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Introduction & Sparkle
4Cs: Judging Quality
Carat Weight
Clarity
Color
Cut
Other Considerations
Pricing



 
For many couples, a diamond is the natural choice when it comes to engagement rings. Diamonds have come to symbolize the union between two individuals. Diamonds are rare, and this rarity imparts a special significance to the gem in terms of commemorating special occasions. Although estimates vary, roughly 250 tons of rough rock material must be processed to find a rough diamond crystal that can be cut into a one carat faceted diamond. That's a LOT of rock.

While Superman could squeeze a block of coal with his hands to form a diamond for his love, Lois Lane, most of us will have to find diamonds that have come about the old-fashioned way- through difficult mining, cutting, and polishing. And it is once a diamond is cut that its truly impressive visual natures captures our attention.

Why choose a diamond for an engagement ring? Outside of the rarity, tradition, or status symbolism, there are two important reasons why diamonds are so sought after for engagement rings.

1. They sparkle and dazzle the eye.
2. They can be worn on a daily basis.

Let's take a look at some of the reasons behind this.





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Sparkle
 


Diamonds have a lively or 'fiery' appearance. When well cut, diamonds reflect and return light to the eye in striking ways- a combination of three distinct optical properties: transparency, brilliance and dispersion. Transparency refers to a gem that is 'clear.' You can see through it like a glass window. Brilliance involves the light that is reflected off of the various diamond facets, or flat polished surfaces on the diamond's exterior. Dispersion is the breaking of light into the colors of the spectrum- much as you would see with a prism. Regardless of the technical terminology, these combined patterns of light movement result in the brilliant, sparkling appearance of a diamond that we see and cannot resist.

Hard as a rock?

Diamonds are extremely hard, or resistant to scratching- the hardest of all other gemstones- and the hardest known substance. Only diamonds can scratch other diamonds. This hardness means that diamonds can have very sharp and reflective polished surfaces (facets). Diamonds, like graphite in pencil lead, are composed of carbon. The difference is in their internal atomic structure. Diamonds have formed under intense temperatures and pressure with tightly packed atoms and therefore a high density. This high-density structure affects the way cut diamonds reflect and absorb light in sparkling combinations. The hardness also means that diamonds are unlikely to be scratched when worn everyday.

Unbreakable?

While uncommon, diamonds can break. Durability is defined as a combination of a material's hardness and toughness. Diamonds are the hardest known substance and can only be scratched by other diamonds. Toughness is defined as a stone's resistance to chipping, cracking, or breaking. Diamonds have perfect cleavage in four directions. (A cleavage plane is a weak bond direction between atoms.) Basically, a very strong blow in the wrong place can break a diamond. Diamond cutters take advantage of this cleavage plane when fashioning cut diamonds from rough diamonds. However, it generally takes the blow from a hammer to cause damage- a blow that the average cut diamond set in jewelry rarely experiences.

(It is important to note that a highly 'flawed' diamond, resembling more a piece of ice than a piece of glass, is more susceptible to breaking than one that has few visible 'flaws.')

The Human Eye

Please keep in mind that throughout the diamond selection process, the most important tool is your eyes. Armed with this critical tool and some important information, you will become confident in judging diamond quality.


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Four C's of Diamonds:
The Basics of Judging Diamond Quality
 


How do you gauge the quality of a diamond? Don't they all look pretty much the same?


In some cases, yes, they do. However, nature has not created all diamonds equal. A diamond that is entirely flawless is much less common than one that looks heavily flawed like an ice cube. There are many degrees of quality between these two extremes that affect the price one pays for a loose diamond.

What factors are involved in deciding the quality of a diamond? What is the system for classifying the different qualities of diamonds?

Diamonds are graded by a system made up of four components known as the Four C's:

Carat Weight
Clarity
Color
Cut

Prior to 1950, the diamond industry had no standardized method of evaluating diamonds and their qualities. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) established a diamond grading system involving the evaluation of four areas of diamond properties: carat weight, clarity, color, and cut. GIA began issuing detailed diamond reports known as diamond certificates to support an objective system for evaluating these diamond criteria. The jewelry industry soon adopted GIA's system, and the process of evaluating diamonds became standardized. These same standards are used in grading diamonds today.

