4 C's of Diamond Grading

When you sit down with and discuss diamonds with your jeweler for the first time, they’ll most likely start with the 4 C’s. A diamond’s 4 C’s represent the four main components of its beauty and structure: cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. Each of the C’s are graded on a scale and can help determine the value of a diamond.  

It’s very important to have a basic understanding of the 4 C’s as a buyer. Without finding the correct balance between the 4 C’s, you may end up paying more for certain characteristics while underpaying for others.  

Cut refers to the quality of a diamond’s proportions, shape, symmetry, angles, brilliance, fire, and finishing details. These factors can directly impact a diamonds ability to sparkle. Cuts can vary significantly among diamonds and diamond cutters. Some diamonds are cut to maximize size while minimizing waste, while other diamonds are cut to minimize the number of inclusions.  

The ideal cut diamond is cut with strict proportions to maximize light return and sparkle. Light should enter the top of a diamond, bounce off the lower facets, and exit back out of the top. A diamond that is cut too shallow or too deep will leak light and not shine as bright.  

Color is graded in terms of how colorless or “white” a diamond is. The GIA grades diamonds on a scale from D to Z – D being the most colorless and Z having the most noticeable yellow tint. While you can’t see a distinct difference between two diamonds of adjacent color grades, the price can vary significantly. 

When it comes to choosing a color grading, it’s important to keep the color of the ring mounting in mind. A low color graded diamond might look significantly more yellow in a white gold setting. It’s usually recommended to put a higher color graded diamond (H or better) in a white gold mounting to avoid seeing a color difference. Lower graded diamonds (usually K to M) with a little bit of yellow work better in yellow gold mountings.  

Clarity is graded to evaluate how clean a diamond is from inclusions and imperfections. Diamonds are organic material made from carbon, so almost every diamond will have some form of imperfection. Inclusions and imperfections serve as a diamonds fingerprint. The GIA grades clarity on a scale from Flawless (FL) to Imperfect (I), with mid-points of Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS), Very Slightly Included (VS), and Slightly Included (SI).  

The clarity grade of a diamond is dependent on the size, color, and location of inclusions. The imperfections can interfere with the light return and sparkle of a diamond. Most inclusions can’t be seen by the naked eye – you would need to view the stone under 10X magnification to see any imperfections. It is possible to see some I Clarity diamond imperfections without magnification.  

When choosing a diamond, it’s best to go with a diamond that is “eye clean”, meaning you can’t personally see any imperfections with your naked eye. An SI clarity diamond can appear just as clean as a VVS to the naked eye, especially if the inclusion is near the edge of the stone or light in color.  

Carat weight refers to the weight of the stone, not necessarily the size of the stone. A 1 carat diamond can look different depending on how the stone is cut. A round stone with a large table can appear larger than an Ideal cut of equal size. A 1 carat oval will appear larger than a 1 carat round. Carat weight is important within the 4 C’s, but shouldn’t take precedence over cut, color, or clarity.  

It’s all about balance when it comes to the 4 C’s. It’s important to consider each of the C’s to find a stone that fits within your budget. Think of it in terms of weights and scales: if you know you want a large stone, consider going lower on color and clarity. If you want a clean, colorless diamond, you might have to choose a smaller carat weight. If you want a large, clean, and colorless diamond, expect to pay top dollar!  

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