1. Narrow Down Your Choices
Since this is one of the few pieces—if not the only piece—of jewelry you'll shop for together and wear every day, it's smart to make some preliminary choices before you even hit the stores. Do you want your band to be the same metal as your engagement ring? Does he want his to match the metal on his watch? Are you interested in something simple, over-the-top or unique? Would you like your bands to include diamonds or gemstones? Do you want them to match one another? Work out these kind of questions beforehand so you can zero in on exactly what you're looking for before you start shopping.
2. Consider Buying Your Ring and Your Bands Together
If you prefer to be surprised by the engagement ring, or you already have it on your finger, this may not work, but knowing what bands go with the engagement ring can help you make a decision. For example, a unique engagement ring (like a pear-shaped diamond) calls for a simple, no-fuss band, whereas a classic solitaire goes great with the added sparkle of a diamond pave band. Also think about how the rings touch. If you're planning on wearing your ring and wedding band together 24/7, look for a contour or shadow band designed to interlock with the matching engagement ring. If you're planning on wearing your wedding band alone, you may want a more intricate style that will look great with or without your engagement ring. Talk to your jeweler about finding a band that works with your ring (some can even create both at the same time).
3. Start Your Search Early
Once you have a basic idea of what you'd like, it's time for the fun part: trying on rings! Give yourselves at least two to three months before the wedding date to ring shop. You'll need this time to browse, research prices and revisit rings that catch your eye. If you have your heart set on a custom ring, you'll probably need even more time. And keep in mind: Extras, like engraving, can take up to one month.
4. Mix It Up
Don't fret if you like platinum and your partner likes yellow gold. There's no rule that says you have to choose the same metal or even style. You could compromise with braided bands that blend the two metals together or just be totally different—the key to finding something you both love is picking wedding bands that reflect your individual styles. But whatever you decide, some aspect of your rings (and it can be as simple as a mutual inscription) should match to make it feel like a true pair.
5. Set a Budget
Shop with the assumption that you'll spend about 3 percent of your total wedding budget on the rings. Depending on the retailer, a plain 14-karat gold band starts at about $330, while a simple platinum band can cost around $1,000. Adding embellishments, like diamonds or engraving, will quickly add to the cost, so factor that into your budget if you plan to personalize your rings with any of these extras. The price of engraving is usually based on the number of characters, the font used and whether it's engraved by hand or machine. On average, machine engraving is $25 for 15 characters, while hand-engraving, which adds a special hand-forged feel, is usually pricier at $75 for 8 characters.
6. Keep Your Lifestyle in Mind
What's the point of buying a pricey, pretty band if it feels uncomfortable on or if you have to remove it often (and increase your chances of losing it)? Remember: You're going to wear this band every day, so the goal is to choose something that seamlessly becomes a part of your life. If you play sports or an instrument, look for a slimmer ring with rounded edges (appropriately called the “comfort fit"). If you work with your hands, search for a simple, solid metal ring and avoid gemstones that can come loose or carvings, which can trap dirt. If you're super-active, go for platinum, which is extra durable (when scratched, the metal is merely displaced and doesn't actually wear away).
7. Take Your Time Trying
You may love the idea of a braided rose gold ring or a diamond eternity band, but once you get to the store, try some rings that aren't on your inspiration board. Chat with the jeweler, then let them make suggestions based on what you like and don't rule anything out. Just like with wedding dresses, you may end up loving something you never thought you would. As you consider different styles, don't forget about comfort too—some rings may look really pretty, but when you put them on, they're just not a good fit. Maybe the diamonds poke your other fingers in a weird way. Wear it around the store for a few minutes and while you have it on, try writing and texting as a comfort test.
8. Think Long Term
While you shouldn't be afraid of being trendy, make sure the style you choose is something you'll want to wear for, say, the next 40 years. This ring is meant to last through all the jobs, PTA meetings and social functions from now until then, so pick one you love that you can picture yourself wearing for a long time. Just don't stress too much: You're not married to the ring and can always upgrade (add diamonds or go from white gold to platinum) later on to mark a special anniversary.
9. Consider the Maintenance
To keep a wedding band with stones clean and sparkling, you'll need to wash and soak it in warm sudsy water, then gently brush it with a soft toothbrush or eyebrow brush (too much pressure can loosen the stones from their setting), rinse it and pat it dry with a soft lint-free cloth. Sound like too much upkeep? You may want to opt for a fuss-free gold or platinum ring—simply rub it with a soft, lint-free cloth (chamois works well) and you're good to go.
10. Size It Right
Most people rarely take off their wedding bands; they wear them through summers, winters, exercise, pregnancies—all times when your fingers swell and contract from heat, cold, water retention or weight gain. To find the right size that will best weather all of those changes, schedule your final ring fitting at a time when you're calm and your body temperature is normal. That means you should never finalize first thing in the morning (you retain salt from the night before), right after you've exercised (fingers swell) or when you're extremely hot or cold (which can cause expansion and shrinking of your hands).
11. Check for Quality
This applies to all rings, not just your wedding bands. Make sure the ring has two marks inside the band: the manufacturer's trademark (this proves they stand behind their work) and the quality mark, 24K or PLAT, for example (this proves that the metal quality is what the retailer says it is). If the ring consists of two or more metals, make sure there's a quality mark for each.