The Ultimate Diamond Buying Guide

Sharif Khan
Sharif Khan
Last Updated    EST 
Affiliate links are highlighted in red. Learn more here.

People buy diamonds for various reasons. We could be looking to add diamonds to our collection, might have stumbled on a rare stone to buy and keep for sentimental value,  and/or might have a wedding coming up. A diamond is also a great gift to give to someone special. Whatever the reason, having the right guidance before making a purchase is essential.  

The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) uses the 4Cs (color, clarity, cut grade, and carat weight) to analyze quality. It is the primary and globally acknowledged diamond grading methodology and the first reference point in classifying diamonds and their quality. This diamond-buying guide builds on GIA's frameworks and offers additional critical insights.

Follow our in-depth guidelines below before purchasing an engagement ring or diamond. These insights are offered based on our expertise, experience, and insights from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the American Gem Society (AGS), and the International Diamond Council.

General Important Guidelines

In-Depth Cut Analysis

 Diamond 4Cs

Diamond Quality

Not much information about the quality of a diamond exists before its grading. Diamonds undergo an in-depth 4Cs evaluation process. Color, clarity, metric carat, and cut are the standard language in the jewelry industry. As you fact-find, you will regularly come across this diamond jargon.

According to GIA standards, colorless diamonds generally have a high value. But you can also find and buy colored diamonds; a synthetic diamond, for instance, can be modified into a fancy-colored diamond. Diamonds could also be natural but undergo several treatment stages and a degree of color change. Full-fledged colorless diamonds are rare and highly sought after in the real sense. You will likely encounter a range of near colorless and colored stones online and at jewelry shops. The most common natural diamond colors are light-yellow and light brown. GIA uses a color spectrum to show how close a diamond is to colorlessness. 

Side note: The color you see in a pictorial illustration or digital image of a diamond could be deceiving because it may differ from the actual color observed under a microscope. Do not trust your naked eye to judge color. Instead, use a jeweler's loupe to confirm the exact color. 

A diamond carat is not intricate; it is a simple way to gauge the weight of the diamond. A single carat translates to approximately 0.2 grams. Perhaps the most important thing is that diamond prices spike with increased carat weight. Hence, as you investigate, do not dwell too much on carat because there is not much to it other than a metric. 

Instead, focus on clarity and cut. Is the diamond rated 'flawless' or 'included'? It can be flawlessly clear with no external blemishes or have a level of imperfections. Diamonds are usually polished to remove such flaws and discoloration, so you should be highly vigilant to be able to notice them.

Diamonds come in different shapes. Whether round, princess, cushion, or oval, we recommend you zoom in on the artistry. A professionally cut diamond should have perfectly angled facets on the crown and around the pavilion area—the two diamond surfaces positioned above and below the girdle/parameter of the diamond. When done right, they give the stone excellent symmetry and brilliance and refract light to exude fire, sparkle, and luster. 

That is a wrap on quality. You are now 4Cs-educated, and it is time to read the diamond certification report. 

Never Buy a Non-Certified Diamond

All industries have yardsticks that govern quality. The GIA grading scales happen to be the best diamond evaluation benchmark in the world. Adopted in the '40s, they have been reliable for nearly a hundred years, and nothing else comes close. Furthermore, most jewelers and diamond dealers use GIA-style grading reports. It is common for certification to be categorized as the 5th C. It is also considered inefficient for jewelers to operate without diamond certificates. 

Birth certificates are issued at birth and used to identify specific and personal details about an individual; the same applies to diamonds. The document holds information on the 4Cs of a diamond. Detailed certificates or diamond reports contain additional data, characteristics such as treatment of the diamond, if any, inscriptions, and so on. You already know all about the four tenets of diamond quality. Following up on those in the certificate should be peaches and cream. 

