Diamond Quality Vs Quantity - Why the Bigger Diamond Is Not Always Better

Buying a diamond for an engagement ring will probably be one of the most important purchases you ever make. Deciding on the size and quality of your forever diamond can be a nerve-racking endeavor. We have all been conditioned to think that in diamonds “bigger is better”, but that is not always so!
It seems counter intuitive, but often the diamond bigger in size is not actually the ‘best bang for the buck”. The reason is that the ‘bang’ is really defined by the fire and sparkle of the diamond which are both controlled by the quality of the cut. More often than not, diamonds are cut to maximize carat size or weight, while sacrificing beauty in the trade off.
A CUT ABOVE Diamomnd
A cutter approaching a given piece of diamond rough has a wide range of options in how he can proportion and finish the diamond in order to maximize his economic yield. He can do a number of things to retain more weight in the final diamond such as cutting it overly deep and leaving a thick girdle around the perimeter. His calculation is more about self-interest rather than in optimizing the diamond for light performance (fire and brilliance). Depending on the size and quality of the rough, the cutter may be able to charge more for the finished diamond if he takes liberties with the cut and keeps the size or carat weight larger. That is because the market tends to value carat over cut. Larger diamonds can be sold for premiums, especially those that maintain certain ‘magic marks’ such as 1.00 carat and 2.00 carat, rather than falling just below those thresholds.
The problem for the consumer is that the liberties that cutters take for the sake of increased size negatively impact the diamond’s optics. The proportioning and faceting precision of the diamond will determine the quantity and quality of the light that is returned to the eye. When the diamond is to be the center piece in an engagement ring it will be worn every day and will the ultimate symbol of love. Compromises in cut quality will result in diminished beauty.
Diamonds cut to maximize weight often look visually smaller than diamonds cut for beauty as light return may not extend from edge to edge as it is in ideal cut diamonds. Ideal cut diamonds also tend to look whiter than commercial cuts because more ambient light from the environment is being channeled back to the eye, masking some of the body color of the diamond.
ideal cut diamond
Ideal Cut Diamond
round diamond
Non Ideal Cut Diamond
Diamonds are sometimes cut to maximize outer dimensions, an aspect referred to as ‘spread’. It is essentially the size of the footprint of the diamond viewed from a face up position. A diamond that is cut overly deep will have a smaller than normal spread. Diamonds cut shallow can have a bigger than normal spread. In either case, light performance will suffer as a result of having sub-optimal proportions.
A large diamond is certainly desirable, but only if cut quality has not been compromised for size.

Cut Quality – the Most Critical “C”

Of the diamond 4 C’s there is one that is critical. According to GIA, “Cut quality is the factor that fuels a diamond’s fire, sparkle and brilliance. The allure and beauty of a particular diamond depends more on cut quality than anything else.’
Diamond cut craftsmanship determines the diamond’s ability to handle light optimally. Defects in cut quality will result in diminished light performance and will ultimately affect diamond’s beauty and value.
Cut quality is assessed at the two major gem laboratories, GIA and AGSL. The grading done at GIA is limited to round brilliant diamonds and the grading system is broad. It is based upon predefined tables into which averaged and rounded measurements are input and matched to a grade. The top GIA grade in their 5 grade system is Excellent. AGSL performs advanced computerized ray tracing of the actual diamond based upon an accurate 3D model of the diamond, directly measuring all its major optical properties. The top grade in their 10 grade system is Ideal, and can be performed on princess cuts, emerald, oval and a variety of other diamond shapes. Shoppers looking for the pinnacle of diamond cut quality should seek out AGS Ideal cut diamonds for the ultimate diamond pedigree.

Cutting for Weight – A Stubborn Diamond Industry Tradition

A consumer might wonder why diamonds are not all cut by default for maximum beauty. It’s a valid question that has no good answer. Since the turn of the twentieth century the physics of light as it passed from air into diamond and back out the observer was understood well enough for some cutters to design high performing diamonds. In 1919 Marcel Tolkowsky presented his thesis on Diamond Design which prescribed the basic proportions of the round brilliant that still today form the basis of the ideal cut. However, for more than a century old habits have proven very hard to break as most manufacturers continue to cut diamonds with more emphasis on retaining weight than on making the most beautiful diamond possible from the rough.
When the diamond is to be the center piece in an engagement ring, it will be worn every day and will represent the ultimate symbol of love. Compromises in cut quality should be avoided as they will ultimately result in some degree of diminished beauty. A large diamond is certainly desirable, but only if cut quality has not been compromised for size.

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