Jewellery Guides

How To Find The Best Diamond On Budget

Written by Jack Cherry
September 28th, 2020 • 9 min read

4Cs of diamond quality - Cut, Clarity, Colour & Carat Weight

Every diamond is individually graded for it's quality of cut, colour, clarity and carat weight - the better the qualities, the higher the price. But there are ways to keep costs down while obtaining a stunning diamond - see how our experts do it.

Every diamond is given a set of ratings that allude the qualities of their unique characteristics, which in turn dictates their value. The 4Cs, or 'diamond fundamentals', are the industry-set standards that diamonds the world over are categorised and recorded by, and include cut, clarity, colour and carat weight. Combined, they help both jewellers and customers to establish the character and worth of an individual stone.

If you are making a diamond purchase, it is crucial to understand what the 4Cs mean, and how they impact a stone's value and which are worth paying for, and which to compromise on. Let our experts help you to find the best looking diamond for your personal budget with our simple guide.

Industry Standards: The Importance of the 4Cs

Initially developed in the mid-twentieth century, the 4 key elements of diamond grading are an invaluable tool that allow for an objective and international cataloguing of a diamond’s quality and value. As well as enabling jewellers to compare costs and set prices, the creation of the 4Cs opened the door to the public, giving them a way to tell diamonds apart and judge their individual characteristics in a way that had never before been possible. This was the start of the democratisation of diamond buying, in which the buyer was now fully aware of what they were buying, and the quality they could receive for their money.

As continued developments began to highlight the importance of some features over others, the 4Cs also meant that people could balance their decisions and make purchases that took into account their own personal preferences. Some shoppers could look for a high carat weight, but compromise on clarity and colour, while others could find an expertly cut specimen that fantastically optimised sparkle, but was a little smaller - and all for the same price.

The 4Cs each have their own grading scales, which are often represented on a certificate by a list of letters and numbers, such as ‘1ct, E, VS2, Excellent Cut’. Learning what these mean will be key to making an informed choice, and finding the perfect diamond for your tastes and budget.

The Four Cs: Carat Weight

When buying a diamond, it's a good idea to compare how carat weights affect price points

Carat, or ct, refers to a diamond’s weight, rather than size – although one does impact on the other. You will see both individual carat weights for single stones, and total carat weights (TCW), which refer to the total carats of all the diamonds in a piece or set of jewellery.

Carats are listed in decimals, with 1.00 being one carat. Small carat increases can come with very large price increases, so don’t be put off by the idea of buying a diamond with a lower carat weighting than your initial ideal. If you look at a 1.10-carat diamond next to a 1.20-carat diamond, it will be very hard to tell the difference, but the price difference could be pretty astonishing.

You can also look for under-weight diamonds, which come in just a little below the cut-off carat grades. For example, a 0.97ct diamond will look pretty much identical to a 1ct diamond, but the price difference will be more than noticeable. These might not be that easy to come by, but they could be a very good deal.

The Four Cs: Colour

Diagram showing diamond colour grade scale from D to Z

Colour determines the (lack of) colour traces within a stone; typically yellowish or grey-brownish. Colourless diamonds are the most prized and valuable of all. These diamonds are able to demonstrate the most fire and brilliance, and are also the rarest of specimens.

Diamonds sometimes come into contact with trace elements while they are being formed deep in the earth. This can lend them a yellow, brown or grey tint. The colour grade for diamonds starts with D (absolutely colourless), and ends with strong, noticeably coloured examples at Z. D-graded diamonds are more pricey, and rarer to find, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. In fact, it's a characteristics our experts encourage you prioritise - money spent on a good colour grade will be well worth it, because this is one of the most apparent characters of the 4Cs.

Choose between D to F for a colourless diamond, or for a tighter budget look at G to H, particularly if you are looking at a yellow gold ring as can hide yellow-tints. Each of these are very near to colourless, and would look so to the naked eye. Have a look at a variety of colour grades and see which you find suitable – as you can imagine, the lower the grade is, the lower the price will be too.

If you would prefer to find a coloured diamond, this can be possible too. These are also rare, and therefore expensive, but colour treatments can provide a similar effect. Queensmith can help you decide which colour is right for you – just ask!

