A diamond is one of the most interesting, beautiful, and complex things found on earth. Formed almost completely from the element carbon, a diamond is produced by the right amount of pressure meeting the right amount of heat thousands of feet below the surface of the earth in the geological portion of the globe known as the mantle over a time frame that dates back millions and millions of years. A diamond is renown for being the hardest material found on the planet, and when placed in the hands of a skilled diamond cutter, one of the most captivating.
The process for taking a rough mineral and turning it into the brilliant gem we know and seek is a complex and interesting process. Only a small portion of diamonds mined are actually cut and polished to be used in the jewelry, where most are used in other factory or manufacturing settings where the hardness of the stone is used. While few diamonds make the cut to be used in jewelry, a large portion of the diamonds that are nice enough quality to be cut for jewelry making purposes are smaller than 1/4 carat. Many people don't realize that when they hold a 1 carat diamond in their hands, or wear one on their finger, that one out of every million diamonds is of good enough quality to be used as a diamond of that size. So if you're the proud owner of a 1 carat diamond, your stone is literally one in a million. How amazing is that?
That briefly summarizes what makes a diamond so unique in it's formation, which brings us to the part that many jewelry lovers are familiar with, the 4 C's of a diamond.
The answer to this question is subjective. Just like when actually grading a diamond, you can ask 100 different diamond and jewelry professionals and may get a lot of different answers. The same can be said asking someone who is looking to purchase a diamond. I can't tell you how many different times a customer has expressed the desire to find the highest clarity diamond available, and the next customer is looking for a diamond that is ideal-cut quality, and isn't overly concerned with clarity. The fact is, you can get a diamond with outstanding color and clarity and the diamond can be poorly cut and have it's brilliance effected. On the flip side, you can have the best cut diamond in the world and have crystal-formations or black carbon spots inside the diamond that can make it cloudy and unattractive. The key is finding a balance that you're happy with. You may sacrifice some clarity for a better cut diamond, and vice versa.
Let's start our journey into the 4 C's with color.
Color can be one of the easiest, and at the same time most difficult things to decipher for a diamond grader. A diamond color scale starts at the letter D being the highest grade, colorless. Very few diamonds receive this grade because of how difficult it is to consider a diamond to be absolutely colorless. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a diamond that maintains a color grade of Z is so yellow in color, most people would consider it to have a fancy yellow color, as you can see in the picture below.
As you can see by the picture, a great portion of the color grades are jumped over. What makes color grading a diamond so difficult is that the color differential between each individual color, when looked at in succession, can be very, very minuscule. For this reason, on some grading reports, a diamond may receive a color grade of "G-H Color" because the grader cannot differentiate between the two colors on the scale. This is not very common, as most graders can decide which color the diamond is closest to, but it does happen. One thing we can do as graders, is look at a diamond under two or three difference light sources to make sure that we are seeing the diamond in every possible way to make the best and most accurate decision. What light you're observing a diamond in, whether it's natural sunlight, florescent or LED lighting can make a huge difference on what you see as far as color.
Why is color so important to a diamond? This answer is one of the easiest to understand. If you asked 10 people what they thought the color of a diamond should be, all 10 would probably say "white" or "clear". If a diamond has a strong yellow tint, you will notice it fairly easily. If we put a diamond with an F color grade next to a diamond with a J color grade, nearly every customer would assume the F color diamond would be the better all around diamond just based on looking at it with the naked eye. It's for this reason that many people consider color to be such a huge part of the diamond grade, because it is usually the first of the C's that is picked up on, just by looking at a loose diamond out of a parcel, or opening up your ring box for the first time.
Cut, in my opinion, may be the most important of the 4 C's when it comes to grading a diamond. A diamond, when cut properly, will sparkle in any light and be brilliant no matter what angle you are viewing it at.
When looking at a diamond, all the flat surfaces on the stone are called facets. A normal, round brilliant cut diamond will have 57 facets, including the very top facet which is known as the table. Without getting too technical with the process, diamond cutters have calculated what a diamond's perfect, or ideal, cutting proportions to be, including how many facets are present on a diamond.
As you can see by the illustration above, a diamond with a cut that is considered "shallow", where the diamond may be on the wider side, but has less depth, the light will pass through the table, or the remaining top portion of the diamond called the crown, and pass through the diamond and exit the bottom of the diamond, which is known as the pavilion. On the other hand, if a diamond is cut too deep, the light will refract on one side of the pavilion, but will escape out the other side. Either way you look at it, if you diamond is letting light escape, it is taking away from the brilliance of your stone. In the center of the picture is an illustration of an optimal, or ideal cut diamond. You can see that the light enters the top of the stone, refracts through the stone and hits the pavilion facets and exits through the top. This cycle of light in the diamond is what makes your stone sparkle, and what makes your diamond as beautiful as it is. A well cut diamond can somewhat mask other flaws like clarity characteristics or even a slightly lower-than-average color grade. Does every diamond have to be ideal cut to be brilliant? No, but you will be able to see a noticeable difference in the stone brilliance if it is.
