One of the first decisions that every couple will make when they decide to marry is what type of wedding and engagement rings they will choose to commemorate the most important day in their lives and show their love for each other. Jewelry stores have a large selection of beautiful jewelry that all looks the same, but with large price variations. The salesmen are happy to explain the 4C’s of diamond quality to you, but the subject can be very confusing. Many jewelers will concentrate on Color and Clarity, but that is not the whole story.
To the untrained eye, most diamonds look alike. “They look white and sparkle – right?” So you ask yourself, ” Why should I spend several thousand dollars for this diamond from you, when The Super Duper Discount Diamond Emporium, just down the road (or over on that other URL), will sell me a “Bigger Diamond” for less than $400.00?” The answer to this common questions lies in the quality of the diamonds that you are comparing.
Diamond price is determined by four factors: the Color of the diamond, the Cut of the diamond, the Clarity of the diamond, and the Caret weight of the diamond. These four factors are commonly referred to by jewelers as the “Four C’s.”
Of these four, the easiest one to understand is Caret Weight. For centuries the tiny seeds of the Carob tree were used to weigh all gemstones because their weight and size were consistent. The word Carat was derived from these seeds. Over time the Carat was standardized on the metric scale. Gemstone weights are expressed in metric carats (ct.) and are weighed to a thousandth (0.001) of a carat and then rounded off to the nearest hundredth (called a point). One carat equals .200 grams (200 milligrams), just over seven thousandths of an ounce. An ounce contains almost 142 carats. All diamonds are rare and large diamonds are not as common as small diamonds. So one would expect to see the higher value placed on the larger diamond. A big diamond at a low price may sound great, but size alone does not tell the entire story.
Diamonds come in a rainbow of many different colors. These colors include colorless, yellow, brown, red, green, blue and black. Some of these colors are extremely rare (red, green, blue) and others are more common (colorless, yellow, brown, black). The darker brown and black colors are the most common and for many years were considered only suitable for industrial uses. In the last few years these darker colors are starting to appear in jewelry. They are sometimes marketed as “champagne” and “black diamonds”. Most of the diamonds used in jewelry sold in the United States fall into the colorless to near colorless classification. The colorless diamond is the most highly valued, with the value of the diamond decreasing with increasing yellowness. Again, color does not tell the whole story when it comes to quality.
Clarity refers to flaws within the diamond. Diamonds are a product of nature and no two are identical. Some of the types of flaws commonly seen in diamonds include bubbles, crystals of other minerals, carbon grains, fractures or “feathers” (very tiny fractures that look like a feather). An internally flawless diamond is very valuable and the value of the diamond decreases with the total number and size of the flaws. Again, Clarity alone does not tell the whole story when it comes to diamond quality.
The Cut of the diamond does not refer to it’s shape, but rather how the angles of the tiny “facets” are cut and polished. The cut of the diamond is the only one of the four quality factors that is controllable by man and in my opinion the most important of all the quality factors. One of the primary reasons that people purchase diamonds is because of the sparkle. The idea is to trap as much of the light that enters the diamond as possible, bounce it around inside the diamond from one facet to another, and have as much of the light leave the diamond directly through the large flat facet on top of the diamond (the Table). This will make the diamond sparkle and how well the diamond sparkles is directly related to how well it is cut. We want diamonds to sparkle, so the more they sparkle – the more valuable they are. A poorly cut diamond will look dull or “dead”. Diamond cut is rated as Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair and Poor. For Round Brilliant and Princess shaped diamonds there is an additional rating of Ideal. Diamonds that have ratings of Very Good or better will have intense brilliance or sparkle. Fair to Poor diamonds will have very little sparkle or look like a piece of glass (dead).
All four of these factors affect the value of the diamond. To get the best “Bang for your Buck” start with Cut, then Color, then Clarity and finally caret weight. The shape of diamond that you choose will also affect how big it looks and will also affect the Color and Clarity somewhat. Oval and Marquise shapes look bigger than other diamond shapes with the same caret weight. Princess shape diamonds will look smaller than other diamonds with the same caret weight. The reason for this is total surface area of the top of the diamond versus the diamonds thickness. Oval and Marquise shapes have large top surface areas and are less thick than other stones. Princess shape diamonds are thicker and have small top surface areas.
Diamond shapes with corners (Princess, Emerald, Pear, Marquise, Trilliant) can sometimes have yellow flashes in the corners when the Color Grade is on the border line to the next lower color grade. This color shift is most noticed when the diamond is on the borderline of Near Colorless (J color) and Faint Yellow (K color) on the GIA Color Grade Scale.
Diamond shapes with large table areas, such as Emerald and Oval can also emphasize the Clarity of the stone. Small inclusions may be visible with these diamond shapes that would not be visible with other shapes. This only becomes a factor when the Clarity rating of the diamond is below SI2.
Diamonds can also be treated in various ways to improve their clarity and color. Their color can be changed with radiation and various substances can be injected into the diamond to fill cracks. An ethical jeweler will disclose any treatments that may have been done to the diamond. Treatment to improve the diamonds clarity or color greatly reduces the value of the diamond.
How do you know if you are getting a good deal or being ripped off? Ask for a GIA, AGS or EGL certificate. These certificates are available for diamonds of 0.4ct. and above and are issued by the Gemological Institute of America, the American Gem Society and the European Gemological Laboratory. These are independent gem testing laboratories and are the diamond jewelry industry accepted standard. When you compare the price of two diamonds always make certain that you are comparing equals. If the two certifications are essentially the same, the lowest price is the best deal.