How to Buy a Diamond Engagement Ring

Martha Stewart Living Television

Tiffany & Co., is the crown jewel of the diamond world, an authority on the subject of selecting and purchasing diamond engagement rings for more than 160 years. The diamond counter at Tiffany & Co., has to be one of the most romantic places in New York City. Melvyn Kirtley, general manager of Tiffany & Co., provided these expert tips on what to consider when buying a diamond engagement ring.

Shapes
1. Round brilliant. These are generally cut with 58 facets and are the most popular style for engagement rings.

2. Oval. This is an adaptation of the round that generally appears larger in the same carat weight.

3. Marquise. This is a long, vertical cut, pointed at both ends.

4. Emerald. This shape is rectangular with stepped facets on each side and across the corners.

5. Pear

The Four Cs
Cut
Cut determines the fire and brilliance of a diamond. To maximize the fire and brilliance, the diamond cutter must place each of the stone's facets and angles in exact geometric relation to one another. This requires the patience and precision of a surgeon. A classic round-brilliant-cut diamond has 57 or 58 facets. Nature dictates carat, clarity, and color; human skill determines the brilliance of a stone.

Clarity
Clarity refers to the quantity, size, position, nature, color, and relief of inclusions in a diamond. Inclusions are minute crystals, feathers, and clouds found in a diamond (almost like slashes in ice cubes). It is rare to find a diamond without any blemishes when viewed under a 10-power jeweler's loupe.

Inclusions are rated on a scale from I (imperfect/eye-visible inclusions), SI (small inclusions), VS (very small inclusions), VVS (very, very small inclusions, with VVS2 rating meaning there are no inclusions visible to the naked eye), IF (internally flawless/minor surface blemishes), and FL (flawless). Additionally, there are I1, I2, and I3 ratings for imperfections and eye-visible inclusions. Tiffany sells diamonds of only VS2 clarity or better. At Tiffany, solitaires must achieve a clarity rating of at least VS.

Color
The more colorless the diamond, the more rare it is. Although many diamonds may appear colorless to the untrained eye, the majority contain very slight traces of yellow, brown, or gray. Color is rated against a set of master stones. A single increase in color grade can boost the value by thousands of dollars, depending on the stone's size.

Every diamond must be examined under ultraviolet light for fluorescence. Strong florescence can influence the color of the diamond, making it appear brighter or whiter. The clarity of a diamond is graded from D to Z (colorless-light yellow). Tiffany will only sell diamonds from D to I. Color in diamonds is brought on by minute amounts of other elements. For example, the more nitrogen in a stone the more yellow the color.

Fancy colored diamonds are rare accidents in nature in which diamonds appear in shades of yellow, pink, orange, purple, olive, brown, gray, black, blue, green, and red.

Carat Weight
A carat is the geologist's standard measurement of a diamond's weight. Size increases the value of a good-quality diamond simply because large stones are more rare than small ones. A large stone has little value if it lacks the other Cs. Carats refer to weight because diamonds were originally weighed against the seeds of the carob tree. One carat is .2 grams and is divided into 100 points (a 25-point diamond is a quarter of a carat)

Care Tips
1. Although diamonds are impervious to most things, a hard blow or a hard surface can chip them.

2. A cold-water soak is an effective method to clean diamonds. Use six parts cold water to one part household ammonia, soak for 30 minutes, and drain on paper.

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