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How to Pick the Perfect Diamond: Secrets of the “Four Cs”

Oct 28, 2021

Clasped hands showing a diamond ring

The diamond industry is centuries old, and it can be mystifying and perplexing. Add the pressure of wanting to get “the perfect diamond,” and things can get downright stressful.

Well, they don’t have to be. Hunting for the right diamond can be beautiful and nerve wracking, all at once. Why make it more stressful than it needs to be? We’re here to make the process of shopping for diamonds easier. First and foremost, picking the right diamond requires an understanding of the “4Cs”: Cut, Color, Clarity and Carat. Together, these four components make up a grading system that determines the quality and price of a diamond. Once you have a firm grasp on these four characteristics, diamond shopping will be a lot easier for you.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of determining diamond quality, we need to stress an important concept. In the world of diamonds, there is no “good, better, best.” While it’s true that a perfectly cut, very white diamond will be worth more than a poorly cut, cloudy diamond, there’s a lot of room for ambiguity along the continuum — and in many cases, it simply comes down to personal taste. For example, in recent years cloudy and opaque diamonds have taken the diamond world by storm. These gems exude mystery and often have a great deal of character — and many nontraditional diamond lovers prefer them to white diamonds.

Similarly, it’s important not to get confused about the quality of a diamond’s “cut” when in reality you mean the diamond’s shape (more on this below). The shape of a diamond, like much in the world of precious gems, is a matter of individual taste. An unexpected shape can add subtlety and significance to a diamond. While many diamond shoppers have traditionally gone for a round, princess or cushion cut, more adventurous shoppers opt for unexpected shapes like the octagonal “eighty-eight” cut1 or the cruciferous lily cut.

The point is, the 4Cs grading system is best used as a guideline. Ultimately, what matters is what you think of the diamond. It’s also important to note that, when considering the value of a diamond, each of the 4Cs are factored together — rather than being considered as individual attributes across each specification category; there is no “correct” set of diamond specs.

With that said, let’s get into what each of the 4Cs means, and what to consider as you assess each diamond you encounter.

Cut

Depending on who you ask, Cut may be the most important of the 4Cs. And here’s where things get a little tricky. Contrary to popular belief, in the diamond industry Cut refers to the quality of the diamond’s Cut — not its shape. That is, Cut refers to how well the stone is faceted, proportioned and polished as well as how the diamond interacts with light.

However, even within the diamond industry you’ll hear of a “princess cut” or an “emerald cut” diamond. In these cases, the term refers to the diamond’s shape. So in this blog post, we’ll use a lowercase c when invoking the shape of a diamond, and we’ll capitalize “Cut” when referring to the facets, symmetry, dimensions and reflective qualities of a diamond. Just keep in mind that the term has two meanings, and you’ll be fine.

When it comes to Cut, diamonds are graded as Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair and Poor. Because a diamond’s price is not influenced by the grade of the Cut as much as the other Cs, determining the right Cut is actually rather stress-free. We recommend selecting a diamond with an Excellent or Very Good Cut, then moving on to the other factors.

Color

Okay, here comes the fun part: learning new terminology that will make you look oh-so sophisticated. A diamond’s Color can fall anywhere on a scale that ranges down the alphabet, beginning at “D” and going all the way down to “Z.”

A “D” grade diamond is almost completely colorless — and you’ll therefore likely pay a good deal more for it than you would a “Z” diamond. Z means the diamond has a light, yellowish undertone to it. However, bear in mind our note above about everything being a matter of taste. In recent years, yellow diamonds have come to be viewed by many as simply a yellow gemstone, rather than a “low-quality” diamond.

Interestingly, the diamond’s shape plays a role as to where it falls on the color scale. For example, if you were to pick a round brilliant diamond, you could go further down the color scale without seeing any yellow than you would with an oval or pear-cut diamond.

Note: You’re probably wondering why the Color system starts at D instead of A. Before the current system was put in place, Color grading systems were all over the map — and many of them used A, B and C as grades, with different qualities according to the various systems. The current system begins at D so as not to “muddy the waters” as it were, in comparison with the older systems.

Clarity

The third C stands for Clarity. This refers to the number of natural imperfections — known as inclusions and blemishes — found in the diamond. “Inclusion” refers to internal “birthmarks,” whereas the term “blemish” refers to external birthmarks. These small imperfections are created due to the extreme pressure and heat that a diamond experiences as it’s formed. A diamond’s clarity is rated on a scale containing 11 grades, ranging from Flawless (FL) to Included (which has three subcategories: I1, I2 and I3).

Sounds confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. The first (and perhaps the most important) thing you should know about Clarity is that almost all of these inclusions and blemishes are invisible to the naked eye. “Flawless” diamonds are exceedingly rare and wildly expensive — in fact, most jewelers have never even seen one. Likewise, you likely won’t encounter “Included” diamonds either. Instead, most of the diamonds you might come across will fall into the VS (very slightly included) or SI (slightly included) categories.

And a diamond doesn’t need to be rated Flawless to appear perfect. While it’s true that a diamond’s clarity rating will affect its cost, a diamond that is perfectly “eye-clean” will hold you in good stead — and it will likely save you thousands of dollars!

Carat

Let’s be honest: When we think of the value of diamonds, most of us think of the number of carats. “Carat” refers to the weight of the diamond — but this one can be tricky, too. While it’s true that a higher carat will mean a more expensive diamond, Carat should not be confused with size. Carat is simply a measure of the weight of the diamond — not how big it is. (Think of how a marshmallow and a stone can be the same size, but the stone will weigh a good deal more.) What this means for you is, a diamond should be cut to maximize its natural beauty, not its Carat weight. Again, if you like the size of a diamond and the price is right, don’t worry about the Carat.

Conclusion

Here’s the main takeaway. If you lined up three diamonds, each weighing 1.00 carat, and all of the same color, clarity and cut — these diamonds might all be different sizes and shapes. That’s because no two diamonds are the same. That’s the beauty of diamonds! We gave you these tools to aid you in your search, but ultimately it’s all about what makes your heart flutter. And you can’t put a price on that.

If you’re in the market for a diamond, congratulations! It’s an exciting thing to shop for the perfect diamond — and it’s definitely something that doesn’t happen every day. So enjoy it and have fun with it!

At Acima, we understand that shopping for a diamond can be overwhelming, especially when you consider the price tag. But don’t fret; help is available. Our alternative to financing, the no credit option, makes getting the perfect diamond stress-free and simple.

We know most people don’t have thousands lying around for diamond jewelry. That’s why our lease-to-own method allows you to shop for your diamond without paying for it upfront — and without having to pull out your credit card. Why not take some of the stress out of the process? Learn more about how Acima’s leasing solutions can help you do just that.

Sources:

  1. The Eighty-Eight” — The Eighty-Eight, 2004