Anyone contemplating the purchase of a custom engagement ring needs to do some homework before plunking down his money.
* First things first: The center stone or cluster should be the focal point of an engagement ring. Take the time to get an education about gems before making a purchase.
* A well-designed engagement ring is tailored and simple, to show off the stone. Start with a basic design concept -- contemporary, traditional or antique -- and then begin your search for the jeweler that will bring your idea to reality.
* When talking to jewelers, ask to see a portfolio. Reputable jewelers take pride in their craftsmanship and will be glad to show you photographs of their work.
* Cost: Make sure your jeweler knows your budget before he or she begins work on your ring. Reputable jewelers will work with you to keep the price within your range. Prices start around $500, plus the cost of the stone.
* Make sure the main value in your ring is in the stone. For example, it doesn't make a lot of sense to spend $1,000 on a setting to show off a $500 diamond.
* Thinking of reworking a treasured heirloom? A warning: Older gems often aren't faceted or perfectly round, which means they may not be as secure in their setting or as pleasing to the eye as modern brilliant-cut stones.