There are plenty of jewelers out there who offer quality diamonds, but there are also countless companies specializing in diamonds that are aesthetically pleasing on the surface, but which contain hidden or subtle flaws that even a seasoned observer who knows what to look for in a diamond may not spot. A diamond doesn’t need to be perfect in order to be valuable, but you do need to know what you’re buying. Trained jewelers will certainly spot flaws, which may prove to be a problem for a diamond’s future value if you paid a premium for it.
Knowing what to look for in a diamond is crucial to investing in a quality piece of jewelry that you will be able to enjoy for years to come. We’ll provide a summary of what to look for. You don’t have to be a professional to put these tips to use.
First, we’ll start with the most important characteristics to consider when judging the quality of the diamond itself, which are commonly known as the “4 Cs” of diamond quality. Then we’ll get into the shape of the diamond and the style of the jewelry, as well as where to source diamonds if ethical mining practices are important to you.
Most diamonds sold in the world have very small flaws called “inclusions” and “blemishes,” which develop in the diamonds as they form underground. Inclusions are tiny imperfections inside the diamond, while blemishes are imperfections on the surface. These flaws can affect the brilliance (brightness) of the diamond, as the flaws interfere with light as it passes through the stone.
Diamond clarity is typically graded by an 11-point scale that was created by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), a well-respected and long-standing laboratory that developed the 4 C system of diamond grading. This makes it convenient to judge diamond quality, as you don’t have to be an expert with a magnifying glass to know what you are getting; all you have to do is look at the clarity grade.
Now let’s consider how the scale actually helps you determine what to look for in a diamond. A truly flawless diamond is graded FL (Flawless) and it contains no inclusions or blemishes that can be seen under 10x magnification. From there the scale proceeds to IF (Internally Flawless), VVS1 and VVS2 (Very, Very Slightly Included), VS1 and VS2 (Very Slightly Included), SI1 and SI2 (Slightly Included), and finally I1, I2, and I3 (Included), with each grade containing more inclusions that are apparent at 10x magnification.
Typically you can go all the way down to an SI1 and not be able to see flaws with the naked eye, but fall below that and flaws will become more apparent. On the lower end of the spectrum, an SI1 is a great choice, especially on a smaller diamond. For those seeking out a higher quality stone, especially for larger pieces, a VS2 or higher is generally preferred.
Consider viewing the unattached diamond itself under a magnifying glass. Various flaws can be hidden under features of the jewelry such as a ring’s prongs, and you will be better able to judge the color of the diamond without the extra light a ring’s metal reflects.
Color is a slightly less important characteristic, but it is still worth considering. Typically, the closer the diamond comes to being seen as completely colorless, the higher its value. White diamonds are graded with the GIA color scale which designates a color tint of D to Z, with D designating a colorless diamond, and Z designating a diamond with a light tint. Diamonds do come in several other colors which are highly valued, such as pink, blue, and yellow, but those tend to be graded on a separate scale, and are known as “fancy” diamonds.
For a diamond to be assigned a color grade, it has to be examined in a laboratory setting which controls for both environmental tint and tint in the light source. Color is eliminated from all surfaces and light sources to accurately judge the diamond’s color. It is apparent from this process that a diamond’s color can be difficult to determine with the naked eye in normal circumstances. For the most part, if you choose a diamond with a color rating anywhere from G – J, your gemstone will appear largely colorless, which for many is what to look for in a diamond.
Color is also important when it comes to choosing your setting. For example, a colorless diamond set in a gold vintage engagement ring will reflect the gold, which can be undesirable if you are looking to emphasize the colorlessness of the diamond. However, a diamond with a slight yellow tint will appear less altered in color when set in gold.
The cut of the diamond has to do with the diamond’s symmetry, proportions, and polish, and a diamond’s overall liveliness depends the most on this attribute. This is because a cut will determine how light interacts with the diamond, which is described by a diamond’s fire, brilliance, and scintillation. Fire has to do with white light breaking down into the colors of the spectrum as it passes through the diamond, while brilliance is a measure of brightness, and scintillation has to do with how the stone sparkles.
The cut stands as a useful indicator when determining what to look for in a diamond. This is because a cut grade takes into account a range of important attributes, combining them into a single grade that will tell you quite a bit about how beautiful the diamond is going to be. The 5 cut grades are poor, fair, good, very good, and excellent. An excellent grade means that a diamond’s girdle width, cutlet size, facet shapes and angles, polish, and symmetry are all situated so as to produce the greatest fire, brilliance, and scintillation in a diamond.
