A Few Tips on Selecting a Diamond Ring

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Diamond Ring

A few tips on selecting a diamond ring

Finding the right engagement ring is strictl y a matter of personal style. A simple ring with a single stone is called a solitaire and can make for a beautiful engagement ring. If you prefer more decoration, there are a wide variety of rings with side stones or baguettes that will add to the total price of the ring but also make it more individualized.

The typical engagement ring consists of two main parts, which will be discussed individually:

The setting (which holds the diamond)
The band (surrounds the finger)
The Setting

Settings are usually made out of platinum (even on a gold ring) because of platinum's strength and durability. In fact, when you're selecting a ring, be sure to verify that its setting is made out of platinum. The other common choice is whether to get 4 or 6 prongs. With 4 prongs, you will show off more of the diamond, but 6 prongs will hold the diamond much more securely. If the ring will be worn regularly, 6 prongs are highly recommended to avoid losing the stone.

There are other types of settings that do not use prongs. Some use pressure to keep the diamond in place, and others form a "channel" where the diamond is inserted. Again, your personal sense of style should guide you in selecting the setting.


Choosing The Band
The first decision you will have to make regarding the band is the size. There are two easy ways to do this:

Visit any jeweler, bring your partner along, and ask to have the finger ring sized
If the ring is a surprise, "borrow" a ring that your partner currently owns (and you know fits well) and bring it to a jeweler to be measured. Be sure to return the ring quickly!

The second decision regarding the band is the choice of materials. By far, the most common choices for engagement rings are platinum and gold. Although your choice is ultimately a matter of personal style, here are a few facts about each metal:

Choosing the Material
Gold has been popular in jewelry-making since the beginning of time, but because pure gold bends easily, it is usually alloyed with nickel, copper, and/or zinc. The purity of gold is measured in karats. A 24-karat ring is made of pure gold, whereas a 14-karat ring is 58.3% gold. Most gold jewelry sold in the United States is 14 karats, whereas 18-karat jewelry is more popular outside of the U.S.

When worn daily, gold will tend to dull. Brightening it again is as simple as soaking the ring in warm water and detergent-free soap, and scrubbing it gently with a soft-bristled brush.

Because platinum is an extremely "hard" metal, its popularity in jewelry-making is not as long-lived as that of gold. Platinum is also more rare than gold; in fact it costs roughly four times as much as gold. However, if you want a silver band that will never tarnish, platinum is the choice for you. And if your partner is in any way allergic to metals, platinum is the clear choice since it is hypoallergenic and will not irritate the skin.

The purity of platinum is measured by a 3-digit number. If your band is marked "950 platinum", the band is 95% platinum alloyed with 5% palladium or iridium.

Choosing The Cut
Cut is by far the most confusing of the 4 Cs, since it can refer to the cutting style , the shape of the stone (round, square, heart-shaped, etc.), its proportions , or the workmanship of the actual diamond-cutting process.  Each of these four characteristics are important while evaluating a stone, so we will discuss each separately.

1.  Cutting Style
Diamonds, as crafted by nature, consist of translucent crystalline carbon.   If the outer rough could be peeled away, the resulting stone would be as smooth as glass; unfortunately, it would be no more aesthetically pleasing than a piece of glass crystal.  The art of the diamond-cutter is to transform that chunk of crystallized carbon into a beautiful piece of jewelry.

The diamond-cutter has two basic types of cuts in his arsenal:  The step cut and the brilliant cut .  You may also hear of hybrids of the two basic cuts, such as the emerald cut , or you may also encounter some of the older-style cuts, such as the rose cut , the old European cut , or the old mine cut .  If you are planning to purchase a diamond for a modern engagement ring, you only need to concern yourself with the two basic cuts.

The step cut has parallel facets that usually span the length or width of the stone.  Refer to the picture shown here, and notice the "steps" that lead from the outer edges to the top of the diamond.  If a step-cut diamond has rounded-off facets in the corners, this is a variant of the step-cut called the emerald cut .

The brilliant cut has triangular facets that surround the stone and usually culminate on a flat top called a table .  Again, refer to the picture shown here and notice how the triangles fit into each other.   The modern and popular brilliant-cut round engagement diamond has 58 of these triangular facets -- 33 above the middle of the stone (or the girdle ), and 25 below. 

