Those who are puzzled about how to pick a diamond for an engagement ring or as an investment are often overwhelmed by the number of choices and diamond grade combinations. Meanwhile, they can be easily helped by an introduction into the GIA grading system, a worldwide accepted standard for diamonds, which is very straightforward and easy to understand at a glance.
Below we will dissect diamond classification to help make decisions and get the most value for your budget. After reading it, any diamond listing, such as, e.g., 2–Carat Round Ideal | D | VVS2 | depth 62.6% | table 60.0% | fluorescence: faint, just to provide you with an example, would be a no-brainer to understand and make perfect sense.
Picking the Diamond: Carat, Clarity, Cut, Color
Diamonds come in various sizes and qualities, while an excellent cut can make even an otherwise not so perfect stone look superior. These characteristics are mentioned in any diamond listing and need to be well-understood to make the best buying decisions.
Speaking about an engagement ring, it is the size of the stone or its weight in carat, which creates the most of the wow factor and, therefore, becomes a starting point in picking a diamond. Carat is a measure of stone weight equal to 1/5 gram. The larger is the weight of the stone, the bigger it is in size.
When thinking about what is considered a big diamond in the U.S., it is helpful to know that stones of 1-2 carats are viewed as average in size while everything above 2 carats is big and a head-turner. Sizewise, a round-shaped 2-carat diamond is approximately 8 mm in size, while an oval or marquise cut stone of the same carat can be as large as 10 mm. When picking a diamond for an engagement ring or jewelry, it is advisable to choose the carat weight based on recipient expectation since if they prefer a larger stone, anything smaller could lead to disappointment even with the best cut, color or clarity.
The GIA color grading chart starts from D to stand out from earlier systems that used such grades as A-C or 1-3. Under GIA grading, D, E and F diamonds are colorless without any yellow tint, while G-J diamonds are near colorless. Meanwhile, most jewelers and retailers draw a line between G-H and I-J diamonds, suggesting I-J only for a setting in yellow or rose gold.
It should be noted that D-diamonds are very rare and the most expensive. Besides, the difference among D, E, and F diamonds is barely noticeable to an untrained observer unless compared side-by-side with another stone under special lighting and other optimal conditions. Moreover, G-H diamonds may look the same as D-E when set on a ring under usual lighting.
For the above reasons, G-H color grade is the most frequent choice for stones above 1 carat as they represent the best value for money. At the same time, since smaller stones show less color than larger diamonds, the I-J color grade is a safe choice for diamonds under 1 carat.
When considering the color of diamonds, one should also keep in mind diamond fluorescence, which is a bluish or yellow glow emitted by the fluorescent stone exposed to UV rays. Although most jewelers view diamonds’ fluorescence as a defect, many diamond buyers prefer fluorescent diamonds as they often go with a discount while visible only under a special UV source. For this reason, faint to medium fluorescence is often acceptable even for high color-grade diamonds.
The cut is the key aspect of any diamond, impacting visual appearance and sparkle. Often confused with shape, cut is not so much about form but more about proportions, incorporating many factors, including depth, table, polish, and symmetry, among several others. GIA cut grades, which are a universally accepted standard, range from Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair and Poor. Any other special grades, such as ‘Signature Ideal,’ ‘Ideal,’ and others do not belong to GIA cut grade standards and are used randomly by retailers.
One of the frequent mistakes when comparing the cut of diamonds is evaluating individual cut factors, such as depth, table or polish, instead of a cut grade. Instead, it is recommended to start by choosing a particular cut grade from Excellent to Fair and use individual factors such a depth, table, and other parameters only as further refinement.
Among diamond cut quality factors, polish and symmetry hardly need any explanation, with Excellent and Good grades being the most frequently recommended. Meanwhile, diamond depth and table, affecting diamond sparkle and light-reflecting properties, are not as self-explanatory and require some introduction.
The depth parameter is described in percentage and measured as a proportion of diamond physical depth divided by width. The depth between 56.5- 59.5 percent is considered good, and anything between 59.6- 62.5 percent is viewed as ideal. Likewise, the diamond table is the percentage showing the relation between the diamond’s largest facet and the overall width of the diamond with ideal percentages falling between 54 and 60 percent.
Diamond clarity refers to the existence of inclusions or blemishes, which impact the stone’s appearance. Although truly flawless and internally flawless diamonds, marked as FL and IF-diamonds, respectively, do exist, they represent less than half percent of all world diamonds. Meanwhile, these stones are unrealistically expensive, while their difference in clarity can hardly be noticed.
Instead, many diamond seekers would consider VVS1-VVS2 (with VVS abbreviation standing for Very, Very Slightly included) stones that account for roughly 10% of all diamonds or VS1-VS2 (Very Slightly included) clarity which stand for 50% of diamonds. The SI1-SI2 (Slightly included) clarity grade might be a good choice for smaller stones under 1 carat where the inclusions are less noticeable. Sometimes, buyers opt for SI1-SI2 clarity for larger diamonds in exchange for higher color and cut grade, which would provide an amazing appearance with inclusions detectable only at close inspection.