The best gemstones demonstrate Very Good and Excellent cuts, so what to look for in a diamond that is shaped round is a cut that doesn’t go much lower than Very Good. For a differently shaped diamond or an antique cut diamond, a Good or even a Fair cut can sometimes suffice.
For many people seeking information on diamonds, the carat seems like a fairly straightforward characteristic to consider. Carat specifies the diamond’s weight: the greater the carat, the greater the size of the diamond.
However, it gets a little more complicated when you are talking about how large the diamond appears. When thinking about what to look for in a diamond, carat is a meaningful indicator if you are looking for a certain diamond size, but it is important to take other factors into account as well. The value of the diamond rises quickly as the carat increases, and there are other ways to achieve a diamond appearance that looks larger.
For example, a diamond’s cut will affect how much of the diamond is visible. If the diamond features a deep cut, a greater proportion of the diamond’s mass is going to be hidden underneath it, and the diamond will have a smaller diameter, making it appear smaller on its face. A cut that features less depth and a greater diameter will make the diamond appear much larger, while you are still paying for the same carat, but you may sacrifice some of the diamond’s brilliance.
Shape is another important attribute in considering what to look for in a diamond. Diamond are cut in varying shapes, and there are 10 common shapes that you will find in most diamonds. Even though each shape is a matter of taste, and different shapes appeal to different people, each shape also affects a diamond’s brightness and fire in different ways. Shape can determine how much a diamond’s color, clarity, and size contribute to the overall beauty of the piece as well.
Round cut diamonds are the most popular shape, and they are the most effective at reflecting light, which tends to boost the overall beauty of a diamond. Brilliant-cut diamond shapes feature triangular-shaped facets and come in popular shapes such as oval diamonds, marquise cut diamonds, pear shaped diamonds, radiant cut diamonds, and heart shaped diamonds. These types of shapes tend to make the diamond look larger.
Other popular cuts are the asscher cut, emerald cut, and cushion cut, which are more rectangular. Finally, the princess cut diamond is another popular shape for its versatility in various jewelry styles.
For those who prefer antique diamonds, the old mine cut, old European cut, antique cushion cut, rose cut, and Asscher cut are among the most popular choices.
When thinking about what to look for in a diamond, it is just as important to seek out ethically mined and conflict-free diamonds from responsible sources. Unscrupulous diamond companies and mines have been responsible for the financing of civil wars, human rights abuses, economic oppression, environmental degradation (in the form of deforestation and topsoil erosion), and a host of other calamities.
Look for conflict-free and environmentally ethical diamonds. In doing so, you will be able to enjoy the dazzling beauty of your diamond for years to come, with the knowledge that you have helped contribute to healthy communities and environmentally safe mining practices around the world.
Buying antique diamonds, like the ones that we collect at Estate Diamond Jewelry, offers a conscious alternative to conflict diamonds or indirectly supporting environmental damage.
Please note: All the diamonds at Estate Diamond Jewelry are guaranteed to be conflict-free and originating from pure and ethical sources as defined by the Kimberley Process.
Bringing It Together
We understand that the size of a diamond is often an important factor in many customers’ eyes, as it is a visually distinguishable marker of a diamond’s value. However, when determining what to look for in a diamond from a value standpoint, all of the diamond’s attributes affect each other, and you should carefully weigh these attributes against one another to find just the right balance for your budget.
If you want a larger diamond but are still restricted by cost, you can consider lowering the clarity, although we don’t recommend going much lower than SI1. Furthermore, you should exercise caution, as the higher the carat, the more apparent imperfections will become. A diamond’s color also becomes more apparent as the diamond grows larger, but a quality cut will allow the diamond to reflect more light, making the color more difficult to notice. Furthermore, a shape like the marquise cut can also cause the diamond to appear larger than it is, improving the apparent value of the diamond to the wearer.
The shape and cut of the diamond can also affect how the clarity comes across. Brilliant-cut diamonds such as round, oval, princess, cushion, pear, and marquise diamonds are better at hiding imperfections, while step-cut diamonds like asscher and emerald diamonds show imperfections more vividly, and a higher clarity is recommended with them.
Determining what to look for in a diamond means taking all of these elements into account as they relate to each other. By doing so, you will be able to settle on a diamond that you can fall in love with.
Even with a rudimentary knowledge of the 4 Cs of diamond quality, and of the various shapes that are available on the market, you will be much better equipped to know what to look for in a diamond in terms of value and other qualities. Furthermore, if you look for ethically sourced diamonds, you can shop with the confidence that your selection is making a difference.
At Estate Diamond Jewelry, we have been offering high-quality estate jewelry for more than 30 years, and our standards are without compromise. If you’re looking for a truly exquisite diamond, we invite you to explore our breathtaking selection today.