First thing, leave everything you think you know about diamonds at the door. Just park it there. If you think what I have to say is rubbish, you’re welcome to pick it up again later. But just park it for now. I have a feeling this post is going to be a bit controversial. Diamond talk tends to get people a bit emotional and defensive. Oddly, I’m pretty at ease with the target I am painting on my back.
In this blog piece, I’ll go through the basics of diamonds and how to get yourself the best value for money. In my next piece I will talk more about engagement ring styles and trends.
Round brilliants. Round diamonds are classic (yawn), symmetrical and easy to design jewellery around. For these reasons they are also more expensive and are priced according to a different matrix than all other shaped diamonds. However, because of the way they are cut, they have a big booty relative to table size – so you may be a little underwhelmed at how a round brilliant looks relative to its carat weight. As a guide, a well cut 1ct round brilliant is about 6.4mm in diameter.
Fancy shapes. All non-round diamond shapes are called fancy shapes. They are cheaper than round diamonds, and to be quite frank, are usually more interesting. They generally fall into the following broad categories:
- Squarer, symmetrical, and more heavily faceted shapes: cushions, princesses, and radiants
- Squarer, symmetrical, and window-facet shapes: emeralds and asschers
- Rounded, heavily faceted and wholly or partially symmetrical shapes: pears, ovals and marquises
- Rounded and non-symmetrical: heart shapes
- heavily faceted shapes sparkle more
- wholly or partially symmetrical shapes are easier to design around
- pears, ovals, radiants, emeralds, and marquise are shallower stones and look bigger than the other shapes, including rounds (they range between 6.9mm and 10.4mm in diameter for a well cut 1ct stone)
- Asschers and emeralds are old-world elegant (think, Elizabeth Taylor) and the boss lady’s favourite
- heart shapes are naff, hard to set, and best avoided
Trends plays a big part in the relative price of fancy shapes. When Caroline Wozniaki received her 8.88ct oval engagement ring, the price of ovals went through the roof. This was followed up with Justin Bieber giving Hailey Baldwin an oval engagement ring. Similarly, the price of princess cuts has taken a dive since their footballers’ WAGS glory days in the early naughties. Princess cuts are now more unfashionable than cigarette advertising. Thank Christ.
White diamonds are graded in colour from D-Z. D colour being the brightest white and Z being a filthy kind of yellowish-brown pond water. The most appropriate diamond colour depends largely on how you intend to set it. If you are setting a ring in white gold or platinum, then I recommend D-G colour diamonds – bright white diamonds for bright white gold (or platinum). If you go past a G colour then your stone will start to look yellowish in a white gold or platinum setting. This is best avoided.
If you are setting your diamond in yellow gold then aim for a H-J colour stone. There is no point going for a whiter diamond as the colour from the yellow gold will affect the colour of the stone. It is best to go for a slightly lower colour that will still look white in a yellow gold setting.
If you are looking at colours L and onwards – then look for a plan B. Not even a papal blessing will make that diamond look decent in a ring.
Fancy coloured diamonds (yellows, pinks etc) are graded by intensity of colour. The more vivid the colour, the more expensive they are. This doesn’t necessarily mean more beautiful – often fancy to fancy intense colours (as opposed to vivid) can be more aesthetic when set jewellery. And just be careful as you stray to the lighter colours as they can often look like dirty white diamonds as opposed to coloured diamonds if you go too light.
This part is a super important but often neglected part of diamond selection. If a diamond isn’t cut properly it won’t sparkle like it is supposed to. That is, the angles of the facets dictate the refraction of light, which results in the sparkle. A poorly cut diamond will cause light to be lost out of the bottom of the stone instead of being refracted through the stone. When selecting a diamond, aim for a triple excellent in round diamonds (cut, polish, symmetry) and a double excellent in fancy shapes (polish and symmetry). Anything too much below excellent/very good and your diamond will start to look dull. It just won’t have the brightness, scintillation and fire a diamond should have.
Second, the proportions of non-round diamonds are especially important and each shape has optimal proportions. For example, the optimal proportion of an emerald cut is where the short side/long side proportion is 1:1.35-1.4. When it comes to pears, the optimal proportion is where the short side/long side proportion is 1:1.5. For a marquise, the optimal proportion is where the short side/long side proportion is 1:2.
Getting the proportions right makes these stones refract light better, look balanced and look better set in jewellery.
This is where misinformation and ego reigns. It is also where there are large incremental price increases for every clarity grade increase. Just to be clear, I am talking about appropriate clarity in the context of daily wear jewellery.
Firstly, no one needs a flawless diamond. No one. Flawless diamonds are pricey and there to placate egos. Simple. VVS1-2 diamonds have only the very slightest inclusions such that you need a high-powered loupe to see them – you can’t even see them with an ordinary 10x loupe, let alone your eyes. These are generally unnecessary for daily jewellery.
VS1-2 diamonds have inclusions which you can see with a 10x loupe but not your eyes. I recommend buying this grade for Asscher and emerald cuts due to the large windowed facets. If you buy emeralds and Asschers in clarity grades lower than VS2 then you may be able to see the inclusions with the naked eye. This will be different in each case, so you need to examine the diamond yourself.
In my opinion SI1 (eye clean) diamonds are the best value for round brilliant or other heavily faceted stones. Due to the heavy faceting, you cannot usually see the inclusions with the naked eye. The diamonds will still sparkle like crazy but you can save yourself several price premiums by choosing this grade of clarity for your jewellery.
For earrings and pendants, you can comfortably go as low as SI2 diamonds so long as they don’t have black spots or other obviously visible inclusions. Because earring and pendant diamonds tend to be smaller and attract less light and attention, you can get away with good SI2 diamonds.
You can forget SI3 clarity diamonds and onwards – they are rubbish. You will be able to see inclusions with the naked eye. Just don’t even bother. They are best used for drill tips not jewellery.
Fluorescence is a polarising topic. In the 1970’s blue fluorescence demanded a 30% premium on D colour white diamonds. The buzzword was ‘blue white’. You’d take your diamond ring to a disco and it would flash blue white under the UV lights. Very Saturday Night Fever. True story.
Fluorescence is unfashionable at the moment. Yellow fluorescence should be avoided – no one wants their diamond to look yellow under bright light. However, I quite like blue fluorescence, principally because it means heavy discounts on otherwise excellent spec diamonds. And unless you are going to a disco (which is probably unlikely) or a rave (hopefully you’ve grown out of that by now) no one will ever be able to tell your diamond has fluorescence. The discount on price depends on the strength of the fluorescence. Faint to medium fluorescence is the safest bet. Strong fluorescence may mean is it noticeable even in milder strength lights, so probably steer clear of it.
Once you have your diamond shape, cut, colour and clarity in order, then you go to carat weight. Diamonds are sold on carat weight so the price increases pro-rata to size. Note that there are large price jumps at each 0.5 carat and 1.0 carat threshold. There are also small price jumps at each 0.10 and 0.25 carat threshold. So, if you are looking for a 1 carat diamond, see if you can get your hands on a 0.97ct stone – it will be a 10th of a millimetre smaller but you will save yourself quite a bit on price. And no one will ever know it isn’t actually a carat.
This is how I generally guide my clients on buying great value stones for daily wear. And for the most part, there isn’t really a right or wrong answer – much of it comes down to personal preference and budget. For those new to buying diamonds, these are just a few things to keep in mind to hopefully make the process easier.
I repeat, this is just my view on the basics and I am certainly no world authority on diamonds. I have those guys on speed dial though, which is helpful.
Happy diamond shopping.