I spent 3 months creating the perfect engagement ring, and it was overwhelming - but thrilling

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mark & katie engagement

Mark Bell proposed to his girlfriend of two years in September 2013. They were married in September 2014.

Below, 34-year-old Bell walks us through a traditional, but anguishing, part of the process: buying an engagement ring.

When we started dating, we became close pretty quick. After about six to eight months, we figured there was no point in us both paying rent in New York City, so we might as well combine and move in together. I knew then that I wanted to propose.

The summer after we moved in together, we were at a fundraiser and I was introduced to Stephanie Bogetti , who is well known for her work with fine jewelry and rings. I went to the bathroom and she was standing there when I came out, so I kind of sneakily said, "Give me your card." I'd been doing some research online on the four Cs and understanding what that means, and everything that goes into a ring, so I emailed her and told her I'd been thinking about rings and wanted to work with someone I could trust.

[My now-wife] Katherine didn't know anything about this, but I'd had some guidance: I was working from home one Friday and my laptop was on the kitchen table. I guess over the weekend she'd been using it, because when I went into work on Monday there were a bunch of pictures of rings she'd been looking at and links in my bookmarks. She didn't realize I was already talking to Stephanie, but that was great. It gave me some guidance for what I was looking for.

When she was out, I took one of her rings which I knew she regularly wore on that finger and literally drew around the inside of the ring on a yellow sticky note. I then gave this to Stephanie and she was able to figure it out from there

I wanted to make sure she had something on her finger that she loved and was going to love for many years. I always had these grand ideas of it's got to be two karats or whatever, not really understanding the cost of that. But Stephanie did a great job of explaining, "We can get you a two-karat or three-karat ring, but you have to realize the dollar value behind that - you can get far better ring, a smaller ring more in your budget, that she will love."

Mark & Katie Ring

It was a learning process. It's a scary process when a guy starts out! I also went to 42nd Street, to the diamond district and looked at rings, but I wanted to go with someone I could trust. I think it's really important you have a really good relationship with someone who's going to help you through the process.

We sat around the boardroom table and sketched stuff out, and I showed her the designs Katherine had saved and told her I wanted a mixture of what Katherine liked and what I liked. A week later, she had designs of what it could look like on the computer, and she brought in a bunch of diamonds to look at. I looked at maybe 30 diamonds from different suppliers, but I came back to the first diamond I saw - I knew straightaway.

I wanted the ring to be a big surprise. Not just for me, buying the ring and buying the diamond and getting the mount. It was more of, this is a big stage in your life, and I want it to be correct. I had already booked an anniversary trip to Aruba in September, and I wanted to propose while we were away, so I was making sure everything aligned with that. I figured it was better for me to do it on my own and then share it with her after.

I'd looked online at the prices for different kinds of rings. I had been saving for a good 10 months beforehand, maybe a year, and I made my budget clear when I met with Stephanie and said we need to work with that. Otherwise you can just keep going and going, and one thing I didn't want to do was get in debt over this. I didn't want to use credit cards or loans, and I was in the fortunate position that I didn't have to do that. When you're shopping for rings, it can get very crazy, and you have to make sure you know what you can realistically afford that's going to be what you want and what your partner wants.

The process probably took about three months in total, and I met with Stephanie maybe once a week during that time. After that first time we met, she came back to me with a wax model of the ring so you can see exactly what it's like - the actual size and setting. We played with it, made a few more adjustments, and once I was happy she did another drawing on the computer and I gave her the go-ahead.

She gave me the platinum setting before it had been finished to look and feel and make sure it was what I wanted before they buffed it. Two weeks after that she came back and gave me the actual ring.

Stephanie said straightaway: Get this insured. She gave me an appraisal with the ring and all the paperwork for the diamonds. I contacted the company she recommended, Jeweler's Mutual , and took out a separate policy on the ring. You're handing over a lot of money for this, and it's good to makes sure it's insured.

I think I had the ring for about three weeks before we left for Aruba. That was a little hairy. I had it in the safe at work because I didn't know what else to do with it. When we had to travel, I was very worried about how I was going to get the ring through customs and down to Aruba and keep it in Aruba in my bag for three days without her seeing it. I even went through a different line of security. Stephanie told me to put a note around the box in case we were together in the same line and they wanted to search my bag - it said this is an engagement ring, please keep this quiet.

While it was in the bag I didn't let it out of my sight at all. I couldn't put the ring in the hotel room safe because Katherine wanted to store passports and things in there and the safe wasn't that big, so I was carrying it around with me. They give it to you in such a big box! It wasn't a thing you could just put in our pocket.

On our anniversary, I booked Katherine to have a massage on the beach in Aruba. So she went in for her massage and I'd already spoken to the hotel so I went into the little beach hut after and proposed. She was completely blown away. She didn't realize it was coming. We spent the rest of the vacation celebrating.

I had the inside engraved with a little message and the date, and she was thrilled with that. I had a little book made, one of those scrapbooks that you can get online, with all the email communications between me and Stephanie and photos of the process and the ring when they gave it to me, plus emails to my mum and dad, and her mum, and her [late] father's best friend. I wanted her to have something to see what we'd gone through and the decision-making process.

I'd advise doing your research before you even start talking to someone. I think it's good that you have background knowledge of the ring process, and know kind of what you're looking for. Like there are hundreds of mounts out there and when you see them laid out at the jeweler, you're like, I don't know, they all look the same to me! It's far better if you can go in with some kind of image that you like. Because it's an overwhelming process, I'll tell you that.

Also, set your budget, know what it is, and stick to it. It's very tempting to go over it and it can get out of hand quick. One thing I kind of started to get a little caught up on: the blemishes in a diamond, the clarity. When you're looking in microscopes, you can get caught up on, there's blemish in this one or a dark spot in that one, but at the end of the day you can't see with with the naked eye. If you like a diamond and it goes with the setting you like, just go with it. And work with someone you know you can trust, who's going to deliver what you want. It's important that you're very happy with the item you get. When you're looking for someone, make sure they understand your needs upfront so you don't get sidetracked.

Also I'd say: Enjoy the process. It shouldn't be a burden - it should be an enjoyable experience. It's an exciting time, and you have a lot going through your mind, thinking how am I going to propose, when am I going to propose, as well as telling family and asking parents and all that good stuff. Document it. Be proud of it and make sure it is what you want.

She absolutely loved the ring. I think she burst into tears when she first saw it, and said that was exactly what she wanted. And that was my goal: I wanted her to love it and to cherish it. She couldn't stop looking at it. Even now, sometimes we're watching TV on the sofa, I look over and she's staring at her ring.

Have you purchased an engagement ring? We want to hear your story. Email yourmoney@ businessinsider.com . Anonymity can be considered.

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