A guide to buying an engagement ring, understanding diamonds and ring styles, and learning about the 4 C's: clarity, color, cut, and carat weight.
Before you begin shopping for your diamond, have a budget in mind. You've probably heard the two-month's salary guideline, but no matter what, select a budget that works for you.
The ring style that you choose depends purely on your personal taste. In addition to the different diamond shapes, you can also choose the rings' setting style. The most traditional setting is the solitaire, a ring with only a center stone. However, there are also other varieties such as rings with additional diamonds surrounding the center stone. Another thing to consider is the type of metal: yellow gold, white gold and platinum.
The 4 C's
The first thing to learn when buying a diamond is the 4 C's: Cut, Clarity, Color, and Carat weight. These 4 C's combined determine the value of a diamond and each individually can dramatically effect the value of the diamond. Not any one particular C is most important and all four need to be balanced to find a ring that meets your budget.
Diamonds are weighed in 'carats', a small unit of measurement equal to 200 milligrams. The carat is not specifically measuring the diamond's size, as cutting a diamond to different proportions can effect its weight. The most important thing to remember when it comes to a diamond's carat weight is that size is not the only thing determining the diamond's value. A bigger carat size does not always equal a better quality diamond.
The carat weight is important in determining the value of a diamond as they are typically valued on a per carat basis. This means that high quality diamonds will sell at a higher per carat cost than a lesser quality diamond will. Diamonds are rarer in larger sizes, thus the increase of cost per carat. This does not necessarily mean that a 2-carat diamond will cost double the amount of a 1-carat diamond (all other C's being equal). Instead, it means that the per carat rate will increase. Remember, all diamonds are not created equal. Two diamonds of equal carat weight may be priced differently due to the other C's: cut, color, and clarity.
The most important thing to remember is that the less color a diamond has, the more valuable it is. Diamonds can be found in a wide range of colors from completely colorless to slightly yellow and brown. There are also colored diamonds, such as yellow, pink, green and blue, but these are not graded on the same scale.
The color of diamonds is graded on a scale using alphabet letters from D to Z. D colored diamonds are the most colorless and therefore the most valuable. They are also the rarest to find. Z diamonds have the most color within this range and are the least valuable. Diamonds with color grades of D-F are considered colorless. Diamonds with the colors G-J are near colorless. Diamonds with the colors K-M have a faint yellow tint. Diamonds with the colors S-Z are light yellow.
Color can be determined by looking under a controlled light and comparing it to a Gemological scale. It is also best to look at color when diamonds are not mounted as some mounts can introduce other tints, especially yellow gold mounts.
Remember that color alone is not the most important factor and that all 4 C's must be balanced. A diamond may have a perfect color, but have several imperfections that make it less valuable. The object is to choose a diamond as high on the color scale as your budget will allow, while still taking the other C's into account.
Clarity refers to the number, position, and size of any inclusions that occur naturally inside diamonds. The fewer and less obvious the inclusions are, the more valuable the diamond becomes. Clarity is rated on the following scale:
- F: Flawless. The diamond shows no inclusions or blemishes when magnified 10x and observed by a grader. Truly flawless diamonds are extremely rare.
- IF: Internally Flawless. The diamond shows no inclusions when magnified 10x, but may have some minor blemishes.
- VVS1, VVS2: Very, very slightly included. The diamond shows minute inclusions that are difficult even for experienced graders to see when magnified 10x.
- VS1, VS2: Very slightly included. The diamond shows minute inclusions such as small crystals, clouds, or feathers when magnified 10x.
- SI1, SI2: Slightly included. The diamond shows inclusions such as clouds, crystals, knots, cavities, and feathers that are noticeable when magnified 10x.
- I1, I2, I3: Included. The diamond shows larger inclusions that are obvious when magnified 10x. Sometimes these are viewable without magnification.
Diamonds with less inclusions are more brilliant and better reflect light, making them more valuable. Most diamonds do contain some blemishes inside the stones and these are what give each diamond its own uniqueness. The most important thing to remember about clarity is that you do not want inclusions to be viewable to the naked eye, nor should they be so excessive that they effect the diamond's brilliance or durability.
Inclusions and blemishes include:
- Crystals - mineral deposits trapped inside the diamonds.
- Clouds - small specks or hazy areas that give a milky appearance.
- Feathers - small cracks that are shaped like a bird's feather.
Clarity is a critical C and has a great effect on the diamond's value. When diamonds are moved up on the clarity scale, you'll generally see a significant increase in price. The object is to choose a diamond as high on the clarity scale as your budget will allow, while still taking the other C's into account.
Cut is the only one of the 4 C's that is within your control. The cut is the result of transforming the diamond into a gem. All diamonds have facets, which allow the light to enter it and refract a rainbow of colors, making it brilliant. A better cut will have a great effect on the beauty of the diamond.
Diamonds with correct proportions better refract the light out of the top of the stone. Lesser cut diamonds allow some light to escape from the bottom of the stone, resulting in a less brilliant diamond.
When analyzing a diamond's cut, you want to remember that facets must be cut at right angles relative to one another. The top and bottom halves of the stone must be proportional to one another. The surface top of the stone must be proportionate to the overall size of the stone. And lastly, the facets must be aligned correctly.
Another factor you'll need to consider when choosing a diamond is its shape. Although 'shape' and 'cut' are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not the same. Cut refers to the proportions and symmetry. If it is rated, you want to look for an excellent, very good, or good rating on the report. Shape, on the other hand, refers to the actual shape of the diamond. There are 8 popular shapes including: round (also called brilliant cut), Princess cut, Emerald cut, Asscher cut, Marquise cut, Radiant cut, Pear cut, and Heart cut. When you select a shape, the most important factor is simply what appeals to you.
A few things to note:
- The classic Round diamond tends to better hide imperfections such as flaws and tints.
- Flaws and tints are more obvious in Emerald cut diamonds.
- If you want a diamond that looks as big as possible, consider the Marquise or Pear shapes, which look bigger than other shaped diamonds of the same weight.