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Want to pick the perfect diamond but don't know where to start? Learning about the 4 C's will help you decide what is truly the most important characteristics of a diamond for you. Just like you and your love, every diamond is unique, and the 4 C's help jewellers describe exactly what kind of diamond it is. In this post, we hope to dispel some of the myths and eliminate some of the mysteries and misunderstandings surrounding the 4Cs and diamond grading.
First, what are the 4 C's?
Where did the 4 C's come from?
The 4 C's were invented by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in the 1940's. For over 70 years, this scale revolutionized the jewellery industry and has become the leading standard for the entire world to grade diamonds. The 4 C's are your road map to understand and compare quality, along with assuring value when you purchase a diamond.
Although many jewellers emphasize and lead with Clarity, this emphasis should be reserved for Cut. All diamond dealers and jewellers pay more for Cut than any other aspect of the 4 Cs, and consequently, so do you. Almost half of the value of a diamond can be affected by Cut. By the law of physics, an ideally cut diamond's pavilion (the bottom of the diamond below the girdle) should act as a "mirror" and the top above the girdle (the Crown of the diamond) acts as a "window". As light enters and refracts, the vast majority of reflected and refracted light should exit the diamond through the crown creating "scintillation" (rainbow light) and the radiant beauty which we all covet. An excellent cut diamond will always be extremely efficient with any available light even in the most challenging light conditions. In real life applications, while wearing your ring in restaurant with low light, on a dull rainy day, or if your diamond has a thin layer of hand lotion, a well cut diamond always radiates and releases its fullest inner beauty. An excellent cut diamond sparkles like "the only diamond in the room", reflecting and refracting 90% or more of available light back out through the crown of the diamond. Alternatively. if a diamond is not as well cut, light gets trapped at the bottom of the pavillion or bleeds out the sides which causes it to have dramatically less sparkle. A lower quality cut refracts and reflects only 70% of light back through the top of the diamond. Also, most diamonds that are not ideally cut are cut too deep and have a diminished or reduced diameter. Surprisingly, a 1 carat deep cut diamond can have the same appearance and diameter as a 0.80 carat excellent cut diamond. Because a well cut diamond is so bright, sparkly, and effective with its use of light, Cut also acts to enhance colour. The GIA cut scale ranges from poor, fair, good, very good, excellent. There is also a secondary cut grade attributable to the polish and symmetry which uses the same scale. A perfectly cut diamond is graded as "triple excellent" which is: excellent cut, excellent polish, and excellent symmetry. The average grade of diamonds in North America sold in engagement rings is good.
The second most important aspect of the 4 C's is Colour. The scale for grading colour is like the alphabet but starts at D. The letter D stands for a perfectly clear and clourless diamond with absolutely no traces of colour; just like ice. The farther you go down the alphabet, the more colour the diamond has. The highest GIA grades; D-F, are classified "colourless", G-J "near colourless", then K-M "faint". N-R "very light", and S-Z "light". Any colors above Z are classified as "fancy coloured" diamonds which can range through virtually any colour in the rainbow. Fancy coloured diamonds range in price from affordable to priceless. Although colourless and near colourless diamonds are highly coveted, the average grade of colour sold in North America in engagement rings is J. Interestingly, a very well cut diamond of J colour can look face up as shiny, bright, and white as an H colour diamond which is near colourless. A near colorless diamond, if combined with excellent cut, achieves the same beauty and sparkle of a top quality colourless diamond.
The most often discussed diamond grading of the 4 C's is Clarity, even though it the hardest to detect differences with the naked eye. When you are discussing Calrity, you are looking for what jewellers call "inclusions" which are tiny imperfections inside the diamond found with a microscope. Some might call an inclusion a natural "birthmark" as they form during the dimaond's growth over the course of billions of years. The highest grades of diamonds used for jewellery purposes are VVS1 and VVS2 which means "very very slightly" included. Only through intense scrutinization through a microscope can inclusions be viewed, often as small as a piece of dust. VS1 and VS2 mean "very slightly" included and they are also difficult to find inclusions under magnification. SI1 and SI2 means small inclusions or "slightly" included. Although, these inclusions are easily seen under magnification, they are still most often perfect to the naked eye, especially SI1. SI2 diamonds may show inclusions to the naked eye but well graded SI2 clarities are typically seen only through 10x magnification using such tools as a microscope. Interestingly, it is typically impossible to see the difference with the naked eye between VVS1 and SI1 graded diamonds. Diamonds which have inclusions which are visible to the naked-eye are graded as I1 or I2.
Carat weight is the size of the diamond. There are 100 points in a carat. Therefore, a 100pt diamond equals 1.00 carat (ct). As a diamond becomes larger, it becomes increasingly rare. Only 1 in 93 million diamonds mined is of 1.00ct for jewellery quality. Because 1.00ct is the most revered size, this cusp commands the greatest price increase. A "small" 1.00ct diamond which weighs 0.95ct is only 5% less in weight and is virtually impossible to see the difference when viewed side by side, yet the price could be 20% less because of the supply and demand aspect of a full 1.00ct size. This principle also applies to all other significant cusps so considerations of various sizes can greatly affect price and your budget.
In summary, some may focus on particular aspects of the 4 C's while others may place more emphasis on different aspects. You can fall in love with a smaller diamond of the highest quality of the other 4C's, or a large diamond with lower cut, colour and clarity. Although most prefer a blended approach, there is no right or wrong to choose your dimaond. Every diamond is unique just like your own personal decision.
Unfortunately, the practical application of the 4 C's have gradually become needlessly confusing. Why do seemingly identical diamonds online with the same 4Cs have up to a 70% difference in price? Are they really of better value? Usually not. Many take advantage of the subjectivity of the grading scale to misgrade, overgrade, or inappropriately over-weight certain specific aspects of the 4 C's. Most online dealers are sales people operating out of offices without GIA training, taking advantage of these inconsistencies and never seeing the diamonds they sell, drop shipped from somewhere else. In order to be assured of the accuracy of the 4 C's you are buying, it is always important to work with an accredited GIA diamond dealer who helps navigate and educate showing a variety of fully inspected options, and offers unconditional money back guarantees. At Rodan Jewellers, we have a very simple promise. All aspects of the 4 C's of the diamonds we sell must be as good or better as represented and certified, or your money back.
To learn about the 4 C's, our GIA trained diamond graders are here for you to help educate so you can make the most informed decision to find the perfect diamond for you.