Everything you need to know about the 4Cs of diamonds

Do you know your diamond? Scoring 10 in the Mohs scale, diamonds are known to be the hardest substance on the face of the earth, created when carbon is crystallized hundreds of miles deep into our planet following a volcanic eruption more than 70 million years ago. Just imagine it – if you are wearing a diamond ring today, that diamond could be millenniums old! Wouldn’t it be amazing to wear something as pre-historic as the dinosaurs!

Colorless and sparkling, diamonds are a magical and romantic token of desire and affection. Rooted from the Greek word “adamas” which means unconquerable, diamonds are a real beauty that’s captured the hearts of people throughout the centuries. And it will continue to remain one most glorious gem of all times, so there you have your song “Diamonds are forever”.

What makes a diamond your diamond and not someone else’s?

No two diamonds are alike just as each of our fingerprints is unique. Depending on the four characteristics of the diamond, which are the Cut, the Color, the Clarity and the Carat, each diamond has a distinct personality of its own which manifests in its sparkle, in its physical appearance and size, weight and in its purity and color.

The diamond stones that we see today are gems expertly cut from the original rough one. Back in the late 15th Century when the first diamond engagement ring was gifted by Austrian Archduke Maximilian to his betrothed, the diamond became a symbol for everlasting love and devotion. Today, choose your diamond well by investing in gaining the knowledge of its four characteristics and recreate that moment once had by the romantic Maximilian.

Cut

The cut of the diamond is the most important characteristic of the 4C’s. It refers to how it’s sculpted into proportions which allows for the best play of light – if the diamond is cut too shallow, light reaches through the bottom and is faintly reflected; when too deep, light is bent sideways. The better the cut, the more the diamond sparkles. In the industry, there are three terms used to describe the effect of light on the diamond.

  1. Brilliance - this refers to the light that reflects off the diamond. It is what makes the stone appear to sparkle.
  2. Dispersion - this is when some rays of white light moving through the diamond is broken down into the colors of the spectrum.
  3. Scintillation - this refers to perceivable colors that flash from the stone when the diamond is moved back and forth.

How cut impacts the reflection of the light

Although the cut is one of the most important aspects of a diamond, it is also one of the most confusing! Most retailers have their own grading system for their cuts. For instance, Blue Nile's equivalent for the GIA Excellent grade is called 'Signature Ideal' while James Allen call theirs 'True Hearts'. This illustrates the inconsistency of cut grades, which is why evaluating the cut of your diamond can be confusing.

In this article, we will focus on the GIA's cut grading which is the generic and widely accepted grading system. The GIA grades include  Excellent, Very Good, Good,  Fair and Poor. Refer to the table below for details of each grade as assigned by the GIA.

Excellent Contains the highest level of brilliance (reflected white light) and fire (flashes of color). Excellent cuts reflect almost all entering light, creating maximum sparkle.

Very Good

Reflects most but not all light entering the diamond. Very similar to the excellent grade.  The fire and brilliance is at a high level.
Good Much of the light is reflected giving the diamond a good amount of brilliance and fire.
Fair Fire and brilliance is reduced as majority of light escapes from the diamond. In smaller diamonds, this effect is not as perceivable making it more acceptable.
Poor The diamond appears dull with very little sparkle, as most light travels out through the bottom and sides of the diamond.

Two important tips for choosing the cut of your engagement ring

  1. Good and very good cuts offer the best value for your money
  2. To get a very good sparkle for larger diamonds, higher grade of cut is needed

Color

Next to the cut, color falls at 2nd place of importance among the 4C’s. The human eye gets attracted to the sparkle first, then notices the color later. Color shows in a diamond as pale yellow. The color grade is based on the diamond’s lack of color. As the diamond tends to be colorless, the higher the price will be. The best grade is D which is perfect colorless but one has the option until color H which is near colorless and  can still have the best value for money.

Below is a simple color grading chart following on the assumption that 80% of people gazing at a diamond have unaided or untrained eyes to notice slight difference in the color shades from D to H.

Diamond color chart from perfect colorless to noticeable color

When assessing the color of the diamond, one should not hold the diamond face up. Color pertains to the tone or warmth of the entire body of the stone. The best way to view it is from the side, unmounted and a white background could also aid. This explains why when buying a diamond jewelry or a diamond ring for that matter, it’s best to choose a loose diamond first, that one that is not mounted yet, and once you have decided the features of the diamond, you can then take care of the ring metal, the ring band and the style.

Some tips for choosing the color of your engagement ring

  1. When buying higher color grade diamonds, choose white ring metals such as the platinum or white gold as white metal best complements the diamond as it ranks up in its color grade. Similarly, colored metals such as the yellow gold or the rose gold may be chosen for near colorless G and H grades – these colored metals tend to rationalize the yellow tint in the diamond.
  2. Color grading (difference) becomes more important for diamonds with larger carat weight.
  3. Round and princess shapes are the best choices for diamond with lower color grading. This is because these shapes reflect more light (due to having more facets) which makes the color of the diamond less noticeable.
  4. For the best value of your money choose diamond between G-J grading as these diamonds appear colorless to the naked eye (make sure you take into account the tip#2)

