Diamond 101: Overview of the 4 C’s

Starting the diamond engagement ring process can seem a bit overwhelming and a little frightening to say the least, but the truth is, at least in my opinion, is that it should be an exciting time in your life. I mean, you finally found the person you want to spend the rest of your life with—that’s huge! That, I think, was the actual hard part. The engagement ring process, in turn, should be truly memorable and an important milestone in your life.

Yes, the internet has a lot of information when it comes to diamonds—like a lot! Here’s my best attempt at narrowing down the basic fundamentals of what you need to know when starting the initial process. Let’s talk about the 4 C’s.

For starters, here’s what the 4 C’s stand for – cut, carat weight, color, and clarity. If you know nothing else about diamonds, be sure to have at least some sort of understanding of what each of the 4 C’s mean, especially when physically going out there and looking at diamonds (whether in person or online).


Overview of the 4 C’s:


Plain and simple, the cut refers to the physical shape of a diamond. For example, the round (brilliant), oval, pear, cushion, and the emerald, are all diamond cuts. Fun fact—the reason the round diamond is often referred to as the ‘round brilliant,’ is because out of all the diamond cuts, the round diamond portrays the most brilliance and sparkle. Not to say that the other shapes don’t sparkle, but it is a known fact that the round diamond gives off the most shine.

When it comes to choosing a diamond cut (or at least narrowing down the options), in all honesty, that’s really where your significant other comes in. Every individual is drawn to a different shape for a variety of reasons, and at the end of the day, it really all comes down to preference and choice. A timeless and safe option is definitely the round cut, but it doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion.

You may (or may not) have also seen different diamond laboratories such as GIA (Gemological Institute of America) or IGI (International Gemological Institute) give a diamond a cut grade. Here’s what that means. The cut grade (graded excellent, very good, good, fair, and poor) references how well the diamond was physically cut. If a diamond were cut to its full potential, it would receive a cut grade of excellent (or ideal, a synonym for excellent). This strongly plays a role when it comes to the round cut diamond. Hypothetically speaking, you could focus on the best color and the best clarity in a diamond (we’ll talk about that in a bit), however, if the cut grade is off, the diamond won’t sparkle the way it should. With that being said, especially for the round diamond, a major focus when shopping for a diamond should be the cut grade. An excellent cut grade ensures that the diamond has that wow factor.

Now the reason why I was so focused on the round diamond when it comes to ‘cut grade,’ is because the laboratory, GIA, only gives the round shape a cut grade. The other shapes aren’t actually given a cut grade on their certificates. The reason for that is because when it comes to the other shapes, there are so many other variables involved, that GIA has not yet come up with a perfected system to grade them for cut. If I’m not mistaken, it is in the works. With that in mind, if you are looking into the fancy shapes (which basically refers to any shape other than the round), two factors in a diamond that play a strong role in the cut grade are the table percentage and the depth percentage. Each shape has its own ideal/recommended table and depth percentages, but as long as your diamond is in that appropriate ideal range, your cut grade should be on point. (The table and depth percentages go beyond the 4 C’s so we’ll dive deeper into that in another blog).


Carat Weight:

So, the second ‘C’ is a pretty important one—carat weight. The carat weight refers to the physical weight of the diamond. Here’s the technical explanation brought to you by GIA themselves. Diamonds (and other gemstones) are weighed in metric carats. For reference, one carat is equal to 0.2-grams, about the same weight as a paperclip. Just as a dollar is divided into 100 pennies, so too a carat is divided into 100 points. For example, a 75-point diamond weighs 0.75-carats. Two diamonds of equal weight can have very different values depending on the other components of the 4 C’s.

Okay, back to my take on carat weight. A strong majority of the people I work with prioritize size. One of the reasons for that is because it is an aspect of a diamond that’s recognized immediately to the naked eye. For example, if I show you a 1-carat diamond and a 2-carat diamond side by side, you’ll be able to distinguish the two instantly. That isn’t necessarily the case for diamond carat weights closer in size, but for the most part, most people can quickly notice carat weight differences.

When it comes to choosing the appropriate carat weight, aside from budget (which definitely plays a huge role and should be factored in), each individual person has their own preference of what carat weight they feel comfortable wearing depending on their lifestyle and their day-to-day activities.

On a side note—here’s a little insider secret when it comes to carat weight. The way it works in the diamond industry is that every half-a-carat results in an increase in price. Here’s what I mean by that. Hypothetically, let’s say you’re looking at a 1.90-carat round diamond versus a 2.00-carat diamond. To the naked eye, because they’re just 10 points (0.10-carats) off, there isn’t going to be much of a visible difference in size. However, because on paper that second diamond says 2-carats, that automatically results in a price jump. The same goes for 1.40-carats versus 1.50-carats. Because it hit that 1.50 mark, there’s automatically an increase in price. With all that said, if, for example, you’re looking into the 2-carat range, but it may be a bit out of budget, definitely look into a diamond that’s just shy of 2-carats. You’d be getting the look of a 2-carat without paying the premium for it.



