The 5-Minute Diamond Shopping Guide

Shape

  • Shape selection is the most personalized part of selecting a diamond.  Other people won’t know the diamond’s exact grades for color, clarity, cut, or its certification or cost—unless you tell them—but most people recognize shapes.
  • Over 75% of diamonds are the standard round brilliant shape and it’s the shape with the most sparkle, but don’t mistake them for being the least expensive.
  • Browse for a shape that suits you and, if it happens to be an emerald cut, oval, or Assher cut, you’ll save 10-30% off the common round diamond.

Carat

  • Carat isn’t really size; it’s weight.  One carat weighs 200 milligrams.
  • Try taking a standard lump of modeling clay and sculpting rough replicas of the top diamond shapes, and you’ll quickly see that much of a diamond’s weight is hidden below the diamond’s surface.  So, a 1-carat marquise cut diamond can look larger than a 1-carat round diamond.
  • The best way to select your ideal carat weight is to try rings on in the shape you like best.

Color

  • Color is graded along a scale from D (“white” or “colorless”) to Z (yellow).
  • While D is considered the best, only a trained gemologist can spot the difference between stones in the D-F range.
  • The G-J range (“near colorless”) is also popular, especially with any “silvery” settings (white gold, platinum, and palladium).
  • Any diamond rated K color or lower risks looking even more yellowish when set in silvery settings.  Yellow gold can help mask tinge in K or lower color stones.

Clarity

  • Clarity uses an 11- or 12-point scale to judge the visual distortion of flaws inside or on the surface of the diamond.
  • If you can see a flaw in it without any help, it’s an I1 or lower clarity grade.
  • If you inspect the diamond thoroughly and can’t find any flaws with a 10x loupe (the jeweler will let you borrow one), it’s a VS2 grade or higher.
  • VS1 and VS2 account for about 36% of loose diamonds for sale online.
  • Avoid retailers who list a range of ratings rather than a specific rating.  While “VS1” and “VS2” may look similar, their assessed values differ by $200 to $900 dollars.

Cut Grade

  • Cut grade evaluates how closely the diamond matches ideal proportions of a stone its shape, plus the exactness of the individual cuts and edges.
  • Some gemological laboratories only evaluate cut grade for round brilliant or princess cut diamonds.
  • While an “ideal” cut diamond might sound unattainably expensive, the jump from the lowest grade, “fair,” all the way up the scale to “ideal” is usually less than 10% of the ideal diamond’s price, so if you want to upgrade in one category, this is one of the least expensive ways to “improve” your diamond.

Certificate

  • Not all diamonds carry grading reports.
  • If a diamond comes with a “certificate” or report, the number on the report should match the number etched into the diamond.
  • Sending a loose diamond to be graded by GIA or another company is relatively easy (taking about two weeks including shipping both ways, at a cost of $100 per carat).
  • However, you’d never expect that from the price difference between a certified diamond and an uncertified diamond characterized by the same retailer as having identical shapes, carat weights, clarity, color, and cut grades.  In one random example, the certified diamond cost 50% more—but to be fair, the uncertified diamond had a range of possible clarity grades listed.
  • If having the certificate up-front is important to you, by all means make certain your diamond has one.  But if your dream diamond is paperless, don’t panic—you can always send it for grading.

Cost

  • Where can you buy the diamonds with the best value?  That question is impossible to answer without knowing the diamond you’ve chosen.
  • Some retailers focus on specific shapes or a narrow category in which they expect most of their sales to occur.
  • Others don’t seem to have a pattern to their diamond pricing.
  • And all retailers must factor in overhead costs—whether they are slim for an online retailer or heavy for a brick-and-mortar store.
  • Add it up, and your best bet is to shop around.
  • The same diamond—sometimes the exact same diamond—can be sold for many different prices from many different retailers.
  • Use a diamond search engine to help you identify the merchants who carry the diamond you seek, and you’ll see the prices they offer side-by-side.  For identical 1-carat diamonds found at an array of 12 retailers, the prices ranged from $3,427 to $5,005, so taking this one step can save you 30%.

Keep all of these tips in mind, and you’ll likely find the diamond of your dreams can be bought for far less than most people normally pay.