Chapter 3: The Four Cs
Unless you regularly shop for diamonds or have an interest in becoming a jeweler, you probably do not spend a lot of time contemplating the four Cs (4Cs). When it comes time to buy an engagement ring, it’s definitely something you want to be aware of. We will explain each “C,” so you know what to look for when you’re shopping.
What Are the 4Cs of Diamonds?
The 4Cs of diamonds stand for:
You might be wondering what the most important is of the 4Cs, but it all depends on what you are looking for and what your budget will allow. Let this chapter be your diamond quality guide to help you figure out which of the 4Cs means the most to you:
As we discussed in the previous chapter, cut refers to how the diamond is shaped to refract light. Cuts are made for sparkle and visual appeal. A diamond with high-quality cuts will sparkle brilliantly.
According to the American Gem Society (AGS), cuts are graded on a scale of 0 to 10. The highest grade is zero, and the lowest is 10. Diamonds with higher grades have less color and are rarer. A diamond’s cut can also affect its value.
Most diamonds are colorless to the naked eye. If you look closely at a diamond, however, you might notice a tinge of color. Simply said, the more colorless a diamond is, the more rare and valuable it is.
Color is graded on a scale, which is used to help determine a diamond’s quality based on its color or lack thereof. This is how the color scale works according to the GIA:
- D through F indicates a colorless diamond.
- G through J indicates a near colorless diamond.
- Diamonds with a faint color receive a K through M ranking.
- Very light diamonds fall between the letters N and R.
- Light diamonds fall between S and Z.
Naturally-colored diamonds pick up their hues as they are formed beneath the earth’s surface. As you’ll see below, some colors occur more commonly than others and are usually more affordable.
Colored diamonds outside of the standard diamond scale are referred to as fancy color diamonds, and the regular color scale does not apply. The GIA’s grading system for fancy color diamonds is complex and requires the knowledge of a specialist.
The grading system for fancy color diamonds mainly looks at color saturation and rarity to determine value. Generally, the rarer a fancy color diamond is, the more valuable it is. Here are some of the different naturally-occurring diamond colors:
- Blue: Blue diamonds are exceptionally rare. Blue diamonds can be pale or deep in color, and they get their hue from the presence of boron.
- Brown: Brown diamonds are one of the most naturally-occurring diamonds. Brown diamonds range from light tones to dark rich tones and may have a reddish or golden appearance. Given names like “cognac” and “champagne,” brown diamonds are tempting fancy diamonds.
- Green: Green diamonds can range from light to dark green and occur due to proximity to radiation during the formation process. Naturally-colored green diamonds are very rare.
- Olive: Instead of a pure green color, olive diamonds have hints of yellow or brown. Some olive diamonds may change in color over time. Their color is the result of hydrogen, nitrogen or nickel.
- Pink: Pink diamonds are rare and vary from light shades to deep hues. Pink is also used to describe diamonds that appear to have an orange hue. Heat and pressure form the diamond in a way that absorbs green from the light spectrum and results in a pink shade.
- Purple and violet: Purple and violet diamonds are extremely rare and valuable. Their coloring is likely caused by a distorted formation process.
- Red: A pure red diamond may be the rarest diamond.
- Yellow: Yellow diamonds are one of the most common fancy color diamonds. The presence of nitrogen gives them their yellow hue, and the degree of nitrogen determines the intensity of color.
Clarity focuses on the inclusions in a diamond. A flawless diamond does not have inclusions, but a flawless diamond is rare. Each diamond is distinct because it is formed under extreme heat and pressure. As you could imagine, it is easy for a flaw to occur during this process.
Internal characteristics are usually not visible to the naked eye. For this reason, clarity grading is done with a 10X magnifier. Internal birthmarks are referred to as inclusions, and external marks are referred to as blemishes. According to the GIA, the standard clarity grading scale is as follows:
- Flawless: No inclusions or blemishes can be seen under 10X magnification.
- Internally flawless: No inclusions, and blemishes are only visible using a 10X magnifier.
- Very, very slightly included 1 and 2 (VVS): Inclusions are hard to see using 10X magnification.
- Very slightly included 1 and 2 (VS): Inclusions are minor and may be difficult or somewhat easy to see using 10X magnification.
- Slightly included 1 and 2 (SI): Inclusions are visible under 10X magnification.
- Included 1 to 3: Inclusions are apparent under 10X magnification and may impact brilliance.
Most diamonds fall into the very slightly included or slightly included categories.
Carat measures the weight of the diamond. A diamond’s weight is stated in metric carats. One metric carat is two-tenths of a gram — about the weight of a small paper clip.
Unlike many things in life, a heavier diamond does not necessarily mean an increased value. Other factors, such as cut, can affect the cost of a diamond more than the carat.
Keeping the 4Cs in mind, look for a diamond your girlfriend will love and that you feel comfortable buying. If you want a larger diamond for a more affordable price, you might put less focus on cut or color, for example. Either way, it is helpful to be familiar with the 4Cs when making a big purchase, so you do not feel lost when you're browsing.