Big Q, Easy A: How to Buy a Diamond

Every question you ever had about one of the biggest purchases you'll make - made simple!

One of the most exciting – and expensive! – purchases you will ever make is diamond jewelry. And you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the best value you can for your money (or for your significant other’s, if he’s planning to buy you a ring and needs this page left open on his phone). To help make sense of all the terminology and decisions, we reached out to diamond experts and jewelers for their advice, including Amanda Marmer, who designs her own eponymous line; Deborah Fine, CEO of Ritani; Graziela Kaufman, designer of Graziela Gems; Jason Arasheben of Jason of Beverly Hills; Jennie Kwon, who also designs a namesake line; Melvyn Kirtley, Chief Gemologist and Vice President of High Jewelry at Tiffany & Co.; and Paul Tacorian, CEO of Tacori.

Tip #1: Do your research
Do a little research to decide what style you like. “I suggest going through wedding magazines, websites, anything to familiarize yourself with the type of diamonds and different cuts,” says Jason of Beverly Hills’ Arasheben. You can check out celebrities’ rings that are similar in style to ones you might like – Arasheben helped design the ones worn by Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba, below.

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“Couples are advised to think long term when choosing a ring. The diamond will last a lifetime and should reflect the taste and personality of the wearer,” advises Tiffany & Co.’s Kirtley. Things to consider include shape (refer to the chart below), size and setting.

Courtesy Jason of Beverly Hills

Image Courtesy Jason of Beverly Hills

Tip #2: Get an idea of your budget
“Throw the ‘three months’ salary’ rule out the window because everyone is different,” says Ritani CEO Fine. “Just like any other purchase or investment, style and spend are a totally personal decision. The deciding factors should be your (and your partner’s) taste, needs, and financial situation.”

Even if size is important to you, most jewelers don’t recommend sacrificing quality in order to get a giant rock. “You want to put a budget together to get the best quality and the best size you can get within that range,” says Tacorian. A sweet spot recommended by his brand, Tacori, is G Color, VS clarity in the cut, and a carat weight that works for your budget [all which we’ll explain below]. “With this formula, you’re getting a great clear stone, good quality, good color, something that is going to refract the best light and still look really white for your budget. If you can spend more after that, then go bigger!” he adds.

Tip #3: Find a jeweler you trust
“This purchase is an emotional decision. You want to find someone who gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling, someone you trust to help you make the best choice,” says Arasheben. “When [Union’s husband] Dwyane Wade was looking for a ring for Gabrielle, I flew out to Miami four separate times and probably showed him 30 different stones before he found the right one that spoke to him — and when he saw it, he knew right away.”

Tip #4: Look for conflict free diamonds
Look for jewelers who purchase their diamonds from countries that follow the Kimberly process, says Grazeiela: “These diamonds are free from human abuse and are from countries that have fair labor practices.”

Tip #5: Know the “four Cs” and prioritize which are most important to you
The Four Cs together are the factors that determine the cost of a diamond and are what everyone considers when purchasing a diamond; color, cut, clarity and carat.

“No matter your budget, you have to decide which of the four Cs is most important to you. If you want carat size and are less concerned with color and clarity, then let that be your guide,” says Marmer.

Cut describes the shape of the stone and how many facets are cut, which determines how much brilliance will be reflected in the diamond (basically it’s how much the diamond sparkles). When starting the process, this is the most important thing to look for. “Once you decide the cut of your diamond, then you’ll look at the other Cs,” Graziela explains.

“Don’t settle for a cut grade less than Good, and if you can afford it, up to Very Good,” Fine advises. “It’s most important since it directly affects the sparkle factor” advises Fine. The cut scale [shown below] goes from Excellent to Poor, and a diamond that has an even pattern of bright and dark areas is in the top category.

diamond cut grade comparison

Image Courtesy of Ritani

Carat is the measurement or weight of the diamond (which is the other half of the “bling” equation). The chart below explains the differences in weight; each carat can be divided into 100 points that allow for very precise measurements.

It’s important to keep some commonsense things in mind when considering carat weight, says Kwon: “For instance, on smaller fingers, stones look larger! And even with a smaller carat weight, a beautifully cut stone appears larger and vice versa.”

It also may not be worth it to go for a giant stone at the expense of clarity because it will be more obvious, explains Fine. “The higher the carat weight, the more important the clarity grade is, since internal flaws are always more noticeable in larger diamonds.”

