What is a Carat?
When discussing diamonds, "carat" is a unit of weight (not to be confused with "karat" which defines the purity of gold.) In ancient times, the original "carats" were seed from the carob tree, which is native to certain Mediterranean countries. Because the seeds of this tree were extremely uniform in size and weight, they were used for weighing pearls and stones.
Today, the modern carat weighs 1/142 of an ounce, or in metric terms, 200 milligrams. In the diamond business, a carat is divided into 100 points. (Don't confuse points with the quality of the diamond. They are simply units of weight.) For example, if a diamond weighs 1.12 carats, we say it weighs one carat and 12 points. Likewise, a diamond that weighs exactly 1/2 carat could also be said to weigh 50 points.
What is Clarity?
Virtually all diamonds carry with them birth marks which were given to them when they were formed many millions of years ago. In the diamond business we call these birthmarks inclusions (You may also hear them called imperfections or clarity characteristics.) A clarity grade is assigned to each diamond based on the size, number and location of the inclusions within it.
Gemologists use a 10 power binocular microscope with proper illumination to determine the clarity grade of a diamond. Generally the more difficult the inclusions are to see under magnification, the higher the clarity grade of the diamond and the higher the price it commands. In some cases the inclusions are so small that they can only be seen with a microscope. When the inclusions are large enough to be seen through the top of the diamond with the unaided eye, the clarity grade assigned is lower and, likewise, the price should be as well.
It is here that you must rely on your jeweler for guidance. Very few things in this world can vary as much in price as diamonds, and very tiny differences in diamonds can mean hundreds or even thousands of dollars difference in price. That is why we recommend that anyone who is seriously considering purchasing a diamond should view it under a microscope. A trained salesperson can point out the internal characteristics that effect the value of the diamond and also differentiate it from all others.
What Do We Mean By "Color" In Diamonds
Contrary to what many people think, when we speak of color in diamonds, we are not referring to the blue, green, red and yellow flashes of color that are seen when a diamond is rotated in the light. (The technical name for that show of spectral color is dispersion. The amount of dispersion shown by a diamond is related to how well it has been cut and has nothing to do with color.) When we refer to color in diamond we are talking about the actual body color of the diamond when it is laid top down and viewed against a white background using natural north daylight. An actual color grade is assigned to a diamond by comparing it side by side with other diamonds of known color grades. The more colorless the diamond, the higher the color grade and the higher the price that is commands.
Even though most diamonds appear colorless to the average consumer, practically all have some tint of yellow, brown or gray. These tiny tints of color can sometimes only be seen by a trained eye under the proper lighting conditions. But even the slightest tint of color can effect the price of a diamond dramatically. Because these differences can be so hard to see, yet effect the price so much, you will have to count on your jeweler for guidance. This is just another reason to deal with someone who is both reputable and has the education and training necessary to give you accurate information.
A few very rare diamonds have brighter tints of color (usually yellow, brown, green, blue or pink) that make them heavily sought after by both consumers and collectors. These diamonds are called "fancies" and are so rare that they are often not available in most jewelry stores. If you are interested in a fancy colored diamond, most jewelers will be happy to try and find one for you. But be prepared to pay a high price. Such gems are rare and costly.
Cutting - The Most Important "C"
Cutting in another of the four main factors that effects the value of each diamond, but cutting is probably talked about less than color, clarity and carat weight. In reality, cutting effects the value just as much if not more than the any of these factors. And as far as beauty is concerned, cutting is the most important of all the 4 C's.
In their natural rough state, even the highest quality diamonds have very little beauty. Only through skilled cutting and polishing is the brilliance and sparkle of a diamond released. But surprisingly, most diamonds are not cut well enough to unlock their full potential beauty. Why? Well in order to cut a diamond to ideal proportions for maximum beauty, as much as 60% of the rough crystal may have to be polished away to dust. Because of this, most cutters compromise the beauty of their diamonds to some degree in order to save more of the rough crystal.
In today's competitive market, many stores have found that one way to make their diamonds appear more price competitive is to sell diamonds that have been very poorly cut and proportioned.
Always remember, even a diamond that is of fine color and clarity may fail the "looks" test and be worth substantially less if it has been poorly cut. That is why it is so important to make sure your jeweler does not disregard cutting when discussing the quality of your diamond. If they are well trained, they will be happy to discuss the subtle difference in cutting that means so much to the beauty and value of the diamond.
The Fifth C - Confidence
We all buy products and services nearly every day that we know very little or nothing about. Most of us know little about medicine, but somehow we manage to choose a doctor. Many of us know little about repairing our computer or cell phone, but we know someone who does. And most of us aren't auto mechanics but we still hire a technician when our car needs service.
Choosing a jeweler is a similar proposition. Most people know little about diamonds, but the variables that effect value are so small, the average person needs help. Here are a few tips that can help you make a more informed and confident decision.
1. Talk to friends and family who have purchased diamonds. Find out if they were happy with their decisions of where to buy.
2. Shop around. Go to several stores and ask lots of questions.
3. Check out the credentials of any store you are considering buying from. Many stores sell diamonds but don't even have a trained gemologist on staff that can grade a diamond. Make sure the store you are considering has a GIA (Gemological Institute of America) trained gemologist of staff.
4. Be sure to find out about the refund policy and guarantee provided by the store you are considering. Many consumers are shocked to find out that retailers have no legal obligation to refund money or provide a guarantee. Find out before you buy just what the store policies are. Don't assume anything.
5. The internet is a great place to gather information. But spending thousands of dollars on something you can't actually see is a bad idea. Would you choose your spouse based on her driver's license description? Vital statistics are all you are given with an on-line description. You really don't know what the diamond looks like. The fact is, two diamonds that weigh the same and have the same color and clarity grade can look entirely different from each other. So I urge you to resist the temptation of buying on-line. Chances are the reason that diamond on-line has such a low price will be obvious to you when you actually see it. There just aren't many bargains when it comes to diamonds.