How to Buy: A Diamond

Welcome to the World of Diamonds:

A Brief History:

Diamonds: women love them and men fear them. Surely they must be so expensive because of their beauty and rarity. Well, maybe half of that is true. In the past, diamonds use to be quite rare. They were first thought to be recognized and mined in India and used in religious icons. The rise in popularity began around the 19th century because of increasing supply, improved cutting and polishing techniques, growth in the world economy, and successful advertising campaigns. It is true that extracting diamonds is quite labor intensive and that very few are actually worth cutting into the diamonds you see. (Only about 1 in 1 million diamonds are quality one carat stones, only 1 in 5 million are 2-carat; and 1 in 15 million are 3-carat).

So they are not that rare, then why are they so expensive?

Let me introduce you to De Beers. If you haven’t heard of them, then try to imagine the biggest cartel that you can think of and multiply that times 100. They are that big and powerful in the diamond industry.  De Beers was founded by Cecil Rhodes, who also founded the state of Rhodesia which later became Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Rhodes Scholarship is also named after him, and funded by his estate.

He started by selling water pumps during the diamond rush in South Africa in 1867. Over the next 20 years, he expanded into mines and eventually created a monopoly by owning all the diamond mines in the country. De Beers controls the price of diamonds from the mines to the hands of your jewelers. In the early days, De Beers were believe to hold 90% of the market. However, today it’s more likely 60% to 75%. (Source)

Is there anything I can do to save some money?

Actually, there is to a small degree. We’ll go into detail on how to pick the right diamond so you aren’t getting ripped off. Retailers know  that diamonds are expensive, and they will try to up-sell poor quality diamonds to unsuspecting victims. Don’t be one of them. By having a basic understanding and shopping around, you can find a great quality diamond within your price range.

Choosing the right diamond:

For most people, purchasing a diamond is a new and scary experience. However, with a little basic knowledge, you can save a little money and feel more confident in your purchase. There are 5 main characteristics that you should be looking for in a quality diamond: Shape, Cut, Clarity, Color, and Carat Weight.



By far the most popular shape of diamond. For hundreds of years, diamond cutters have been examining the light properties to maximize the fire and brilliance. Fire is the flashes of colored light reflected back from within a diamond, similar to a prism. Brilliance is the amount of light reflected up through the surface of a diamond.


Is the most popular non-round diamond. It’s unique cut and brilliance make it a popular choice for engagement rings. Princess cut diamonds should be more square-shaped. Make sure you look at the length-to-width ratio. The closer you get to 1.0 the better.


This unique cut has been popular for more than a century. Cushion cuts are also known as “Pillow Cuts.” They have rounded corners and more facets (cuts) to create more brilliance. Cushions cuts look great in either squares or rectangles.


Marquise diamonds are known for maximizing carat  weight, giving you a much larger looking stone. Even the shape of the stone can make fingers appear longer and slender.


The heart shape is a relatively new shape. The heart is the ultimate symbol of love. This shape diamond is becoming more and more popular.


The pear shape is often called a “teardrop” because of its pointed and rounded ends. Pear shapes can also make fingers look longer and slender.


An oval diamond has beautiful brilliance that’s similar to a round diamond. Oval diamonds are also very popular because they can make fingers look longer and slender.


Emeralds have to be some of the cleanest diamonds you can purchase. Because you can see through the diamond, they often have the highest clarity. You’ll notice any imperfections quickly in an emerald cut. To get  the best quality, look for a Length to Width ratio between 1.30 and 1.40.


Trimmed corners are the signature of this diamond, and they help make the radiant-cut a popular for jewelry. Similar to Princess cut, you should look for a square shape around a ratio of 1 to 1.05.

Picking out a shape is all a matter of preference. Certain shapes have more sparkle and other shapes maximize the diamond size. Pick something you like and you can never go wrong.


Cut is one of the most important characteristics of getting a quality diamond. The better the cut, the more beautiful the diamond will look. If you get a diamond with a poor cut, then a lot of the light that should be reflected out the top will be lost through the bottom. Think about the light as “Sparkle.” If the diamond is cut too shallow, the sparkle will be lost out the bottom. If the diamond is cut too deep, the sparkle will be lost out the sides. An Ideal cut will reflect the light around and put it back out the top where your eyes can enjoy it.