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Carat Weight
 



Size does matter.

When it comes to carat weight, one major factor is critical: When all other diamond quality factors are equal, the larger the diamond, the higher the price. To cut a big diamond, you need a big piece of rough diamond. Large rough diamonds are difficult to find in nature.

Diamond Weights: A Few Details

All gemstones are weighed by a unit of measurement called the carat.

The system of carat weight is based on the carob seed. In the ancient Middle East, items to be weighed would be placed on a balance scale opposite a number of dried carob seeds (from the carob or locust tree) which tended to have the same weight. Carob, hence carat.

1 carat = 0.2 grams or 5 carats = 1 gram

A carat is divided into 100 units called 'points.' A '20 pointer' or 20 point diamond weighs 0.20 carats.

Diamond weight is measured to the hundredths place (decimal system). Examples: 1.00 carats, 1.26 carats, 6.84 carats.

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Clarity
  How 'clean' is the diamond?

Diamonds range from flawless to very included (like ice cubes). If all other diamond factors are equal, a flawless diamond has the greatest value.

Apart from carat weight, clarity is a major factor in evaluating a diamond. Clarity refers to the number and position of inclusions (located inside a diamond) and blemishes (located on a diamond's surface) visible in a diamond when viewed by exact grading procedures under 10 times magnification.

What does this mean?

Translation: How easy are the 'flaws' to see when looking at a diamond under magnification?


First, gemologists prefer to use the word 'inclusion' rather than the word 'flaw' since the word 'flaw' has a negative connotation. Diamond inclusions are not necessarily bad and ugly. Often, they are evidence of a diamond's natural growth and formation and create a distinctive 'fingerprint' that makes a particular diamond unique and identifiable.

Exact grading conditions refer to a standardized way of observing a clean, faceted diamond- a specific light source, magnification (10 times more powerful than human vision), and a certain method of viewing a diamond face-up, then in profile, and then upside down. After accessing the location and number of inclusions, a final clarity 'grade' is assigned to a diamond. Most diamonds certified at reputable laboratories are graded by several different diamond graders to insure accuracy.

The following list of clarity grades shows what a diamond grader keeps in mind when methodically looking at a diamond under magnification.

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Diamond Clarity Grading Scale
(taken from the GIA Diamond Grading Manual)
 



F-Flawless
'Flawless diamonds show no blemishes or inclusions when examined by a skilled grader under 10X magnification.'

IF-Internally Flawless
'IF stones show no inclusions and only insignificant blemishes under 10X.'

VVS1 and VVS2- Very, Very Slightly Included (1 & 2)
'VVS diamonds contain minute inclusions that are difficult for even a skilled grader to locate under 10X.'

VS1 and VS2- Very Slight Included (1 & 2)
'VS stones contain minor inclusions ranging from difficult (VS1) to somewhat easy (VS2) for a trained grader to see under 10X.'

SI1 and SI2 (Slightly Included (1 & 2)
'SI stones contain noticeable inclusions which are easy (SI1) or very easy (SI2) to see under 10X. In some SIs, inclusions can be seen with the unaided eye.

I1, I2, and I3- (Imperfect (1, 2, & 3)
'I grade diamonds contain inclusions which are obvious to a trained grader under 10X magnification, can often be easily seen face-up with the unaided eye, seriously affect the stone's potential durability, or are so numerous they affect transparency and brilliance.'


 


Human Eye: Eye Clean

What does this clarity scale really mean when looking at diamonds?

Let's go back to your most important tool- your eyes. The difference between the clarity grades relates to the rarity of diamond rough: the more flawless the diamond, the greater the rarity of the diamond. However,
without magnification, the human eye generally cannot perceive these rarity differences. Since diamonds are graded with a microscope (under 10 times magnification!!), most diamond clarity grades would appear the same to the human eye.

