Consider this guide Engagement Ring 101.
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There's a lot more to buying an engagement ring than popping into a store, browsing for a favorite, and making the purchase. Beyond the research phase, which can take months (or even longer if you decide to design the piece yourself!), there are many factors that play into the final decision; they often involve assessing the quality of the diamond at hand. When talking about the diamond's class (or grade, in diamond speak!), you're going to hear a lot of jeweler-jargon, which is worth learning before you walk into a shop or begin browsing online.
To help you on your search, we tapped Olivia Landau, an expert fourth-generation gemologist and founder of the custom engagement ring company The Clear Cut. Ahead, she breaks down absolutely everything you need to know about engagement rings and the selection process, from the four Cs (clarity, carat, color, and cut) and popular setting options to that tricky grading system and diamond costs. She also speaks to choosing a stone that feels right for your or your bride-to-be, regardless of grade or carat size. Armed with her good advice, you'll be able to identify which of a diamond's many elements are most important to you. This will ultimately help you feel confident that you've made the best-possible choice when it's time to sign that bottom line.
As for Landau's best advice for engagement ring shoppers? "It is all about finding the perfect combination of the four Cs and maximizing what is important to you and your preferences. As long as your diamond faces up white with no inclusions visible to the eye, you are good to go!" she says.
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"Clarity refers to the inclusions in and on the surface of a diamond," says Landau, adding that inclusions involve "small crystals, feathers, bruises, and more." These impurities might be visible within or on top of the stone. "A diamond's clarity is graded by the number, position, and intensity of these inclusions on a scale from 'flawless' to 'included.'" Though this grading system is important, the pro says what matters more is how the diamond actually looks. "The most important thing when evaluating a diamond's clarity is that you cannot detect these inclusions with your naked eye—and that the inclusions do not impact the integrity of the diamond."
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When a jeweler references a diamond's cut, he or she isn't talking about its shape, notes Landau: "Many people confuse a diamond's cut with a diamond's shape. A diamond's cut grade refers to the how well the diamond is proportioned. Round brilliant diamonds have cut grades ranging from Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor."
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Believe it or not, a diamond's carat number doesn't have anything about how large the stone actually looks—it ultimately comes down to weight. When thinking about carat, Laundau says, "you also have to consider the diamond's cut and dimensions. Where the diamond holds its weight is what will determine how large the diamond appears."
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An engagement ring's color grade speaks to how white it looks. "The color scale starts at 'D' which is completely colorless without any yellow or brown undertones and goes down to 'Z,'" explains Landau. "With every incremental step down in the alphabet, you will have a bit more yellow or brown tint to the diamond. The most important thing about a diamond's color is that is does not face up showing a yellow or brown tint."
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When it comes to diamonds (and most things in the world!) rarity equals value, says Landau. "With white diamonds, the less yellow or brown undertone, the rarer the diamond is. Diamonds in the D-Z color range decrease in value as the color becomes more obvious." When you enter the realm of colorful diamonds, however, the opposite happens—the more color in the diamond the rarer and more valuable it becomes. "The fancy color scale starts after Z," she says.
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Round shapes, which represent roughly 80 percent of all diamonds sold worldwide, are popular for a reason—they have the most cut facets and, therefore, the most sparkle. Other popular shapes include emerald-, princess-, marquise-, cushion-, radiant-, pear-, and oval-cut stones.
Also worth noting: A first-rate cut can compensate for a smaller rock and less-than-perfect clarity or color.
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There's more to an engagement ring than just the center stone (although, that's the most important and costly part!). The setting, the piece of jewelry that you place the diamond into, is actually the ring component. As for the settings that contemporary brides gravitate towards? Super-thin bands, colored metals, three-stone options, skinny pavé bands, and hidden halos are trending now, says Landau.
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The Grading System
If you're currently shopping from an engagement ring, you're probably wondering if your choice should score high on the diamond grading system. "The grade for color ranges from D-Z and clarity ranges from FL-I3," explains Landau, adding that you should take these ratings with a grain of salt. "There is no 'perfect' range—it totally depends on the shape diamond you are looking for, your budget, and where you would like to maximize."
In fact, Landau doesn't recommend purchasing a top-of-the-line diamond (these come with the best-possible grade of D FL) for this particular jewelry piece. "I would not recommend having a flawless diamond for a ring you will be wearing every day. Any little scratch or blemish will knock the grade," she says.
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Cost does, however, play into this system. "A diamond's price and value are determined by its grade based on the four Cs: Carat, Cut, Color, and Clarity. The higher the grade, the more expensive the diamond will be," says Landau, who advises working with an expert to find a stone that ticks off all the boxes (including the one for your budget).
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With the rise of online engagement ring shops, it's more important than ever to make sure that your retailer is legitimate. To do so, check that your diamond comes with a GIA (Gemological Institute of America) certificate (this applies to brick-and-mortar shop purchases, too!). "Your GIA certificate ensures your diamond is actually what it is listed as!" adds Landau. "Certificates from other labs are not as accurate. GIA is the industry standard."