The tradition of engagement is quite a tricky one. A man who wishes to propose to his sweetheart is expected to, without any input from said sweetheart, somehow intuit the exact type and style of ring she expects, embark on a jewelry shopping spree for perhaps the first time in his life, and put down three months' hard-earned money on what he blindly hopes is the perfect ring. On the other side of the equation, the woman is expected to throw a few delicate hints into the void and hope that her fiancé returns with a ring she wants to see on her finger every day for the next few decades. When you think about it, it's amazing that any couple ends up with a decent engagement ring.

While most couples muddle through with a ring that suits both of them well enough, the scenario is set up for spectacular failure. A quick glimpse of any Internet bridal forum turns up countless, panicked brides-to-be agonizing over whether they should reveal to their hapless fiancés how much they truly hate their costly, ugly ring.

That's why Lia Vincenza and Danielle Mainas teamed up to give clueless boyfriends in the Bay Area the jewelry-shopping support they need in order to confidently pop the question. "We only launched four months ago and we've already had a rush of customers," Vincenza says. "Our married friends say, 'I wish you had been there when we were going through that!'" Their business, Little Bird, guides men through the daunting process of choosing the right ring for their partners. Because they don't represent any specific brands or charge a percentage of the total sale, they don't try to upsell anyone. Their only incentive is connecting clients with the exact rings they want. Many customers run right back when it's time to buy the wedding rings.

Vincenza and Mainas sympathize with the tough task that faces prospective fiancés. They both have experience working in the jewelry industry and seeing the wide-eyed look of someone shopping for expensive jewelry for the first time. "Helping people find engagement rings was my favorite part of the job," Vincenza recalls. "I liked taking my time with people, making them feel comfortable and not rushing them through the process." Many of her customers expressed surprise over her approach. They related negative experiences of going to stores where nobody took enough time to show them choices before pressuring them to make a decision. In cases where they came in describing their ideal ring, the store would steer them towards the nearest approximation in the display case. Vincenza says. "If they wanted something that wasn't in our inventory, I'd wish I could help them find it somewhere else." Now, through Little Bird, she and Mainas can finally do just that.

Even if you don't live in the Bay Area, you can still benefit from the advice of a ring-shopping advocate. As professional ring advisors, Vincenza and Mainas have developed a process to connect couples with their ideal engagement rings. (Their service isn't just for men, either; anyone who is overwhelmed with ring shopping can benefit from their services, including same-sex couples.) The first step to take is to consider the intended wearer of the ring. Basic questions to ask yourself include your partner's lifestyle, how much she uses her hands, and whether she has any metal allergies. More advanced questions involve studying your partner's personal style. For example, does she tend towards classic or antique fashions? If she likes antique jewelry, what kind of antique jewelry does she like? "We ask some guys these questions and they don't have any idea where to start. I can't believe they're about to jump into ring shopping, considering how much money they're about to spend and how little information they have," Mainas says.

Once a ring buyer has established his partner's personalized style, it's time to decide which stores to visit. "We know the local inventory really well, and we check out online vendors too," Vincenza explains. "We can print guys up a list of likely stores. We give them a little packet of instructions and recommend specific salespeople to talk to. We can even go to the store with the guy to pick out the ring, if that's what he wants." Even if you don't work with Little Bird in person, you can still follow their advice when you do your own research. If you're nervous about walking into a jewelry store for the first time, arriving armed with the right information takes some of the anxiety out of the process.

Choosing the right jewelry stores is an essential part of the process that is often overlooked. "If you go to one local store you're going to get a narrow selection, and an engagement ring is a unique and personal thing.” Mainas agrees, “Most guys won't go to every jewelry store out there and compare what they're all about." She likens the process to buying a car, and emphasizes the importance of researching different brands to know the implications of buying each one.

For clients who want a very specific ring, it helps that both Vincenza and Mainas are jewelry designers. "If we can't find it in stores, we can build the exact ring you want. You're guaranteed to find the right ring," Vincenza says. Additionally, Mainas has worked as a sales manager for the global leader in ethical diamonds and can help steer clients in the right direction so they can enjoy their engagement rings guilt-free. "We give people the choice of whether they want to support Canadian diamonds, Fair Trade African diamonds, or the basic Kimberley process. We walk them through the different levels and help them find what they're looking for," she explains.

Hiring Little Bird's services costs, on average, $200 to $300 per client. Although it's an inexpensive and simple process to hire a professional advocate, you don't have to live near one in order to find your ideal ring. Little Bird, for example, offers remote services like giving advice based on ring photos and online ads. Whether you're hiring professional help or you're marching into the jewelry store on your own, however, it's important to study your partner's taste and perform thorough industry research before you buy. That way, you can get on bended knee and offer the perfect ring in perfect confidence.

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