It takes diamonds billions of years to transform from basic molecules of carbon into one of the most popular and precious stones on the planet. With innate characteristics of unparalleled strength, durability, and beauty, diamonds mimic the very qualities that draw us all to love – making it the perfect stone to serve as a symbol of longevity, devotion, and commitment.
The cut of a diamond refers to the precision and quality of the actual cutting that occurred when the individual diamond was hewn from the original rough stone and transformed into a finished stone. The quality of the cut is important as the angles created during this process are what ultimately determine the brilliance a diamond will have. If you've ever seen an engagement ring that seems to wink and flash fire from across the room – that was a fabulously cut diamond! People tend to confuse cut with shape. Shape describes the geometric appearance of the stone – round, oval, square, rectangle, pear, marquise, triangle, baguette, kite, trapeze, heart, hexagon, octagon, or barrel. While each shape has its own set of commendable qualities, the round brilliant is the most popular cut because it is, as the name suggest, magnificently brilliant.
A diamond's clarity is determined by how many inclusions (a fancy word for imperfections) it has. Whether they can be spotted by the naked eye or only under a jeweler's microscope, the more inclusions a diamond has the lower its value. The Gemological Institute of America's (GIA) grading scale, from best quality (and most valuable) to lowest quality (least expensive):
Grading for the color of diamonds starts with the letter D, which is the best, all the way down to letter Z, which is, shall we say, not so good. Color is actually a misleading term. What we're looking for in a diamond is actually absence of color. Think of a diamond like a window – they both should ideally be crystal clear, which allows more light to pass through. A colorless diamond has the best sparkle and fire. Cloudy diamonds will grade low on the scale, and the lowest will actually look slightly off-white, yellow, or even slightly brown.
A carat is the unit used to measure a diamond's weight. The bigger the carat, the larger the diamond, and usually the more expensive it is. Why usually? Size may matter, but it's not the only thing that does. A large diamond with large or multiple inclusions and a low color grading may sell for less than a diamond half its weight that is blemish free and crystal clear. As carat weight increases, the price of a diamond increases exponentially. Therefore a 1.0 carat diamond is not simply double the price of a .5 carat diamond; assuming all the other characteristics are the same, it actually may be more than two or three times the price simply because larger diamonds are so much rarer than smaller ones.
You should never, ever purchase a diamond without the unofficial "5th C" - a certificate. Certificates are granted by independent graders and will detail the actual cut, clarity, carat, color, shape, and measurements of the diamond you're buying. It's professional and non-biased confirmation that you're purchasing exactly what the purveyor says they're selling you.
Focus your attention first on the cut, as that is where the inherent beauty of the diamond truly shines. For the best value and clarity, ask for that cut with VS1 to VS2 in clarity and F to I in color. Then use the carat weight of the diamond to leverage the price. Remember, a poorly cut 1.5 carat stone will be lifeless and far less impressive than a .75 carat stone that has been exquisitely cut. For similar reasons, we recommend that you avoid buying a diamond with a clarity rating of less than SI1 and a color rating of less than I. A qualified jeweler will know how to enhance your diamond by designing an engagement ring that compliments its natural attributes. There is an art to the amount and shape of metal that surrounds the diamond; too much and the diamond will be visually overwhelmed, too little and your diamond won't be secure. Smaller side diamonds, or trim diamonds, also require an experienced eye to ensure they're correctly set for maximum effect. That's why choosing an experienced, artistic, and skilled jeweler is just as important to the creation of a stunning engagement ring as is choosing the diamond itself.