The term precious used to refer to the big four gemstones — diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. These gemstones commanded higher prices due to their extraordinary color, brilliance, and rarity.
All other gemstones were considered semi-precious — less rare and less valuable. Today, however, this distinction applies less and less. The range of quality, availability, size, and cost of every type of gemstone means all types are in higher demand than ever.
Natural, Lab-Created, and Simulated Gemstones:
Simulated gemstones are look-alikes. They imitate gemstones, but are not made from the same minerals. They cost less and can differ from natural gemstones in brilliance, sparkle, hardness, and longevity.
Lab-created gemstones feature the same molecular composition as their naturally occurring counterparts, but are grown in a lab. They usually have fewer imperfections, but are not as rare as natural gemstones, so they are more affordable.
Genuine gemstones are mineral varieties found or mined from natural settings. Like diamonds, natural gemstones contain impurities and imperfections that can impact overall appearance and value.
Gemstone Carat, Clarity, Color and Cut
The color of the gemstone impacts its value and how it shows in your jewelry. The brighter and more vivid the color, the better. Avoid stones with color that is too dark or muddled.
The cut of a gemstone is critical to its overall beauty. A well-cut gemstone will reflect light evenly across its surface when held face up.
It’s important to consider the cut in relation to the jewelry style you’re considering. The best way to judge cut is to look at similar gemstones next to each other.
After color, gemstone clarity is the next most important factor. Transparent gemstones with no visible flaws (inclusions) are the most valuable.
Some gemstones, such as emeralds and red tourmaline, are rarely seen without inclusions — that’s why it’s important to consider clarity within the gemstone variety, and not against other gemstones.
Gemstones are sold by weight, not by size, and prices are calculated per carat. Some gemstones are denser than others, so similarly sized stones can differ greatly in cost. Also, larger stones of some varieties can be quite rare and much more expensive — like rubies, sapphires, and tourmaline.
As you compare diamonds to work within your budget, consider how you might get a beautiful, sparkling diamond by focusing on the cut while sliding down the scale a few levels on color and clarity. Or opt for a larger diamond but scale back a fraction of a carat to save money. You could also buy a lower-weight diamond but a near-ideal or ideal cut, focusing on the diamond’s radiance and beauty and putting less emphasis on the size.
When you shop for a diamond, you may see a string of letters and numbers that indicate the diamond’s grade. It might look something like this: 1 ct E VS1. Diamond experts will tell you that’s a very nice diamond—and probably an expensive one. Let’s deconstruct this code and learn about how diamonds are graded.
Carat. Clarity. Color. Cut
Just like we check for Blue Book value before we buy a car, the 4Cs are a way to compare diamond quality and value. That grade is made up of four factors: carat weight, clarity, color, and cut. Each “C” has its own grading scale for evaluating quality.
When it comes to diamonds, shape refers to the outline of the stone — round, oval, princess, etc. A diamond’s cut, on the other hand, refers to the arrangement of a stone’s facets. This means a diamond’s shapes can be faceted, or cut, in many ways.
Combined, the 4Cs help diamond sellers set prices and compare diamonds, whether you’re shopping for diamond earrings, the perfect tennis bracelet, or your unique engagement ring. The more you understand about diamonds, the savvier you’ll be in choosing yours.
Diamonds come out of the earth in many different colors. The market has traditionally valued white diamonds higher than others, and the grading scale offers five groups of 23 letters to reflect that.
Cut refers to a stone’s shape, facet, and polish. Sometimes diamonds are cut so they’re heavier, thus fetching more value for their carat weight. Sometimes they’re cut to hide or minimize inclusions by expert diamond cutters skilled at bringing the brilliance out of each diamond they work with.
In general, there are three factors that determine a diamond’s cut quality:
Proportion: The relative size and angle of each diamond facet
Symmetry: The precision of the cut design, especially the facets
Polish: The smoothness and luster of the diamond’s surface
Cut grades are referenced on a diamond’s certificate often using the GIA standards of Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor. The quality of a diamond’s cut always speaks for itself. The cuts can take shape in a number of ways to work with many types of jewelry and personal preferences:
A diamond is a thing of nature. Like any rock or mineral, diamonds can have flaws. Choosing a diamond with a difficult-to-detect inclusion or blemish can be a great way to save on cost without sacrificing beauty.
A flawless diamond with little to no imperfections is often desired due to its rarity, but they are also the most costly. But in fact, only about 2% of the world’s diamonds are actually flawless. Most are formed with slight imperfections—these are known as inclusions. Inclusions can appear as tiny white points, dark dots, cracks, or scratches. The fewer inclusions, the more valuable the stone.
The GIA Diamond Clarity Grade scale has five main categories of clarity characteristics with 11 grades in all. Most jewelry stores carry VVS as their highest grade. VS or SI are considered by most to be “fine quality” diamonds. Here’s how clarity is measured:
Types of Flaws
There are two types of flaws a diamond can have—external and internal. These flaws not only impact value and price, but can also indicate your diamond’s vulnerability—heavily included diamonds can be prone to breakage.
When looking at your diamond through a loupe, your Jewelry Consultant will see what is essentially your diamond’s fingerprint. These flaws may include:
- Natural: Unpolished surface; the original “skin” of rough diamond
- Cleavage or feather: Inclusion along atomic grain
- Pit: Small indentation on a flat surface
- Fracture: Irregular shaped break
- Cavity: An opening on the surface
- Nick: Minor surface chip
- Scratch: Small groove (can be due to wear and tear)
- Chip: Broken along external edge
- Laser Drill Hole: Clarity enhancements to remove or reduce the appearance of inclusions
- Included: Inclusions within diamond
- Carbon spot: Included crystal
- Grain/twinning: Irregularity in crystal
- Pinpoint: Small included crystal (appears white)
- Cloud: Group of pinpoints
- Internal grain line: Visible part of internal grain structure
- Bearded or feathered girdle: Minute to small hairline fracture extending from girdle into stone
People often mistake carats as a measurement of size, but they actually measure weight (CTW = Carat Total Weight). As you shop, note that 100 points equal 1 carat.
To shave the cost of a diamond, start by looking at a diamond 10 or 15 points less than a diamond you like, because these tiny increases can really add up.