How to Buy a Diamond... Simplified

by : Sheila Chun

The key to buying a diamond is a combination of having technical knowledge, being market savvy and most importantly, developing an 'eye'. The most important rule to remember is that the right diamond should jump out at you from the moment you see it. In the diamond industry, all diamonds are graded according to the 4-Cs. Understanding the 4-Cs and the diamond industry will allow one to become a savvy diamond buyer.

Of the 4-Cs, clarity is the hardest to determine by the average consumer and one of the reasons to buy from a trusted jeweler. Grading starts at IF (internally flawless), followed by VVS1 and VVS2 (Very very slightly included). These two grades are very uncommon and for the money, is not a good value to buy a stone in. You can never differentiate a diamond between VVS1 and VS1 even under 100X magnification, yet the price difference could be thousands of dollars. People who want the best quality and value usually buy in the VS1 or VS2 level. SI-1 and SI-2 are the next level. SI stands for slightly included with SI-1 being clearer than an SI-2 stone. If you see a stone that has a lot of inclusions under a microscope but is not visible to a naked eye, this is an SI-2 stone. Any stone that has flaws visible to a naked eye will be an SI-3 or sometimes labeled as an I-1 stone. The rapport will grade these stones down to an I-3. These are usually the stones that are advertised for $399 a carat. For engagement ring quality diamonds, it is recommended not to go below an SI-2.

Of the 4cs, Color is the most visible to the buyer. The color chart starts at D, with D/E/F being the most pure and the most white of all the diamond colors. The second category is G/H/I, which is considered the near colorless category and will have a varying hint of color. When the majority of the diamonds were formed, gaseous elements such as nitrogen were trapped in the carbon lattice thus causing variation in the diamond colors. Within the J/K/L range, the buyer will be able to see varying degrees of yellow in the stones. Although color is graded down to Z, the rap sheet stops at M. For engagement ring quality, anything below the color 'I' is not recommended. The lower color stones are usually made for other purposes.

Because the prices for color do vary greatly, it is imperative for the buyer to be able to differentiate between the colors. The only way to truly grade the color is to compare the stones upside down, against a white background and compare it to a master set of stones. For example, to see an E color stone, it must be compared against a D and an F stone. It is impossible to see color set in a mounting and empirically state the exact color. For people who want the best value and quality, buying a G color stone is ideal. A G color stone is noticeably whiter then the H, but it is priced in the near color-less category of stones, where the savings will be greater. To go with a high color and lower clarity combination, such as an E color but good SI-2 clarity will also yield a good value.

Carats or the weight of the diamond is the 3rd determinant of price. 100 points equal a carat, and is impossible for human eye to see. Though a diamond can be 1 carat in weight, it can look bigger or smaller than its carat weight states. So when buying a round diamond of 1 Carat size, look for stones that are at least 6.2mm in diameter. Also, because the jewelry industry has a tolerance level of 5% difference on stated carat weights on jewelry, this is why buying from a trusted jeweler is key. It is impossible for any one to eyeball carat size, you cannot tell the difference between a 1 CT tennis bracelet or a .90CT bracelet, yet there is a big price differential.

Cut is the most technical of the 4-C's. The fact of the matter is that one can see a diamond that is cut well versus one that is cut poorly. The cut states that the crown (top of the diamond), pavilion (bottom of the diamond) and the girdle (thin middle ring that divides the crown and pavilion) should have ideal range that the diamond should be cut.

The last C is the certs that diamonds carry and is the final component that affects diamond pricing. Many stones that are above .75CT are certified by independent laboratories. The certificates will plot a mapping of the inclusions, give dimensions and measurements of the diamond, state the polish and symmetry, fluorescence, and state if a diamond has been enhanced. Although there are many labs that certify diamonds, the most popular on the market are certified by GIA or EGL. GIA (Gemological institute of America) has predominately been very strict or rather on the conservative side of their grading, so GIA diamonds tend to sell at a premium. EGL (European Gemological Laboratory) is also very popular but sometimes have struggled with their consistency. Thus their stones will usually sell 5 - 10% less then a stone with the same grade from GIA. GIA stones are not necessarily better stones then EGL certified stones. Plenty of beautiful stones get sent in to be processed by EGL as they do GIA.

The price difference for clarity and color affects the prices exponentially. Buying a high color is where the buyer's dollar will be well spent. Clarity is impossible to see without a microscope but a diamond of high color can be seen from across the room. If there are two diamonds that have the same level of quality, acceptable price points and even the same grading from the laboratories, then let your eye be the final judge. After all, you are ultimately buying a diamond for its beauty and sentimentality. While only considering the technical jargon, let your heart be the final judge.