Use the diamond certificate to consolidate the product description by the vendor to the facts of the diamond. A vendor not having a diamond certificate or having an inconsistent one is a big red flag. You should ditch them immediately and find a genuine alternative. But dodging that bullet is not enough. The next dealer may be more organized and honest, but you must still perform an independent diamond evaluation to seal all the loopholes. 

Counter Sign the Diamond Certificate

Look at this important document as a contract between you and the diamond vendor. Would you co-sign it before a keen perusal? Of course not. Reputable or not, you cannot blindly trust a vendor because it would be the ultimate rookie mistake. Remember, you are investigating and drawing conclusions that will gear up for a purchase. 

You have got two approaches to take here: 

1) Determine the rating agency's identity. If the diamond is GIA rated, contact the company and counter-check the certificate's details. Use the report number and diamond features, such as an inscription, for confirmation. But if you are dealing with a lesser-known agency, reach out to GIA or AGS for an unbiased audit, and rest assured that they will point out any inconsistencies. A vendor that understands the value of customer satisfaction will relax its terms and conditions for this quality check.

Promote Responsible Business

When you look at the history of the diamond, you will realize that part of it is dark. You may have watched the movie Blood Diamonds, set around the diamond mining industry. It dramatizes the tolerance of vices by influential individuals, corporations, and dictatorial governments. 

There have been several violations in the extraction of natural diamonds. History documents these human rights abuses as prevalent in developing countries, such as Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Conflict diamonds involve forced child labor. In most cases, mining practices have an adverse environmental impact. You rarely see product disclosures because most proceeds benefit a few natives while the rest fund selfish interests. How can you do something about this situation? 

Start by knowing the kind of vendor you are dealing with at any given time. Responsible vendors and players in the diamond industry are members of the Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC). The RJC has an international code of conduct, which acts as a watchdog to ensure sustainability in exploiting precious stones and metals: diamonds, gold, and platinum. RJC members give you a sense of comfort and empathy when shopping for diamonds. 

Equally efficient is the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. The scheme does the daunting task of tracking diamonds to identify the source mine and follow a stone to its final selling point. Such surveillance reduces the number of blood diamonds in the market. The Kimberley Process seems to be making headway. Current statistics say less than 2% of diamonds in the world's supply chain are conflict diamonds. Next time you visit a jeweler, check their membership status; see if they are actively involved in this fight and appreciate their efforts. 

Making the Actual Purchase

At this point, you have learned several diamond terminologies and the basics of diamond quality and certificate analysis. You can go ahead and buy a diamond if you think you have found the right fit. But before spending that money, look at your budget again. It does not have to be a cheap deal, nor does it have to be expensive. Just make sure you use all the information and buy smart.

The first thing you need to do is consult your jeweler. Tell them about your ideal diamond so they can give price recommendations. Have an optimum balance of the 4Cs for maximum value at a friendly cost. Be careful with carat weight intervals: a 1.00ct diamond, for example, costs more than a 0.90ct diamond, despite the slight 10% weight difference. Also, a white, near-colorless diamond attracts a higher bill than a colored one. 

The price is affected by the cut of the diamond. Round diamonds are costly, while princess cut diamonds are a close second. If the price tag of round or princess cut diamonds poses an issue, go for an affordable alternative. Think oval cut or cushion diamonds. 

You might also want to buy a loose diamond instead of a mounted one. You can always set the diamond later. The logic here is cost reduction; it is more like purchasing an everyday piece of land and developing it to your preference. You have greater control over the cost of the diamond, and you get to choose the material and the price of the mounting. Alternatively, check out small and mid-sized diamond retailers. These are more likely to give you a bargain deal than their large-scale rivals. Small retail diamond dealers' prices can be 12 to 21 percent lower than large diamond stores'.

Research, consultation, and price comparisons are easy, but having the cash for the purchase takes time. You will probably need to save up beforehand or find a vendor with a gradual purchase plan—a hire purchase arrangement. But given the intrinsic value of diamonds, it is either unlikely or an expensive purchase option, especially if you are dealing with an offline vendor who incurs more overhead costs. Please compare pricing options before ripping off your bill strap. 

