Selecting the right diamond is no easy task. Even though extremely rare, there are thousands of diamonds to choose from - in every shape, color, quality and price range. So how do you make the right decision? It's simple - do a little homework and find a professional jeweler that you can trust.
Too many people today buy a diamond based on numbers and letters - grades and classifications. And while the process of diamond grading has advanced considerably in the last 50 years, it will never be able to evaluate beauty. Beauty is a matter of personal taste and determining beauty is a personal decision.
Choosing the right diamond, either for yourself or as a gift for a loved one, should be fun. It should also be a special and rewarding experience. As you look at more and more diamonds you'll discover what your tastes and preferences are. You'll also discover that the only way to find the perfect diamond to meet your needs is to talk to a knowledgeable jeweler that can offer sound advice and guidance.
It's All About Romance
(with a little history and lore to keep it interesting!) Some people say it all started back in 1477 when the young Archduke of Austria gave his beautiful bride-to-be, Mary of Burgundy, a large diamond set in a simple ring. As he placed this ring on the fourth finger of her left hand and said, "Will you marry me?", a tradition was born. And no nobler tradition exists today than that of giving nature's most beautiful gift to someone you cherish as a representation of the love you share.
There is no better gemstone to represent our deepest and most personal emotions than the diamond. Not only is it the hardest natural substance. It is also the purest - pure carbon - crystallized under amazing amounts of heat and pressure deep within the earth's mantle.
The ancient Greeks believed diamonds to be crystallized dewdrops and splinters from the stars given to mortals as gifts from the gods of Olympus. They referred to the diamond as "adamas" or unconquerable - suggesting the eternity of love it so rightfully represents.
Did you know that diamonds are more than just pretty?
The diamond is one of earth's most rare gifts. Statistics show that an average of a million carats of diamonds must be mined to find a one-carat stone. That means a one-carat diamond is really one-in-a-million! About 250 tons of earth must be excavated to find that same one-carat stone. You really are moving mountains for your loved one when you give the gift of a diamond!
The beauty of the diamond, even in its unpolished state, has long been cherished by civilizations around the world. African Shamans, holy men within a tribe, treasured the diamond for its beauty and power. It was an ancient and eternal symbol of a perfected man whose divine spirit shines forth through the protection it offers.
Diamond has long been heralded as the philosopher's stone. It is said that he (or she) who possesses the philosopher's stone can find supreme and unalterable wisdom, knowing Truth, the greatest of all treasures. To the mystic the diamond represents perfect love - a love that transmutes all that is lifeless to immortal.
The diamond has long been a symbol of man in search of his divine spirit. As the rough diamond is born from the ground dull and lifeless, so the spiritual man begins his journey in the world with his true luminosity hidden. In the hands of a skilled lapidary, the diamond is transformed into a crystal of light and fire. Such is the spirit of man revealing its inherent beauty as it is ground and polished by the life he lives.
Because it was believed that diamonds endowed the wearer with gifts from the gods, they were often mounted into the swords and breastplates of Kings. Thought to provide personal strength, invincibility, courage and magical powers over enemies, warriors stayed clear of anyone wearing diamonds in battle. It's no wonder the King always came out of battles alive. But was it the fact that warriors avoided them or was it because diamonds are indeed magical?
And you thought diamonds were just pretty!
Quality + Beauty = Value
You may have heard or read somewhere that the value of a diamond is determined by it quality or grade. The fact of the matter is, that while quality is very important to a diamond's value, it's real value can't be determined without considering how it looks to you - the buyer - and whether or not you find its beauty appealing. No matter how high the grade, if you don't fall in love with the diamond you're buying, it's not a good value.
With that said, let's review the quality factors that go into grading a diamond. These factors are collectively known as the four Cs - cut, clarity, color and carat weight.
Diamonds have been graded using the four Cs for about fifty years. The Gemological Institute of America pioneered the system back in the 1950s. The system has steadily gained acceptance worldwide. In fact, every major diamond grading laboratory in the world uses the GIA diamond grading nomenclature or something very similar on the reports they issue.
Cut - It's all about beauty
When most people hear the word "cut" they think of shape. Most diamonds are round, but diamonds are also cut into almost any shape imaginable. When diamond graders thinks of shape, they consider both the shape of the stone and the way each individual facet or flat polished surface is placed on the diamond. Most experts agree that it is the arrangement and positioning of the diamond's facets that has the most affect on the diamond's beauty.
Let's Talk Shape
There are many popular diamond shapes. Some are traditional, dating back to the early 1900s. Others are much more recent in their development.
The shapes you see here are no longer commonly cut. These early faceting styles date from about 1840 to 1920.
