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Choosing an engagement ring isn’t easy, and not just because there are so many options out there. Millennials spend an average of $3,000 when it comes time to pop the question, and you shouldn’t drop that chunk of change on just anything. To evaluate the quality of an engagement ring, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with the diamond 4 C’s: cut, color, clarity, and carat.
Trying to evaluate and grade different diamond rings using these criteria can seem daunting, so we spoke to The Diamond Reserve‘s Kaeleigh Testwuide to break everything down.
According to Testwuide, the cut is “one of the most overlooked characteristics” of a diamond. However, it shouldn’t be. “Cut is all about the sparkle; the reason why diamonds are so loved!” she says.
Basically, cut refers to the overall make of diamond and how the its luster was brought to life from the rough. Testwuide added that cut is also “the proportion and arrangement of the diamond’s facets and the overall workmanship, which determines the amount of brilliance, fire and sparkle a diamond has.”
There are several factors that play into the overall cut of a diamond. For round diamonds it’s the cut, polish and symmetry grade; and for any other shape (like fancy ones), it is the polish and symmetry grade. Cut, polish and symmetry are all graded independently with the same terminology: “Excellent,” “Very Good,” “Good,” “Fair,” and “Poor.”
“All of these characteristics are equally as important and should not be overlooked,” Testwuide says, adding that The Diamond Reserve only sells diamonds that have a cut, polish or symmetry grading of “Excellent,” or “Very Good.”
If a ring’s sparkle is a top priority for you, you’ll want to stick to rings that have an “Excellent” cut, polish, and symmetry grading — otherwise known as “Triple X” for round diamonds. “When purchasing outside of “Excellent” or “Very Good” your diamond could be too deep or too shallow, affecting how it sparkles,” Testwuide says. “A shallow diamond will not emit light well and will have black, dead spots where there is no sparkle. A deep diamond can face up small, meaning that because it is carrying so much depth, it does not face up true to it’s carat weight. For example, a deep, 1 carat diamond may face up as small as a .70 carat diamond, drastically affecting the value.”
Testwuide recommends avoiding jewelers and retailers that uses terms like “Ideal Cut,” or “Super Ideal Cut.”
“These are NOT terms used by the GIA or on the certificate,” she says. “Be sure to view the diamond in different types of light such as sunlight, LED lighting, and natural indoor everyday lighting to make sure it has the sparkle you love that catches your eye just right.”
This one seems simple, right? Well, sort of. Diamond color actually refers to the absence of color. “The less color in a diamond, the more valuable it is,” Testwuide says.
The GIA uses a color grading scale that starts at D and goes all the way to Z. A D-grading signifies a colorless diamond, similar to a drop of pure water, while diamonds with a lower color grading will have hues that are yellow or brown in color.
“The Diamond Reserve will only sell engagement diamonds with a grading range from D to J,” Testwuide says. “Color grades D, E, and F are colorless, and G, H, I, and J are near colorless.”
If you’re specifically looking for a diamond ring that will carry color well, your best bet will be a round-shaped diamond. “Some fancy shapes do not carry color as well due to having a shallower cut such as the oval, so we only recommend purchasing an H color and up when purchasing an oval shape,” Testwuide says.
When evaluating a diamond’s color, hold the ring over a white surface in a naturally lit room. You should not only avoid dark settings, but also LED lighting.
Clarity is the measurement of the internal inclusion and external blemishes a diamond has, referring to where the crystal structure did not form perfectly. According to Testwuide, a clarity grading is determined by the amount of inclusions, where inclusions are located, the type of inclusion in the diamond, and how the inclusions affect the overall appearance of the diamond. “Most diamonds have inclusions, but what is important is where they are located in the diamond and that they are not visible with the naked eye,” she says.
The GIA clarity grading chart starts at “Flawless,” which means the diamond has virtually no imperfections and goes to “Included,” meaning the diamond has inclusions that are visible with the naked human eye. The GIA says that anywhere from “Very Very Slightly Included/ VVS” to “Slightly Included/ SI” will have inclusions, but that they are not apparent to the naked eye.
“At The Diamond Reserve we do not sell diamonds with a clarity grading of ‘Included,’ ” Testwuide says. “We believe once the inclusion has been seen it will become the focal point of the engagement ring.”
Even if you choose to purchase a ring in the “Slightly Included/ SI range, it’s still important to work with a jeweler you trust. More specifically, a jeweler should allow you to see the diamond under magnification and have you locate the inclusions. Once you have seen them under magnification and know where they are, then take a look with the naked eye and make sure you cannot see the inclusions.
It’s also worth pointing out that rings that share a clarity grade can still be extremely different. “If the inclusion is dead-center, then there may be certain angles and lightings where the inclusion is visible,” Testwuide says. “Just because two diamonds have an equal clarity grading does not mean they are visually equal as one may have the inclusion in the center and the other may have it off on the side. Do consider that the diamond with it off to side may be slightly more expensive as it will have an overall better value.”
Diamonds are measured in size by carats — not to be confused with karats (unit of measurement used to describe how much pure gold there is in an alloy.)
According to Testwuide, there are 100 points in 1 carat, which is important for understanding how pricing works. For every 50 point increase you see, there will be a major leap in pricing. A 1.50 carat diamond will be priced significantly higher than a 1 carat diamond of equal grade. “This is because larger diamonds are rarer, and only one in every thousand diamonds is above 1 carat in size,” Testwuide says.
For example, if you’re looking for a 1.50 carat diamond, Testwuide recommends viewing a 1.40 carat to see the price and size difference.
Ultimately, consider the importance of the size of the diamond. “Some people really want a bigger diamond to show off, while others would rather a higher quality smaller diamond,” Testwuide says.
It’s ultimately your decision!