Optimise Your Budget With The Four Cs
In the same way that hotels, restaurants and university theses are graded and reviewed to mark their quality, diamonds are given a rating. The Four Cs 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, its crucial to understand what they mean and to recognise which should take priority. You will understandably be looking for value for your money, and by standing firm on some elements while relaxing your concerns with others, you will be able to choose a beautiful, quality stone that fits your budget.
Industry Standards: The Importance of the Four Cs
Initially developed in the mid-twentieth century, the four key elements of diamond grading are an invaluable tool that allow for an objective and international cataloguing of a diamond’s quality and value. While enabling jewellers to compare costs and set prices, their creation also 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.
As continued developments began to highlight the importance of some features over others, the Four Cs 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.
The Four Cs each have their own grading scales, which are often represented on a certificate by a list of letters and numbers, such as ‘1ct E VS1’. 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
Carats refer 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 combined carat weights (t.c.w.), 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. Aim a little bit lower than you think, and you will be pleasantly surprised.
You can also look for under-weight diamonds, which come in just a little below the cut-off carat grades. These might not be that easy to come by, but they could be a very good deal.
The Four Cs: Colour
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. However, white 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 very cloudy and noticeably coloured examples at Z. D-graded diamonds are expensive and difficult to find, so the majority of diamonds used in jewellery are somewhere from G–J. 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
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 Four Cs provide a way of precisely determining how many and which type of defects are present.
The grades for clarity range from F (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.
The Four Cs: Cut
The cut of a diamond is agreed by most people – jewellers, gemologists and customers alike – to be the most important of all the Four Cs. 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.
As for the other Four Cs, diamond cuts are graded on a scale, from ideal/near ideal to poor. Those at the top end are meticulously cut so that their measurements perfectly emphasise all three of the above light categories.
The Four Cs in Action
Having understood the basics of the Four Cs, you will be able to compare the diamonds on offer, and decide which combination of grades will best suit you and your budget. Rather than seeming confusing, those lists of numbers and letters can now work for you!
- You might like to purchase a large, eye-catching diamond, but decide to take a stone that is slightly lower in carat weight to lower the cost while retaining the overall look.
- You could opt for a smaller diamond with a reduced carat weight, but that is of a very high cut quality – placing your value on its exquisite beauty and craftsmanship.
- Try a well-cut diamond with a good carat weight, but go a few grades lower for colour and clarity. You will have a dazzling diamond that will look just as good to the naked eye.
Whatever you decide, understanding how these grades work will give you the peace of mind you deserve when buying a diamond. They ensure that you know what you are paying for, and that each element is the quality you desire. However, while this is of course important, do keep in mind that each diamond is unique, and the love and appreciation your wife has for her engagement ring will last long after the numbers have been forgotten. Use the Four Cs to help you to decide, but always pick something that you know she’ll feel is entirely hers – and will be dying to show off!