Let's Talk Angles and Proportions
The shape of a diamond is important, but even more critical is the way the facets are arranged on the stone and the angles and proportions they create. A diamond owes its beauty to the way it handles light. A well-cut diamond is the most brilliant and sparkling of all gemstones. A poorly cut gemstone, no matter how high its other quality factors, will seem lifeless and unappealing to the eye. That's just another reason to spend some time looking at diamonds before you decide to make a purchase.
A traditional round brilliant cut diamond has either 57 or 58 facets or flat polished surfaces. Sometimes the diamond cutter won't cut a tiny flat facet on the point of the stone. If this is the case, you'll have a diamond with 57 facets. With the tiny facet (called a culet) you get 58 facets. Don't worry if your diamond doesn't have a culet. It doesn't make a difference when it comes to the value or looks or your stone.
Round brilliant cut diamonds have the facet arrangement you see here. The stone is divided into three basic parts or areas - the crown (above the girdle), the pavilion (below the girdle) and the girdle itself.
Each facet on a diamond has a special name. The big facet on the crown is called the table. Surrounding the table are eight star facets. The kite-shaped facets are called bezels. Just above the girdle are sixteen upper girdle facets.
On the pavilion are sixteen lower girdle facets and eight pavilion mains. You may or may not have a culet at the point.
There are certain angles, percentages and proportions that must be considered and evaluated to determine the quality of a diamond's cut. The most important factors experts look at are table size, crown angle (measured in degrees), girdle thickness, pavilion depth (as a percentage of the total depth) and total depth.
What's the best cut?
What's the prettiest color or the most attractive flower? There's just no correct answer to a question that has so many variables and is so subjective. There are definitely factors that determine a well-cut stone and factors that would indicate a poorly cut stone, but trying to say there is one best cut is like saying there is one best political party. You might think so, but there are lots of people who will disagree.
Changing and evolving since about 1920, a cutting style referred to as the "Ideal" cut is popular in many jewelry stores today. Though marketed as "ideal", recent studies by major international diamond grading laboratories have discovered that there are many cutting variations outside the "ideal" parameters that yield equally brilliant and dispersive diamonds.
This is not to say that "Ideal" cut diamond is not beautiful. On the contrary, it is one of the most beautiful cutting styles in existence. But it is not the one, single best cutting style for round diamonds. Recent research into a diamond's optics has confirmed what many diamond cutters have been saying for decades - that there are many combinations of angles and proportions that create a beautiful diamond. Smart diamond buyers today turn to professional jewelers to help them make sense of all the different cut variables - angles, proportions, percentages and dimensions. And finally, the smartest buyers of all use their eyes to find a diamond that radiates the beauty and brilliance they find attractive.
All that glitters?
There are four aspects of a polished diamond that directly relate to the stone's optical and physical properties. These factors are greatly impacted by the way the diamond is cut.
They are luster, brilliance, dispersion, and scintillation.
Luster can be described as the quality and amount of light that is reflected off the surface of a diamond. Luster is directly related to the hardness of the stone and the quality of its polish. A well polished diamond is the most lustrous material on earth because diamond is also the hardest material known to man.
Brilliance refers to the amount of white light that is returned to the eye from both internal and external surfaces. The amount of brilliance you see coming from inside a diamond is determined by the quality of the stone's polish the number and size of any inclusions inside the gem. External brilliance is controlled solely by the quality of a stone's polish in that regard brilliance and luster are closely related.
Dispersion is sometimes called "fire". Dispersion is the display of spectral or rainbow colors seen coming from the inside of a diamond. The amount of fire produced in a diamond is directly related to how well the stone is proportioned. A well-cut diamond will offer a pleasing balance between dispersion and brilliance.
Scintillation is just a big work for "sparkle". A diamond will show scintillation or sparkle only when movement is involved. The diamond, the light source or the viewer must be in motion for scintillation to happen. A well-cut diamond in motion is absolutely the most dazzling gemstone in the world.
A diamonds beauty is largely measured by how well the cutting process maximizes the stone's inherent physical and optical properties. There is no way a high color or clarity grade can offset the visual results caused by poor cutting. But a well cut diamond with less than average clarity and color can be a dazzling spectacle of light and fire.
Remember - Cut really is all about beauty!
Clarity - from the inside out
First things first. No matter what you've heard, read or been told by your best friend in the whole wide world - clarity is NOT a measurement of a diamond's beauty. NO. It's not. Only in very uncommon situations is there any kind of correlation between a diamond's clarity grade and the way it looks to the unaided eye.
With that said, what exactly is a clarity grade? It's a measurement of a diamond's purity and rarity. That's it!
The clarity grade of a diamond is determined by a skilled grader under optimum laboratory conditions using ten-power (10X) magnification. The grader is looking for any characteristics inside the diamond (called inclusions) or any characteristics on the surface (called blemishes). Once the grader has found all these characteristics they are evaluated based on their size, type, position, color and number. Once the grader has finished this process a final clarity grade is assigned. There are eleven clarity grades in the GIA system ranging from Flawless (Fl) to Imperfect 3 (I3).