Diamonds can be cut to various shapes, with round and princess shapes among the most popular ones, followed by others including asscher, baguette, cushion, emerald, heart, marquise, oval, pear, radiant and trilliant shapes.
While the diamond cut is a measure of its fineness, quality of workmanship, finish and geometry, the choice of shape is highly subjective and should be made by the stone recipient. When this is undesirable or impossible for some reason, the preference can be given to the two most popular choices, including the round and princess shapes.
Choosing a Perfect Engagement Ring
Picking a diamond is not the end when looking for an engagement ring. After the stone is finally selected, it needs to be set in a band. Although today jewelers already offer many unconventional options such as titanium or stainless steel, most engagement rings are still made either of gold or platinum. While the choice between platinum and gold is a matter of individual preference and budget, it is always useful to know all the pros and cons of each alternative.
Being both white metals, platinum and white gold are often compared to each other, although these two are quite different in color, durability and price. Platinum is known for its strength and doesn’t need any alloys to make it more durable so that the rings from this precious metal are 95-98% pure platinum. Platinum is also more than 10 times rarer than gold, which adds to the price difference. On top of that, platinum is truly hypoallergenic. As a result, platinum rings are almost three times more expensive than high carat gold.
In its turn, pure gold is too soft to make rings from it so that white gold is alloyed with nickel, silver and zinc, and usually plated by rhodium. It is not less beautiful than platinum while commanding much lower prices. Meanwhile, the yellow gold, which was always viewed as a timeless classic, has risen in popularity over the last years as the choice for engagement rings, being the most hypoallergenic among three gold options.
Besides, yellow gold masks the color difference between diamonds of different color grades so that the more expensive F or E color diamonds would look much the same as J-color stone when set in a yellow gold ring. Rose gold or pink gold also has its fanbase, being a modern metal choice and the most durable type of gold while least hypoallergenic due to high copper content.
With that being said, platinum and all three gold options, including white, yellow and rose gold, remain a classic choice for engagement rings. While it is always advisable to start the search for the best engagement ring by picking the diamond of the highest grade for the budget, the choice of metal for the ring is also important. It should be based on recipient preferences and tastes, account for allergies and compensate for the lower color grade of the diamond if this is needed.
Choosing the Store
Those looking for the best place to buy diamonds often wonder if they should buy from a brick-and-mortar shop or go online. Sometimes, such a decision may be heavily influenced by the part of the world they are in. In fact, buying diamonds online may not be the best option for every location due to safety considerations, tax and other reasons.
Speaking about the United States or Canada, buying online has become a popular option. Unsurprisingly, picking a diamond online among a vast range of stones of all imaginable carat, cut, clarity and color is much more convenient than having to book an in-store appointment and make a decision in the presence of pushy salespeople, choosing among a limited number of alternatives. Even though seeing the stone with own eyes before buying is rewarding in itself, the convenience of online purchase combined with paying 20-30% less often overweighs the benefits of buying in person except for very rare and expensive diamonds.
Those who opt to buy online are often advised to choose from the biggest and most reputable online retailers. The Holy Trinity of diamond online retailers includes the Blue Nile, which was among the first companies selling diamonds online early in 1995, James Allen, the largest diamond online retailer worldwide, and Whiteflash, famous for its signature line of super ideal cut diamonds. These companies are known for the highest level of service, offering money-back guarantees and selling diamonds certified by GIA (Gemological Institute of America) and AGS (American Gem Society).
Meanwhile, those who cannot get over being able to see the stone in person have the chance to visit destinations known for a high concentration of stone retailers such as the Diamond District in New York, the Hatton Garden in London, Place Vendôme in Paris, or Nathan Road aka Golden Mile in Hong Kong, each hosting hundreds of jewelers and jewelry retailers.
Picking a diamond is an emotionally thrilling experience. It is very easy to get overwhelmed with the number of choices, dazzled by the luster of the stones, and influenced by pushy sales techniques. For this reason, it is always a good idea to learn the basics before going on to a spending spree to get the best stone for the price and budget.
Choosing a diamond for an engagement ring normally starts from picking the carat size preferred by the recipient and selecting the best cut, clarity and color grade. If the resulting price fits the budget, the search is over, but if this is not the case, it is time to make compromises. As the cut grade is most important, it can be reduced only after all other options to get the lower price are exhausted.
At first, it is recommended to lower the clarity, going down by one grade, and compare the price with the budget. If the ends don’t meet yet, the next step would be to reduce the color grade, lowering the cut by one grade only at the last resort. If the desired price is still out of reach, the process starts all over again, reducing each of the 4Cs by one grade each time in the same sequence.
Choosing the ring can be less complicated, provided the recipient preferences are accounted for, and there are no known allergies to preferred metals. If the latter is the case, platinum would be the safest choice as it is truly hypoallergenic, followed by yellow gold. Both the stone and the ring can be bought online or in-person, but in any case, doing your homework and getting some preliminary knowledge about stones is always very helpful.