Loose Diamonds Buying Guide

In this buying guide, we will do our best to help you make the right purchase decision and save money when buying a loose diamond for a diamond ring or any other diamond jewelry.

What is important to you as a diamond buyer: shape, size, quality, elegance, store’s brand name, design of the ring setting? All of these factors, and and even more, impact a diamond’s price, so it’s only by learning about these attributes that you will decide exactly what you want in a diamond.

And once you know exactly what you want, DiamondPriceGuru.com will troll online diamond sellers’ databases to find diamonds that match the one you described. You will see the best prices available for the exact diamond specifications you choose.

When thinking of buying a diamond ring (or any diamond jewelry for that matter) you need to decide first on how much money you can afford to spend on this important purchase and then what features are the most important—important for you, but more so for her.

If you are shopping for an engagement ring, an oft-repeated hint among future grooms-to-be is that an appropriate ring should cost one to two months’ salary. Each gentleman needs to decide for himself what he can afford or would feel comfortable spending, though.

As far as the loose diamond features are concerned, fortunately, the choices are not that huge—it is not like buying a house.

Ring or Loose Diamond?

If you would like to save a ton of money—it is strongly advised that you buy a diamond separate from the ring’s metal setting. A jeweler will then set your loose diamond in the gold or platinum setting to make it into a ring for you. How much money will you save that way? Up to 30-50% of the diamond’s price.

Also, by buying a loose diamond and a metal ring setting separately, there is a much smaller chance you will get fleeced by less-than-scrupulous jewelers and end up getting a poor quality stone.

Buying a Loose Diamond

Typically, features of a loose diamond that are the most important for 99% of ordinary consumers are limited to the diamond shape and to what is known as the diamond 4Cs: carat weight, color, clarity, and cut. There is another “C” that is equally important, though, the diamond certificate.

The setting for the diamond ring is another story: the choices are infinite, but can still be categorized based on the most popular ring styles (read more about a variety of ring settings you can choose from in this article).

Diamond Shape

First, you need to decide what shape of a diamond stone she will like. If you already know what shape your loved one would prefer, congratulations! If not, you could ask her directly. If you want the gift or engagement to be a surprise, try enlisting a trusted friend to “go window shopping” with her and see which shape diamond catches her eye.

Another way to pick a shape is based on your future fianc?e’s personality traits. A well-known New York diamond appraiser Saul Spero spent more than 25 years interviewing thousands of women to determine the correlation between personality and women’s preferences for diamond shapes. To help future grooms he summarized his findings in his book Diamonds, Love, and Compatibility: So You Think You’ve Got a Gem (Behrman House Publishing, 1977). In the book Spero talks about women’s personality traits most likely to match the six basic diamond shapes. You can use use this approach, if you think it may work.

If none of the above helped you determine what shape she would like and you want to be on the safe side, go with the round brilliant. These diamonds account for more than 75% of all sold diamonds in the world. Since they are so popular—ladies must like them!

One thing to keep in mind when deciding on a shape: round brilliant cuts are the most expensive cuts out there. This is because producing a round brilliant requires the best quality rough diamonds (crystals called octahedrals for those who care to know) and also results in the most amount of removed material during the cutting process. Both of these reasons increase the cost of production, of course. On the other hand, fancy shapes, such as princess, marquise, radiant, trillian, etc. can be produced from lower quality and more abundantly available rough diamond crystals (called flats and macles) and also do not require wasting as much rough material. So, when shopping for a diamond or a diamond ring, keep in mind that despite their fancy names, fancy shapes cost less, often significantly less, than round brilliants.

4Cs: Carat Weight

Does size matter? Some ladies prefer a discreet, high-quality diamond. Others want their left hands to cause ring-envy and require something large enough to be seen from outer space.

Bigger is not always better.

A bigger diamond does not necessarily mean a better diamond—cut, color, and clarity all factor into the final price. However, if size is a big issue for your lady, here are a few tips.

There are ways to get a bigger stone without breaking the bank—read the section below on how to save money and still buy a bigger rock. But first, you need to determine how big is Big to her? One factor is the size of her fingers. On thinner fingers and smaller hands, smaller diamonds will look more elegant; larger ones, of course, will look more pronounced. On larger hands and bigger fingers, small diamonds will look even smaller. Unfortunately, there is no manual that says a diamond of this size or that size is considered to be “big” or “small.” A rule of thumb (no pun intended) would be diamonds smaller than 0.5 carats are considered “small,” and anything above 1.5 carats is likely to cause envious reactions. At December 2008 prices, a 1.5-carat diamond costs between $2,000 and $40,000 depending on the quality.

Quite a spread! So, determining the quality of the loose diamond – its cut, color, and clarity – as well as the type of certification you are comfortable with will determine where between $2,000 and $40,000 the price of your diamond will fit.

4Cs: Cut, Color, Clarity

Diamond quality, determined by its cut, color, and clarity, is less visible and obvious to the naked eye than the stone’s shape and size. Still, many people prefer to purchase a higher quality diamond, even if it is smaller in size. Some jewelers say Americans like big diamonds while Europeans prefer higher-quality diamonds. Well, maybe it has something to do with the fact that there is no tradition in Europe to give brides diamond engagement rings when proposing—so, grooms and future husbands have fewer diamonds to buy over their lifetimes and therefore can afford to splurge on a higher quality ice when it comes to it?!