F1(Flawless at 10X)
IF(Internally Flawless at 10X)
VVS1 - VVS2(Very, very slightly included at 10X)
VS1 - VS2(Very slightly included at 10X)
SI1 - SI2(Slightly Included at 10X)
I1 - I2 - I3(Imperfect)
In a very small percentage of diamonds in the SI range, some characteristics may be visible to the unaided eye. Diamonds falling in the Imperfect grades will more commonly have eye-visible inclusions, but an Imperfect grade DOES NOT necessarily mean that the stone will be unattractive to the eye. This is just another reason why is it so important to look at a diamond carefully before you buy it. It's also another reason why you should never buy a diamond based solely on its grades.
Clarity is a range
Many consumers become too fixated on the clarity grade of a stone without considering the bigger picture. Think of a clarity grade as your age. Let's say you're 34 years old (and don't look a day over 29). You could be very close to your 34th birthday (maybe it was yesterday) or you could be really close to your 35th birthday (it could be tomorrow), but when people ask your age you just tell them that you are 34. It works the same way with clarity grades. A VS2 diamond could be high or low in the VS range. In fact, if the diamond at either end of the range was sent to another lab (or even back to the same lab at a later date) it might very well get a different grade. Diamond grading documents don't tell you where in the range a stone falls. It could be right on the edge in either direction or smack in the center of the range. You'll never know. This is a very good reason not to get too hung up on a diamond's clarity grade when making a decision. Always consider beauty first and foremost when selecting a diamond.
Remember - A high clarity grade may mean rarer (and more expensive), but it doesn't mean more beautiful!
Color - a range of choices
When most people think of diamonds they think of a colorless stone. Although most diamonds appear colorless to the unaided eye in a face-up position, the majority has a body color that can be seen by an experienced grader in the proper environment. By far, the most common body color of a diamond is yellow. Diamonds with a tint of brown are also relatively common.
Generally speaking, the more colorless the diamond the more valuable. In that regard, the color grade of a diamond is a measurement of rarity. Rarity is directly linked to value. Just as with clarity, a color grade cannot determine the beauty of a diamond. Color preference and perception is a very personal and subjective thing. Look at the stone and decide for yourself if you like its color before you make decisions based on a letter of the alphabet.
Do you know you A, B, Cs?
If you are color grading a diamond you don't need to. That's because the Gemological Institute of America (and most other international laboratories) use a color grading scale ranging from "D" to "Z". "D" is the top of the scale and represents a completely colorless diamond while "Z" is at the bottom. This "D" to "Z" scale is only used on diamonds that have body colors of yellow, brown and gray. Other colors (and yellows and browns past the "Z" grade) are considered "fancy" colors and a different system is used.
For most yellow and brown diamonds their value generally decreases as their grade moves down the scale toward "Z". But once a diamond passes the "Z" grade it becomes more valuable and more expensive. Likewise, as diamonds move up the scale toward "D" their value increases.
GIA Color Grade Description
D, E, F colorless
G, H, I, J near colorless
K, L, M faint yellow or brown
N to Z very light to light yellow or brown
Things you need to know about color grades
Just like with clarity grading, a color grade only puts you into a range. For example, a "G" color diamond may in fact be very very close to being an "H" if it is low in the range or very close to a "F" if high in a range. Let your eye determine if the color of a diamond is pleasing. Don't let the grade influence your opinion of a diamond's beauty.
Differences between color grades are extremely subtle and can only be determined accurately by comparing stones to known sample stones called "Master Stones". There is actually one set of master stones owned by GIA. Before a diamond can be used as a master stone it must be compared to GIA's masters and perfectly match the color of one of the masters.
Diamonds are graded in a facedown position. This eliminates many of the brilliant reflections within the stone and helps the grade to see the stone's true body color. When a diamond is turned face-up, it almost always looks whiter or more colorless than it really is. Size is also a factor. Smaller stones, even in lower color grades, will tend to look more colorless while larger stones will appear more tinted.
Carat Weight - bigger is better?
Just like all gemstones, the weight of a diamond is measured in carats. A carat is a metric unit of measurement that is exactly 1/5 of a gram (0.20). That means there are 5 carats to a gram. A carat is divided into 100 points (like pennies in a dollar).
While some people think bigger is better, no one can argue the fact that bigger means more expensive if all other factors are equal.
The carat weight of a diamond can also be related to a stone's rarity. It is much harder to find a rough diamond that will yield a one-carat stone than it is to find two rough diamonds that will each produce a 0.50-carat diamond. Because of this, a one-carat diamond is substantially more expensive per carat then a half-carat stone. As the diamond increases in size, the per carat prices increases exponentially instead of proportionally.