Diamonds: The 4 C's

Getting an A+ in the 4 C’s

Most people who have purchased a diamond have some familiarity with the 4 C’s; the parameters by which diamonds are defined. Others that are just starting their pursuit of buying a diamond will get the spiel soon enough as they set out in search of the perfect gem. Much in the same way you wouldn’t buy or sell a new car without at least doing some research and price comparison on your own, understanding the 4 C’s of diamonds is a necessary tool in making an educated purchase. This is especially true when considering that - unlike a car- a diamond lasts forever.

Back in the 1940s, the GIA Institute established the 4 C’s grading scale in order make uniform the terms by which diamonds were graded. This not only simplified it for the professionals in the industry, but also provided the consumer a means by which to know the value of their investment.

So what are these 4 C’s and what can we learn about a diamond’s worth based on these definitions?

Let’s start with Color. When it comes to diamonds of gemstone quality, the range in color goes from D, which represents a colorless diamond and all the way down to Z. In other words, the whiter the diamond is, the closer it is to D and the better its color grade. Generally speaking, diamonds that fall between D-F in the color grade are considered very white or colorless. After that a stone grade G-J is near colorless. This means that on its own, it is still quite white and any tint would only be noticeable if you were viewing it alongside a diamond that is F color or better. Diamonds with K-Z grades have anywhere from a faint to a light yellow tint. Diamonds in this range, when placed in the right setting, shine beautifully still. 

Next of the 4 C’s is Clarity. The clarity grade scale is a series of indicators that reflect the visual appearance of the diamond. A natural diamond’s structural appearance was first established billions of years ago, deep in the earth’s mantle, where heat and pressure were responsible for each of the unique inclusions within the stone. These inclusions, a natural byproduct of their formation, can be either visible to the naked eye or only seen under a microscope. The fewer inclusions a diamond displays, especially to the naked eye, the brighter and clearer the diamond will be. The location of inclusions is also important: For instance, visible marks on the pavilion (bottom) or girdle (sides) of a diamond can often be hidden by the stone’s setting and so even if they are apparent, can be easily overcome once set in jewelry.  

Cut refers to the shape of the diamond as well as to the quality of its proportions, angles and faceting symmetry. Cut is by far the most important factor in a diamond’s overall brilliance, beauty and value. Cut grading is defined as Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair and Poor. A diamond’s cut is so significant that it can both upgrade a stone that falls short in the other C’s as well as inadvertently diminish a stone’s color, clarity and even carat weight if not done well. For instance, white diamonds with high color grade can appear dull if poorly proportioned. Cuts that were designed to minimize inclusions and maximize clarity can sacrifice sparkle and fire. Faceting, the tiny mirrors whose size and placement influence how light moves through the stone, won't return light effectively if not done properly and the diamond’s face-up appearance, or, the way it looks from above as if it were set in an engagement ring, will ultimately be compromised. For these reasons and more, the better the cut grading, the more likely your diamond will catch the light and dazzle you the way we expect quality diamonds to do.

The last of the four C’s is Carat. Carat refers to the weight of the diamond (whereas the size of a diamond is measured in millimeters). One metric carat is equivalent to 0.2 grams (about the weight of a sugar packet). Different stone shapes and cuts can cause diamonds of equal carat weight to vary significantly in size and proportions. Diamond price tends to increase with carat weight because larger diamonds are a rarer find. Two diamonds of equal carat weight can have very different values (and prices) depending on the other three C’s we’ve discussed. Cut is typically emphasized over carat weight since, as mentioned above, expertly-faceted diamonds will always shine brighter and can even appear larger than their actual size.  

For assessing quality and value, the 4 C’s are the industry’s standard. Use them to help you make the right choice in diamonds!

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