Purchasing an engagement ring can be extraordinarily similar to the marriage itself: it's a unique experience for each couple and can also be damn tricky. There's no instruction manual on how to buy an engagement ring and no right or wrong - you simply have to feel your way.
Much like setting up home, you need to work out who is going to take care of what. Are you going to go it alone and buy the ring on your own or involve your bride-to-be in the decision-making? Use your instinct.
If you have a woman with precise tastes, it might be best to allow her to pick her own style of engagement ring. If you're confident you can choose a piece she loves, then do prepare yourself for the outside chance that she might not like it. And keep the receipt.
If your bride is involved, you will undoubtedly find various aspects much easier - ring size, for example, can be outright asked. If, however, you wish to maintain the element of surprise, then borrow a ring for the correct finger from her jewellery box (briefly, stealthily!) and have it sized by a jeweller.
Choosing whether to buy a new ring or a vintage piece, whether to design a bespoke engagement ring and whether to choose a diamond or a more unusual stone are further decisions that would be made easier by frank enquiries, but they aren't unfathomable on your own.
Start by visiting a large range of jewellers, selling both antique and modern pieces. Berganza, in London's jewellery hub Hatton Garden, is an expert in vintage rings and is surrounded by many other stores selling modern styles. Take your cue from your bride's usual taste in jewellery - if she only wears vintage pieces or colourful stones, she is unlikely to want a spanking new white sparkler.
If you don't live near to a cluster of fine jewellers, start by looking online. Brands such as 77Diamonds offer extensive collections on their website, allowing you to choose the cut, colour and clarity of your diamond, and to pick from a choice of settings. "Buying a diamond can be a daunting process, so it's important you are given the right education to make an informed decision on how to get the best value for your money," says David Allen, of 77Diamonds. "We talk customers through seven Cs, rather than the standard four, to make sure they thoroughly understand their choice of stone."
Budget is naturally of paramount importance, so be sure to have a figure in mind before you hit the shops - it's easy for zeros to mount up when you're being blinded by glinting gems. Ignore the prescribed myths about how many month's salary should be spent on a ring - you should spend what you feel you can comfortably afford to buy; no piece of jewellery is worth putting yourself into debt as newlyweds.
Don't overlook the financial benefits of having a bespoke piece created from recycling outdated family jewellery. Scout jewellery fairs and blogs for small designers who can create one-off designs using inherited raw materials.
If you're still wondering how to buy an engagement ring, ultimately it's about listening, noticing the small clues, and doing your best at what you think is the right thing, according to your gut instinct. Not bad skills to practise, should she say yes.
Read about coloured stone engagement rings here