For budget-conscious buyers, one of the best tips is to find a diamond that’s slightly below the industry carat weight cut-offs (for instance, 0.25, 0.50, 1.0, 1.5). “These points are where the prices jump the most and the difference in visual size will be negligible, but the price can change dramatically when you go from a .97 ct diamond to a 1.0 ct. diamond.” says Fine. She advises keeping “the carat weight lower (no more than 1.50 ct) while investing in higher cut, clarity and color grades” to get the best bang for your buck.


Image Courtesy of Ritani

The color of a diamond really refers to how colorless the diamond is. Diamonds range from clear to yellow, but a pure diamond is completely clear and has no color, making them more desirable (with higher value).

Here’s how to read the GIA D-Z diamond color grading system, which measures the degree of colorlessness. It starts at “colorless” diamonds graded D, E, and F; diamonds with a G, H, I or J grading are “Near-Colorless;” K and L gradings are “Faint Yellow;” M, N, O, P, Q and R fall under the “Noticeable Color” grade and S, T, U, V, W, X, Y and Z qualify as “Very Noticeable Color” grade.

Arasheben recommends sticking to H and higher, and Marmer concurs: “J-K-L are noticeably off color and anything below M looks really off.”

Clarity refers to how clean the diamond appears both inside and out. It’s essentially how free the diamond is of visual defects, referred to as “inclusions”.

Here’s how to read the clarity chart: The scale starts at IF (Internal Flawless), meaning that an expert detects zero inclusions under a microscope. From there the scale slides down to Very Very Slightly Imperfect (VVS1 and VVS2), Very Slightly Imperfect (VS1 and VS2) and Slightly Imperfect (SI1 and SI2). Next is Imperfect (I1), in which others will start to be able to notice imperfections, then Imperfect 2 (I2), which you will definitely be able to notice an inclusion with the natural eye. Imperfect 3 (I3) is last, which Marmer advises to steer away from if clarity is important to you. However, “just because you may be able to see inclusions in your diamond, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad diamond,” she says. “No two diamonds are alike and those little specks are unique to your diamond, which shows that it’s a natural diamond and not made in a lab.”

“If you’re going to sacrifice one thing, sacrifice clarity over color,” advises Arasheben. “Unless you’re a diamond collector, knowing that the diamond is colorless and flawless doesn’t really matter as much. If the diamond holding its value is important to you, though, aim for a VS1 diamond or higher: “without a trained eye or magnifying glass you cannot tell the difference between that and a flawless diamond,” he says.

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Tip #6: Decide on your setting
“The color of metal someone gravitates towards is super personal and really boils down to what resonates with them,” Kwon says. “Until pretty recently, I think people automatically assumed that an engagement ring had to be made in platinum in order for it to be something to be taken seriously, but now we find that brides (and grooms) are much more open to choosing a ring that reflects them personally rather than falling into the pressures of getting a huge rock in a platinum setting.”

The setting type and setting color affects what kind of diamond you should buy for that specific setting, so deciding this first will tell you which characteristics are most important to consider when buying the diamond.

“With platinum or white gold, you’d want a near colorless stone – an F or a G – because of the whiteness of the metal. The stone reflects the color of the setting to a certain extent, so if you had anything more colored, the yellow of the stone would be more apparent,” says Kwon “With a yellow-gold setting, I would recommend going with an I, J or even H color stone since anything higher (which are more expensive) in color would be lost on a yellow gold setting anyway.”

You can also choose a setting to show off your diamond to its best effect – or to hide little flaws to make it look even better. “Bezel settings can conceal certain inclusions if they’re located on the periphery of the stone,’ Kown says. “You can get a beautiful diamond for a lower price because of an inclusion on the edge and have it set in a bezel setting and no one will be able to tell.”

And don’t think you have to stick to traditional metals, either. “Palladium is extremely durable, affordable, and looks very similar to platinum,” says Fine. By opting for it in your setting, you can save money and put more towards investing in a higher-quality diamond.

Tip #7: Communicate!
“Communication — we call this the “fifth C”, says Tacori’s Tacorian, noting that it’s very important for the couple to discuss what’s most important to them when making this big purchase. And not only is clear communication important between the customer, it’s also important between you and your jeweler. “Being able to clearly share both your budget and desires is key to finding the perfect diamond that will shine for a lifetime,” he says.

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