  • Ideal cut: Represents roughly the top 3% of diamond quality based on cut. Reflects nearly all light that enters the diamond.
  • Very good cut: Represents roughly the top 15% of diamond quality based on cut. Reflects nearly as much light as the ideal cut, but for a lower price.
  • Good cut: Represents roughly the top 25% of diamond quality based on cut. Reflects most light that enters. Much less expensive than a very good cut.
  • Fair cut: Represents roughly the top 35% of diamond quality based on cut. Still a quality diamond, but a fair cut will not be as brilliant as a good cut. (Source)


Clarity is how clear the diamond is. Clarity is typically graded in 5 categories:

  1. Flawless (F)/Internally Flawless (IF)
  2. Very Very Slightly Included (VVS1, VVS2)
  3. Very Slightly Included (VS1, VS2)
  4. Slightly Included (S1, S2, sometimes you’ll see S3)
  5. Included (I1, I2, I3, etc)

The chart to the right explains what you can see at each clarity grade.

Once a diamond is set, a lot of the imperfections will be unseen. Just make sure that the diamond looks clean to your eye.


Color actually refers to the lack of color in a diamond. The clearer or the less color the better. (Note: there are diamonds which are blue, pink, yellow, and other colors. We’ll assume you aren’t buying one of these diamonds) The color scale starts from D all the way to Z. D is considered colorless and as you get closer to Z, the more yellow will appear in the diamond. Look at the chart below to see the differences in color:

Carat Weight:

Carats (ct.) are a measurement of the diamonds weight, not necessarily the size of the diamond. Remember, certain diamond shapes can make the size look bigger when the carat weight is lower. Marquise, pear, and certain emerald cuts look bigger compared to their carat weights.

What Carat Weight is Right for Me?

To choose the best carat weight of diamond, consider the size of her finger, the size of your setting, and most importantly, your budget. In the selection process, most women today aspire to owning an engagement diamond of at least 1 carat. Statistically, the average size sold for engagement is between 1/2 and 3/4 ct. Carat weight affects the value of a diamond by about 10-20% for each step in size difference. Also, “magic sizes” refer to major carat weight categories, for example exactly 1.00 carat, or larger, and can prompt “price premiums”.

The Hidden Characteristics: Price and Certificates

As mentioned above, certain size carats yield a premium in diamond prices. The “magical numbers” are .5 ct, .75 ct, 1.0 ct, 1.5 ct, and 2.0 ct. If you’re buying something bigger than this then you’re already aware of the premiums. If you’re looking to save money, buy a diamond that is under these price premiums. For instance, you can save a bundle if you buy a .98 ct instead of a 1.0 ct.

Certificates also play a big factor in pricing. A diamond certificate, also called a diamond grading report, is a report created by a team of gemologists. The diamond is evaluated, measured, and analyzed using trained eyes, a jeweler’s loupe, a microscope, and other industry tools. A completed certificate includes an analysis of the diamond’s dimensions, clarity, color, polish, symmetry, and other characteristics. Many round diamonds will also include a cut grade on the report. Some of the most well-known are GIA, AGS, EGL, IGI,  and HRD. Typically GIA and AGS are considered the best (and you’ll pay a premium for these).

If you choose not to get a diamond with a certificate, be forewarned, you could be getting ripped off. Jewelers will try to encourage you to buy one that they rated themselves and tout that they are as good if not better than the big diamond graders. They might even have GIA certificates, but they aren’t there to help you find a diamond. They are there to sell you diamonds. Their incentive is to maximize their profits which could mean selling a less than quality diamond. Let’s put it this way, if a jeweler knows that he can charge more for a 1 ct. diamond with a certification than a 1 ct. without, then why wouldn’t they get it certified? It makes no sense to us, so it should make no sense to you.

We recommend buying a diamond with a certificate because it will provide details and dimensions on the diamond and provide piece of mind that you’re getting what you paid for.

Online versus Retail Store:

You can save a lot of money buying online. The best deals in diamonds are available online. There is one problem, you can’t see the diamond before you buy it. You have to trust that the retailer is being honest with you about the clarity, cut, and color. Call us old-fashioned, but we like to “see” the diamond in person. You’ll get a better feel for the quality by being able to see it. You can look for any imperfections that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see online.

Useful Links

Holloway Cut Advisor Tool – This is a great tool if you’re buying a round cut diamond to determine how good of a quality you’re getting. Their forums are also extremely good resource of information. – Bluenile is one of the largest online diamond vendors. They have plenty of good material to help you do more research.

The Diamond Buying Guide – Also a lot of information in helping you buy a diamond. They have some handy “checklists” that you can take with you on your diamond buying hunt.

Whew. This was a lot of information. Hopefully it has been of some use to you. If there is something you would like to see us write about let us know.


About Deal Ninja

Design and build websites to better optimize user interactions.

Posted on February 26, 2012, in Diamonds, How to, Jewelry, Jewelry & Gifts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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