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The "Four C's" of Quality Diamonds

With Valentine's Day coming up in a few short weeks, we provided readers consumer tips for selecting the perfect jeweler. However, there are a few more things for shoppers to keep in mind when it comes to picking out the perfect stones; each diamond is different and has it's own unique characteristics. The individuality of diamonds is what attracts jewelers and consumers alike. The properties of diamonds set them apart from other minerals because of the way the light refracts into and throughout the stone, giving them their sparkly appearance. As you're shopping, keep in mind the "Four C's" of choosing quality stones. These factors play a major role in the quality and radiance of the diamond.

Charts depicting the "Four C's" of diamonds- cut, carat, color, and clarity.
Charts depicting the "Four C's" of diamonds- cut, carat, color, and clarity.
The most important aspects of diamonds for consumers to know are cut, carat, color, and clarity.
Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for IMG
  1. The "cut" of the diamond doesn't necessarily refer to the shape of the diamond- alot of people make this mistake because they are familiar with terms such as a "princess cut" stone from jewelers and in fine jewelry advertisements. How a diamond is cut actually refers to the proportions of a diamond. If a diamond is cut too shallow, the light refracting into the stone will escape through the sides, or if a diamond is cut too deep, the light will refract in a downward manner. A dimensional diamond is able to allow the light to shine into the diamond, bounce off the inner walls, and back out of the top of the diamond. This is a key point to diamond quality, as multiple beams of light enter and exit multiple facets of the diamond's surface at any time, giving the stone it's glamorous appeal.
  2. A "carat" indicates the weight of the stone. Larger carat stones tend to be rarer than smaller carat stones. Also, diamonds are more dense than most other materials- a cubic zirconia and a diamond of the same size can register different weights when put on a jeweler's scale. The diamond will weigh more than the cubic zirconia because the mineral is more dense. In relation to gold, the "karat" has a different meaning; the karat is a measurement of purity of the gold used. Since pure gold measures 24 karats, that would mean there are no other metals mixed with the gold. However, gold is a very soft element and often has to be mixed with other types of metals. Having a pure gold piece of jewelry would be impractical for the typical consumer; the piece would be malleable, and prone to breaking and bending. The next time you see an "18k gold necklace" advertised, then that is the unit of measurement of how much gold is actually used. The smaller the karat number, the less gold the article of jewelry contains. If something is "gold plated"- it means the piece was made with another metal and coated with gold. The difference between a "carat" in diamonds and a "karat" in gold is an important difference to know to understand the value and quality of what you're buying.
  3. The "color" of a diamond can also vary. Most people think of a diamond as a white stone, but that's not really true. Diamonds can vary in color depending on the existing environmental conditions where the diamond originated. Diamonds are usually graded on a color scale from D to Z. A diamond with a "D rating" would be almost colorless, a light pink diamond would be somewhere in the middle of the scale, and a diamond with a "Z rating" would be of a yellow or brown tone.
  4. "Clarity" would also be one of the most important factors for jewelry enthusiasts to understand. Most people would think this would be the transparency of the diamond, but that's not really true. Clarity refers to any type of blemishes within or on the surface of the stone. Most diamonds have these little unique markings; due to diamonds occurring naturally in the environment, it's pretty rare to encounter a "flawless" diamond. Because of their rarity, these "perfect" diamonds are considered extremely valuable. Basically, the clarity is the imperfections or uniqueness to that piece of mineral. If a diamond is labeled as "included," that means the imperfections can be seen by the naked eye. Jewelers usually recommend not purchasing from the "included" category, considering the value of the stone is very low. Most engagement rings are in the "slightly included" category, meaning that most of the imperfections can't be seen by the human eye, but can be viewed from a jeweler's microscope. Some blemishes can also be hidden by backings, prongs, or intricate designs.

As you're shopping for diamonds for your sweetie this year, remember that the perfect stone is waiting for you to find it. It took many years for nature to create beautiful stones...don't rush to buy the first piece of jewelry advertised on sale. Taking the time to do your research and deciding what you really want ensures that you'll be happy with your purchase for years to come. Be sure to check out the video, "How to Tell if a Diamond is Real in 3 steps" with David Norden, located at the left of the column.

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