Bling For Your Buck

Shop for diamonds like a pro with a few of these simple tips.

Rare Diamond

In the original 1949 Broadway production of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” Tony award-winning Carol Channing introduced us to the now-established tenet that “diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” A few years later, the quintessential blonde of the 1950s—Marilyn Monroe—took the song and its proverbial meaning to the masses, in a hot pink dress, gloves and, of course, diamonds.

Composed of carbon, diamonds are one of the hardest substances known to man—and over centuries, they’ve become one of the most recognized symbols of love in the Western world. The first recorded diamond engagement ring was commissioned for Mary of Burgundy by the Archduke Maximilian of Austria in 1477. But it wasn’t until much later in the 19th century—when an abundance was discovered in South Africa—that diamonds became the luxurious pop-culture obsession we know today.

The variety of diamonds available today are more beautiful and customizable than ever before. However, eager shoppers should practice caution, as the diamond industry and its mafia-esque history is, in many ways, confusing to novices. But with a little help from San Diego’s diamond authorities, the business of buying diamonds—from engagement rings and custom earrings, to luxury watches and tennis bracelets—can be a fascinating and enjoyable experience.

Any diamond enthusiast has heard of the four Cs—cut, color, clarity and carat—just knowing the C’s doesn’t mean you’ll get the best bling for your buck. Let’s break these categories down, and start shopping for diamonds like a pro.

One of the most defining characteristics of a diamond is its cut, which determines its facets, proportions and brilliance, or describes the diamond’s ability to reflect white light. A diamond that’s cut too deep or too shallow—depending on the shape—even if the diamond is graded well in other areas, can result in a dull or muted effect. There are specific cut percentages on desirable diamonds.

Diaomnd Cut Guide

Don’t hesitate to see charts that indicate the right cut for a diamond depending on the shape. A good jeweler shouldn’t hesitate to show you this information. If they do, it could be an indication that something is wrong.

A diamond’s color is determined using a basic chart of letters D through Z, with D being a colorless stone and Z being a light yellow. Diamonds also come in an array of fancy colors that are less common, prized by collectors and very expensive.

Leyla Finkle, general manager of Swiss Watch Gallery and Fine Jewelers, believes shoppers are often left in the dark when it comes to color.

“Fluorescence can have a huge effect on a diamond’s color,” Finkle explained. “Our clients trust us to know if a diamond has florescence, and it’s our job to make sure we explain these details so they know exactly what they’re purchasing.”

Florescence refers to ultraviolet light that can actually reflect any number of colors from the rainbow. It can have an adverse effect on a diamond if the color doesn’t compliment the emitted glow. For example, a bluish tint can actually improve a lower-colored diamond (J-M color rated) by canceling out the faint yellow—appearing more clear and brilliant. However, in a high colored diamond (D-F color-rated), florescence will have the opposite effect and can result in milky or blurred light reflection.

“Don’t be afraid to ask about fluorescence,” Finkle advised “Most jewelry stores won’t ever bring it up. At Swiss Watch Gallery, it’s our priority to educate our clients about every aspect of the experience.”

Clarity refers to the internal purity of a diamond. Gemstones with the highest clarity contain few or no inclusions or imperfections in the stone’s structure. The clarity rating of a diamond ranges from FL (flawless) to I1 (inclusions visible to the naked eye.) Inclusions are like birthmarks—no two diamonds will have the same blemishes—but their presence is often overlooked unless you specifically request to see them.

Obviously, the less inclusions in a diamond, the higher the price, but don’t shy away from these distinguishing marks. Even diamonds with inclusions can sparkle with brilliance and beauty—just make sure to know they’re there.

Diamond guide photos

In the days of antiquity, carob seeds were used as counterweights on scales for small measurements. The word “carat” comes from this practice, and is a very accurate unit of weight used for gemstones. One carat equals 0.2 grams or 0.007 ounces—and in the diamond business, bigger doesn’t always mean better. A large carat weight paired with a poor cut can significantly reduce the brilliance of a diamond, despite its large appearance. Shape can also have an influence, with broader cut measurements appearing larger than those of the same carat weight but in a different shape.

When it comes to diamonds, there are no universal answers or standards by which jewelers scrutinize. Just like clarity inclusions, everyone’s needs are different, so establishing a trusting relationship with your jeweler is imperative to making an informed decision. Whether or not you believe diamonds are really a girl’s best friend, as the infamous De Beers slogan suggests, “diamonds are forever”—so it’s important to get it right.