Color and Color-disguising Tricks

Diamond colors, graded based on the most popular grading scale developed by Gemological Institute of America (GIA), range from the highest quality D, E, and F grades, which are classified as “colorless,” to the lowest quality graded Z, which has a distinctive yellowish color. Do not mount a K-grade or lower color diamond on a platinum or white gold setting as the yellowish hue will be made even more visible.

Clarity

Clarity of the diamond according to the GIA grading classification can range from FL (flawless) to IF (internally flawless) to I1–I3, which is an abbreviation for “imperfect.” Imperfect diamonds contain visible inclusions or blemishes. More than 80% of consumers buy diamonds in the clarity range of SI2 (slightly imperfect) to VS1 (very slightly imperfect). Rarely ordinary people are willing to pay top dollar for the FL / IF grades. And justifiably so—why pay a significant premium for a flawless diamond, if an SI1-graded stone has just minor imperfections that are visible only under 10x magnification? When your loved one shows her ring to her friends, the likelihood that one of them will pull out a 10x loupe to examine the flaws in the diamond are quite slim. On a per-carat basis, the price difference between an IF and a VS2 is going to be quite significant though: at March 2008 market prices the difference could be $1,000–$3,000 per carat. Because buying a diamond is a game of making trade-offs between the 4Cs (carat, cut, color, and clarity) saving an extra $1,000–$3,000 on clarity can buy you a lot more “size” or a lot “whiter” color, or alternatively a swimming pool full of beer for that Super Bowl party you are planning.

The only exception to this rule is that if you’re are planning to purchase an emerald cut (or any other step cut diamond), consider purchasing a stone with clarity greater than SI1, as clarity flaws are much more visible to the naked eye in step cuts than in brilliant cuts.

Corresponding Clarity and Color

When selecting clarity and color grades, there is another important thing you may want to take into consideration: different clarity grades have so-to-speak “corresponding” color grades that fit together more naturally, based on what the majority of people purchase. For example, FL or IF (flawless or internally flawless grade) diamonds are commonly purchased with higher color grades, usually D or E: majority of the people who are purchasing a flawless diamond want a color grade of D or E. The logic is simple—why spend so much money on a perfect clarity grade and have less than a perfect color grade?! However, few people who would consider buying a diamond that has a perfect clarity grade (say, FL, or IF), but less than perfect color grade (say, for example, G or H). Why? Because this is against the logic: if someone is willing to pay for perfection, he or she likely wants perfection all around, not just perfection in one aspect out of four. Therefore, a diamond stone that has such imbalanced parameters (perfect clarity, but less than perfect color) has a lower market value as few people would want to buy it. Our recommendation—avoid buying stones with non-corresponding clarity and color grades in case at some point you may decide to sell it and therefore you want to make sure the diamond has a higher market liquidity.

Below is a table showing more natural groupings of the corresponding clarity and color grades. However, this information is directional and not “set in stone.”

Grouping 1 Grouping 2 Grouping 3 Grouping 4 Grouping 5
Clarity grades: FL, IF VVS1, VVS2 VS1, VS2 SI1, SI2 I1, I2, I3
Color grades: D, E D, E, F F, G, H H, I, J K through Z

Cut

Cut is the art of crafting a diamond that reflects and disperses all the light it captures. Each facet—or surface—of the diamond is like a mirror. Imagine assembling 58 transparent mirrors to maximize the light sparkling outward. Now you see the gem cutter’s task. Maximizing sparkle is both science and art—using angles and proportions to achieve fire, luster, and brilliance is no easy feat.
Diamond certificates provide a cut grade, ranging from Excellent to Poor, or list the diamond’s measurements and the two components of a cut grade, polish and symmetry. Needless to say, buying Poor is not recommended as the sparkle of these stones will be, well, not sparkling. Buying Very Good or even Good is fine, as only an expert can notice the difference in those diamonds’ brilliance and fire. So, unless your loved one is a gemologist or simply a diamond expert—you should be fine with Good overall cut grade.

If the diamond certificate does not provide the overall grading of the diamond cut grade, go by the grading of its symmetry and polish. Both are graded on a scale of Excellent to Poor, similar to the overall cut grading. So, the same logic applies—poor polish means the diamond is not as smooth as it should be, decreasing its luster. Poor symmetry results in dark spots and diminishes or eliminates the overall brilliance and fire of the stone. So, it is not advisable to go below the Good grade, and if your budget allows, go with Very Good or even Excellent on both symmetry and polish.

Settings

The two main parts of designing a ring are choosing the loose diamond and choosing the ring setting. Most jewelers offer a variety of settings and can recommend variations of their most popular settings. Eight most popular settings include:

  1. Prong
  2. Bezel
  3. Semi-bezel
  4. Channel
  5. Pav?
  6. Flush
  7. Bar, and
  8. Invisible

Each of these settings has advantages and disadvantages. The key considerations are lifestyle, design preferences, and cost.

Lifestyle is a combination of work and hobbies. If they involve interaction with fine fabrics, delicate children, or rough sports, certain settings will be more appropriate than others. Design is a subjective criterion. You will need to know the ring recipient’s design preferences, not just your own.  Cost is obvious—certain settings require a more talented jeweler, more time, or more material. Those settings will cost more.

In this table we summarize the settings information, but we encourage you to read the entire article to make a more informed decision about which setting to choose. If you are in a rush, the simplest and the most classical setting for a diamond ring is a prong solitaire, that is one diamond in a simple yellow, white, or pink gold or platinum setting. Otherwise, take some time to learn about the settings and pick the one that you think she will love.