The 4 C's: A Guide to Diamond Grading

The 4 C's: A Guide to Diamond Grading

Cut, Color, Clarity & Carat

Diamonds are a unique gift from nature. Breathtaking in their beauty, diamonds are the miraculous result of a very particular set of geomorphic conditions and millions upon millions of years of intense pressure that combine to form these glittering gems, deep below the Earth’s surface. Symbolizing enduring love, absolute purity and remarkable strength, the popularity of diamond jewelry is as timeless as the precious stone itself.

If you are shopping for diamond jewelry, you most likely have a number of questions. How can I be sure that what I am buying is a real natural diamond? How do I know if a diamond has been treated? Can I be confident that this diamond has been ethically sourced? And perhaps most importantly, how can I determine the quality of the diamond that I am buying?

When selecting a diamond, it is important to know the four main attributes of a diamond. Being empowered with this information will not only help you with making an informed purchasing decision but will also ensure that you get the best possible value.

So what exactly makes a diamond so special and how do you judge a diamond to determine its value?

The key to determining the value of a diamond is to understand the four attributes that all diamonds share. Known as the 4 C’s, these key attributes are Cut, Color, Clarity and Carat Weight.

Below, we have compiled a diamond grading guide that covers everything you need to know about the 4 C’s, so that you can select the perfect diamond with confidence. You will learn why clarity matters, what the color of a diamond can determine and the importance of a diamond’s cut.

*The information compiled below falls in line with the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) which developed the 4 C’s in order to create a universal language when it came to the difficult task of determining diamond quality. Established in 1931, non-profit GIA is the largest and most respected institute of gemological research and learning in the world. GIA not only created the 4 C’s but also the international diamond grading system which is used worldwide.

 

Cut

Known for their brilliant sparkle and the intensity in which they reflect light, a diamond’s cut is one of the most import aspects to consider before making a decision. While diamonds have been in existence for billions of years, it is a relatively recent occurrence that man has discovered a way to amplify a rough diamond’s beauty by cutting various facets into it in order to increase its radiant brilliance and intensify its sparkle.

This attribute is often confused with a diamond’s shape (round, cushion, princess, etc.). The cut of a diamond refers to how well the diamond has been cut and polished, as this directly affects the amount of sparkle and brilliance that comes off the stone regardless of its final shape.

When selecting a diamond be sure to look at the diamond certificate, as it will state how the cut has been graded. The GIA cut scale is used for round brilliant cut diamonds (the most popular diamond cut) and consists of five grades: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair and Poor. When a diamond is graded, it is placed in a highly precise measuring device that rotates the stone 360 degrees to optically capture hundreds of measurements and facet angles. This system factors the diamonds proportions, as well as its culet size, girdle thickness, polish and symmetry descriptions and generates a GIA cut grade.

 

 

Color

Diamonds come in a kaleidoscopic range of shades, however the more colorless the diamond is the rarer and valuable they become. While most diamonds appear colorless to an untrained eye, many have slight tones of yellow or brown that impede their value.

When it comes to diamonds, the less color the higher the grade. The GIA color scale which is a universally-accepted and standardized grading system classifies diamonds from D (colorless) to Z (light yellow or brown). A color grade is determined by comparing each diamond to a master set of diamonds that represent the color grades on the GIA scale. The difference between each shade is extremely subtle and often unnoticeable to the untrained eye.

D

Absolutely colorless. This is the rarest and most valuable color grading with less than 1% of all diamonds mined worldwide falling into this exclusive category.

E-F

Also considered colorless even though it has a minimal trace of color that can only be identified by an expert gemologist. Rarity is less than D, however more valuable than G-H grade diamonds.

G-H

Near colorless. These diamonds appear clear and colorless to the naked eye, although they also contain faint traces of color. Less rare than E-F, however more valuable than I-J.

I-J

Near colorless with a faint yellow tint. Less rare than G-H, however hold more value than diamonds with a K-L color grading.

K-L

Faint yellow tint that is visible to the naked eye. Less rare than I-J but slightly more valuable than M-N.

M-Z

Light yellow color which is easily identified by the eye. This is the least valuable diamond color grade.

 

Clarity

Clarity refers to the amount of naturally occurring imperfections or inclusions in the diamond. An inclusion is not necessarily a negative aspect, as it gives the diamond its unique fingerprint and is extremely helpful for identifying how the diamond was formed. Almost all diamonds display inclusions which occurred naturally when the diamond was formed. They are Mother Nature’s little ‘birthmarks’ and give each diamond its unique character.

The GIA clarity scale includes 11 clarity grades, ranging from Flawless to Included (I3). Flawless indicates that there are no inclusions or blemishes visible at ten times magnification. While a grade of I3 (Included) is assigned to diamonds with inclusions that are obvious to the naked eye.

When selecting a diamond, it is ideal to select a clarity grade in which the inclusions are not visible to the naked eye (clarity grade of Slightly Included -SI and above).

The position of the inclusion can have an impact on the diamond’s value. For example, an inclusion situated directly below the diamond’s table will have a larger impact on its clarity than an inclusion of the same size situated off the size of the diamond. A diamond that contains several or large inclusions will display less brilliance than a diamond that contains less or smaller inclusions, as these imperfections disrupt the path of light as it travels into, and then out of, the stone.

It can be difficult to separate a natural flawless diamond from an imitation or lab-grown diamond; however natural inclusions are an excellent indicator of the stone’s authenticity and origin.

Most inclusions are not visible to the naked eye, so a 10x magnification loop and a microscope are used to see and plot the inclusions. Since no two diamonds are exactly alike, this unique plot helps identify a particular stone.

 

Carat Weight

The carat weight refers to the standard unit of weight used for gemstones. 1 carat = 200 milligrams, or 0.2 grams. A carat is divided into 100 points. For example, half a carat will weigh 0.50 carat (CT); a quarter carat will weigh 0.25 CT; and so on.

The larger a diamond, the bigger its carat weight and the rarer and more valuable it is. Carat weight is perhaps one of the most important aspects of diamond grading. But does size really matter?

Diamonds that are one carat and bigger only represent less than 1% of all the diamonds mined worldwide. Diamonds of this size are rarely found in nature, so they are more valuable than smaller diamonds. What this means is that the price of a diamond will exponentially increase as the carat weight of the diamond increases.

Big does not necessarily mean better. While a diamond’s carat weight will have the largest influence on the price, the color, cut and clarity will have the biggest impact on the its beauty and sparkling appearance. For example, a diamond with a large carat weight, with a low cut, color and clarity grading can be less valuable than a smaller diamond of a lower carat weight that displays exceptional color and clarity.

When shopping for diamond jewelry, also take into account that the way in which the diamond is set can have an effect on the appearance of its size.

 Click HERE for a printable size chart

 

With every diamond purchase, the 4 C’s should be carefully considered, as it is critical to select a diamond that speaks specifically to your taste and beautifully captures the essence of the moment in which it is presented to its receiver.




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