Just to reiterate, with almost all diamond clarity grades, the nuances of inclusions can only be determined by looking at the diamond through a microscope or a loupe- not with the eye. Flawless, Internally Flawless, VVS1, VVS2, VS1, VS2, and often SI1 clarity diamonds would look the same to the human eye when viewed next to each other.

Unless you are a collector of very rare, high clarity diamonds, the distinction between clarity grades becomes important in diamond purchase price. Price-wise, all other factors being equal, the higher the clarity grade, the more the diamond will cost. While a higher clarity diamond is more expensive, it does not mean it is more beautiful.

With this in mind, I generally recommend selecting a diamond that is 'flawless' to the human eye. This is called 'eye-clean.' The diamond looks beautiful and 'flaw-free' when viewed in (or on) hand. Diamond prices increase as clarity grades approach 'flawless.' By selecting a diamond in the VS1, VS2, or high quality SI1 categories, one can help to 'manipulate' diamond prices to remain in a certain budget without sacrificing any gem or ring beauty. For example, selecting a VS2 quality diamond instead of a VVS2 diamond would likely mean that one can select a larger-sized diamond within a certain budget.

(Note: With larger sized diamonds (2 carats and up), eye-clean diamonds generally need to be restricted to the VS2 (and above) range. The larger a diamond gets, the more likely one could perceive an inclusion at the SI1 clarity grade.)

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Color
 



Another major factor in grading diamonds relates to their color.

But I thought diamonds had no color?

Diamonds range from colorless to fancy colors- such as yellow, blue, pink, and champagne. A 'D' color diamond is a completely colorless diamond. In the colorless diamond range, if all other grading factors are equal, a D color diamond is the rarest and most expensive. With colored diamonds, red diamonds
are extremely rare.

In the years before GIA standardized a diamond grading system, A, B, and C were used to refer to the degree of a diamond's colorlessness. To avoid any grading confusion, GIA started its own color grade scale for diamonds with the letter D.' As diamond color progresses down the alphabet scale (D,E,F,G,H,I), the diamonds begin to have more a of 'tint' of color. This color results from the presence of minute quantities of other elements in the diamond's chemical structure. The most common element is nitrogen, which causes a yellow appearance. Boron is responsible for blue diamonds and structural 'anomalies' (without going into more detailed scientific explanations) may be responsible for pink and red colored diamonds.

Consistent grading conditions, like those found in a diamond trade laboratory, apply to viewing and grading diamond color. One needs a white viewing tray and balanced white light to look at diamond colors. Diamond color is then gauged by looking through the profile of the diamond, not at its 'face up' appearance.

Most diamond color grades from D through I appear 'colorless' to an untrained eye. After this, the eye begins to perceive a hint of color- again, usually a yellow appearance. Depending on the choice of metal for a diamond setting, diamond color may make more or less of a visual difference in a ring. It can certainly make a difference in pricing.

The Color Scale

D, E, F
Diamonds in this range appear colorless under balanced light grading conditions.

G, H, I
Stones in these grades generally look colorless face-up. In profile, they can have a tint of color. When mounted in jewelry, they generally appear colorless.

J, K, L
The stones begin to have a tint of color, but the tint is less apparent when mounted in jewelry.

M, N, O, P,...
As color moves down the alphabet scale, the stones tend to have a more yellowish tint even to the untrained eye.

 

 

How Important is Diamond Color for Engagement Rings?

The choice of diamond color should be linked to the choice
of metal foran engagement ring. Adjusting up or down one color grade affects a diamond's price.

Platinum
Since platinum is the whitest of engagement ring metals, diamonds
in the very colorless color range complement platinum's color, or lack thereof, nicely. D, E, F, and G (and even H) color graded diamonds look beautiful set in platinum and have no appearance of yellow-tinted color.

White Gold
With white gold, since the metal is a derivative of yellow gold, the color is less white than platinum. However, diamonds in the H, I, J, range still generally look colorless when set in white gold.

Yellow Gold
With yellow gold, the metal is already yellow. As a result, any tint of yellow color in a diamond is often 'hidden' or 'masked' by the yellow appearance of the ring setting. Diamonds with color grades farther along the color scale can still be perceived as 'colorless' in yellow gold rings.



