What the four Cs mean for your stone (and your wallet)

This story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Columbus Weddings, published in June 2018.

From the proposal to the presentation of wedding bands, traditionally the most important engagement and wedding-day accessories are rings. And while you likely already have an idea of what kind of ring you or your partner might want, this may be your first experience buying fine jewelry. Just as with any other investment, you want to do your research so you know what you’re looking for. Start with this guide to the “four Cs” of diamonds, as developed by the Gemological Institute of America: cut, color, clarity and carat.

Cut

First things first, says Worthington Jewelers manager Theresa Capace: The cut of a diamond is not the shape of the stone. Whereas the shape is often a literal description—round, oval, pear—the cut actually refers to how well the stone was cut according to the GIA’s standards.

Not all diamonds are GIA-graded, but many jewelers refer to this system to assess the quality and value of the stone. The grades range from excellent to poor and are based on the symmetry and proportion of the diamond; an excellent-cut diamond is more “brilliant,” or reflects more light and sparkle.

Color

Similarly, the GIA grades the color of the stone, from D to Z. “When talking about the color grade of a diamond, what is actually being looked at is the absence of color,” says Gabe Truxall, on-site diamond buyer for the Diamond Cellar. A grade of D means the diamond is completely transparent, like a raindrop—and super rare. Moving down the scale, the stone gets closer to a noticeably yellow tint. As with the cut, the price moves according to grade scale—the higher the grade, the higher the price tag. Diamonds graded as D, E and F are considered colorless, while grades G through J offer more budget-friendly, near-colorless options.

Clarity

“Almost all diamonds have imperfections because they’re formed very deep down in the earth,” says Cheryl Claypoole, marketing manager for Worthington Jewelers. The GIA’s clarity grade rates the imperfections—both internal “inclusions” and external “blemishes”—of the diamond. Here you’re looking at a scale from “flawless” down to three levels of inclusions (with “I3” at the bottom). The diamonds with the lowest clarity ratings have flaws visible to the naked eye. Top grades require magnification and a highly trained eye to see any imperfections.

Carat

Here’s where that fifth C—cost—really comes in. Carat refers to the stone’s weight, which ultimately depends on the size and how well it was cut, Truxall says. And the carat weight—a metric carat is 200 milligrams—determines much of the final cost of the ring. “When you hit the 1-carat mark, diamonds automatically jump in price,” Claypoole says. Going even one step—or “point”—below 1 carat, to 0.99 carat, can make a difference in cost.

If you’re set on 1 carat but your budget isn’t budging, Claypoole recommends considering a half-carat stone with a “halo” setting of smaller surrounding diamonds. Or you could select a smaller diamond—say, 0.9 carat—with a slightly shallow cut that creates a larger diameter and looks, to the naked eye, very similar to a 1-carat stone. Another option offered by many jewelers, including Diamond Cellar and Worthington Jewelers: Choose a smaller carat size now and eventually trade up to a larger size.

Perhaps most importantly, Capace, Claypoole and Truxall say you shouldn’t push yourself beyond your budget and let a beautiful occasion become a financial burden. And, as Truxall adds, when you’re in love, the person you’re buying a ring for probably isn’t too concerned about that price tag, anyway.