The Four Cs: Clarity

Diamond clarity scale showing inclusions vs grade

Clarity refers to the small traces of impurities and imperfections within a diamond.

Diamonds take shape under intense pressure and heat, deep underground. Sometimes, small particles of other materials become trapped inside, or separate tiny diamonds are absorbed by larger ones as they are forming. Other times, small cracks will appear inside or on the surface, creating a cloudy area. These flaws are called blemishes (surface flaws) and inclusions (interior flaws), and are entirely natural and to be expected. However, as is often the case, the more ‘perfect’ or flaw-free a diamond, the more it is valued, and the higher the price. Skilled cutters can work with a diamonds flaws to mask them as much as possible, but the 4Cs provide a way of precisely determining how many and which type of defects are present.

The grades for clarity range from IF (internally flawless) through to I1–I3 (included). Those at the top end will be very valuable and rare, while those at the lower end will have visible blemishes and be considerably cheaper.

You may feel like you want a ‘perfect’ diamond, but the truth is that choosing a lower clarity rating needn’t impact the overall beauty and charm of your diamond. Look at some different grades – if you don’t notice the blemishes or inclusions, try going one band lower. Each diamond is unique, and a diamond with some hidden blemishes can offer a very cost-effective option.

Our experts advise looking between VS2 to SI1 clarity grades. Diamonds with these grades will contain a number of minuscule inclusions - so small that they won't impact the beauty of the stone, and you won't notice them without magnification. You will, however, see a big difference in price versus stones graded VS1 and higher!

The Four Cs: Cut

Cut grade determines the intensity of a diamond's sparkle

The cut of a diamond is agreed by most people – jewellers, gemologists and customers alike – to be the most important of all the 4Cs. Much harder to grade than the others, as it depends so much on the individual diamond and the way that a cutter has handled its shaping, this feature is what actually provides the brilliant sparkle and shine that you would expect from a diamond.

Diamonds can be cut to emphasise their clarity and hide inclusions, and to maximise their weight, but a really well-cut diamond will have one thing that drives it – beauty. A specialist, knowledgeable cutter will use exacting measurements to create a symmetrically, well-proportioned diamond with precise facets and crystal clear polish. This allows light to flood into the centre of the diamond, reverberate within its core, and be expelled outwards towards the viewer’s eye.

When discussing the way light behaves when it is reflected and refracted by a diamond, there are three key terms used. The quantity and balance of these light elements, and the way they have been handled by the cutter, is how the cut is judged. Firstly, we discuss brightness. This is the white light that emanates out from a diamond. Then, we have fire (sometimes called dispersion), which refers to the spectral light that is brought about by a prismatic effect within the diamond, and reaches the eye as rainbow flashes. Finally, scintillation – this is all about the sparkle, and the way light performs over the surface a diamond as it is moved and rotated.

Diamond cuts are graded on a scale, from Excellent to Poor. Those at the top end are meticulously cut so that their measurements perfectly emphasise all three of the above light categories.

So How Should I Prioritise The 4Cs?

Having understood the basics of the 4Cs, you will be able to compare the diamonds on offer, and decide which combination of grades will best suit you and your budget. Remember these top tips;

For peace of mind - Choose a hand selected GIA certified diamond

To optimise your budget - Compromise on diamond clarity first, and carat weight if necessary

For the ultimate sparkle - Choose a round brilliant excellent cut diamond

For pure, bright beauty - Choose a colourless diamond (D-F colour)

Which Grades Should I Choose For My Diamond?

  • Excellent to Very Good Cut. Note this only applies to round diamonds - if you choose a different diamond shape, ensure it has Excellent to Very Good Polish & Symmetry
  • D to F Colour. You can compromise a little more if you choose a yellow gold ring, down to G and H
  • VS2 to SI1 Clarity. Step cut diamonds, like emerald cuts, may require a slightly higher grade, around VS1, due to their large, open facets
  • Use the above parameters to see what carat weight you can afford for your personal budget. Don't be tempted to boost carat weight by lowering the cut or colour, as you may end up with a large but lacklustre diamond that appears dull and dim!
  • Don't get too bogged down in the grades - that's what our experts are for. Book an appointment and let us know your shape preference, the ring you like, and the budget you'd like us to stick to - we'll do the complicated work of figuring out how to get the best diamonds for you budget

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