Choosing a diamond can be a complicated endeavor. To help you in the process, we have outlined some guidelines on how to research and compare diamonds before you decide which stone to buy.
The Most Important Diamond Characteristics
When researching diamonds, the most important characteristics you need to compare stones on are their color, clarity, cut, and carat weight.
These characteristics are also known as “the 4 Cs.”
Color refers to how white (or colorless) a diamond looks and is graded with letters from D (colorless) to Z (indicating presence of yellow tints).
Clarity is graded according to how many flaws (inclusions) a diamond has and how visible they are.
This characteristic is evaluated using the following grades (from highest to lowest): Flawless (FL), Internally Flawless (IF), Very Very Slightly Included (VVS1/VVS2), Very Slightly Included (VS1/VS2), Slightly Included (SI1/SI2), and Included (I1/I2/I3).
Cut refers to the proportions a diamond is shaped in, and round stones are assessed on cut using the following grades: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor.
Carat simply tells you how much a diamond weighs. One carat is equal to 200 milligrams, and the bigger a diamond gets, the more expensive it is in terms of price per carat (since larger diamonds are rarer).
Deciding on a Budget and Minimum Quality Level
The first thing you need to do is establish your budget, which will also place a limit on the diamond quality you can afford.
Next, we recommend that you determine a minimum level for each of the 4 Cs. Those will be the values for clarity, color, cut, and carat below which you wouldn’t like to go.
For clarity, it is best to set the minimum grade at SI1-SI2, as below that level, the flaws in the diamond start to become readily visible.
For color, it is recommended that you set the minimum depending on the color of the setting you are going to mount the diamond in.
Yellow gold settings tend to absorb the yellowish tints in lower-grade stones, so you can set the minimum as low as M color for round diamonds and J or K color for other cuts.
For white gold or platinum settings, you should set the minimum a bit higher as they tend to make yellow tints in stones stand out; J is a good minimum level for round diamonds and J or K color is fine for other shapes.
Diamond cut is very important for how brilliant a stone is, and poorly cut diamonds look dark and lifeless. Here, we recommend that you don’t go lower than the “Good” grade, but it’s best to stick with “Ideal”/”Excellent”.
Carat is something that comes down to your preference for how big your diamond should be, but we recommend that you have some flexibility on this characteristic in case you need to reassess your budget.
Make Sure the Diamonds Are Certified
Certification helps you to verify the quality of a diamond, and its grading report should be issued by a trustworthy institution, such as the GIA.
However, this is not the only reason you should require a certificate.
When you compare the quality characteristics of different diamonds, you should make sure they are graded using the same scale. Otherwise, comparing grades that have different meanings tells you nothing about which diamond is better and relatively cheaper.
If a diamond is not certified at all, you cannot really check whether it is a good deal compared with other stones. The price may sound good, but it may turn out that it is too high for the stone’s actual quality grade.
Researching Prices and Comparing Diamonds
Start researching prices by checking online shops or by visiting jewelry stores in person. Jot down prices for diamonds at the quality level of your choice and compare them.
Remember to compare diamonds with the same characteristics. For example, compare a 1-carat diamond of H color, SI1 clarity, and a Good cut with another stone that has the same characteristics.
If you want to see how much more or less you would have to pay for another level of quality, we recommend that you start by varying quality characteristics only one at a time.
For example, ask to see another stone of a better color but of the same clarity, cut, and carat. This way, you would be able to judge more precisely the value of each characteristic you are interested in.
Deciding on Diamond Quality Characteristics
If the prices of diamonds that match your minimum quality preferences go over your budget, consider adjusting your preferences.
The easiest change you can make is in carat – getting a smaller diamond does not really affect how colorless, brilliant, and clear it looks.
Consider getting a lower-grade color if the diamond’s setting will be made of yellow gold. For white settings, you have less leeway, but if your current preferred color is above J, you may want to consider reducing this grade.
If you have to reduce the clarity level, do not go below SI2 or I1. Many diamonds in these grading ranges already have visible flaws, but you should also consider where they are located.
Try to find a stone whose imperfections are in not-so-prominent locations, ideally ones that will be hidden behind some parts of the setting.
One thing we do not recommend that you save money on is cut. This characteristic affects how brilliant a diamond looks, and a lot of sparkle in a stone can hide a poor color or low clarity to a certain extent.
Avoid buying diamonds with a Fair or Poor cut. In fact, if you have additional money left in your budget, we recommend that you spend them on cut, provided that you are already satisfied with the color and clarity of the stone.
Check Warranties and Guarantees
Don’t forget to check any additional terms before buying a diamond from a particular vendor. Things such as return policies can be crucial if you decide that you are not happy with your diamond.
Also check whether you could exchange the diamond for another one in case you decide to upgrade it in the future.
Some jewelry items also come with service plans that can save you a lot of money if your piece needs to be repaired, so make sure you consider any such terms as well.
A price may sound really attractive until you find out that once you buy the diamond, you cannot return it or exchange it for another one if you later find any problem with it.
Similarly, a more expensive diamond can turn out to be a better deal once you learn that it comes with a plan that will make possible repairs significantly cheaper.
Examine the Diamond Before You Buy It
If possible, we strongly recommend that you look closely at the stone you are about to buy, preferably under magnification. Check if the diamond’s flaws match the ones mapped on the diamond plot, which is part of the grading report the stone should come with.
Quality grades should actually be treated as ranges, and even diamonds of the same color or clarity can differ visibly when compared. This is why you should not only look at a diamond’s grades but also go through many stones of the same quality and pick the one you like best.