Basic guide to diamond education & engagement rings
Diamond Buying Guide:
The Cheat Sheet
Formed deep within the earth when pure carbon (nature's simplest element) is overcome by intense heat and pressure, diamonds take millions to billions of years to form. Gradually, the carbon will crystallize and grow into a clear gemstone that will later be pushed to the earth's surface during volcanic eruptions -- when that happens, nature's hardest substance, a diamond, is born!
While it takes many lifetimes for nature to birth a diamond, most shoppers don't have that long to make decisions about buying diamonds. For these savvy individuals, our diamond purchasing guide will give you the tools you need to begin your hunt for the best deals!
Oh, and don't forget to look out for our shopping tips. Spread throughout the guide, these hints will showcase easy ways to save you money and maximize your budget.
The carat is the weight of a stone. Diamonds are weighed in metric carats, and one carat equals 0.2 grams (about the weight of a paperclip). Each carat has 100 points (so a 75-point diamond would weight 0.75 carats). Most diamonds used in fine jewelry are one carat or less. A diamond's development is slow and can take millions or billions of years. With this unhurried growth, the biggest diamonds are the rarest -- and therefore the priciest. For this reason, even a fraction of a difference in the carat size can dramatically change the price tag.
Shopping Tip: You can save money by choosing diamonds that just barely miss the next full carat mark (ex: 0.90 to 0.99 carats). The tiny difference will be almost impossible to see, but the savings can be amazing.
*** It's important to note that other stones of the same size may have different carat weights for diamonds. When comparing the visual size, you should ask for the dimensions in millimeters or inches.
*** Also be careful not to confuse "carat" (the stone's weight) with "karat" (the purity in gold).
Carat Size Viewer
- 0.50 ct
- 0.70 ct
- 1.00 ct
- 1.20 ct
- 1.50 ct
- 1.70 ct
- 2.00 ct
- 2.20 ct
- 2.50 ct
- 2.70 ct
- 3.00 ct
Many diamond-purchasing newbies think the "cut" refers to the stone's shape, such as whether it's square or round. But the cut actually has to do with the diamond's proportions, polish, symmetry and how the facets are arranged on the stone.
Believed by many to be the most important of the four "Cs," the brilliance, scintillation and sparkle of a diamond depends mostly on how well it was cut. Basically, the better the diamond's cut, the better it will glisten in the light.
Shopping Tip: Don't skimp on the cut. Top quality cuts ensure that nearly all of the light that enters the diamond is reflected back outward to the eye, creating the tantalizing flashes of light that diamonds are revered for.
The GIA diamond cut grading system gives diamond's a grade between Excellent to Poor. During the evaluation, jeweler's mainly look at three key features:
Brilliance (the total amount of light reflected from the stone)
Fire (the distribution of light into individual colors of the rainbow)
Scintillation (the flashes of light and sparkle that appear when the diamond is moved)
Using these graded comparisons, even the most jewelry-clueless among us can figure out what cut characteristics are most important.
Grading The Cut
- Very Good
Ideal: Mathematically designed to maximize the brilliance of a round diamond, the ideal cut is gorgeously proportioned and angled to disperse light. No other cut will shine like this.
Excellent: Premium cuts are known for their superior glow that's second only to the ideal-cut diamond. This difficulty in distinguishing between the two proportions makes this class a great selection for shoppers looking to save a little money without giving up the fiery brilliance.
Very Good: Diamonds with a very good cut usually sacrifice a small amount of brilliance for a larger size stone. However, the loss in sparkle is miniscule as nearly all of the light that enters is reflected back.
Good: In good cuts, the cutter chooses to further increase the carat of the stone by cutting to proportions that creates a larger diamond. The result is a slight loss in fire; however, the diamond will still shine well since much of the light will still reflect outward. For many consumers, these diamonds have the best combination of price and radiance.
Fair: Diamonds with a fair cut have are favored for their size rather than their scintillation. Only a small amount of light will reflect back to the eye.combination of price and radiance.
Poor: In poor cuts, the carat weight is maximized over any other proportional factors that would improve the gem's glimmer. So while you'll have a big stone, it will not have that special twinkle that diamonds are prized for.
Parts of the Cut
Diamond cuts have several key parts. The classic and most common cut, a round brilliant-cut diamond will have 57 or 58 facets. Known as the cutlet, the 58th is optional and will include a tiny flat facet at the bottom of the pavilion. Cutting even one of these facets poorly will allow light to escape from the sides of the bottom of the stone, instead of allowing that glimmer to reflect back to your eye. Remember, the more light that reflects, the better your diamond will shine.
Also, a poorly cut stone may weaken the diamond and make it more likely to chip or break. And it may make it challenging for a jeweler to set the diamond, which could make it more likely to fall out of its setting.
