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What You Should Know Before Buying A Diamond

Updated on June 8, 2015

Next to purchasing a car or a house, buying a diamond could be one of the largest purchases a couple makes together. The problem, is that unless you have a background in diamonds, you may have to rely on a salesperson to help you choose the right one. While most jewelers are pretty trustworthy, just like any other salesperson they might steer you in the wrong direction just to ensure you make a purchase. This article is intended to educated the consumer on what qualities are most important to them when making that purchase.

I am going to list the four basic qualities all jewelry stores and grading companies use to rate a diamond. These qualities are referred to as, "The 4 C's." The more of these that your diamond possesses, the more rare and therefore more valuable your diamond will be.

1. Cut

Cut is possibly the most overlooked of the C's, but it is by far the most important. Cut can be up to 70% of a diamonds value. The cut of a diamond is the only C that can be completely determined by man, and still be considered natural.

Contrary to popular belief, the cut of the diamond is not the shape of a diamond, but rather the proportions to which the diamond is cut. You can take a colorless, internally flawless diamond, and if it isn't cut well it will be worth an eighth of a properly cut diamonds. Diamonds are still hand cut on a grinding wheel, which is a breath of fresh air with the way technology is on the rise.

An "ideal" cut diamond would be the highest grade and the one to strive for. It means that the dimensions of every facet is cut to perfect proportions. A facet is the area on the diamond that the light reflects off of, and the standard round brilliant has fifty-eight of them.

The diagram to the right shows how important cut is. The cut controls the way the light is dispersed. A diamond cut too deep will absorb the light from the top, and it will escape out of the side. A diamond cut too shallow will have the light escape from the bottom. A well cut or better diamond allows for the perfect light dispersion, creating the maximum amount of brilliance from the diamond.

Most jewelry stores do not carry anything lower than a well cut, however, there is a quick test to do to see if your cut is satisfactory. Ask the sales associate to accompany you outside so you can look at it in the natural light. If the diamond lights up like a firecracker, it probably has a decent cut. Poorly cut diamonds tend to look like frozen spit, even in the sun.

2. Color

Diamonds come in every color naturally. The color of a diamond is determined by the chemical in the soil where it is mined. Diamonds can be radiated to enhance naturally fancy colors. For this article I am strictly going to address white diamonds.

The color grading scale is to the right. It begins with D, all the way down. Colorless diamonds (D,E,F) are going to be the most rare. Only about 5% of the world's diamond population will end up in this category. Ideally, you'd want to get the highest color grade available for your price range.

The way these diamonds are graded is by a gemologist with a master set of stones. They have a stone of every color, and assign the diamonds a color grade based on the master set. Color can be quite confusing, because the grading is a little subjective. Typically, unless you are holding a G-H stone directly next to a colorless stone, nobody will notice any yellow in your stone and you will be fine. I have seen diamonds graded at a J that still had no obvious yellow tint to them. Does it look yellow to you? If all else fails, try the natural light trick again.

*You will almost never see a Diamond lower than L in a jewelry store unless it is special ordered. Do not confuse the bottom half of the grading scale with the diamonds you see movie stars wearing. Fancy colored yellow diamonds are graded on a different scale. An "S" color diamond will not be that pretty yellow you see on JLo, that is an entirely different concept.

3. Clarity

Diamonds are an organic substance. Just like with all organic matter, mother nature rarely creates anything that would reach our expectations of perfection. Just like with humans, Diamonds can have their own defining characteristics!

I worked as a jeweler for about fifteen years. During that time span, I cannot even count how many times I had cleaned a guest's ring, and upon giving it back, heard them remark that I missed a spot. Or even worse, I had cracked their diamond!

Now although diamonds are not impossible to crack or break, more often than not the crack the customer would see would be what we refer to as a "feather." feathers are a group of crystals inside of the stone itself, and depending of the clarity grade your diamond has, it may cloud up your diamond or make it look like a crack.

I like to refer to these as "identifying characteristics," but the proper term is "inclusions." The chart below displays the grading scale for clarity, or how included the diamond is. Inclusions can range from the feathers i just explained, to the little tiny black dots inside of the stone. The fewer these inclusions, the more rare the stone. (now you also know that if you want a quick way to tell if a diamond is real or not, look for the inclusions!) These inclusions are inside of the diamond, and have been there since the diamond was formed in the ground. They will not get any bigger, and it will not compromise the integrity of your diamond.

Just because your diamond is not Flawless, or VVS (Very,very, slightly included), does not a bad diamond make. Remember that the inclusions can sometimes be hidden by a prong when you mount it. I also like customers to have a peace of mind by showing them how to use a loupe, so that they will always be able to identify the internal characteristics (or birthmarks) of their stone. Unless this is an investment purchase, Don't get wrapped up in the clarity grade. Take a good look at it from all angles. Ask the salesperson where the inclusions are. Make your decision based on what you think.

The number following the letters are to what degree they are included. This deals with the placement of the inclusions on the stone.

IF/Internally Flawless
VVS1 or 2/Very Very Slightly included
VS1 or 2/Very slightly included
SI1 or 2/Slightly included
I1,2,3 and below/Included
Absolutely no inclusions inside or outside of the stone.
The diamond contains inclusions barely visible under 20x magnification. Unable to see with naked eye.
The diamond contains inclusions that are easy to see under 20x magnification.
The diamond contains inclusions easy to see under ten times magnification, possibly with the naked eye.
The diamond contains inclusions visible with the naked eye.
Remember that the people who grade diamonds are the most anal people in the world. The difference between a VS stone and an SI could be as little as a pinpoint!

4. Carat weight

Ah, now for the one all the ladies are hung up on. By the way gentlemen, if a lady ever says to you that she won't marry you unless you buy her an "___ carat ring." run for the hills! She's bad news.

Normally, everyone wants that big carat. Now that you've made it to the fourth C though, I'm sure you can recognize there can be a quality over quantity issue at hand. Believe it or not, Carat is a measurement of weight, not of size. it comes from a seed that was used to compare the weight of diamonds. One carat tends to be the ideal carat weight for a diamond. With that being said, it takes one million mined diamonds to get a one carat that's quality enough to put on the market. (That's not even good quality!)

A good way to save some bucks is to find a diamond that's .90-.99 carat total weight (cttw.) because the price jumps significantly when you hit that 1.00 mark.

Also keep in mind that because it's a measure of weight not of size, you may be put out when someone says they got a 1 cttw ring for significantly less than yours! Well, that's because a ring with a lot of small diamonds of the equivalent carat weight will obviously be less rare, and therefore less expensive.

Oh yes, and don't confuse Carat and Karat. C is for diamonds, K is for gold. They sound the same but have completely different meanings!

How big was the last diamond you bought?

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    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      3 years ago from Philippines

      Never realized there was so much intricacy that goes into the making and selecting of diamonds. Very interesting and helpful.


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