Sorry to say this, but only a fool walks into a jewelry store without having done a lick of research beforehand, buys a diamond engagement ring and walks out whistling a happy tune. Those who are pressed for time know they can access the bare minimum here (or even via a perfunctory Google search). But for those of you who want an in-depth tutorial on buying a diamond, look no further than Perfectly Clear ($34.95, Exceptional Resources), a new book devoted entirely to the kind of nitty-gritty,... insider information you can only get from a highly trained expert. Someone who has a wild enthusiasm for diamonds, intimate knowledge of how they are priced and a genuine desire for readers to get their hands on the most beautiful diamond they can afford. Someone like the book's author, Karen Simmons.
Simmons is a certified gemologist, jewelry retailer and entrepreneur who has more than 30 years’ experience in the jewelry business both in the U.S, and Canada. She is the founder of Exceptional Resources, Inc., a U.S.-based company specializing in promoting larger investment-quality white and colored diamonds to retailers and investors. She's also the owner of Gem Gallerie Goldsmiths in Sherwood Park, Alberta, as well as a member of the Diamond Bourse of Canada, which is a member of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses. In other words, Simmons' expertise will be enormously helpful to you, whether you’re a big-time jewelry nerd, or a novice who’s committed to treating this engagement ring purchase as the investment of a lifetime. Which, by the way, it is.
I asked Karen to reveal the jewelry trade’s top secrets when it comes to buying diamonds. She’s culled her best advice from Perfectly Clear—just for About Style readers—and has boiled it all down to seven essential tips and insights. Soon you'll be ready to hit the jewelry stores armed with all the information—and confidence—you could possibly need. Dig in below!
01 of 07
Not All Diamond Grading Certificates Are Created Equal
You probably already know that it’s important for your diamond engagement ring purchase to come with a grading certificate from a third-party gemological laboratory. Lab specialists look at many aspects, but especially the “Four C’s” of diamonds: Carat weight, Cut, Color and Clarity. But just as stones vary in quality, so do certificates—the legitimacy and authenticity of the diamond grade depends on who is doing the grading. Having attended the Gemological Institute of America many years ago, I learned the importance of the grade and how to grade stones properly. Stones certified by GIA are considered, as they have long been, the best in the business. Yes, these GIA-certified diamonds may cost a little more, but they also make clear what you’re getting! Until we have a computerized grading system—this technology is being developed and tested in the gemological field as we speak—we are still depending upon human beings to grade diamonds. So without being specific about competitor laboratories, I can say that there are some whose grading certificates I take with a grain of salt. When in doubt, just know that GIA is top of the line—it’s the lab that I, and most reputable jewelers, trust the most.
02 of 07
Clarity Grades Can Be Blinding
When you're looking at a certified diamond from any laboratory, there are more things to consider other than simply the grade. For example, a diamond graded as an SI-2 in clarity may, in fact, look quite different than another diamond with the same clarity grade. This is because the arrangement and appearance of the inclusions will always vary—inclusions are like the diamond's birthmarks, and they're what make each diamond unique. Your diamond may have white inclusions, or perhaps darker inclusions and some may be more hidden than others. The type of inclusions—that is, how noticeable and pronounced they are—may affect resale value down the road. So it’s important for you to examine the stone you are considering and react to your naked-eye impressions of it accordingly.
03 of 07
Bigger Isn't Always Better
It’s always important to educate yourself with any buying decision. Do your homework and be sure you learn the basics. Good example: Many stones are cut with weight (carats) in mind and may have a thick middle plus a deep bottom part—called the pavilion—of the stone. Although the stone might be your desired carat weight, this particular cut can cause the light to leak and the stone will not be as beautiful and sparkly as others. Be especially aware of this if you are buying online. There is a prevalence of “bait and switch” certificates that comes with online stones. Dishonest people rip off certificates from stores who post their stock online by copying their certificate electronically. They then can promote them to consumers posing as the owner and then tell potential buyers that while this stone is no longer available they have a similar one. Never fall for that gimmick. The best way to protect yourself is by examining the stone in person from a local jeweler. Only then can you gauge whether stone in your desired carat weight is as beautiful as its cut.
04 of 07
Missing the Point is a Good Thing
Diamond pricing has always been in specific sizes and just one point can make a big difference in terms of dollars. For example, a woman came into my store today with a stone that was 1.56 carats in weight, most of which was in the bottom part of the stone. If this woman bought the stone at the per-carat price in the range of 1 – 1.49 carats, she would have saved money by purchasing a stone that falls into a lower per-carat price range simply because the stone is a few points lighter. This matters greatly when purchasing very fine, high-end stones such as D-F color and VVS (i.e., very very slightly imperfect) diamonds.
Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
"Enhancements" Decrease Value (& Should Be Disclosed)
Know what you’re getting as far as altered, color-enhanced and treated stones. A stone that is laser drilled to remove carbon can lose value. Also, while heating the stone can help change the color temporarily, it may come back later to haunt you. Neither of these is good as they devalue the stone. Be sure any treatment or enhancement is clearly indicated on the grading certificate.
06 of 07
You're In Control
Looking ahead we can see that more and more technology will develop, which will make gem selection more of an exact science. For now, when shopping for a diamond, the only way to ensure you’re getting a fair deal is to insist on comparing apples to apples. Take a stone with a GIA certificate, let’s say with F color and VVS-2 excellent and no fluorescence; then, if you compare it to another stone with the exact same grades, you’re getting a true comparison. Even GIA stones can vary, but they are the closest in the industry for exactness and consistency in grading.
Keep in mind that your jeweler may not have a comparable stone at the ready to show you—this is because jewelers have overhead, and it can be difficult to have one of every type of diamond on hand due to how much they would have to keep in stock to keep everybody happy. It’s the same with any commodity: a car, clothes, shoes—size 9.5 for me (a retailer may have a brown pair but not the black ones that I want)! If you learn and understand the Four Cs and, after looking at a range of diamonds (at just one, or several, stores), you know what combination of “C grades” you’re interested in, your jeweler can arrange to have a selection of comparable diamonds brought into view. So definitely allow plenty of time to make an informed, thoroughly researched purchase—this extra “apples to apples” step can make all the difference and is worth the extra time and effort (and no reputable jeweler should balk at this request). Be firm and confident—being fluent in the Four Cs puts you in the driver’s seat!
07 of 07
It's Okay To Go With Your Gut
All things considered, when buying a diamond, common sense and your gut will tell you what looks the best and ultimately point you to the right choice. I remember sitting in church and staring at my diamond as the light reflected back to my eye—it was beautiful, magical and every diamond buyer deserves that! Be aware that diamond color is graded on a D to Z basis, with D being the best. If you have your heart set on a “colorless” diamond (typically J or higher), keep in mind that the naked eye doesn’t detect color in a diamond until it reaches the H-I area. So you can save some money by purchasing within, or close to, this color range. Beyond that, choose the cut based on what looks best to you. If you love the way your stone “faces up,” as I did that morning in church, go for it!
Whatever you do, remember to enjoy the engagement ring shopping process and most importantly, fall in love with your diamond (just like you did with your true love).