Types of the Cut
The round brilliant cut is the most common cut used on diamonds. All others are called fancy cuts. Most of these can be put into four groups: modified brilliants, step cuts, mixed cuts and rose cuts.
Round or Brilliant: The classic, round cut is the most popular choice for diamonds because of its timeless aura and superior radiance to all others. This circular shape has 57 or 58 facets cut to mathematically perfected proportions.
Modified Brilliant: This category of fancy cuts has the most options for shapes, because it is very easy to alter the basic round into a variety of shapes. The number of facets and the arrangement is very similar to the round brilliant, resulting in cut with a great amount of sparkle and fire. Popular cuts include the marquise, heart, trillion, oval and pear shapes.
Step: Resembling tiny staircases, step-cut stones have either a square or rectangular form with facets placed parallel to the girdle. What these varieties lack in shimmer, they make up for by highlighting a stone's luster, color (or lack thereof) and clarity, as even the slightest flaw would be easily seen. Popular forms of this cut include the triangle (or trillion cut) and emerald (a type of rectangular cut).
Mixed: Born in the 1960s, mixed cuts are among the newest cuts. By combining elements from step and modified-brilliant cuts, the mixed cuts are increasingly popular because they feature the best traits in the two popular varieties. In most mixed versions, the top will be brilliant cut and the bottom will be step cut. It's a technique that wastes the least amount of the original stone while still maximizing the overall shimmer. The princess or square cut is the most popular choice here. This combination saves the weight and dimensions of step cuts, while giving the sparkle of brilliant cuts.
Rose: Created in the 16th century, the rose cut is rarely seen outside of antique jewelry. It's made with a flat bottom topped with several symmetrical, triangle shaped facets that rise to a point. Round, oval and hexagonal shapes were all once popular
Born from deep within the earth, nearly all natural diamonds usually have external blemishes or internal inclusions. Including scratches, dirt, random debris, air bubbles, cracks and chips, these imperfections often lower the value of diamonds. Flawless diamonds are extremely rare and pricey.
Shopping Tip: It' not always a bad thing to have a flawed diamond. Like a birthmark, these natural characteristics may help confirm ownership and differentiate between different stones. Just be sure to have an independent jeweler evaluate the stone to ensure it's not structurally weakened by the inclusion.
Also, grades F to SI impact the value, but not necessarily the clarity of the diamond. With the naked eye, you will be unable to see any inclusions.
All graded diamonds are given a GIA rank between flawless (FL) to obviously included (I3). This scale includes:
Grading The Clarity
- VVS1 - VVS2
- VS1 - VS2
- SI1 - SI2
- I1 - I2-I3
Flawless: No internal or external inclusions are visible by a skilled gemologist using a 10x magnification.
Internally Flawless (IF): The inside is completely flawless; however, a trained grader can see some surface flaws under a 10x magnification.
Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1 - VVS2): The diamond has some inclusions; but, they are very difficult for a skilled grader to see with a 10x magnification.
Very Slightly Included (VS1 - VS2): Minor inclusions are clearly visible to a trained gemologist using 10x magnification.
Slightly Included (SI1 - SI2): These inclusions are very easy for a skilled grader to see with 10x magnification.
Included (I1 - I2-I3): Inclusions are obvious to the naked eye or with a 10x magnification; these imperfections usually affect the stone's transparency and brilliance.
The majority of diamonds are rated by the absence of color; obviously, the clearest diamonds have the highest worth. Exceptions are made for fancy-colored diamonds, like green, brown or yellow, which are evaluated outside this system for their intensity and evenness of color. Ranging from "D" (completely colorless) to "Z" (almost colorless); the closer a stone is to "D" the more rare and expensive it is. Diamond graders will compare the diamonds they are evaluating against a "master" stone of a known color to determine a grade.
To untrained individuals, the differences in color are usually miniscule. However, these tiny variations can make a difference in the quality, cost and rarity of a stone.
Shopping Tip: If buying mid-grade (or higher grade), clear diamonds, try setting them in white metal. The whiteness will reflect onto the diamond and back to the eye, making it appear whiter and brighter. This trick does not work well on the lower end of the scale.
Grading The Color
- E - F
- G - H
- I - J
- K - M
- N - R
- S - Z
D: Completely clear. This is the highest color rating for diamonds.
E-F: Colorless. Very powerful magnification is needed to detect any color.
G-H: Nearly colorless. You will not be able to detect any color in these stones either unless they are side by side with a colorless stone or have been properly trained.
I-J: Nearly colorless with a slight tint of yellow.
K-M: Faint yellow in color. Some diamonds in this range can still be fiery and beautiful.
N-R: Very light yellow in color.
S-Z: Light yellow in color.
Yellow: Diamonds that have more than a light touch of yellow color are categorized by fancy light, fancy and fancy intense.