With 11 possible classifications, the Gemology Institute of America's scale to grade a diamondâs transparency is more straightforward than it sounds. Basically, it boils down to whether or not you can see flaws, or âinclusionsâ in jeweler-speak. These might be light or dark spots, tiny cracks, and surface blemishes like scratches or nicks. Their presence determines which clarity grade a diamond is given: Flawless (FL); Internally Flawless (IF); Very Very Slightly Included (VVS1 and VVS2); Very Slightly Included (VS1 and VS2); Slightly Included (SI1 and SI2); and Imperfect Included (I1, I2, and I3).
Because most imperfections are microscopic, they affect cost more than appearance; for example, an FL diamond and a VS2 stone look the same to the untrained eye, but they carry wildly different price tags. In general, diamonds that fall anywhere between VVs and SI are solid picks (very few jewelers deal in the exceptionally rare and incredibly expensive FL and IF diamonds), while those in the I category are best avoided.
Looking to supersize your sparkle? Pay close attention to its cut. More than just the shape of a finished stone, it refers to how well a diamond reflects light. In fact, itâs the biggest factor in determining a gemâs overall look. âItâs really the most important characteristic of all the Four Cs,â says Henri Barguirdjian, President and Ceo of Graff Diamond USA. If expertly done, maximum shine is guaranteed; if not, a diamond will appear lackluster.
Round shapes, which represent roughly 80 percent of all diamonds sold worldwide, are popular for good reason: they have the most cut facets and hence the most sparkle. Also worth noting: a first-rate cut can compensate for a smaller rock and less-than-perfect clarity or color. "Always buy a smaller stone of a higher cut quality over a larger stone of poorer cut quality,â says Barguirdjian.
First: Carat refers to the weight, not the size, of a diamond. So how large a stone looks isnât always an accurate representation of how much it weighs. Russell Shor, a senior industry analyst at GIA, puts it another way: âIf you buy a round diamond, most of its weight is hidden under the prong. With other cuts, thereâs a lot more weight up top, so a 0.5-carat princess-cut diamond will appear to be at least a 0.75-carat stone,â he says. If size matters most to you, but budget is a concern, youâre better off selecting a diamond with a lower carat weight thatâs cut to maximize its size.
If cut is considered the most important of a diamondâs characteristics, then color is the runner-up. For this, the GIA uses two scales. The first grades colorless diamonds, also called white diamonds, on a D-to-Z scale. Those graded D are completely clear (and supremely rare), while those at the other end of the range, the Zs, will have a noticeable tint. That said, when a diamond is so deeply hued that it would fall below a Z grade, âWe call it âfancyââthe point where the color becomes an asset, not a liability, and the value starts to rise,â says Shor.
If youâre more of a yellow-diamond gal, youâll be looking at the instituteâs other color-grading system. This second scale ranges from a grade called Fancy Vivid down to diamonds labeled Faint, with five points in between. These blue, brown, pink, yellow, and other colored stones represent only one of every 10,000 diamonds mined and areâyou guessed itâpriced to match.
Pals may ooh and ahh over the shine, shape, and size of your stone, but nothing can elevate a gem to jaw-dropping status quite like its setting. To wit: If you want to highlight a larger diamond, you might consider a classic four-or six-prong mounting that holds it up from the band, keeping all focus on the rock. On the flip side, you can augment a less substantial stone with a split-shank setting, in which the band âopens upâ to frame the diamond.
Likewise, halo and cluster styles add heft by surrounding the center stone with smaller ones. (Cluster settings are also popular for gemstone rings like the sapphire one Kate Middleton wears.) Want a modern, more minimalist look? Choose a bezel, gypsy, or tension design. If you love a vintage vibe, opt for an elaborate, Art Deco-y die-struck or three-stone setting. And if you really want to stand out, try an east-west setting, which displays a diamond horizontally.
Color Trick: Because D-grade colorless diamonds are seldom found (and, like those graded E or F, very expensive), most people pick a stone in the G to J range. These are an excellent value, because any tint present can be perceived only when magnified 10 times or more.
Online Shopping: Double-check a gemâs pedigree if you buy it online. âA website should list the Four C info, along with the GIA report number,â says Shor. âThen, you can type in that number at gia.edu to verify that the diamondâs specs have been accurately represented.â
Browse photos of our favorite rings, plus wedding-worthy necklaces, earrings, and more.See the Jewelry