Christmas. ‘Tis the season to be jolly. And for some, betrothed. The wine flows on tap, and relatives are more affable than annoying (for once). Which makes for a heady combination of high spirits, actual spirits and family values – the perfect Dutch courage recipe for popping the question. (Just not the kind to tell your auntie you hated that deodorant gift set.)

December is the unofficial engagement period. Don’t believe us? Just take one look at your Facebook feed on Christmas Day – rings and hands and #blessed for days. Which is understandable – after all, committing to a lifelong mate is a landmark event: we’re supposed to propose only once, so it should be memorable.

But popping the nearest bottle is far easier than popping the question itself. It takes months of preparation, grappling with etiquette and, most importantly, the perfect ring. Especially if you’re planning on a surprise. Which is why we’ve spoken to three experts to fill you in on what you need to know before you stoop to one knee.

Preparation Makes Perfect

So you’ve found the woman (or man) of your dreams. Great. But before heading to the nearest jewellers for a rock to rival Uluru, you need to get your head round the basics.

“If you’re buying in secret, ring size is very important,” says Craig Bolton, executive director at Goldsmiths. “A ring from the jewellery box is a good indication of the size needed. But if she’s more hawkeyed, we offer a printable online ring sizer that measures the right ring finger. From there, we estimate the engagement band.” There’s still a margin for error, though – which is why Goldsmiths introduced an adjustment service to ensure a closer fit regardless.

It’s also worth learning the four Cs of diamonds – Colour, Clarity, Cut and Carat weight. Here’s a brief overview:

  • Colour – A chemically pure diamond has no hue, so look out for a distinct lack of colour.
  • Clarity – High-quality diamonds should be clear, so no frosting, blemishes or ingrained crystal.
  • Cut – A strong diamond should boast outstanding light interaction (sparkle, to you and me).
  • Carat Weight – Heavier is larger (and often better quality), but also more expensive.

But there is another ‘C’ you should consider: Cost. It helps to have an idea of budget and their taste in general too, says Bolton. As diamond bands range from £500 to the hundreds of thousands, your initial consultation won’t be all that fruitful if you haven’t done your homework.

Engagement rings

Tailor-Made

Though jewellers boast larger inventories, bespoke is an option if you’ve got a tighter handle on your partner’s tastes. And your wallet – as jewellery designer Allison Bryan explains, one-offs don’t necessarily cost the world.

“Bespoke can be far less expensive than a high street retailer, with our rings starting at around £2,000,” says Bryan. “And they’re more affordable if you’re willing to look beyond the traditional white solitaire diamond – there’s merit to be found in other stones and settings.”

But what exactly are you paying for? “The personalised one-to-one service,” says Bryan. “I consult with a client in-person to confirm budget, timeframe and a general outline. We then develop the design, sharing ideas and amendments at every step until we have the perfect piece.”

Bespoke can be the more ethical choice, too. Bryan can tell her clients not just the country of a stone’s origin, but the diamond mine and the cutter responsible: “I recently made an engagement ring with a responsibly-sourced Australian diamond. It was made by women from start to finish – purchased from a female diamond dealer, faceted by a female cutter, and set by a female jeweller.”

All of which proves you needn’t compromise your morals for an impressive ring.

Tailor made engagement rings

The Trend Forecast

Like menswear, jewellery is subject to trends. The difference though, is that they’re even subtler. And, in a time when ostentatious rocks are a flashing beacon for robbers (here’s looking at you, Kim K), bigger isn’t always better.

“Coloured gems are one of the brightest trends of 2016,” says Maria Doulton, co-founder of The Jewellery Editor. “But diamonds, rubies and sapphires are the best choices – they offer colour, but are also the most resilient.” Worth bearing in mind, unless you’re prepared to fork out for restoning.

If there are numerous zeros on your budget however, coloured diamonds could be an option – a move which is increasingly en vogue, but inevitably more expensive.

“Coloured diamonds are a strong trend, but they’re costlier than white varieties. Opt for a white diamond of a lower colour grading – they’re similar in appearance to yellow diamonds, but can be up to a third cheaper.”

And there are several brands to consider (and promptly delete from your browser history). Nirav Modi and Polly Wales both cater to the colour wheel, says Doulton, while Kataoka and Andrew Geoghegan are also names to watch.

After that, just hope they say yes.

Engagment rings colours