How to Buy a Diamond: 4 C’s of Diamonds & More
Dazzling and pure, diamonds are the perfect way to show the special people in your life just how much they mean to you. Whether it's the radiant centerpiece of a stunning engagement ring or a sparkling addition to a pendant necklace or bracelet, diamonds are a timeless symbol of unwavering love and affection. We've crafted this guide to help you find the perfect diamond for any piece of jewelry. Read on to find out what things to look for and consider as you're selecting a diamond.
4 C's of Diamonds
When considering a diamond stone, there are a few factors to keep in mind to best determine quality and value. A good jeweler will be able to help you navigate a diamond collection, but having some knowledge under your belt will help you make the most informed decision possible and get the best value for your budget. There are four essential elements to consider when choosing a diamond, known as the four C's: Cut, Color, Clarity, and Carat weight. For some diamond buyers, carat weight is the most important factor, while others may put more emphasis on clarity and color. Each element has a basic rating system, but the personal value of the stone ultimately comes down to the qualities you find most important.
The cut of a diamond refers to its proportion, facets, and shape. As the most important source of sparkle, a properly cut and polished stone will reflect and disperse light to provide maximum shine. Cuts are typically graded on a 5-point scale from excellent to poor, depending on the amount of light that is reflected out of the stone. If a stone is cut too shallow or too deep, the light that passes through the crown escapes through the pavilion of the stone, hindering the desired sparkle. Girdle thickness is something to consider when determining the cut of a diamond, as a thicker girdle may be an indication of a poorly cut stone. A thicker girdle can also carry a higher carat weight that may not be reflected in the dimension of the stone, resulting in a smaller circumference but higher price tag. Depending on your budget, diamonds with lower color and clarity ratings can still provide high sparkle if they are cut in the right proportions and shape.
Diamond clarity is determined by the number of flaws, blemishes, and inclusions present in the stone. Inclusions are very small imperfections that naturally occur in the formation of diamonds and gemstones and interfere with the amount of light able to pass through the stone. Clarity ratings range from Flawless (FL) to Included (I). A higher clarity rating means the diamond has fewer inclusions and thus carries a higher price point. However, a slightly lower clarity rating can often times still look clean to the naked eye and radiate as much beauty. Diamond shape and cut will help determine the number of visible inclusions. Emerald-cut diamonds have a large table and a step-cut pavilion, which makes imperfections much more visible to the naked eye, and brilliant-cut diamonds feature multiple kite-shaped facets that can disguise inclusions.
Natural diamonds can be found in a huge range of colors. For diamonds on the white scale, there is a color-rating system designed to categorize the stones from colorless to yellow. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) rates diamond color on a scale from D to Z — D being completely colorless and Z being light yellow in color. A colorless diamond carries a higher value than a stone with a color presence. While the distinctions in color may be difficult to detect with the naked eye, they do have an impact on the price point of the stone. Diamond color is assessed by placing the stones on an all-white background, due to the color of a diamond becoming more difficult to detect once mounted in a ring setting. Additionally, metal color may make a difference in the way the diamond appears. If you're considering a diamond toward the yellow end of the spectrum, a yellow gold setting will help make the diamond appear whiter. The best way to determine if a diamond color meets your standards is to view the stone in person and in a well-lit space.
Carat weight refers to the actual metric weight of the diamond, not to be confused with "karat," which refers to the measurement of purity in gold. The GIA defines "carat" as measuring 200 milligrams, or .02 grams. While carat weight is one of the largest determinants of price — larger carat diamonds tend to be rarer and more desirable — two diamonds of the same carat weight may vary greatly in price depending on other factors like the cut, color, and clarity grading. Keep in mind that two diamonds of the same carat weight can also appear to be different sizes depending on the quality of the cut.
Anatomy of a Diamond
Knowing what features to look for when diamond shopping will help you make the right choice when it comes time to make a purchase. Almost all diamonds will showcase unique cuts and angles that help to catch and distribute light. Getting to know the names and functions of each part of the diamond will help you in your search for the perfect stone.
Anatomy of a Diamond
- 1. Table: Located above the crown, it’s the largest facet of the stone.
- 2. Girdle: The perimeter of the diamond where the crown and pavilion intersect.
- 3. Crown: The uppermost area of the diamond, located above the girdle. It includes the table and upper girdle facets.
- 4. Pavilion: The base of the stone. It features a series of facets intended to reflect the light that enters through the crown.
- 5. Culet: The very tip of the diamond located below the pavilion. It sometimes features a tiny facet that is parallel with the table.
- 6. Facet: One of the many flat sides of a cut diamond that reflects light to create sparkle.
Even after you've learned the fundamentals of diamond buying, you'll probably still encounter a few words that are unfamiliar to you. Jewelers and gem-cutters use specific terms to refer to the way light interacts with diamonds. Understanding these terms and the importance of these aspects in diamonds will help you know what specific qualities to look for as you shop.
- Fire refers to the flashes of white and rainbow light that reflect out of a diamond.
- Scintillation is the intense sparkle of the stone or the flashes of black and white that occurs as the diamond moves in the light.
- Brilliance is a combination of fire and scintillation. It also refers to the overall brightness of the diamond. (This is not to be confused with brilliant-cut, which is a cone-shaped diamond that features a kite-shaped facet pattern.)