The third ‘C,’ color, is another factor in a diamond that, for the most part, can be differentiated to the naked eye. Here’s what color actually means according to GIA. Diamond color is all about what you can’t see. Diamonds are valued by how closely they approach colorlessness - the less color, the higher their value. GIA’s color-grading scale for diamonds is the industry standard. The scale begins with the letter D, representing colorless, and continues with increasing presence of color to the letter Z, with slight hints of yellow. Okay, I’m back. The lower in the color chart you go, the more of a yellowish tinge appears in the diamond. Most of the people I work with feel comfortable in the colorless range (D-E-F) or in the near-colorless range (G-H-I-J). I rarely work with clients that request anything below a J. It definitely happens, but not that often. 

When comparing two diamonds with different color grades side by side, if it’s a pretty drastic difference in color (about 2 or more grades apart), the visual difference could be prominent. However, many times, just comparing diamonds that are one color grade apart (G versus H for example), the difference is very subtle. Have in mind, the color difference is way more obvious when a diamond is turned on its side versus when examining them from a top view, which makes the color differences much less noticeable because of all the sparkle. 

In many cases, especially when a budget comes to play (which is pretty much always), it may not make sense to focus on the colorless range (D-E-F), because that may mean giving in on carat weight or clarity. On the other hand, it may make more sense to hang out in the near-colorless range (G-H-I-J), that way you can potentially get the best of all worlds (a great size, color, and clarity). It definitely helps to go out there and physically see diamonds in person to determine what range you feel most comfortable in. 

Alrighty then, let’s end off the color portion with two well kept secrets that can play to your advantage when it comes to diamond color. (1) If your significant other is a fan of yellow gold for the engagement ring, that actually gives you more of an ability to give in on color if you needed to. Hear me out. If you think about it, because the foundation of your ring is already yellow because of the yellow gold, if your diamond has the slightest tinge of yellow, it would actually all blend in together making it completely unnoticeable. If you did the same against a white metal (white gold or platinum), the difference would be very obvious. (2) Different shapes tend to portray color differently. Here’s what I mean by that. Elongated diamond shapes such as ovals, pears, and marquise, tend to portray more color than their counterparts. For example, if I showed you a J-color round brilliant versus a J-color in the oval shape, you’d see a more noticeable color difference in the J because of the way the diamond was cut. So shape definitely plays a role in how much you can give in on a color. 



The last and final ‘C,’ clarity, refers to imperfections/impurities a diamond may or may not possess. Because diamonds form deep within the earth under extreme heat and pressure, they often contain unique birthmarks, either internal (inclusions) or external (blemishes). Diamonds are assigned a clarity grade that ranges from flawless (FL), which is extremely rare, to diamonds with obvious inclusions (I3). 

The way it works is that the more imperfections a diamond portrays (these imperfections could be both white or black colored), the less rare the diamond is, hence the less expensive it is. A huge misconception is that the clarity of a diamond strongly affects a diamond's sparkle and brilliance. In fact, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In very rare cases, clarity can impact a diamonds sparkle (for example, if the diamond is flooded with clouds, a type of imperfection), but a good majority of the time, the imperfections in a diamond are just present there, causing little to no harm to a diamonds overall brilliance. Do you remember earlier we mentioned the significance and importance of a diamonds cut grade? That’s where this comes in! Golden rule: the sparkle of a diamond comes solely from the ‘cut grade’ of the diamond. 

Here’s my personal take on clarity. I tell this to every person I have the pleasure of working with. If you had to give in anywhere in a diamond without actually hurting the quality of the diamond, the best place to do so is the clarity. Why, you ask? Because clarity is the one place where a majority of the time, you’re not actually able to see the imperfections to the naked eye. According to GIA standards, anything in the SI2-clarity grade or above, the imperfections should not be visible to the naked eye. Here’s what that means: although imperfections may exist in the diamond, the diamond should be 100% eye-clean. That, my friend, is the ultimate goal! It depends on the person, but my advice is to not get too caught up on what you see on paper (the diamond certificate). Be the judge by examining the diamond both to your naked eye as well as under a jewelers loupe. After that, you decide if the imperfections you see (or don’t see) are a deal-breaker for you. 

Side note: this “rule of thumb” of being able to give in on clarity does not apply to the emerald cut and asscher cut diamond shapes. The reason for that is because both the emerald cut and asscher cut are step-cut diamonds (diamonds with facets arranged in parallel lines as opposed to brilliant cut, like the round, which has its facets going in all different directions). If you did give in too much on the clarity (usually below a VS2), you may actually be able to see the imperfections to the naked eye because it would be like looking into a mirror. If you or your significant other is exploring the step-cut diamond shapes, be sure not to give in too much on the clarity. The diamond should always be ‘eye-clean.’



So, that pretty much wraps up the fundamentals of a diamond. Have in mind that there are other factors beyond the 4 C’s that do play a major role in price as well. 

If you feel like you’re ready to take on the next step and get the process started, let’s schedule an initial consultation. I’d be more than happy to dive deeper into everything we just spoke about, including a bunch of visual aid!