There are four elements to appraising a diamond: carat, clarity, color, and cut. We talked about carat in an earlier post, so here we are going to talk about the other elements involved in determining the quality of a diamond. For other gemstones there is no official 4C’s grading system, but many of the same principals to grading apply. We may in the future go into grading colored stones like emeralds and rubies, but for now, let’s talk about diamonds.
First, what is a gem quality diamond? A gem is a cut and polished precious stone that is used in jewelry. A gem is also something held in high esteem and considered beautiful. So, a gem quality diamond is a cut and polished diamond that beautiful enough to be used in jewelry.
Carat, color, clarity, and cut are referred to as the 4 C’s. They are the basic elements used to determine quality and value. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) is the organization that came up with with the 4C’s for grading diamonds and is the recognized standard used in the US today for diamond grading. The grades shown below are from GIA.
Diamonds are cut into a number of shapes. The main purpose of cutting is to create facets with the most brilliance and remove imperfections in the raw diamond. The choice of the cut is usually determined by the shape of the uncut stone, location of any internal flaws, maintaining the weight, and the popularity of certain styles of cut. These two concepts together maximizes the value of the diamond.
Practically speaking, you will find that most shapes fall into about ten styles: round, princess, oval, marquise, pear, cushion, emerald, asscher, radiant, and heart. Of these shapes, the round brilliant cut is by far the most popular. Most gem quality diamonds in their natural state are octahedral (having 8 sides), so they naturally lend themselves to the round cut. Therefore, the round cut is the best cut for most diamonds because of the minimal loss of weight. The round brilliant cut is considered a standard for diamonds.
Fancy cuts are largely determined by fashion. Any cut other than the round brilliant is considered a fancy cut. Determining beauty in a fancy cut diamond is a little different than for the round brilliant cut. When you buy a fancy cut diamond, the shape has a higher weight when determining value than the other quality measurements of color and clarity, although color and clarity are still important. Determining value is slightly more subjective than with the round brilliant stone. Beauty is after all a personal taste. And for fancy cuts (and shapes) personal taste and fashion come into play when determining value. See below for info some expensive fancy cut diamonds.
Diamond Color Grading
Diamonds are found in a wide range of colors. Completely colorless stones are rare and very valuable. They are hard to find and out of reach for most people shopping for diamonds. Most of the stones used in jewelry are tinged with color ranging from white to bluish to shades of yellow and brown.
Once again, the GIA system is in commonly used to determine quality and allows common colors of diamonds to be graded. The GIA system uses a D-Z grading system to grade color.
|D E F||Colorless|
|G H I||Nearly colorless|
|J K L||Slightly yellow|
|M N O||Light yellow|
|P Q R S T U V W X||Darker yellow|
Diamonds in the yellow to brown tinge are the most common and they are considered to be in the normal range. Intensely yellow or brown colors and other colors such as pink are considered fancy colors.
Which ones are the most rarest and most expensive. D is the category that has the least amount of color, so is the most valuable along with some of the exotic Z color diamonds, like this fancy pink diamond that went at auction for $46 million!
Aside from the diamond’s color, the color intensity has an important role in determining value. The more intense the color the higher the value. Low intensity (dull) colors are less expensive. Additionally, some diamonds have secondary color undertones that add to the value if they are in harmony with the primary color and take away from the value if it does not harmonize with the primary color.
Clarity, which used to be called purity, is one of the major categories for determining a diamond’s value. Clarity describes the absence of flaws inside or on the surface of the diamond. A perfect stone is rare. Most jewelry grade diamonds have some flaws, but are not noticeable with our a jeweler’s magnifying glass.
There are two primary terms used to describe flaws: Inclusions refer to foreign material, usually tiny, that is found within the diamond. These materials were embedded in the diamond when the crystal was forming. Blemishes are flaws on the diamond exterior.
GIA Grades for Clarity
|Fl||Flawless||No internal or external flaws.|
|IF||Internally Flawless||No internal flaws. Slight external blemishes.|
|VVS1 & VVS2||Very very slightly included.||Minute inclusions. Difficult for even an experienced grader to detect.|
|VS1 & VS2||Very slightly included||Minute inclusions. Not easily seen by an experienced grader.|
|SI1 & SI2||Slightly included||Inclusions that are noticeable to an experienced grader.|
|I1 & I2 & I3||Included||Obvious inclusions that may affect transparency and brilliance.|
When looking at the clarity grades of a diamond, it is important to remember that most imperfections can only be seen with a magnifying glass (10x is used by jewelers). You do not need to worry about imperfections until you get to the lower end of the obvious inclusions. That is when the inclusions start to take away from the beauty of the diamond. The other factor to consider is the location of the inclusion. Some area are more prominent than others and that should be taken into consideration as well when making a purchase.
How do you find the right diamond?
Now that you know some of the basics, you can begin to look at diamonds in an intelligent and informed way. This article really just brushes the surface of appraising diamonds. An investor would certainly want to get a professional appraisal. Someone who is looking for a engagement ring or diamond earrings would do well to understand the 4C’s and have an idea of value, but the main criteria for buying should be the diamond,s beauty. Beauty is a very subjective concept. The diamond you choose should be the one that is the most beautiful in your price range. The 4C’s will guide you in determining if the price is right and give you a better idea of how value is determined.