When it comes to diamonds, many novice shoppers believe that bigger is better. In reality, the carat is only one of four very important characteristics to consider when picking out the perfect stone. Together these are called the 4 C’s: carat, cut, color and clarity.
The carat weight refers to the total mass of a diamond. One carat is 200 grams, and a diamond is generally measured to a hundred-thousandth of a carat, then rounded to the nearest hundredth. A diamond’s carat doesn’t consider how the weight is distributed. Because of this, a poorly cut diamond might appear smaller than it actually is.
With everything else being equal, the diamond with the highest carat will be the most expensive. It is also the easiest quality to pick out with the naked eye. This is why so many shoppers go straight to the carat when picking out a stone, rather than considering the other qualities. This is a mistake; if a large stone has imperfections, they are more obvious than they would be on a smaller stone.
Diamonds are cut in a specific way, intended to create the greatest brilliance, fire, and scintillation. A diamond’s brilliance is the amount of light reflected from the diamond, its fire is the dispersion of light into the colors of the spectrum, and its scintillation is the sparkle created when it is moved.
In a diamond that is well-cut light reflects within, from facet to facet, before reflecting back to the eye. In a diamond that is cut too shallow or too deep, the light will leak out of the stone. This affects the stone’s brilliance, fire, and scintillation.
Every diamond is different, and it is the diamond cutter’s job to make the most of each stone. If a diamond is not an ideal cut, it doesn’t mean the cutter did a bad job. Rather, the stone may have been cut to highlight other qualities; to maximize the carat weight, for example.
If a diamond has a fair or poor cut grade, it was likely to cut for size rather than brilliance. Premium and ideal cut diamonds are the most brilliant, though they are usually smaller. Diamonds with a good or very good cut grade are in the middle; in these cuts, the cutter tried to balance the size and cut of the stone.
Even if they appear glassy and clear, most diamonds have a yellow tinge. The amount of yellow in the stone is measured by color grade.
Color grades range from D to Z, with D being colorless and Z being the most yellow. The color grade of a diamond is measured by comparing it to a stone with a known color graded under controlled lighting conditions.
Most jewelry stores carry only colorless and near-colorless stones. Colorless diamonds are much more expensive. Near colorless diamonds do not appear yellow to the naked eye, and are much cheaper than colorless stones.
The stone’s setting should also be considered when choosing a color grade. When choosing the color grade of your diamond you might also want to consider the setting. The color is most apparent when set in platinum, white gold or silver. If a diamond is set in yellow gold, the color grade becomes less important. The reason for this is because your eyes would be seeing a strong yellow color setting, it will play a psychological role on the diamond making it appear whiter than it is.
Most diamonds have inclusions (internal flaws) and blemishes (surface imperfections). The more imperfections a stone has, the lower its clarity grade. A diamond’s clarity is graded on a scale from flawless (FL) to imperfect (I3).
A diamond’s clarity grade is determined under 10X magnification with a device called a loupe. With the exception of imperfect diamonds, the blemishes and inclusions are only available under this device. For this reason, many consumers find the clarity grade to be the least important of the 4 C’s – as long as the stone is not I1, I2 or I3. Most jewelers do not carry stones with these imperfect clarity grades.
My Final Tips:
Get the best color you can afford because your eyes can see color. For clarity get an SI2 clarity grade as these diamonds are considered eye-clean. (GIA states that imperfections can not be seen with the naked eye until this clarity level).