Safely Navigating the Four Cs

How to pick a quality diamond

An engagement ring is a long-lasting symbol of your love, and something all of your friends and family are going to be eager to see. It’s also a major financial decision and as unromantic as it may be, one that is going to be influenced by your budget.

To choose a quality diamond that will stand the test of time and keep you both smiling throughout your married life, you should keep in mind the “four Cs” - cut, carat, color and clarity.

Many people think that cut refers to the shape of the diamond, but it’s actually the way the diamond reflects light - cut is all about the sparkle. A well-cut diamond lets light enter and reflects straight back to the viewer's eye. When it comes to cut, bigger isn't necessarily better, as some cutters will sacrifice the stone’s ability to reflect light in order to create the largest possible diamond. Cut is graded on a scale of Excellent, Good, Average, Commercial and Irregular. Cut can also be graded on a number scale from 1+ (Excellent) to 8 (Irregular). For simplicity’s sake, if the diamond doesn’t sparkle in the light, it’s not well cut.

The size of the stone is its carat weight. One carat has 100 points, so an 80 point diamond has a 4/5 carat weight or .80 ct. Some people look for carat above all, while others prefer a small, simple stone that ranks higher in the other scales. Think about how flashy your fiancée's other jewelry is. If she isn't big on the bling, you might opt for a smaller stone.

With the exception of J-Lo's pink diamond, usually the less color a diamond has the more it’s worth. Jewelers grade diamonds on a scale from D (colorless) to Z (light yellow). Anything higher than light yellow is considered a “fancy” color and is much more expensive. The ring’s setting should affect your choice of diamond color as well. White metals will show off a diamond’s yellow tint - which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yellow gold looks best with less colored diamonds.

A diamond’s clarity is determined by its surface and internal irregularities, called blemishes and inclusions. These tiny fragments of foreign material can reduce the diamond’s sparkle - and its value. The fewer irregularities a diamond has, the more valuable it is. Most diamonds have small flaws, so before you buy, inspect the diamond using a jeweler’s loupe and choose one that hides these imperfections down deep in the stone or under the setting’s prongs.

The diamond clarity scale is:

  • Flawless (FL) - no internal or external inclusions
  • Internally Flawless (IF) - no internal inclusions, possibly some slight external inclusions
  • Very Very Slightly Included (VVS1 to VVS 2) - minute inclusions hard to detect by an experienced grader
  • Very Slightly Included (VS1 to VS2) - minute inclusions seen only under10x magnification
  • Slightly Included (SI1 to SI3) - inclusions easily seen by experienced graders
  • Included (I1 to I3) - inclusions visible to the naked eye, enough flaws to affect brilliance and diamond may be structurally weak or prone to chipping

There’s a lot to think about when choosing a diamond, including your budget, so talk to an experienced jeweler and be open about what you’re looking for. Both you and your fiancée will be happy you did!

Advertiser Links for Diamond Rings [what's this?]