What to Know About Diamonds Before You Buy One
Most people buy or are given at least one diamond during their lifetime. Knowing what to know about diamonds before buying one can literally save a person thousands of dollars. I'm a certified gemologist, so I often see people making costly mistakes due to simple ignorance. There are only a few really important things a person needs to know about diamonds before buying one, and getting overburdened by all the information in a gemstone report can lead to frustration. Below I have pictured a standard diamond report. We'll go through each of the sections one at a time, and I'll explain what each part means. I'll also tell you what to watch out for -- diamond features that cost more but don't really give you much bang for your buck.
Understanding a Diamond Report -- How to Read it
Unless you're an expert diamond buyer, you should always buy a diamond with a full diamond report from a major gem lab like the EGL or GIA. You should be able to examine the diamond report before purchasing the diamond. Above is a standard diamond report from the EGL, which is one of the major diamond labs in the world. There are a bunch of features on this diamond report, some of which are more self-explanatory than others. This diamond report even has a graphical representation of the inclusion present in the stone, which is in the middle of the report. The inclusion is represented as a red dot on the picture. That's pretty neat. So let's go through the sections one at a time.
- Diamond Type -- You'll notice on the top of the left side the report says that this diamond is a natural diamond, and that it's a type 1a. There are two types of diamonds in jewelry, Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diamonds have nitrogen in them, which is the impurity that causes the off yellow and brownish colors in diamonds. Type 2 diamonds are nitrogen free, or have so little nitrogen present that it's virtually immeasurable. Type 1a diamonds have nitrogen dispersed in clumps throughout the crystal lattice. Type 1b diamonds have nitrogen evenly dispersed within the crystal lattice, which causes a more pure yellow, as with the Canary yellow variety of diamonds. Without going into too much more detail on diamond types, 98% of all diamonds in jewelry are Type 1a. So you'll almost never see anything other than those on a standard diamond report.
- Carat Weight -- This refers to the weight of your diamond. 1 Carat equals 0.2 grams.
- Color Grade -- Diamonds range in color from D-Z. D, E, and F diamonds are considered "Colorless" while G-Z are considered yellow. The further away from D you go, the more yellow to brownish/yellow you get. If you want to get the most bang for your buck, F color is a great way to go. It's still considered a colorless diamond, but it's not nearly as expensive as a D color stone.
Understanding Diamond Clarity is Hugely Important. This is where most people make their mistakes. Here are the different clarity values according to industry standards:
FL/IF -- Flawless or Internally Flawless
VVS1 -- Very Very Slightly Included -- Inclusions are invisible to the naked eye and must be so minor that they take around five minutes to find with your standard 10x loupe. Inclusion/inclusions must be near the edges of the stone.
VVS2 -- Very Very Slightly Included -- Inclusions are invisible to the naked eye and must be so minor that they take around five minutes to find with your standard 10x loupe. Inclusion/inclusions are located nearer to the middle of the stone.
VS1 -- Very Slightly Included -- Inclusions are invisible to the naked eye and must be minor enough that they aren't readily visible with a standard 10x loupe. Inclusion/inclusions are located near the edges of the stone.
VS2 -- Very Slightly Included -- Inclusions are invisible to the naked eye and must be minor enough that they aren't readily visible with a standard 10x loupe. Inclusion/inclusions are located near the middle of the stone.
SI1 -- Slightly Included -- Inclusions are invisible to the naked eye but become readily visible with a standard 10x loupe. Inclusion/inclusions are located near the edges of the stone.
SI2 -- Slightly Included -- Inclusions are invisible to the naked eye but become readily visible with a standard 10x loupe. Inclusion/inclusions are located near the middle of the stone.
SI3 -- This is a grade that some companies use to refer to a diamond that has a lot of internal inclusions, all of which are invisible to the naked eye. I and many others do not like this clarity grade because too many internal inclusions will affect the brilliance and fire of a stone, even if you can't see them with the eye. A diamond with a lot of invisible inclusions should be given an I1 clarity grade. Be wary of diamonds with SI3 clarity grades.
I1 -- Included -- Minor inclusions are visible to the naked eye.
I2 -- Included -- Moderate inclusions are visible to the naked eye.
I3 -- Included -- Severe inclusions are visible to the naked eye.
Choosing the Right Clarity
Did you notice in the clarity grades that even SI clarity diamonds are supposed to be clean to the naked eye? According to industry standards, without magnification, you shouldn't be able to tell the difference between an IF, VVS, VS, or SI clarity diamond. That's very important to understand. The reason why is because at retail, an SI2 diamond is only 20% of the price of an IF diamond, even though an SI2 diamond isn't less beautiful to the naked eye. That's why I always recommend diamonds in the SI clarity range to my buyers. They're just as beautiful as a diamond 5 times more expensive. The only real difference is on paper. IF and VVS diamonds are more rare, and therefore more expensive, but they aren't generally more beautiful to the naked eye. Over 90% of the diamonds in jewelry are in the SI clarity range. That's why they're much less expensive, not because they're less beautiful. It's simply because they're more common.
Next is the cut grade. A well cut diamond will have more brilliance and fire than a poorly cut diamond. This is somewhere why you'll want a diamond with an excellent cut. If the diamond doesn't have "Excellent" for its cut grade, you'll want to ask why. Diamond cutting is a science, and if the proportions of the stone aren't just right, you'll lose brilliance and fire. Did you know that diamond has such amazing light refraction properties that if a diamond was both internally flawless and perfectly cut that all of the light which enters the top of the stone will be refracted back up through the top of the stone. That means that a perfect diamond will cast a perfect shadow on a wall, because all of the light that enters it will be redirected up and out through the top of the stone. That's pretty amazing.
The cut grade is a combination of both the "Polish" and the "Symmetry" of the stone, which are below on the left side of the report. If a diamond doesn't have good symmetry or polish, the brilliance and fire can suffer. It's best to get a diamond that has an "Excellent" cut grade.
Some diamonds exhibit flourescence, not all. Flourescence can either be strong, medium, or weak. Flourescence is the property of absorbing light of short wavelength and emitting light of longer wavelength. Basically what happens is that in full sunlight, some diamonds will exhibit a blueish glow to them depending on the severity of the flourescence. In many cases, flourescence will cause the value of the diamond to go down, but depending on your preference, flourescence can be desireable. Flourescence can cause a colorless diamond to go down in value because the flourescence gives color to an otherwise colorless diamond. But in a diamond with a slight yellow tinge, blue flourescence can actually be desireable because the blue of the flourescence can offset the yellow. Unless flourescence is "Strong" it doesn't generally affect the value of the stone much.
Best Diamond for the Money
Whenever clients ask me what I consider to be the best diamond for the money, I always reply that you'll get the most bang for your buck if you go for an F color SI2 clarity diamond. This is still considered a colorless diamond with no visible inclusions, but it won't be nearly as expensive as a lot of other diamonds on the market and will be just as beautiful. I've written a full article on the subject if you're interested in reading more information : Best Diamond for the Money. If you just want a diamond that's the most beautiful stone for the cost, then F color SI2 is the way you want to go.
Benji Mester (author) from San Diego, California on June 24, 2013:
Congrats. I'm sure they're beautiful. Thanks very much for stopping by!
Phoebe Pike on June 24, 2013:
Very informative. I have been given a diamond engagement ring and a necklace to match. It's nice knowing a little more about them.