers that aren’t selling actual diamonds. Yeah, we know, it sounds crazy but it’s true. “Avoid any website that sells simulants, hybrids, or anything that is not defined by the FTC as a diamond (which is strictly limited to a mined or lab-grown diamond),” says Alexander G. Weindling, founder and CEO of Clean Origin. “A number of online sites feature [simulants and hybrids] and we’ve heard from numerous disappointed customers who received a synthetic creation of no real value.”

Second, as with most web purchases, be sure to read plenty of customer feedback. “Work with someone who has good online reviews, is GIA-trained staff, and has a willingness to disclose all relevant information about their pieces,” says Corsini. “They should be comfortable explaining the difference between antique and modern diamond cuts and able to point out the features of the ring’s construction and materials that verify its age.”

Third, utilize the website for all it’s worth. Chat with customer support to get answers to all of your diamond questions, while establishing rapport with the seller. Research the company’s return policy and insurance options and make sure the brand ships insured and through a major carrier. Find out if there are secure in-person hold options and/or alternative pickup locations in case you’re uneasy about the delivery destination.

Lastly, find out if the ring in question carries a warranty. Rings from the RealReal carry a 14-day return period, and Vrai & Oro and Clean Origin both offer 30-day and 100-day return policies, respectively, so if you’re not completely enamored with your ring, you can easily send it back for a full refund.

Above all else, take the time to find the right site you can trust. “Buying diamonds online should be just as safe as buying them in person,” says Corsini. “But it’s important to do your research and purchase from a reputable, established seller.”

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(Photos via Getty; Illustrations by Sarah Tate)

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