© Photo courtesy 2011 Blue Borrowed New (www.blueborrowednew.com)
Buying an engagement ring? Congratulations! Clearly the Matchmakers have done their job. Now, listen carefully, you are about to drop a lot of money, so don’t be rash, do some research and be confident in your choice. Everything you need to know is right here.
I am Christa Van Eerde, the Resident Certified Diamond Expert at Matchmakers In The City. Although I am based in Abu Dhabi, I work one-on-one with Matchmakers In The City's Clients to help them select the perfect diamond ring once they have been introduced to "their person" by the Matchmakers. Now, I am happy to share a few of my secrets with you.
Any Google search will produce a plethora of info on the 4 C’s: colour, clarity, cut and carat. It can easily get overwhelming, so I have provided a breakdown of the most essential information about the 5 Cs. Yes, you read correctly, I am adding one more to the list. You’ll see why, and thank me later.
COLOUR: The ideal colour for diamonds is the complete lack thereof. The majority of diamonds are tinted yellow or brown, making colourless stones the rarest and therefore valuable. The GIA (Gemological Institute of America) colour grading scale is the most commonly referred to around the world and very useful to the consumer. The highest grade on the GIA colour grading scale is D, colourless. Why does it start at D, you may wonder? The creators of the scale wanted to avoid confusion with previous grading systems. The scale ranges from D through Z, and can be broken into categories: colourless (D-F), near colourless (G-J), faint yellow (K-M), very light yellow (N-R), light yellow (S-Z) and fancy yellow (Z+). Diamond grading is subjective and takes much practice and experience. Don’t fret; you will not be forced to try your hand at it. In fact, you will probably struggle to see the different between a stone that is D colour and one that is F, and one that is F and H. The only thing that you will notice is a big price difference. In my view, why pay for something that you cannot see? Unless you have the means to get the best available, I would recommend focusing on and selecting a stone H, I or above in colour.
CLARITY: Clarity is the diamond’s degree of flawlessness. It measures the number, size, position and brightness of nature’s markings, which are referred to as inclusions. Inclusions, what make each diamond unique, can be thought of as a diamond’s birthmarks. Some inclusions add value to the stone, for example if there is a diamond inside a diamond, or a garnet inside a diamond. Museums and collectors seek these stones. Typical inclusions include crystals, needles, knots, pinpoints, clouds and feathers. Inclusions are inside the diamond, and blemishes refer to external marks and surface irregularities, such as a scratch or polishing lines. Just as it takes much training and practice to master colouring grading diamonds, so too does it for clarity grading. The GIA scale ranges from flawless to imperfect. Flawless (FL) is ideal, when an experienced grader cannot see any inclusions at all. Internally flawless (IF) is when nothing can be seen, and only external markings are visible. VVS1 and VVS2 stand for very, very slightly included and imply the inclusions are difficult to see, even to a trained eye. Inclusions one can expect to see are a pinpoint, natural or cloud. VS1 and VS2 stand for very slightly included and can be seen through a 10x loupe but are minor. If you ask to see the inclusions in a VS1 or VS2 stone, it would be difficult, as they will be invisible to the naked eye. Inclusions might include a crystal, feather, or cloud. SI1 and SI2 stand for slightly included: when the grader notices the inclusions, and the client might notice them, if pointed out. I1, I2 and I3 are imperfect, meaning the inclusions are obvious, can perhaps be easily seen with the naked eye and impact the performance of the stone. I would strongly recommend selecting a diamond SI or above, to ensure the inclusions will refrain from hindering the performance of the stone.
CUT: Cut is not the shape of the stone, though the word cut can refer to the appearance of the stone, and this can easily cause confusion. The most common shape of diamonds is round brilliant; with 57-58 facets, and it really is the perfect balance of brilliance and fire. Developed by mathematician Marcel Tolkowsky in 1919, the modern round brilliant has since been altered slightly, and research is ongoing to find the best proportions to achieve even better balance between brilliance and fire. Other desired shapes include: cushion, princess, pear and emerald. Also possible are asscher, radiant, marquise, oval, heart and trilliant. New cuts are being worked on and developed all of the time; the newest one I came across in the USA a few years back and liked very much is the fire cushion, which is 15% bigger than typical cushions of the same weight.
Cut is imperative to how a diamond gathers and reflects light. A well cut diamond shows a balance of brilliance (brightness), fire (breaking up of light into the spectral colours) and scintillation (flashes of colour seen as diamond is moved). The cut referred to in the 4 Cs, or as I like to say, 5 Cs, is the proportions and finish of the stone, and the only C to be determined by man. The grades for cut are: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor.Lapidaries, who train their entire lives to perfect the skill of faceting diamonds, largely cut stones by hand under 10x magnification. Some companies, such as Hearts on Fire based in Boston, cut the stones with the assistance of lasers and at 100x magnification to achieve “the world’s most perfectly cut diamond.” Cut is incredibly important, as mentioned earlier, it will contribute greatly to how the stone performs. If the stone is cut too shallowly, the light will enter the stone and go straight through without returning to the eye of the beholder. This can result in a fish eye effect, with too much brilliance and not enough fire. If the stone is cut too deeply, the light will enter and get trapped inside, and this can create what is called a nail head effect, a dark spot right in the centre of the stone. In this case there is too much fire and not enough brilliance. Ideally, the light enters the stone, bounces off the back facets and is refracted back with the right balance of brilliance and fire. Bring on the sparkle!
CARAT: Carat is not the size of the diamond, but the weight. The weight is commonly referred to on a 100-point scale, and one point equals one hundredth of a carat. For example, 0.20ct is 20 points, 0.55ct is 55 points and 1.00ct is 100 points. A good analogy is a small paper clip weighs approximately 1 carat. Carat differs from karat, which is a unit of measure used to describe how much pure gold there is in an alloy. When it comes to selecting a carat size, let budget direct you. Just remember, the bigger the diamond, the rarer the stone, and the rarer the stone, the higher the price.
The 5th C, as I like to say, is CERTIFICATION. There are various certifying bodies, the most renowned being the GIA. IGI (International Gemological Institute), AGS (American Gemological Society) and HRD (Antwerp Institute of Gemmology) are also highly esteemed. Certification is often required for the stone to be insured, and provides a lot of very helpful information about the stone. It also provides comfort in knowing one has purchased something rare and created millions of years ago by Mother Earth, and not in a laboratory created a few years ago by a technician. What can you expect to discover on a report? Well, the GIA report provides an assessment of the 4 Cs, a plotted diagram of clarity characteristics, a graphic representation of the diamond’s proportions, a fluorescence grade and a cut grade, amongst other useful information, such as the laser inscription registry (sometimes the certificate number is inscribed on the girdle of the stone, or in the case of De Beers Forevermark, in the centre of the table). The reports are user-friendly and really wonderful in that they give an unbiased analysis.
Should you prioritize one C over another? It is a matter of personal preference. Just as with all things in life, I would strive for balance.
You now have everything you need to know to buy a diamond with confidence. If you want private help with purchasing your ring, contact us here, and we can set up a consultation. Happy shopping!
Christa Van Eerde (DGA) is an accredited gemologist and diamond expert. With experience in high end jewelry houses and an international auction house, Christa has worked with people of all backgrounds and status throughout the UK and USA. She gets immense satisfaction from consulting and helping people find the best stones within their budget, sure to make a loved one smile every time it is glanced upon. If you want private help with purchasing your ring, contact us here, and we can set up a consultation with Christa.