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Diamond Cut versus Shape
 



Cut and Shape

Shape and cut are not synonyms. Diamonds come in a range of classic shapes or outlines: rounds (round brilliants), squares (called princess cuts), pear shapes, ovals, emeralds, marquises, and hearts. Variations on these shapes include Asscher cuts, cushion cuts, and other diamond cuts that have been promoted in brand-like fashion (like Tiffany's Lucida® cut- a variation on a cushion cut). With laser cutting, even unusual diamond shapes can be fashioned-including four-leaf clovers and horse-heads.

With each diamond shape, there are many different combinations of top and bottom facet angles, stone depths, and patterns that highlight a diamond's ability to reflect and disperse light. In addition to this, the degree of quality of the facet alignment and polish affect the beauty of a cut diamond. All of thses factors together make up what the diamond trade refers to as cut.

A round brilliant cut diamond is a classic diamond shape in the engagement ring world as it takes advantage of so many of a diamond's optical properties. When well faceted, with a certain combination of angles, depths, and facet patterns, they really sparkle. To determine a 'cut' grade, a diamond grader accesses how a diamond's visible appearance is affected by all of these different factors.

Some diamonds are cut 'shallow' so they will look bigger when viewed face-up. Others have been cut very deep. While there are many technical specifics to the angles and depths for diamonds that affect the face up sparkle or 'cut' of a diamond, gauging beauty is ultimately subjective and a matter of looking with the eye.

I recommend asking the following questions:

Does the diamond look beautiful?
Does it have a lively sparkle?


Looking to see if a diamond sparkles 'face up' is critical. This is how the diamond will be viewed in a piece of jewelry.

Cut and Polish Grading

Cut grading refers to the facet alignment on a diamond. In the case of a round brilliant cut, there are 57 facets. The more consistently and symmetrically the facets are cut, the higher the cut grade. Cut is listed as Excellent (E), Very Good (VG), Good (G), Fair (F), and Poor (P).

Polish refers to how well polished- smooth and unmarked- the facets are. Polish is rated as Excellent (E), Very Good (VG), Good (G), Fair (F), and Poor (P).

In my experience, most people cannot easily perceive the differences between an Excellent (E), Very Good (VG), and Good (G) cut and polish.

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Other Diamond Considerations





Lab Certification:

Basically, a lab certificate serves as a map of a particular diamond. It lists a diamond's weight, color, and clarity along with a diagram of the location and type of inclusions. For a diamond buyer, the certificate helps with the identification of the diamond. By referring to the inclusion diagram, called a 'lot,' one can verify that the diamond being sold matches the diamond certificate in hand. A lab certificate works as a type of 'fingerprint' for the diamond.

There are a number of diamond grading laboratories in the world. They all grade diamonds based on the standards set up by GIA: carat weight, color, clarity, and cut. Some add slight variations in how they grade diamonds- including specific cut grades and other details. A lab certification serves as a guarantee that a diamond's quality is accepted within the diamond trade as an accurate representation for gauging rarity and pricing. GIA has one of the best reputations in the diamond trade, so often, GIA certified diamonds sell at higher prices than diamonds certified by other labs. EGL (European Gem Lab) and AGS (American Gem Society) are other well-respected labs.



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Pricing: The 5th C= COST
 




Jewelers joke that the 5th C of diamond grading is COST. A diamond purchase is rarely inexpensive. Diamonds are rare and highly prized. As far as pricing, diamonds exist in a tight market largely 'manipulated' by a UK-based company called De Beers. They are responsible for the diamond campaign- 'A Diamond is Forever.' De Beers controls a large portion of the world's rough diamond supply and is able to release certain numbers of rough diamonds to its buyers, called sightholders. These sightholders then cut and sell the rough and cut diamonds to supply the wholesale diamond market. This process is very streamlined, and the diamond trade is able to list cut diamond prices fairly easily in terms of diamond supply and demand. The trade commonly uses a wholesale pricing sheet to reference price. This list, called the Rapaport Report, categorizes cut diamond prices based on carat weight, color, and clarity. Please contact me with questions about specific diamond prices and pricing.


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