The men's guide to choosing the perfect diamond ring

While it's not in the male nature to ask for directions, when it comes to shopping for a diamond engagement ring a little guidance can go a long way.

Use the tips below as a map to find the perfect diamond for the one you love.

You know her favorite restaurant, the color she wears the most and her biggest pet peeve, but do you know her jewelry style? If you haven't paid attention before, now is the time to take notice of what kind of jewelry she already wears.

Take a look through her jewelry box. What color metal does she favor? Do her pieces tend to be classic or modern, minimalistic or ornate?

Another easy way to narrow down her preferences is to ask her friends and co-workers. Women talk. Those closest to her are bound to have an idea of what kind of diamond she desires.

Also, go to the mall together and casually browse a few jewelry stores, taking note of what diamond jewelry catches her eye. Be sure to be casual, as you don't want to ruin the surprise.

When shopping for a diamond engagement ring, it is important to do your homework beforehand. With a bit of research, you will be a knowledgeable, confident consumer.

To help you get started, here is a quick look at the four C's, the factors that together determine a diamond's beauty and value:

o Cut. Cut is often thought to mean the shape of the diamond, but it is actually a technical quality that measures how well the diamond cutter did his or her job. Many experts will tell you that cut is the most important of the four C's, as a skilled cutter will unleash the maximum fire and brilliance from within a diamond.

Regardless of shape, a well-cut diamond will sparkle with an amazing radiance and luminescence because of the proportions of its facets. A diamond cutter must place each of the stone's facets and angles, which act as light-dispersing mirrors, in exact geometric relation to one another to maximize the diamond's beauty. A poorly cut diamond - too deep or too shallow - will lose light that spills though the side or bottom.

o Color. The most subjective of the four C's, color is determined by the degree to which a diamond approaches colorlessness. While most diamonds appear white, virtually all have slight traces of color. The degree of colorlessness is measured on a letter scale beginning with D and moving through the alphabet to Z.

The degree of colorlessness is difficult to discern with the naked eye. Diamonds with a color grade of D, E or F are rare and therefore more expensive. However, well-cut diamonds with good clarity in any color grade can be dazzling in their own right.

While white diamonds are the most popular choice for engagement rings, diamonds are found in the earth in every color of the rainbow. Deeply colored diamonds, such as pink, blue and yellow, are known as "fancies" and are especially rare and valuable.

o Clarity. Clarity refers to the degree to which a diamond is free from "birthmarks" or inclusions that naturally occurred when the diamond was formed in the earth millions or billions of years ago. These inclusions can look like tiny crystals, feathers or clouds, and most are not visible to the naked eye.

Because diamonds are one of nature's miracles, most diamonds do contain some inclusions. Diamonds with the fewest inclusions are graded as VVS1 or VVS2; those on the other end of the scale are graded I1 or I3. The fewer the inclusions, the rarer the gem.

o Carat. Carat indicates the weight, and therefore the size, of the diamond. One carat weights 0.2 grams. Jewelers, however, refer to stones using points: 100 points equal 1 carat, 50 points equal a half-carat, and so on.

Keep in mind that research tells us that 82 percent of women prefer a diamond of a half-carat or more.

While deciding on a budget for any gift is a personal matter, most men agree that the suggested two month's salary is an appropriate amount for a purchase as important as a diamond engagement ring. This guideline can be used as a starting point, but no matter how much you spend, it is most important to find the ring that is right for her.

Finding a reputable jeweler is the first step in a smart diamond purchase. A reputable jeweler will be knowledgeable about diamonds and will guide you through the entire buying process.

This information is provided by the Diamond Information Center, a resource sponsored by the De Beers Group's Diamond Trading Co.