Diamond expert Ira Weissman drops in to share some advice with our grooms on what they need to know about selecting a diamond.
Like the diamonds themselves, there is an almost endless supply of informational websites teaching the consumer the best way to buy a diamond. The problem is, however, that if you look closely you will find that the vast majority of these informational pages are owned, either overtly or covertly, by the very same people looking to sell you a diamond. Most people know by now not to trust everything your car salesman says about the car he’s trying to sell you, so should the person trying to sell you a diamond be looked at any differently?
The simple fact is that almost all advice given online about how to buy a diamond is grossly exaggerated to fit the particular type of diamond that each vendor specializes in. A vendor who specializes in “ideal cuts” is going to tell you that everything else but “ideal cuts” are junk and don’t look nearly as nice as what they’re selling. An online vendor who doesn’t offer pictures will tell you that you need to buy a high clarity grade, or else you could wind up with an eye visible inclusion.
I would like to present to you, the diamond consumer, my take on the four C’s (Cut, Clarity, Color, Carat). What I’m going to explain to you now is the way every diamond dealer I know would approach buying a diamond for his wife or girlfriend. You’d be wise to do the same.
To preface my discussion of each “C” individually, it’s important to discuss two important issues first. First of all, we need to address where to buy the diamond and the simple answer to that question is: online. While bricks and mortar stores provide the obvious benefit of being able to see the diamond ahead of time, that one benefit is not worth the much greater margin you’re going to end up paying. Most online vendors markup their diamonds anywhere from 10 to 18 percent. Bricks and mortar stores will typically markup their diamonds around 50% — and that’s down significantly from where it was just about 10 years ago when it was closer to 100%.
The second issue that needs discussion is my general approach to balancing tradeoffs between the four Cs. Before you attempt to evaluate this balance, you need to define the goal for yourself. I typically advise one of two goals: Either trying to buy the largest diamond for your specific budget, or alternatively, keeping the size where you had originally planned it, but trying to buy the cheapest diamond (that obviously covers my minimum requirements) for that size. The analogy for balancing the four Cs that I like to use is that of a pie. Each “C” represents a slice of the pie. The larger (better) one slice, the smaller the other slices necessarily become. My diamond buying strategy can be summed up quite succinctly as the following: minimizing the slices that your eye doesn’t notice (color and clarity), and maximizing the slices that your eye does notice (carat and cut).
Lets get into it one “C” at a time:
Color – As I mention in my article on diamond color, round diamonds colored J or better look white when viewed face-up. You can only see that one diamond is more yellow than another if they are placed right next to each other. When diamond dealers evaluate a diamond’s color, it’s face down, sitting on a plain white folded card held directly underneath a fluorescent light. Even then, it’s very hard to detect what the color of a diamond is taken by itself. When gemologists grade color, they use a master color sample to compare the test diamond against. Under normal lighting, with a diamond mounted by itself in a setting face-up, it’s pretty much impossible for any non-expert to detect any amount of yellowishness in a diamond J color or better. So why spend more money on a “colorless” diamond when it won’t be appreciated? Take that money you save on color, and buy a bigger rock!
Clarity – Clarity is a bit more tricky than color, for the simple reason that every diamond is completely unique in the way it is included (filled with blemishes). A clarity grade is an evaluation of the size, color, and position of the inclusions inside of a diamond — but it doesn’t tell you how visible the inclusions are to the naked eye. I, personally, don’t view clarity in terms of grades. For me, clarity is strictly binary — that is, is the diamond completely clean to the naked eye, or is it not? A diamond VS2 will be clean to the naked eye about 95% of the time, but a diamond I1 will be completely clean to the naked eye probably around 50% of the time. All else being equal, though, a VS2 will cost 77% more than an I1! So wouldn’t it make sense to buy an eye-clean I1 versus an eye-clean VS2? After all, unless your fiance will walk around with a jewelers loupe inspecting her ring constantly, the two will look exactly the same to the naked eye. The trick, though, is finding the I1 that is eye clean. For that, you need the help of an expert to pick the right stone, and an online vendor that offers pictures of their diamonds. If you’re interested I’d be happy to help you pick the perfect I1.
Cut – Cut refers to how nice the diamond’s proportions and measurements stack up. It used to be, before 2006, that you either had to buy a diamond with an AGS certificate, which offered their own cut grade, or you had to learn about the different diamond measurements and figure out for yourself whether the diamond you were buying was a “nice-make” or not. In 2006, though, the GIA came out with their own cut grade system. Their cut grade system is based on over 10 years of research measuring light performance for every different combination of measurements imaginable. So now, the choice is very simple. Either buy a diamond with an “Excellent” or “Very Good” cut grade from the GIA, and you will have a beautiful diamond. There is some added fire and sparkle when buying Excellent over Very Good, but it’s really much less than most advice-givers would have you believe. The added benefit is further minimized over time when your wife’s ring will collect dirt and naturally become slightly duller. Also, you should know that the difference in light performance between Excellent and Very Good diamonds is particularly stark inside the jewelry store where they use specially designed overhead halogen lighting designed to make diamonds sparkle their artificially fullest. When you leave the store, and enter real-world lighting, the difference is much much less.
Carat – To me, this is the most important of the four “C”s because this is the one that your eye sees the clearest and people appreciate the most. Everyone will notice the difference between a 1.50 carat diamond and a 1 carat diamond, but few people will notice, for example, the difference between an eye-clean I1 and a VS2, or a J color and an H color diamond, or an Excellent and Very Good cut.
Bottom Line – Buy an I or J color, SI2 or I1 clarity (confirmed to be clean to the naked eye – contact me for help), Excellent or Very Good Cut Grade (from GIA only), and use all that saved money from buying an I/J SI2/I1 to either buy a bigger diamond, or save it for the down payment on your first house together.
Diamond expert Ira Weissman
Ira Weissman is a diamond industry veteran with experience at one of the worlds largest diamond manufacturers. His work has brought him to Israel, France, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Russia, Dubai, Thailand, and to most of the 50 states in the USA. Ira is presently the editor of Truth about Diamonds, a website offering the diamond consumer insider advice of how to buy diamonds like a diamond dealer, and not like a retail shopper.