Diamonds have long been a symbol of everlasting love and commitment, and the favorite token for a man to give his betrothed. Formed from crystallized carbon, they're the hardest substance on earth, prized for their rarity. Popular ring styles have varied over time. Victorian brides loved rings imbued with symbolism, like a heart-shaped diamond held between two hands. In the 1920s, when Art Deco design was predominant, brides favored geometric shapes, such as the emerald-cut diamond.
Today, a round solitaire is the standard, though there is growing demand for vintage styles, like the century-old cushion cut. And many brides opt for rings set in platinum because it makes the diamond look more brilliant; it's also stronger and more valuable than gold.
Set a budget before you start shopping. "Ask to see only rings you can afford, and make your decision from those," says Sally Morrison, director of the Diamond Information Center in New York City. To understand what goes into the price of a diamond, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the four Cs -- cut, clarity, carat, and color -- the factors upon which every diamond is graded.
Once you have your ring, get it appraised by someone certified by a recognized association such as the Gemological Institute of America, and insure it. To care for your ring, soak it once a month in warm water and mild liquid detergent, then scrub gently with a soft toothbrush, and it will sparkle for a lifetime.
The Four Cs
Cut: This is the term jewelers frequently use to refer to a diamond's shape. The cut also affects a stone's brilliance, which is determined by the arrangement of its facets (flat, angular, or surface planes). A poorly cut diamond will lack sparkle; however, a good cut can compensate for small size, or imperfect color or clarity.
Clarity: The number of microscopic, internal flaws (called inclusions) and external imperfections (called blemishes) signifies a diamond's clarity. Inclusions may be light or dark spots, or tiny cracks; blemishes include pits, scratches, or nicks. Usually, these are not visible to the naked eye. The fewer the flaws, the rarer and more valuable the stone is considered to be.
Carat: The weight of a diamond is referred to in carats. If you have a round stone, you can measure your ring up against our true-to-life carat chart, and you will have an idea of its weight; it's only a rough estimate, however, because two stones of the same weight can appear to be different sizes, depending on how they're cut. Shape is also a factor: For example, emerald-, oval-, marquise-, and pear-shaped stones seem bigger than round diamonds of the same weight.
Color: A diamond's color is rated on a scale from D (virtually colorless), which is most valuable, to Z (traces of yellow or brown) by the Gemological Institute of America. Naturally colored diamonds, known as "fancies," occur in such hues as yellow, pink, and blue; they are extremely rare and are not rated on the D-to-Z scale. Depending on its color, the more saturated the shade, the more expensive the stone.