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What To Look For When Buying A Diamond

Every diamond is a unique miracle of nature, so there are almost as many ways to describe a diamond as there are diamonds. To standardize descriptions of every diamond's characteristics, a language known as the 4Cs was developed.

Each of the 4Cs describes a diamond's specific characteristics - its cut, color, clarity and carat weight. These characteristics can be helpful when learning about diamonds, but they are only four of the many criteria that can be used to evaluate a diamond. As a result, two diamonds with the same 4Cs criteria may be very different.

Carat is a measure of weight. One carat (1ct) equals 0.20 grams and is divided into 100 points, so a half-carat (0.50 carat) diamond is also known as a 50 points diamond. No diamond is valued by carat weight alone - two diamonds of equal carat weight may have very different values depending on cut, clarity and color. A diamond can appear larger or smaller than its weight, depending on cut. Your diamond may have a higher carat weight than a bigger-looking diamond with a shallower cut. Different designs and mountings also affect the appearance of size.

Market perception of diamond weights, such as half-carat, one carat, or three carats, places an increased value on the weight categories. For instance, a 1.01 carat diamond and a diamond of 0.96 carats will have a marked difference in value, though their cut, color and clarity may be the same. Their difference is imperceptible side by side, but as they are valued on either side of the one carat boundary, the 1.01 carat diamond will be substantially higher in value. As diamonds increase in size, they become increasingly rare in nature. As rarity is an important component of value, a one-carat diamond will be worth a great deal more than two 50 point diamonds of equal color, clarity and cut.

Cut refers to the cutting of the diamond; the most crucial stage in the revelation of its polished brilliance, fire and scintillation. Extremely specific parameters of angle and dimension are applied, with strict attention to the polished finish. Poorly polished facets do not reflect light or scintillate well. Inaccuracy in facet dimensions and angles diminishes a diamond's internal light performance or refraction - white light return and colored light flashes or 'fire'. Look for a diamond with at least a Very Good cut grade to maximize aspects of beauty, light, reflection, scintillation, contrast and pattern as well as fire. A well-cut diamond will reflect light within itself, from one mirror-like facet to another. If a diamond is cut too deep or too shallow light will be lost through the side or bottom. This reduces its brilliance and value. A well-cut diamond provides a balance between brilliance, fire and scintillation. Brilliance is the white light reflected from the internal and external surfaces of the diamond.

Dispersion, or 'fire' as it is more commonly known, are the flashes of color that come from the diamond. Scintillation is the sparkle or flashes of light you see as the diamond moves. The cut of a diamond can also affect its visual size. Two diamonds with the same carat weight can appear to be different sizes depending on the shallowness or shape of their cut. Advancing technology continues to offer a larger variety of shapes and cuts but the most familiar are the princess, oval, square, marquise, pear, radiant, emerald and cushion-shaped cuts. Cuts have evolved through the ages according to tastes. The big, broad, flashes of fire emitted by the 'Classic Old European' cut of yesteryear have been displaced by the highly scintillating modern round brilliant that dominates today's tastes.

Clarity measures the purity of the diamond; how free it is from tiny blemishes. These minute features, called inclusions, appeared when the diamond formed in the earth's mantle as it crystallized under intense heat and pressure, and are mostly invisible to the naked eye. They determine the diamond's unique fingerprint. The clarity grade a diamond is given is determined by the degree to which these natural features are visible at ten times magnification and the number, type, color, size and position of the features in the diamond. Skin blemishes are surface features like scratches and nicks. Inclusions are naturally occurring features in the diamond such as tiny fissures or feathers and include crystals that can be diamond or other minerals.

The rarest of rare diamonds, known as flawless, are those with no internal features and no external features or blemishes visible at ten times magnification.Because of their rarity, they are valued more than those with minute or minor inclusions though these inclusions have no effect upon a diamond's light performance or beauty. A lower grade- Slightly Included 2 or SI2 –still exhibits no blemishes or inclusions to the naked eye. The differences between grades are so fine that even a jeweler may not be able to discern the top five clarities in diamonds mounted in jewelry. An SI2 diamond of equal cut grade is as brilliant as a Flawless, though they differ greatly in value. Choosing beauty as a value priority, VS2 and SI1 are popular choices. Diamonds equal in weight, color and cut will vary greatly in price depending on their clarity features. The internationally accepted system of grading divides clarity into five distinct groups:

  • Flawless/Internally Flawless
    The rarest of rare diamonds, known as Flawless (FL) diamonds, are those with no internal features and no external features or blemishes visible at ten times magnification. An Internally Flawless (IF) diamond will also have no internal features, but may exhibit a minute scratch left over from polishing.

  • Very Very Slight (VVS)
    Very Very Slightly (VVS) included diamonds are those with minute inclusions so small that they are extremely difficult for even a skilled diamond grader to see at ten times magnification. A VVS1 diamond may have a single pinpoint, whereas a VVS2 may have a pinpoint and a tiny needle-like crystal of another mineral as its internal features.

  • Very Slight (VS)
    Divided into VS1 and VS2, Very Slightly (VS) included diamonds have minor internal features deemed difficult for a skilled grader to detect at ten times magnification. A VS1 diamond may have a small crystal, a feather, a tiny cloud of inclusions, or a pinpoint or two whereas a VS2 diamond could have for example, a tiny cloud, a few small needles or a small included crystal. In extremely rare cases, very large diamonds, or in significantly transparent fancy shapes like emerald cuts, a VS inclusion may be just barely visible to the unaided eye.

  • Slight Included (SI)
    Divided into SI1 and SI2, Slightly Included (SI) diamonds are those with features that are obvious at ten times magnification. Neither the diamond's transparency nor face up appearance may be affected by these inclusions. In some rare cases, large diamonds, or transparent fancy cuts, an SI clarity feature may be just visible to the unaided eye.

  • Included (I-1, I-2, I-3)
    Divided in I-1, I-2 and I-3, included diamonds are those with features that are visible to the unaided eye and may even affect the durability of the diamond. Included diamonds may have obvious features such as large contrasting crystals, heavy clouds and distinct cleavages.

Color is a crucial element in a diamond's appearance. Apart from exceedingly rare fancy color diamonds, the rarest diamonds are colorless. Universally, this is known as the D to Z color scale. In this scale, 'colorless' diamonds D, E, and F show so little difference that it takes an expert with master diamonds of known grades to distinguish one from another.

Near colorless G, H, I begin to show faint hints of color only when compared with diamonds higher up the scale. J, K and L will show hints of color when compared against a pure white background. Color variations can be so slight that color grading is done by an expert under controlled lighting conditions using a master set for accuracy. The light performance of well-cut colorless to slightly tinted diamonds masks their color to the extent that there is virtually no perceptible difference in the top 5 colors once diamonds are set in jewelry. G-H color diamonds perform equally well as D, E and F in a jewel. K-L colors still appear or face up white when mounted in yellow gold. The setting and metal can be used to accentuate or de-emphasize color. If you are buying a loose diamond, place the diamond on the top of your hand and compare it with a similar diamond already mounted in jewelry.

Fancy colored diamonds are extremely rare. They can be found in shades of green, blue, yellow, orange, pink or - rarest of all - red. The value of fancy colored diamonds is determined by the intensity of the color which can significantly outweigh the effects of other 3Cs. Colorless diamonds are rarer in nature than yellow tinted, thus more valued. Pink and blue are valued considerably more than colorless.

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