Diamond Buying Guide
Diamond Search – Tips and Advice
If you are shopping for a diamond, (as you most likely are since you are reading this page!) here is some practical guidance that will help you in your quest. The first piece of advice that should appear on any good diamond buying guide is to decide on a budget. If you stay within your means it will help you to focus, and it will remove a lot of stress from the process. Diamonds help us celebrate some of life’s most joyous occasions and there is no reason that the buying journey should not be as enjoyable as the destination! A reasonable budget can usually be accommodated by selecting a diamond with the right combination of the diamond 4 C’s - carat, color, clarity, and cut.
Below you will find solid information to help you determine the best combination for you. This guide will walk you through the basics while providing links to technical information that you may find very interesting to learn about on your journey.
Choosing the shape
of the diamond is an important step in narrowing down the field. The traditional round brilliant is classic and has the greatest potential for overall light performance. Other shapes like princess, with its brilliant style facet design, can also deliver excellent fire and brilliance if cut extremely well.
From a budget standpoint, choosing a non-round or “fancy” shape diamond can have significant impact on the size and quality combination available at a given budget. Princess cut diamonds, for example, can be much less expensive than rounds of equivalent size and quality.
As any good diamond buying guide will tell you, if you do not have a strong predisposition for shape, there are very good reasons to stay with the “tried and true” classic round brilliant.
Diamond Size – Carat
It is important to understand that carat is a measure of weight (5 carats = 1 gram). Carat weight
corresponds to approximate size equivalents, but depending how the diamond is proportioned, stones of a given weight can vary widely in actual size. (We will talk more about the critical subject of Diamond Cut below).
Many shoppers have some idea of what size they would like. For instance, a “one carat diamond” (1.00 ct) is a common goal for many shoppers. But there is an important relationship between size and price
, and sometimes getting a nice diamond in a preferred size will push the budget too much. Being willing to compromise a little in size can be very strategic.
As diamond carat increases the cost “per carat” increases as well, leading to an exponential increase in total price. For example a 1.01 carat diamond of a certain quality might cost $5000 per carat, or $5050 total. The same quality in a 2.01 carat might cost $8000 per carat or $16,080 total. So a diamond twice as big can cost over three times as much.
Diamond Color and Clarity
Color and clarity grades can greatly affect the diamond carat range that can be purchased with a given budget. Some compromise is almost always made in one or both areas. Loose diamonds in the colorless range (DEF) sell for premium prices, as do diamonds that are near flawless (IF, VVS1, VVS2). To many people these stones are essentially indistinguishable from near colorless stones with minor inclusions (GHIJ VS/SI). It is important to understand which factors are most important to you so that you can select the ideal diamond for your budget. (You will find more about color and clarity below, along with links to detailed information.)
Laboratory Certified Diamonds
Before going too far, it should be pointed out that whether or not a diamond is lab certified REALLY matters! And which lab the certification is from matters as well. The two labs with the best reputation for accuracy and consistency are the GIA (Gemological Institute of America and the AGSL (American Gem Society Laboratories). These two top tier labs can be counted on for accurate color and clarity grading. AGSL is preferred by shoppers who have a preference for diamonds with the best light performance as their cut quality analysis is more comprehensive and exacting. For more information please see AGS vs GIA
and GIA Ex vs AGS Ideal
Determining the best diamond color
range to stay in is a very individual matter. People vary widely in their color acuity. Some people can immediately detect a diamond color that is outside the colorless range (DEF). Other people cannot distinguish between colors several grades apart, even in controlled conditions.
Diamond Color as seen from the side
Most shoppers are mainly concerned that the diamond does not look yellow to the casual observer. Diamonds in the near-colorless range (GHIJ) generally fit this criterion. And since near-colorless diamonds cost far less than colorless ones, many people find their best value in this range. While placing a diamond color D next to an I color will create a differential that most people can see, the I color on its own looks essentially “white”. Another way to say this is that diamonds in the G-J range, while not technically colorless, do not create an impression of color. *See this page for more information on how diamond color grading
is done in the laboratory.
Ideal cut diamonds appear slightly whiter than ordinary cuts because they return a maximum amount of the ambient light back to the eye, to some extent overwhelming any visible body color of the diamond itself.
In considering diamond clarity
it is interesting to note that very few people actually buy flawless diamonds. That is because the best diamond clarity (FL) is essentially indistinguishable from diamonds several clarity grades lower- except by a trained grader with a microscope- yet FL diamonds are far more costly. Therefore, almost everyone makes some compromise in this area.
Diamond Plot and Keys to Symbols
Magnified Diamond with Crystal Inclusions
Generally, shoppers are mainly concerned with imperfections that will be noticeable to the unaided eye. Diamond clarity is graded under ten power magnification and normally diamonds in the upper six categories (FL, IF, VVS1, VVS2, VS1 and VS2) are all “eye clean”. See this page for more information on how diamond clarity grading
is done in the laboratory.
There is some logic to choosing clarities that exceed eye-clean status, as the presence of inclusions can sometimes impact light performance, even if they cannot be seen with the unaided eye. Certain clarity characteristics, particularly in diamonds with Si grades, can negatively impact brightness and fire.
Provided that imperfections are not easily visible to the naked eye and they do not diminish light performance, choosing a lower clarity grade can be a smart tradeoff.
