Diamond information, tailored with you in mind.
For most people, the first time they think about diamonds is when they’re getting ready to buy a diamond engagement ring. No matter what stage you’re at, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, under-informed, or worse— skeptical of the information available. As I see it, my job is to help you get the BEST POSSIBLE PRODUCT for your budget. To do this, I offer sound, practical advice on diamond shopping for all of my clients, plus some fun interactive tools from the GIA that make it easier to understand what all those letters and numbers really mean. Read on or get in touch to find out more!
The 4Cs of Diamond Grading
You’ve probably at least heard of the Four Cs (and if not, it’s okay! That’s what I’m here for.) The 4Cs are a set of standards that the Gemological Institute of America, or GIA, developed in the mid-1900s so that jewelers, appraisers, and customers would have a common language when talking about diamonds. Each “C” represents variables that affect the appearance and the price of each diamond. The 4 Cs are, in no particular order: Clarity, Color, Cut, and Carat Weight.
Finding the right stone involves balancing out each of these elements with a trusted professional *ahem* to purchase the best fit for your needs. These variables seem mysterious, but they’re actually pretty understandable once they’re broken down.
Clarity refers to natural features that occurred inside the crystal as it formed. Rather than seeing them as flaws, it helps to think of them as “birthmarks” that form through the natural process of extreme heat and pressure. They can vary widely, and may include small cavities within the stone, teeny mineral needles, or even crystals of another gem type. All diamond crystals have inclusions (inside the stone) or blemishes (on the surface of the stone.) The Clarity grading tells us to what degree these features are present. The GIA’s clarity scale has 11 grades from Flawless (FL) to heavily Included (I3). Once a stone falls into the I1-I3 range, its inclusions are visible to the naked eye, which can be detrimental to the look of the stone. Check out the Clarity tool below to see samples of the grades and close-up pictures of inclusions.
For many people, diamonds in the SI (slightly included) range offer the best value. Stones in this range generally look clean to the naked eye, and may be more affordable than VS or VVS. It can also help to know the type and location of the inclusion: is it near the edge where the bezel will cover it, or is the inclusion smack in the middle, just under the surface of the diamond? This is an area where working with a knowledgeable jeweler can be very helpful.
When talking about diamonds, Color actually refers to the absence of color, with the highest value placed on more colorless diamonds. Most diamonds show some degree of yellow or brown tones, and the Color scale grades diamonds from D to Z based on how close they are to being colorless. Fancy color diamonds, such as blues and pinks, are graded by different priorities, so the 4Cs Color Scale doesn’t cover those.
In my experience, many people start to see a noticeable yellow around I-J. While some sharp eyes will pick up on the yellow in an H color diamond, they may not find it noticeable once the stone is in a setting. If all other factors are the same, I still lean toward G or even F color diamonds because I can see the difference, and I personally find them more attractive.
Fun fact: when the GIA first launched its Color scale in the 1950s, the gem industry already had other, less-consistent letter grade systems in place that used A, B, and C. To avoid confusion, the organization set “D” as the starting point for colorless diamonds. Since then, the GIA’s grading scales have come to represent the gold standard across the industry, and gem reports from its laboratories are among the most consistent and widely respected in the world.
Cut refers to the placement and arrangement of a diamond’s facets. It can be considered the most important of the 4Cs, because it determines the play of light within the stone. You could have an internally flawless, D color stone, but it will look lifeless and dull without a proper cut. If you toggle the Cut grading tool below, you can see a pretty obvious difference between the Excellent cut samples and the Poor cut samples.
The Cut grading takes into account seven components that assess the stone’s design, appearance, and craftsmanship. A few of these considerations include the angles of the facets, the proportion of width to depth, the polish, and the symmetry. Click the + symbols in the handy diamond anatomy tool below to get a better understanding of the terms that come up when talking about how diamonds are cut and proportioned.
People often confuse Cut with the diamond’s shape. Though shape and cut are not the same thing, the shape of a diamond does affect its brilliance. Well-cut, nicely proportioned round diamonds exhibit the most brilliance, square and cushion square shapes are generally second, and emerald shapes exhibit the least brilliance.
Diamond Carat Weight
The fourth C, Carat, refers to the weight of the stone. One carat equals 0.2 grams, and is divided into 100 decimalized points (just like one dollar can be divided into 100 pennies.) A third carat, or 33 point, diamond weighs .33 carats; a half carat, or 50 point, diamond weighs .50 carats; and so on. Don’t confuse the weight with the size, because differences in cut and proportion (see above) could mean that two diamonds that weigh the same may not look the same size. The carat weight slider below is fun to compare stone sizes, but it really only gives you a ballpark visualization, and doesn’t take into account how much the right setting can make any gemstone appear better than the sum of its parts.
Though it can be one of the biggest factors in the cost of the stone, carat weight shouldn’t be the first consideration in making a decision on which diamond to purchase. For me, finding the best stone for your needs isn’t usually about finding the biggest stone. It’s more of a balancing act: what are your priorities, and how can I combine them in a way that serves you best?
There is one more important factor that can influence the price and the appearance of a diamond, and it’s not part of the 4 Cs: Fluorescence.
Some diamonds will exhibit fluorescence (seen as a glow, usually blue) under a UV light. You’re not walking around sticking your hand under UV lights all day, so why should this matter to you, right? It matters because some stones with fluorescence can appear milky, hazy, or greasy to the naked eye. This look can be hard to put your finger on, but it’s as if the brilliance and fire within the stone just aren’t as crisp as they could be.
Not all stones that exhibit fluorescence will have this unappealing look, and some people even think that its vague glow can sometimes make yellowish diamonds look more colorless. However, I’ve found that it can really diminish the look of an otherwise gorgeous stone, so I generally recommend diamonds that don’t show fluorescence.
Ready to see what Narrow House has to offer? Check out some of the custom jewelry designs, wedding bands, and engagement rings that we’ve made in the past.
In the interest of transparency, I’d like you to know that I’m not affiliated with the nonprofit Gemological Institute of America (GIA), and the organization has not endorsed me or my work. I am simply making their information and interactive tools available to you with their permission, because I share their commitment to building public trust and empowering consumers (that’s you!) through education and professionalism.