Have you considered financing your purchase? You could talk to your bank or other financier and make the purchase stress-free. Of course, the downside is that you will incur debt and must settle it down the road. So, only go ahead if your credit score and financial situation allow it. Make the most of cost-saving payment options. Use online payment systems and wire transfers for online vendors and checks and cash for offline ones.

Other Cs of Diamonds

The 4Cs, as you know, are the primary quality checks on any given diamond. But a new school of thought has included three additional Cs: center stone, customization, and creativity. When you buy a loose diamond, sooner or later, you will be required to think of a setting. Assuming you have decided to use a double-halo setting to mount your diamond. The loose diamond forms the center stone of this halo mounting, while the accent stones surrounding it only add aesthetic value and style. But the center stone is the focal point of such a piece of jewelry: it is the main attraction and where most money goes. 

Customization is pretty much self-explanatory. Top jewelers offer a personalized experience where you get to build your diamond and setting. This special privilege allows you to work with a jeweler to create a wedding ring. The custom-built look gives a deeper meaning to the bond between you and your soulmate and doubles up as your dream jewelry piece.

Creativity has more to do with nuanced practices in the diamond industry. For example, jewelers specialize in producing fancy-colored diamonds. Apparently, a whole market category has an appetite for artificially colored diamonds. As far as mounting goes, jewelers are moving away from the traditional gold, platinum, and silver mountings and are shifting their attention to rose gold, titanium, and palladium settings, which are popular in the market today. Stones need not match the mount. Feel free to play around with the available options. You can even mix different color stones and mount types to create your one-of-a-kind blend. 

Grading Establishes Quality, While Appraisal Quotes Value

To get a final verdict on quality, verify the certificate's contents. The surest way to do that is to conduct a self-reliant 4Cs examination. The appraisal comes after the quality and places real value on your diamond. Evaluation is also vital for risk management. Done by an accredited appraiser, it covers a 3600 assessment and considers the center stone, the setting, and any other components of the jewelry. As a result, appraisers arrive at a wholesome valuation figure. 

The appraisal is also crucial for insurance. You can approach an insurance company to cover threats, such as loss through theft, fire, natural calamities, etc. Insurance coverage protects the diamond against a wide range of perils at a premium. It is much better than taking your chances with unorthodox methods like using a safe at home. Safekeeping is excellent, but even the toughest of safes are vulnerable. A bank can also get robbed, and so too your stone in the safety deposit box. Therefore, unless you have insurance, you have no recourse. It would be a loss you would have to live with for the rest of your life.  

Have a Clear Idea of What the Recipient Wants

As simple as it may sound, it is essential to give someone a diamond. A good example is buying a commitment ring for your girlfriend, whom you have dated for nearly a year. 

Do you not think it would help to know her taste? Her likes and dislikes? 

Know the exact ring size. Aim to exceed expectations by going overboard because anything is achievable, especially with all this crazy technology today. Get the ideal diamond cut grade, preferably one that matches her style and persona.

What is her favorite color? 

Try and get a center stone in that color: if necessary, modify one. Is the stone inscribed with her initials to make it even more special? Such an awareness of your partner makes the diamond-sourcing struggle worth it. 

Fianal Thoughts

As you can see in this guide, you need to learn and grasp a great deal. Due to frequent technological changes, there will probably be more to know in the future. Therefore, first-time diamond buyers are advised to use this guide at purchase. The information will be fresh in their minds, so the chances of getting ripped off will be slim. 

Find a trusted jeweler to help you interpret any diamond industry lingo you may be unsure of. Having an exceptional eye for detail is good, but you must also explore different buying experiences. Visit online and brick-and-mortar shops and search for the best deal and customer relationships. Build trust for future diamond purchases, and do not forget to have fun while you are at it.