About a third of all diamonds have a property known as fluorescence
that causes the diamond to glow in response to light containing strong ultraviolet wavelengths (such as in direct sunlight). The strength of the fluorescent effect can vary from none (inert) to very strong. The most common color is blue, but diamonds can fluoresce other colors including white, yellow, orange, green and even red. In most cases fluorescence is simply an identifying characteristic of a particular diamond, but in some cases it can impact the appearance, value and liquidity of the diamond. Shoppers considering fluorescent diamonds should be aware of the pros and cons of this property in order to determine whether a particular diamond is a good match for their needs.
Diamond Cut quality
is arguably the most important of the Diamond 4 C’s. And although other diamond guides put inadequate emphasis on this aspect, proportioning and craftsmanship of the diamond are the keys to its brilliance, fire and sparkle. Diamonds much lower in color and clarity that are cut with high precision can look much more beautiful than diamonds with perfect color and clarity but faulty cut quality.
A CUT ABOVE Hearts and Arrows Diamond
A polished diamond consists of a system of tiny facets, each one a mirror that must work in concert with all other facets in order to bring forth the full expression of the potential beauty within. No matter what size, color, or clarity one may choose it is a waste of this precious potential to compromise on cut quality.
To learn more, please see this article for in-depth information about light performance cut grading
at the AGS Laboratories.
In the modern era there are a variety of diagnostic tools
that consumers can access that provide information over and above that contained in a laboratory report, specifically in the area of cut quality and light performance.
Reflector tools such as ASET
, and Hearts and Arrows Viewer can reveal critical aspects of how a diamond is handling light. Other tools such as the HCA, diamond imaging
, and HD video are becoming indispensable to the modern shopper, especially on the internet, giving them a magnified view of the dynamic aspects of a diamond’s quality and beauty.
Hearts and Arrows Diamonds
The term hearts and arrows
refers to patterns that are visible using a simple reflector device, in diamonds cut within a narrow range of proportions and facets aligned precisely in three dimensions. This level of precision is necessary for optimal light performance, fire and brilliance. Learn about hearts and arrows formation
, and most importantly, the benefits of hearts and arrows
In addition to high precision center stones, smaller accent diamonds called ‘melee’ are also available. Hearts and arrows melee
can add significantly to the fire and sparkle of the finished jewelry piece.
Super Ideal Diamonds
Ideal cut diamonds are those that have been cut to specifications with extremely small tolerances that enable the diamond to refract and reflect the optimal quantity and quality of light back to the eye of the observer. For shoppers seeking the absolute finest in diamond cut there are true super ideals such as A CUT ABOVE®
diamonds. They must first receive the most prestigious certificate from the foremost authority on diamond cut quality – a Triple Ideal platinum certificate from the American Gem Society Laboratories. From there they must pass additional light performance and quality tests in order to become a member of the A CUT ABOVE® diamonds brand.
One of the hallmarks of A CUT ABOVE® Super Ideal Round is perfect Hearts and Arrows
patterning, demonstrating that the diamond is perfectly “tuned”. That is, the diamond is ideal cut and fully optimized for light performance. Simply put, they are the “Best of the Best” in terms of what makes a diamond beautiful – brightness, dispersion and scintillation (otherwise known as brilliance, fire and sparkle!)
The A CUT ABOVE® super ideal brand also includes Princess
cut diamonds. There are especially few of these extraordinary diamonds in the market. Learn just how demanding the requirements are on our page of specifications and qualifications
of A CUT ABOVE® diamonds.
While there is a premium associated with buying ideal cut diamonds, when you consider the benefit of getting maximum performance from your combination of the other 3 C’s every time that diamond is observed, day after day and year after year, there is no question that this premium is one well worth investing in.
Selecting Your Diamond Vendor
No diamond guide is complete without discussing the importance of choosing the right diamond merchant to work with. In fact, it may be the most important decision you make in the process! Selecting a knowledgeable supplier with a great reputation will go a long way to making your experience an excellent one. Consider industry credentials, BBB rating
, and peer reviews
(especially independent online review sites) when deciding who to trust with such an important purchase.
Value added packages are also very important to consider. Benefits such as trade-up
and buyback guarantees are sometimes offered as well as valuable service plans
Consumers today are interested to know that they deal with are socially responsible
and involved in activities to invest in their communities. Choosing companies who are operating with core values
and best practices
is especially important to shoppers considering expensive and emotionally important products and services.
Many vendors will source diamonds for you from the wholesale network. This is commonly referred to as “virtual” inventory. Some companies will simply arrange to have the diamond “drop shipped” to you without ever having actually seen or verified it. Other companies will do minimal inspection before shipping a diamond. It is highly recommended that if you are having a diamond sourced, deal with a company that performs thorough gemological review
and light performance imaging prior to your taking delivery of the diamond.
There are hundreds of terms that you may run across as you research and shop for diamonds. They may be general terms, names of parts of the diamond’s anatomy, diamond clarity characteristics, or specialized light performance terms. You will find a comprehensive list in our diamond glossary
with concise definitions and links to more detailed information when available.
We hope you have found this diamond buying guide helpful. With the proper approach and due diligence you will find the right merchant and a diamond that is perfect for you. Dealing with a company that is knowledgeable and provides a complete analysis of the diamonds they offer will ensure that you make a brilliant choice! A high quality certified diamond with top light performance will bring a lifetime of enjoyment.
Best of luck on your journey. You are now ready to go out there and be brilliant!