Few purchases are more fraught with peril than a Valentine’s Day gift for a girlfriend. Landmines abound. Buy something that’s not sentimental enough and it’s “Oh, you just think of me as a friend.” Pick something that’s overly sentimental and you’re labeled a “suffocating boyfriend” who’s moving the relationship too fast.

Catbird founder Rony Vardi

Catbird founder Rony Vardi

If you can somehow manage to navigate your way through that treacherous ground like Frogger and find yourself safely on the other side with the perfect gift for your significant other then boyfriend glory awaits. You become the guy she brags about to all her friends and, if you really play your cards right, her parents.

But how do you find the gift, the one that conveys a sense of caring, taste, and, most importantly, that you really “get” her. Few items pull that off like a great piece of jewelry. Unfortunately, jewelry also happens to be an area where most guys are completely clueless. So we caught up with Rony Vardi, the founder of Catbird, a super cool but not too-cool-for-school jewelry line and store based in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, to find out what guys need to know in order to buy that perfect piece for Valentine’s Day.

Buying a piece of jewelry that your girlfriend will love is a lot easier if you know what kind of jewelry she already wears. “Pay attention for one moment,” Vardi advises. That way you can see if your GF prefers big jewelry to small jewlry, gold over silver, and at a very basic level, if she has her ears pierced. “There are very few women who wear zero jewelry and even if she wears minimal jewelry, you can still easily buy something that she’ll love,” says Vardi. “The woman who wears just a ring and studs would perhaps like a minimalist pair of new studs or a very simple necklace.”

There are plenty of great places that sell jewelry online and Catbird is one of them. But if you can, walk into an actual store and talk to an actual person (remember that?). The person working at the store isn’t looking to sell you something that is going to get returned a week later. They want you to buy something that the recipient will love. And don’t be embarassed if you’re out of your depth. “The more open you are with what you know and what you don’t know, the easier it is to help,” says Vardi. “If you don’t know if your girlfriend has her ears pierced just say so, we’re not judging you. Believe me, there’s 20 more behind you.”

“Men try to buy whatever’s biggest, to get the most bang for the buck, but jewelry doesn’t work that way,” says Vardi. The quicker you can stop equating size with value, the more likely you are to find a piece she will actually love. You should also look for something that your girlfriend will not just want to wear, but will want to wear all the time. A piece of jewelry that a woman wears everyday will only become more meaningful over time, whereas a piece that only gets brought out for special occasions is more easily forgotten. “It’s the same idea when you get a fancy bottle of wine, just drink it. Don’t wait for who knows what.”


Catbird’s popular Chained To My Heart Necklace

“Many people do propose on Valentine’s Day. It’s a real thing,” says Vardi. So unless your intention is to ask for someone’s hand in marriage, do not get a ring as a Valentine’s Day gift. The potential for sending a mixed message is just too great. Instead go for either a pair of earrings or a necklace. (But not both, which comes across as hedging your bets, according to Vardi. Better to pool your money for one awesome piece.) Again, trust your eyes. If your girlfriend likes to wear stud earrings, buy her another set that riff off the same theme as her existing pair. Don’t think, “Oh, she already has earrings and won’t want another pair.” That’s the same thing as saying she already has one shirt, why get another? If you are on the fence between a necklace and earrings, a necklace is probably the safer bet. Since it’s further away from the face, women tend to be less particular about necklaces, Vardi says. And leave bracelets alone, too. In today’s world when people’s wrists are on a keyboard or mouse all day, bracelets can get in the way and become annoying.

You really can’t go wrong with gold. It lasts forever and comes in a variety of different colors—yellow gold, rose gold, white gold (which is a great upgrade for a women with a lot of silver jewelry)—so you can find a piece that matches your girlfriend’s style. As far as the difference in carats, the most important thing to remember is that the jewelry be 14kt or above. The difference between 14kt gold and 24kt gold (which is 100% gold) is largely based on color and price. A 24kt gold necklace, for example, will be a deep yellow, while a 14kt piece will be slightly paler.

If it’s in the budget, adding stones to a piece of jewelry can really increase the wow factor. Stick to the ones you’ve heard of—diamonds, emeralds, rubies—and leave the obscure birthstones alone. “Diamonds of course make everything more expensive but they also make things more sparkly and fancy. And they feel particularly special,” says Vardi. They also don’t have to break the bank. You can find a great set of gold earrings or a necklace with diamonds for under $500. Catbird’s Maleficent or Chained To My Heart necklaces are two great options that Vardi recommends, as are the Ballerina earrings.

Sometimes you take a shot and it’s a brick. It happens. While no guy wants to take back a Valentine’s Day gift for his girlfriend, that pain can be magnified if the establishment he purchased it from doesn’t accept returns or charges a fee for doing so. So be informed before you let them swipe your card, or enter your info online.

Justin Tejada is a writer and editor based in New York City. Follow him on Twitter at @just_tejada.