If you're looking to get an engagement ring, an anniversary gift, or a piece of jewelry for whatever reason that has diamonds in it, you need to know some basics before delving into a purchase. There are 5 main pieces of information that you must have about your diamonds, also known as the 5 C's: cut, clarity, color, carat weight and certification (the last of these is by far the most important and we'll find out why later). The most important aspect of a diamond overall is its proportions and not just one subcategory or another.
The brilliance of a diamond depends a lot on the way it is cut, this does not determine the shape of the diamond although people commonly confuse the two (even jewelers who aren't well-versed on the subject can get the two confused). The cut quality makes a big difference to the way the diamond looks and is the most important aspect of your buy. A cut can make the diamond brilliant or dull because the angles it is cut at determine its ability to reflect light and can make it appear as though the light is coming from within. In a poorly cut diamond, the light will escape out of the sides or bottom rather than reflecting out through the top face of the diamond where you will see it. The criteria of the cut can be classified as: ideal, premium, very good, good, fair and poor. If you're going to invest money in a ring, this is where you want to max out your budget because it will make the hugest difference in the sparkle of the ring. The ideal cut gives you maximum brilliance and is the most beautiful diamond money can buy but can only be achieved in the round shape. Otherwise, it is acceptable to buy 'very good' quality cuts in other diamond shapes.
The clarity of the diamond refers to the amount of blemishes and inclusions you can see inside the diamond itself, usually caused from the cutting process or just naturally-occurring inside the stone. Blemishes are on the surface of the diamond and inclusions are bubbles or minerals or cracks inside the diamond itself. Obviously, diamonds with very few or small blemishes and inclusions are the clearest, however many jewelers will tell you that the human eye cannot see the difference between flawless and very slight inclusions. However, I can tell you from personal experience that it is possible to see very slight inclusions if you have good vision. The grade level will have a big impact on the overall value of the diamond and price. The Gemological Institute of America certification will send you a map of the diamond's topography which will show exactly where and what the blemishes and inclusions look like as well as the clarity grade for your ring.
Color does not mean yellow, pink, or brown diamonds, those are not covered in this buying guide and you need to follow slightly different rules when purchasing one of those diamonds. However, when we say color we are referring to the presence or absence of color in a white diamond. Colorless diamonds are more valuable because they allow light to easily pass through them whereas diamonds which have color will impede the light from passing through to reflect that brilliance. The color scale starts at D and goes all the way to the end of the alphabet with D being the most colorless a diamond can possibly be. The untrained eye cannot see the 'color' until the diamond is classified as an 'I' or 'J'. If you are placing your diamond in white gold, you will want to try to get as colorless of a diamond as you can because the whiteness of the gold will cause your diamond to appear more yellow than it actually is. The diamond color should always be based on the mounting and jewelry you are placing it inside. Think of the ensemble as a whole and your preference in general, some people prefer the warmth of a lower-color diamond.
A carat is the measurement unit that is used to weigh the diamond but the scale is a little strange. One carat = 200 milligrams or 0.2 grams. Whoever says the size of a diamond doesn't matter is lying. The size does matter tremendously, it is visible to everybody, and the size should also be based on where you want the diamond to be. For example, if you want the diamond to be in a ring and it will be on a small hand, you don't need to purchase one quite as big as for a bigger hand because it will overwhelm the person's features. Carat does not mean the same thing as karat, which is used to describe the purity of gold rather than diamond size. Make sure that the setting you choose is made to fit the carat weight of your diamond before you purchase anything! Also, if you choose to go with a larger diamond and cannot fit it into your budget, consider going with a lower quality of color and clarity.
Many people believe that certificates are the same as appraisals but this is not true. An appraisal merely places a monetary value on the diamond but does not certify that the diamond is of a certain quality or describe the diamond. A certificate specifies the quality of a diamond and gives a map of the stone's characteristics, pointing out all of the individual flaws and it is proof of the diamond's identity. A certificate does not attach a monetary value to the diamond because these fluctuate highly and are very dependent on the economy and supply. Loose diamonds are valued by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) or American Gem Society (AGS), although you can get them valued at other labs around the world these are the two highest recognized authorities for diamonds (because of their stringent requirements) in the world. You should always ask for the certification of the diamond and double-check that you should be paying the amount asked and to make sure that you are indeed purchasing a diamond and not a cubic zirconium. Shop around and make sure that you are getting the best bang for your buck, after all these are quite hefty purchases. It is better that you are skeptical in this purchase rather than trusting the sales merchants who are always just looking to make profit and commission.
The shape is entirely up to you, you should choose whichever is your favorite and you will find most comfortable to wear. Personally, I love the round-cut diamond for its brilliance, light-refraction and practicality as well as beauty.
I highly recommend that you purchase all aspects of your ring separately if you are going to purchase an engagement ring because you are much more likely to get a great deal. If you buy a ring from a department store or a jeweler, you will pay a huge mark-up and you may not be entirely in love with the design. I suggest taking a look at www.bluenile.com for the most accurate wholesale information on settings and diamonds. Go into a jewelry store and find out which size you are, which shapes and settings you like, and then build your own ring on the Blue Nile website and have it shipped home. You would be surprised what a difference it will make in your pocket.