12/19/2012 06:09 pm ET Updated Feb 18, 2013

Engagement Ring Shopping: Tips of the Trade

You've found the perfect woman -- check. You're ready to get engaged -- check. Now, there's just one important question to be answered. Not "Will you marry me?," but more importantly, "How do I find the right ring?"

Lucky for you, the following engagement ring shopping tips should help simplify the whole process. We've got everything you'll need to know, except that elusive answer from your bride-to-be. We're pretty sure you've got that part covered though, so let's get started!

1.Before you buy a ring, do your homework. All diamonds are not created equal, and an engagement ring is a huge investment. It's important to be informed, but don't get overwhelmed by the information. The 4Cs of diamond buying are a great place to start:

•Color - Diamonds are available in a wide range of colors -- the most desirable and valuable are those with no hint of color (colorless) or those with strong color (fancy colors).
•Cut - The precision and delicacy of the cut dictates the amount of light a diamond reflects and refracts. The better the cut, the greater the brilliance, sparkle and fire.
•Clarity - Most diamonds contain natural markings called inclusions. The fewer and smaller the inclusions, the more light that can pass through the stone.
•Carat - The weight or size of a diamond is measured in carats (ct.). Diamond values rise exponentially with carat size.

2.In keeping with the theme of being informed, it can't hurt to do a little brushing up on your diamond shapes -- round, marquise, pear, princess, emerald, oval, etc. -- before you begin the ring search. While all cuts are beautiful, your special someone probably has a favorite, and after all your time together, you should have a pretty good sense of her personal style. Piece together all those tiny details that you know and love about your soon-to-be fiancée together and determine:

•Is her style more modern or vintage?
•Does she prefer trends or tradition?
•Does she wear more silver or gold?

I once knew a groom who was determined to keep all aspects of his proposal top secret, so he never asked his bride what she wanted in an engagement ring. A risky move! When in doubt, always consult the best friend (as this guy eventually did). After all, the ultimate goal is to find your bride THE diamond of her dreams, so allies are welcome. (Snagging a ring for reference from her jewelry box can't hurt either, especially when it comes to sizing.)

3.Now that you've done some research and know what you're looking for, it's time to do some smart shopping. Rule number one: Always buy a certified diamond. This ensures the quality and value of your purchase. Be sure an independent, accredited gemological institute (such as IGI) has graded the diamond mounted in your ring to the one, internationally accepted system for diamond grading. A diamond grading report provides an unbiased assessment of a diamond's 4Cs and informs you whether a stone is synthetic or has undergone any treatments, which may dramatically affect the value. Remember, a smart shopper is a happy shopper.

Easy enough, right? Best of luck shopping! And when it comes to that other important question, never fear. We're sure the answer will be a resounding YES!