Clarity is the most subjective item on the grading scale, and is often why diamonds are said to be like fingerprints. No two diamonds will have the exact same characteristics in regards to clarity. There are a handful of different characteristics that can be found within a diamond, and each one can effect the grade of clarity on a diamond not only by how large they are, but also about where they are located at in the stone. An internal imperfection on a diamond is called an inclusion, while an outer characteristic would be called a blemish on the stone, and each effect the grade of a stone in it's own way.
Clarity is broken down into 6 different grades, with Flawless being the highest, Internally Flawless(IF) being the second, followed by, in order; Very Very Slightly Included(VVS), Very Slightly Included(VS), Slightly Included(SI) and Included(I). Each step on the clarity scale also has sub categories. These are mainly found starting at VVS and continuing down the line from there, and are numbered with either a 1, 2, or 3 with 1 being the highest of the numbers and 3 being the lowest. For example, If you have an SI2 diamond and an SI1 diamond, the SI1 diamond would be considered to have the higher clarity grade. The sub-grade of 3 is typically found in I clarity diamonds, and would describe a diamond with the lowest possible clarity grade.
the picture above gives a brief description as to what to consider on each clarity grade. I won't get too detailed on different types on inclusions and blemishes on this entry, but we will be covering that in a future blog post.
As you can see, VVS diamonds have next to no flaws internally and are some of the best diamonds available. IF and F diamonds are considered to be the highest clarity grades, but the amount of diamonds that carry such a grade are very, very rare and the price tag that goes along with them are incredibly high in comparison to some of the other options, where you may still not be able to easily see the inclusions. From experience, when people think of a diamonds quality they immediately think of clarity. Some view a diamond with a lower clarity grade to be a poorer quality diamond, even if it is above average in other areas, where sometimes a diamond with a slightly lower clarity grade and higher color and cut grades might be more attractive to the naked eye. Internal inclusions of the diamond can be incredibly difficult to see, even under a microscope. This is where the inclusions placement in the stone enters the fold. A diamond with a large inclusion in the center of the stone will be less attractive than one with the same size inclusion found at the edge or to the side of the diamond. In that same line of thought, a diamond that has black carbon inclusions will be less attractive than a diamond with the same inclusions that are white in color.
To follow up one of the most difficult diamond grades to understand, we will finish up this entry with possibly the easiest to understand. Carat weight, simply put, is how large the diamond is. A diamond is weighed in units known as carats. It takes 5 carats worth of diamond to equal a gram, making diamond one of the most expensive materials on earth based on weight.
As you can see by the illustration, if a diamond is well cut, we can estimate a diamond's weight just based on the millimeter width measurement of the stone. If a diamond is cut deep, or shallow, it will make a difference in the weight being less or more respectively. This is possibly the biggest factor in a diamond price. As I stated earlier, the chances of a diamond being mined and cut/polished to be at 1 carat as a finished stone are literally one in a million. Now, imagine what the chances of finding a 5 carat diamond of that quality are! Because diamonds of this size are so rare, the price of the stone goes up substantially when getting into 1 carat and larger stones, and you may even begin to see the increase in price margins grow larger starting as small as a half carat.
What Does All This Mean?
This post has covered a ton of information, and I hope you've enjoyed learning about one of the most precious of all substances found on the planet. The one thing that you should take away from this post is that there are a ton of factors when it comes to not only grading a diamond, but when it comes to how it's priced as well, where all of the 4 C's need to be taken into perspective.
We've seen two diamonds of 1 1/2 carats each carry price tags of $995, and $10,000 just based off how they were graded. The $995 diamond was obviously very, very poor quality, not only in one category of grading, but more than likely most of or all of them, while the $10,000 diamond was outstanding quality all around. You could probably find 1 1/2 carat diamonds that would fit into any price in between these two stones, just based off how they are graded, and they all have their own unique properties. Everyone has their own view on what the most important quality for a stone to have is, and you now have the information in front of you to make sure you choose the right diamond for what you're looking for.
Thanks for reading, and we'll be back with another article next week!
This Week's Author
This week's author, Bryan Jeske has been a member of the Gold Rush staff since 2010. He has graduated with accreditation from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in colored stones, jewelry essentials and diamonds. He is one of the store's fine jewelry experts and specializes in Pandora and diamonds and diamond grading.
Pictures and diamond information resources found online at GIA.edu