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Understand the 4C's and get the best value when buying a diamond

Understand the 4C's and get the best value when buying a diamond

Whether you are buying a diamond for your girlfriend of a year or wife of 40 years, it’s important to have some knowledge of these sparkling gems before you make your purchase. With proper preparation and understanding, you can certainly dazzle your special lady with the perfect diamond.


Do evaluate the diamond grades

The four basic grades of diamond quality are the 4Cs: cut, color, clarity and carat weight. Cut is what makes a diamond sparkle, and is the one C you shouldn't compromise on, or you might end up with a dull diamond. It evaluates how well a diamond is cut, and therefore, how well it reflects and refracts light. Color is the relative absence of color in a "white" diamond, and ranges from D (colorless) through Z. The color grades D, E and F are considered "colorless grades," and you'll pay a premium for them. Because color is so hard to detect to the untrained eye, you can save room in your budget by purchasing a diamond in the G-J range, and it would be almost impossible to see color in normal circumstances. Clarity evaluates how clear a diamond is, and what type of clarity characteristics it has. There are different types of inclusions and blemishes that affect a diamond's clarity in different ways. A clarity grade of SI (Slightly Included) means that there may be clouds, blemishes or inclusions, but they'd be very difficult to see without a loupe. You'll pay much less for this grade than you would for a flawless stone. Ultimately, look for a diamond with a very good cut grade, J or better color grade, and an SI or better clarity grade to get the most bling for your budget.

Do start your search online

Learn about the 4Cs of diamond quality: color, clarity, cut and carat weight; the difference between diamond grading labs and their certificates, and where to start shopping. Start your education on GIA's website. You can find a plethora of information about the 4Cs online, but GIA is largely impartial. Forbes often features great advice, too.

Do shop around

Compare prices of big box retailers and mall jewelry stores with local, independently owned stores, such as Raymond Lee Jewelers. Look for a jewelry business with a long reputation for excellence, plenty of online reviews, a clear cut return/exchange policy, and an open, transparent professional environment and shopping experience.

Do ask questions

Ask about insurance appraisals, re-sizing, the return or exchange policy, and engraving. You will need an appraisal to get the ring insured (which is recommended). Re-sizing and return policies are important for well-meaning men who might have been off on their size calculations or what type of style his lady would prefer.

Do some research on your lady’s preferences

Look at her Pinterest boards, and ask her sister or best friend for help. Or, you and your lady can ring shop together - couples today shop together all the time to find or design the perfect ring. It's a 50/50 chance that the man and/or lady will purchase the ring she loves right then and there. Sometimes, he'll discreetly let retailers know to set it aside so he can come back at another time to purchase it. It's entirely a matter of personal preference and there's no wrong way to ring shop.


Do not overlook alternative grading labs

Certificates should really be considered the 5th C of diamond education. Yes, a GIA certificate proves that what you’re getting is what you're paying for, but if you’re dealing with a reputable jeweler you trust, you can save money by purchasing a diamond with an EGL (European Gemological Laboratory) or AGS (American Gem Society) certificate - or no certificate at all. Both EGL and AGS are well-known in the industry, but are not as consistent as GIA. EGL is another diamond grading lab, just like GIA. AGS is a society that jewelers can join to certify that they are dedicated to:

  • Consumer protection
  • Ethical business practices
  • Development and maintenance of superior gemological skills and knowledge

While a certificate isn’t necessary, it gives the buyer more peace of mind.

Do not buy a ring without seeing actual pictures of it

Buying online? Ask the seller if the photos you're seeing are your actual ring, actual diamond, and actual setting. If it's a rendering, you may be disappointed by the actual product. If you're buying a loose stone to have it mounted, the seller should have no problem showing you pictures of the actual stone and the setting, as long as they have it in stock and aren't special ordering.

Do not be fooled by the tricky wording of man-made diamonds and man-made diamond simulants

A diamond simulant is a lab-created diamond look-alike (think CZ or moissanite). A synthetic diamond is an actual diamond made in a lab - it will typically be very comparable in price to a naturally formed diamond and will likely be under 2 carats, as larger diamonds are harder to create.

Do not forget to ask your jeweler about any treatments the stone may have gotten

Is it irradiated? Filled? Color treated? A reputable jeweler will be impressed by your attention to detail and happy to discuss any treatments the diamond may have. It doesn't mean you should rule out treated diamonds completely, just be sure that the treatments are disclosed so you aren't paying for what you think it an untreated stone.

Do not overlook estate, antique and vintage engagement rings

Far from being used, these stones have been passed down through generations, have symbolized a marriage and commitment from decades ago, and show the quality craftsmanship that was necessary to make a piece of jewelry last so long. These rings have character and attention to detail that mass-produced settings can't match. Check out antique stores, online dealers, diamond dealers, and maybe even pawn shops. A vintage or antique diamond could be just what you are looking for.

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From understanding diamond grades to knowing your lady’s preferences, from asking if a diamond is color treated to watching out for simulants, it’s important to have background knowledge before you purchase a diamond for your lady. By using these tips, you can gain the confidence to be sure that you are buying the perfect gem that will make your “perfect gem” extremely happy with her gift - and happy with you.

More expert advice about Marriage and Couples

Photo Credits: © selensergen -; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Lee Raymond JosephsonPartner/Vice President

Lee Raymond Josephson, vice president and partner of Raymond Lee Jewelers, is a shining example of success resulting only from hard work. Lee is the second generation of self-made men. His father, Jeff Josephson, built the now 30-year-old Raymon...

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