Clarity

Clarity is the 3rd most important characteristic. Clarity refers to the internal purity of the diamond. There are two characteristics considered for clarity grading – inclusions and blemishes. Inclusions are birthed by nature; they refer to the tiny imperfections present in almost all of the diamonds ever mined around the world except for the rarest of its kind that fall under Flawless (FL) or Internally Flawless (IF) grade – the highest clarity grade there can ever be. Most inclusions are microscopic that they tend to be invisible unless under 10x magnification by a skilled grader. Examples of inclusions are crystals or minerals that were naturally enclosed by the diamond, feathers which refer to fractures inside the diamond, cavity which are spaces left after polishing, and pinpoints which are dust-like structures of crystals that often arrange themselves in clusters. Blemishes, on the other hand, refer to external impurities brought about by wear and tear, the cutting process or the diamond’s natural crystal structure itself. Typical examples include scratches which are thin white lines across the diamond’s table, nicks which look like small chips, abrasion which appears as a series of tiny nicks along a facet corner and pits which look like tiny dots on the diamond’s surface. All diamonds are examined under 10x magnification to determine the clarity grade. The least impurities there are, the higher the clarity grade of the diamond is.

The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) developed the clarity scale below to quantify inclusions and blemishes. The same standards are followed by the American Gem Society (AGS) however the latter uses numbers to denote clarity – 0 being the cleanest and 10 being the most imperfect. The factors considered in clarity include the size, number, position, nature and color of the inclusions present in the diamond.

Diamond clarity chart

Clarity Grades Description
Flawless No inclusions or blemishes viewed under 10x magnification by and expert grader
Internally Flawless (IF) Only blemishes can be viewed under 10x magnification
Very Very Slightly Included (VVS1 and VVS2) Minute inclusions are present but difficult to spot under 10x magnification. VVS1 diamonds have inclusions that are extremely difficult to see when face-up but may be viewed only through the pavilion. VVS2 diamond inclusions are very difficult to see.
Very Slightly Included (VS1 and VS2) Inclusions range from difficult (VS1) to somewhat easy (VS2) to see under 10x magnification
Slightly Included (SI1 and SI2) Inclusions are easy (SI1) or very easy (SI2) to see under 10x magnification
Included (I1, I2, and I3) Inclusions are obvious under 10x magnification and sometimes they can be seen face-up by the naked eye. The inclusions may impair the diamond’s transparency and brilliance. The stone’s durability may also be affected.

Some jewelry companies undergo clarity enhancement techniques to improve the purity of the diamond. Two common techniques are laser drilling and fracture drilling. Laser drilling uses laser to cut a small hole into the diamond to reach the visible inclusion inside and treat it or eliminate it. Fracture drilling uses molten glass to cover up fractures or spaces inside the diamond. Though these techniques are designed to enhance clarity, the marks they leave on the diamond’s surface may very well be considered as blemishes.

If you are buying an engagement ring, to have the best value for your money, choose an eye-clean diamond – one that has no impurities that can be clearly seen by the unaided eye. This grade is termed as Very Slightly Included (VS2) in the above table.

Carat

Carat is perhaps the most heard of or talked about and yet the most misunderstood of all the characteristics. Carat refers to the diamond’s weight, not its size. A carat weighs 0.2 grams. This is not similar to the karat of the gold which refers to the latter’s purity. Below is a chart showing approximate diameter size in millimeter (mm) for a round cut diamond.

mm Size Carat Weight
4.0 0.25
4.4 0.33
5.2 0.50
5.9 0.75
6.5 1.00
7.0 1.25
7.4 1.50
8.1 2
9.3 3

The price of the diamond is determined by multiplying the carat weight to the price per carat. Keep in mind that carat does not necessarily equal beauty as the overall glamour of the diamond considers the three other characteristics – the cut, color and clarity. A bigger carat weight may look dull when cut poorly. Interestingly, smaller carat weight diamonds appear larger with higher cut grades whereas even bigger carat weight diamonds could appear smaller with poor cut grades.

Some tips when choosing the carat weight of your engagement ring

  1. If you would like to go for larger carat size and you have a tight budget, you can always go for lower grade colors (I or J).
  2. Due to its shape marquise cut always appear larger than other diamonds cut for the same carat weight
  3. Consider the size of the finger when deciding on the carat weight

The purer, larger and colorless the diamond is, the rarer it is. And rarity spells out a higher cost. If you have two diamonds with the same cut, color and clarity but with varying carats, the cost of the larger diamond will always be higher on a per carat basis compared to that of the smaller diamond.

As more carat means more profit, experienced cutters will try to ensure that less wastage is achieved during the cutting process. However high quality cut grade always entails around 15% of wastage on average.

To get the best value for money, consider buying a diamond with a carat weight that’s slightly below your ideal carat weight as there can hardly be any difference between the two in terms of the feel and even in the size. For example, instead of buying 1 carat weight, buy say 0.9 carat weight and it can still be pretty satisfactory. Also, if you are going for higher cut grades diamond, you can go with smaller carat weight because you know they will tend to appear larger.

Studying the elements that make up the diamond’s very soul can be exhausting. But with the right information, you are sure to make good and informed decisions. At the end of the day, it all ends up to your preference over cut, clarity, color and carat. Choose that mix that fits your budget and best suits your style. Considering the 4C of diamonds, we have developed a very easy step by step guide on how to choose your diamond for your engagement ring. This, will help you to choose the best diamond for your engagement ring especially if you are shopping on a tight budget.