As far as I can tell, there isn't a rhyme or reason behind the order the variations are saved. I have a product with two variations; color and collar size. Each variation appends a value to the base product's SKU. Example: Product SKU is TO111, the next two digits are determined by the selected color and the last two by the collar size. I found out there was an additional option for collar style and appends two more digits to the end of the SKU. I added the style attribute and then the variation to the product. It saved the collar style after color but before collar size. Therefore, on the product detail page, the drop down for collar style appears in the middle. I was counting on being able to construct the SKU based on the order the option drop downs appear on the page but I don't see anyway of setting the order in the back end. The rules change by brand, product type, etc so it would be best to avoid hard coding what the order should be. Is there a reason you can't order variants in Sitefinity?
As for my original question, I guess I really don't understand your answer. I was hoping for more direction on how to use the variants function in a real production environment. Best I can tell you have to create a separate product in addition to a variation and tie them together somehow. If this is documented somewhere, I apologize for my lack of Google skills but would someone post a link? If that is the case, I guess my question above would be solved by searching the product list with the selected options to find the product's SKU.