- Bow tie refers to the darkened parts of certain diamond cuts where the light escapes from the pavilion in a bow tie shape across the center of the stone. A bow tie is not necessarily a negative trait if it's subtle. However, if it distracts from the beauty of the diamond, it is indicative of a poorly cut stone.
The cut and shape of a diamond are crucial elements to the sparkle factor of the stone, and a quality cut can add beauty and sparkle to an imperfect diamond. While round-cut diamonds capture and reflect light in unique and dazzling ways, they are often the most expensive due to the extra effort they take to produce. Thankfully, there are plenty of unique, non-round cuts to choose from that can be every bit as breathtaking in any piece of jewelry.
The round-cut diamond is the most popular stone shape for engagement rings. Loved for its overall brilliance and sparkle, a standard round-cut diamond features 58 facets, including the culet. Because there is so much loss of the rough stone when the diamond is originally formed, the price-per-carat tends to be higher. But the fire, scintillation, and brilliance of round-cut stones makes them the most desirable option of all the cuts. This stunning gemstone shape features a "brilliant" cut pattern, which refers to the kite-shaped facets that reflect intense light off the pavilion and back through the crown.
Combining the elegance of a princess diamond with the fiery faceting of a cushion-cut stone, radiant diamonds offer a striking aesthetic. This diamond features a brilliant facet pattern on both the crown and pavilion for maximum sparkle. Traditionally rectangular with slightly cropped corners, radiant diamonds blend the fire and scintillation of a brilliant-cut diamond with the elegant shape of an emerald. In radiant diamonds with a longer diameter, a bow tie effect may appear across the center of the stone. The severity of the bow tie effect is determined in part by the facet pattern of the pavilion. The more light that is able to escape through the pavilion of the stone means the bow tie effect will appear more intense.
Princess-cut diamonds are a type of fancy-cut gemstone with a square shape and four equal sides. Since the princess shape is similar to the shape of the rough stone from which it's cut, it means that less material is lost when forming the diamond, which translates into a lower price per carat. Princess-cut stones are traditionally square, but some may actually be rectangular, which will often carry a lower price point. Brilliant-cut princess diamonds offer a similar fire and sparkle to that of round-cut diamonds, making their shape, sparkle, and price point ideal for many engagement ring buyers. Prong settings are recommended for princess stones, as the prongs will help prevent the delicate corners from chipping.
This classic gemstone shape, also known as the "old mine" or "miners" cut, combines the four sides of a princess cut with the rounded corners and faceting of a brilliant-cut stone. The delicate pillow shape makes this centuries-old style a must-have for vintage jewelry lovers. While generally less brilliant than round-cut stones, cushion diamonds are praised for their intense fire and vintage appeal. This classic diamond cut can be paired with a contemporary setting to elevate the look.
Similar to an emerald-cut diamond, asscher diamonds feature larger step-cut faceting with a higher crown and smaller table width. This creates more reflection and brilliance than an emerald-cut diamond. While asscher diamonds emit less sparkle than brilliant-cut stones, they provide a clean, transparent appearance desired by lovers of high-quality gemstones. Inclusions and lower color grades may be more obvious with this kind of cut.
This elegant gemstone shape takes the brilliant cut to the next level, creating a pear shaped stone that elongates the finger and gives off a radiant shimmer. Combining the curve of a round diamond with the tapered style of a marquise stone, a well-cut pear diamond should possess good symmetry with equal faceting on both sides. Pear diamonds should always be set with a prong at the narrow tip to protect it from chipping.
Unlike brilliant-cut stones, emerald-cut diamonds boast mirror-like flashes instead of a fiery sparkle. What makes this stone unique is the step-cut pavilion and open, minimally-faceted table. This creates a "hall-of-mirrors" effect that plays off light and dark planes to create dramatic flashes of light. Because of the shallow faceting and the open table, it's more difficult to hide the inclusions and flaws of lower-grade diamonds. Emerald cuts are at their most spectacular when the diamond is clean to the naked eye. Varying in shape from almost square to very narrow rectangles, emerald-cut diamonds offer a sophisticated appearance.
Inspired by the Madame de Pompadour's famous pout, the marquise diamond is an elongated oval-shaped stone with tapered points at both ends and a modified brilliant cut. The long, narrow shape and the large surface area of the crown elongate the finger and create the illusion of a larger stone. Because of its shape and facet pattern, a poorly cut marquise stone is more likely to have a bow tie effect. Inspect the stone in full light before buying to ensure the bow tie effect doesn't interfere with the brilliance of the diamond.
As a modified brilliant-cut stone, an oval diamond possesses a fiery sparkle. The oblong shape and facet pattern make this diamond an elegant choice for wearers who are looking for a unique take on the classic round cut. As with other elongated brilliant stones, the bow tie effect is something to watch for here. If the facets are misaligned, a shadow may be visible across the center of the stone where light is escaping. Whether flanked by side stones or framed in a halo, an oval-cut diamond engagement ring is a stunning choice.
Heart-shaped engagement rings are anything but conventional. Diamonds cut into this romantic shape are both distinct and expressive. This modified brilliant-cut diamond features a fiery facet pattern and stunning craftsmanship. A well-crafted heart-shaped diamonds should have a sharp distinct cleft and rounded wings. The size of the diamond will determine how visible the heart cut is. For smaller heart-shaped diamonds, a three-prong setting or halo will help define the shape of the stone. If your special someone is a true romantic, a heart-shaped diamond engagement ring is the perfect expression of love.