Diamonds -- Read this Before You Buy
Alert -- Diamond prices increase 30% in Spring 2011
Most diamonds are controlled by the South Africa De Beers Company. It has announced an increase in diamond prices. When jewelry component prices go up, usually existing retail and wholesale stock is repriced to reflect this. Crazy? I think so, but vendors say that they need to do this in order to have the money to buy new stock. I don't think other retailers do this. Maybe you out there know. Anyway, good luck if you planned to get a diamond for you wedding and engagement ring. Try to buy directly from people selling the family jewels in order to get the best prices, but bring a diamond tester, an inexpensive tool you can get on-line.
Because diamonds are so popular and expensive, there is much fraud and deception in the market. Read about some of this in the section on the 5th C.
A jeweler wants to build a reputation for honesty and service, so look for a store that has existed for 20 years or more. Local, independent jewelers will often be happy to educate consumers, place special orders and arrange for payment plans. Independents have more flexibility than national chain and department stores But, before you buy a diamond or diamond jewelry, you must educate yourself. You wouldn't buy a car without checking web sites, asking friends, and reading the latest articles on repair records and insurance costs. So don't buy diamonds with knowing a bit more than the 4 Cs. I'm going to start with a 5th C, Chemistry.
Chemistry -- The 5th C has become important because of the ability to irradiate, dye and drill and fill diamonds. These altered, called "Enhanced" in the trade, diamonds are worth little compared to untreated stones. Fillers may degrade easily, leaving you with an ugly stone. Treatments may or may not be permanent. Vendors like to say that they sell only Natural Diamonds, leading buyers to think of natural food, or natural fabrics. A treated diamond is still "Natural" in jeweler-speak. Untreated is the word we want to hear before paying big bucks for a diamond. There are synthetics, chemically and physically equal to natural, nature-made stones, but costing a lot less.
Cut -- The quality of the cut determines a diamond's brilliance, pop, bling. The most popular cut is the round brilliant. Companies are even branding precision cuts, made possible by cutting machines. You will pay extra for this branding and will have to decide if it's worth it, for yourself. It's important to look a many stones and bring a loupe, a small magnifier, with you to a store. Actually any jewelry store should have one. I'd go somewhere else, if a store clerk refused to let me use a loupe or said that he/she didn't have one. (There are many cuts for diamonds. One that gives both a lot of life to a stone and a hall of mirrors effect is the Asher cut and it's variations.) Use the loupe to check the sharpness of cuts (The edges should be free of nicks.) the symmetry of the facets and the absence of scratches, nicks, pits and cracks, especially on the top, table, of the stone.
Color -- Outside of some fancy colors, a colorless diamond is the most valuable. A totally colorless diamond is designated "D", but D-E-F and H-I-J are still called "colorless". It is difficult to even fine D-E-F stones in chain jewelry stores and department stores. You can save money by getting a I or J colorless stone, but ask to see the other colorless types in order to educate yourself and train your eye. Beware of the use of the word "white". A clerk may say that "it's a white diamond," but that means little. The proper term is colorless. Bring a stark white folded piece of paper when shopping for colorless stones. Put the diamond in it. Make sure you have folds on the sides to prevent the stone from falling out. Look at a gem in natural light, not just store lighting. Black diamonds have become popular, but, in my opinion, are overpriced junk. If you want a black stone, get a spinel, onyx or sapphire. They won't have the pitting and cracks that most black diamonds have. Fancy pinks, yellows and blues are often treated to obtain the color, especially if it's intense. The brown diamonds, called by several fancy names, are a real marketing success. I don't care for them and wonder if they will hold their value in 20 or 30 years.
Clarity -- Clarity refers to the presence of cracks and inclusions in a crystal. The rarest diamond is the Internally Flawless such that a trained gemologist cannot find any flaws in the gem with 10 times maginification. The scale goes down through Flawless, Very-Very Slightly included, etc. You can look this up in many place on the Web, but be careful to note that this system is designed for trained gemologists. A jeweler may say that a gem is "eye clean". That is not an accepted gem grading term. Even if a gem looks clean to you with a loupe, if you are not trained, you may be missing something. Most diamond will be in the SI1 and 2 range for center stones in rings. You can see the difference between a VVS and a SI1 stone with a little practice. So don't buy before looking at many stones. Even on the Internet and television, you can learn to see quality. Accepted grading of clarity does not include SI3, though some jewelers like to use this grade in order to avoid calling a stone "I" clarity. You will be able to see lots of inclusions in an "I" stone. Such a stone will look milky. I've noticed that many E-Bay sellers like to make up there own grading systems. This is not good practice. Read auction site vendor grading charts carefully. They may say that VVS means "Very Very Slightly Included so that you can see inclusions with a loupe." You should not, unless you are trained in diamond grading, and then only extreemly small and very few inclusions.
Carat -- Most engagement rings are 1/4 carat, very small. 1/2 and 1 carat marks are important because they result in significant price increases. A "light 1ct", say 97 points (100 points= 1ct.) is not the same value as a full 1ct. You can save money buying it. It may look just as large as a full carat stone. A seller may call a 92-point diamond a light one-carat, but that is not the correct use of the term. Don’t be tricked buy buying a diamond with an estimated carat weight. Have the stone weighed in front of you. A sales person may say that a stone "spreads" or “faces up like” one carat. “Spreads” and “faces up like” one carat, says nothing about the weight, just how a stone looks when viewed looking down at the table. It may mean that the stone is shallow in cut, resulting in less brilliance. As with all stones, prices are exponential. If a 1ct. diamond is $5000, a 2ct. of equal quality may be $15,000+. Buy an important main stone separate from a setting. Settings can hide flaws like chips and dark areas. Remember, the fewer imperfections, the costlier the diamond. Buy only from established, sellers with a reputation to protect. U.S. consumers buy more diamonds that any other gem and about ½ of the world’s diamonds. If a store gives carat weight in fractions, ask for exact weight of the main stone in decimals. The FTC gives buyers some protection, but it allows greater weight estimation when using fractions than decimals (¼ ct. difference, a big jump). A fraction may represent a range of weights. For example, a diamond described as 1/2 ct could weigh between .40 and .53 carats. Because prices jump at the ¼, ½ and 1 ct levels, it is necessary to know the exact weight of a stone. Every point (weight) counts. The rules also require that the jeweler disclose this range of weights. Never accept “total gem weight” for a piece of jewelry when there is a main stone and accent stones. Insist that the seller disclose the weight of the main stone. There are many places on the Internet to gain diamond information such as Price Scope, the GIA web site, and BlueNile.com.
This article was not meant to be all-inclusive, so read more articles and look at gems before you buy. You will save money and heartache. Remember to save money to get the best stone you can, but that money does not equal love.