What Are the 4 Cs of a Diamond?
Are you looking to make a major diamond purchase? Perhaps you’re looking to buy an engagement ring. Maybe you want to upgrade an old diamond you’ve had for years or celebrate a major milestone with something extra-special (and sparkly!). When you start shopping, you’ll find that each diamond has unique characteristics that determine its price. That’s where the so-called 4Cs come in.
What are the 4Cs?
The 4Cs—which denote cut, clarity, color, and carat weight—is a standardized grading system established by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) that assesses the quality of a diamond. The better the diamond, the higher the price.
Why do the 4Cs matter?
It’s important to educate yourself on the 4Cs before making any costly diamond purchase so that you know what factors are dictating the price. Then, when you’re looking at diamonds in-store or online you can use the 4Cs to your advantage, upgrading some of the “Cs” and downgrading others until you land on a combination that works for your budget.
Below, a quick explanation of each of the 4Cs to help you decide which characteristics are most important to you. Just keep in mind that while the 4Cs of a diamond offer an important baseline for your diamond shopping, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A stone needs to dazzle you! Your gut reactions to any diamonds should lead your purchasing decisions.
Cut: The Sparkle Factor Explained
Every diamond starts as a rough stone that’s then faceted (cut into a series of tiny flat planes) and polished—this process unleashes a diamond’s fire and brilliance. A rough diamond can be transformed into a variety of shapes. The round radiant cut is the most popular diamond cut, because it refracts the most light, giving off the most sparkle. The cut is also the only one that receives official 4C gradings. A round diamond’s brilliance, symmetry, polish, and fire is evaluated based on a scale ranging from Excellent to Poor. An Excellent cut displays incredible sparkle and fire—while a Poor cut appears dull and lifeless. An Excellent cut can also camouflage imperfections and make the stone look whiter and brighter than its color grade may suggest. Which is why many couples decide that cut is the “C” that matters most.
Color: How "Colorless" is The Diamond?
A diamond’s color grade evaluates the absence of color. The more colorless a diamond is, the more valuable it is. Color grades are based on an alphanumeric scale ranging from D to Z, with colorless or “white” diamonds falling in the D-F range. Colorless diamonds are costly and rare, but plenty of couples go as low as a J- or K-grade diamond (the minimum color grade jewelers recommend) because a good cut makes them look whiter and brighter.
Ask your jeweler to show you diamonds under different lighting conditions. The diamond’s color may appear different in store light vs. daylight and natural light gives the most accurate read on color. And remember—a slight yellow or beige cast in a diamond often can’t be detected by the naked eye.
Clarity: Can You Spot Any Imperfections?
Most diamonds come out of the earth with inclusions—basically nature’s birthmarks—that manifest as dark spots or black specks. The less noticeable they are in a diamond, the more covetable a gem is. Since such imperfections are not always visible to the naked eye, diamond clarity is graded at 10-power magnification—from Flawless (the highest clarity grade noted as “F”) to Included (the lowest clarity grade” noted as “I). If you’re able to spot inclusions to the extent that they mar the diamond’s appearance, ask to see a stone with a better clarity grade.
Carat Weight: How Big is the Diamond?
A diamond’s weight is measured in carats and as a rule of thumb know that the bigger the diamond, the more expensive it will be. But also, keep an open mind regarding the size and weight of your desired diamond as you review your options. For example, if you find a well-cut diamond that’s a bit smaller than what you initially wanted, going with a carat weight that’s just a smidge smaller can save you some money. Why? Full-carat sizes are in high demand, so stones that clock in at, say, .98 or 1.96 are a better deal (but the difference in appearance is negligible).
Diamond Shopping Tips
Now that you have a handle on the 4Cs, keep these pointers in mind.
- Visit a few local jewelers to evaluate and price-compare a range of stones. Knowing the 4Cs will help you better understand the pros when they explain each diamond’s characteristics. The 4Cs will also be helpful if you’re shopping for diamonds online.
- If there are diamonds with specific qualities that you’d like to consider, you should inform the jeweler prior to your visit so they have ample time to source them for your review. And lots of online jewelry retailers make it easy for you to search their diamond inventory by plugging in your desired combination of Cs.
- The 4Cs of a diamond enable jewelry professionals to communicate diamond value in absolute terms; as such, significant diamond purchases should be accompanied by a grading certificate from a reputable gemological laboratory like the GIA, the International Gemological Institute, or the American Gemological Laboratories. This document verifies the information provided by the jeweler and will be helpful when you get your stone appraised and insured.
The final step in any diamond-buying journey is getting it insured by a reputable company like Jewelers Mutual. Obtaining personal jewelry insurance through Jewelers Mutual is an affordable option and covers loss, damage and mysterious disappearances. You can receive a jewelry insurance quote in just 30 seconds by clicking the button below. No personal information is required.