 The choice between a brilliant-cut or step-cut stone is simple:  If you want the shiniest diamond possible, select a brilliant cut.  If you prefer a more glassy, elegant stone, the step cut is for you.   
One point of clarification is that you cannot just go to the jewelry store and purchase a generic step-cut or brilliant-cut diamond -- you must select a stone with a given shape, that will in turn be created using step-cuts, brilliant-cuts, or a mix of the two.  Continue with the tutorial to learn more about diamond shapes .

The "color" of a diamond refers to its degree of "yellowness."  The ideal diamond is completely colorless, and therefore it will be the most expensive.  The Gemological Institute of America (G.I.A.) grades color alphabetically from D (totally colorless) to Z (yellow):

D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z

colorless          near colorless               increasing yellow                              yellow

 For a diamond to be considered "colorless," the G.I.A. requires that it be a D, E, or F.  However, the D-Z scale is continuous, so the difference between an F and G is very small.  The average color for engagement diamonds in the United States is G to H. 

Jewelers have two tools at their disposal to judge the color of a given diamond.  The first is what's known as a "reference set" of stones.   A jeweler will compare the stone in question with a set of stones of known color (the set is typically made of cubic zirconium!), and make a qualitative determination as to the color grading of the stone in question.  The second, more precise method, is to use a colorimeter, which is nothing more than an electrical device that will measure the optical characteristics of the stone and report the color to within 1/3 of a grade.   Be aware that most jewelers routinely "round up" the results of a color test.  Therefore, a stone that is only slightly better than an F grade automatically becomes an E (and hence becomes more expensive for the consumer to purchase).

When judging the color of a diamond, it is crucial to see the diamond unmounted.  Ask to see the printout from the colorimeter, or ask the jeweler for a reference set of stones to make the comparisons yourself.  To do this, place the diamond in question next to the reference stones face down on a white piece of paper, and compare the color of the stones until you get the best match.

 Perhaps the most important factor to consider when selecting color is the type of setting you plan on using.  If you plan on mounting the stone on a platinum or white gold setting, consider a diamond in the D-G range.  Yellow gold will be much more forgiving to a less than colorless stone, but regardless of the setting, the diamond will start to appear yellow if the color grade is lower than about J.

Clarity is a measure of the number and extent of the flaws in the diamond.  Generally speaking, the fewer the flaws, the more valuable the diamond.   Completely flawless diamonds are extremely rare -- only a few hundred "FL" diamonds are produced per year worldwide.

There are several grading systems used to describe clarity.   By far, the most popular is the Gemological Institute of America's (G.I.A.) scale, which ranks diamonds as Flawless (FL), Internally Flawless (IF), very very slightly included (VVS), very slightly included (VS), slightly imperfect (SI), and imperfect (I):

FL       IF       VVS1       VVS2        VS1       VS2         SI1          SI2        I1       I2         I3

flawless             very very slight             very slight           slightly imperfect            imperfect

Although seemingly subjective, the G.I.A. scale has specific criteria that are used to differentiate between the different grades (what's the difference between "very very" slight and "very" slight anyway!):

FL :  Completely flawless

IF :  Internally flawless; only external flaws are present, which can be removed by further polishing the stone

VVS1 - VVS2 :  Only an expert can detect flaws with a 10X microscope.  By definition, if an expert can see a flaw from the top of the diamond, it is a VVS2.  Otherwise, if an expert can only detect flaws when viewing the bottom of the stone, then it is a VVS1

VS1 - VS2 :  You can see flaws with a 10X microscope, but it takes a long time (more than about 10 seconds)

SI1 - SI2 :  You can see flaws with a 10X microscope

I1 - I3 :  You can see flaws with the naked eye.  Consider avoiding I2-I3 diamonds.

There are many different types of flaws.  The best way to become acquainted with them is to look at lots of diamonds.  The more common ones are as follows:

Pinpoint :  A very small white dot on the surface of the stone.  By far, the most common flaw

Carbons :  A very small black dot on the surface of the stone.  Less common than pinpoints

Feathers :  Small cracks within the stone, similar in look to broken glass.  Small internal feathers are harmless (other than lowering the clarity rating of the diamond), but large feathers can become a problem because the crack can grow as the diamond ages

Clouds :  Hazy areas within the diamond, actually made up of many small crystals that are impossible to see individually

Crystal Growth :  A small crystalline growth within the diamond.  Looks like a small diamond within the big diamond

Unfortunately, clarity is very difficult to judge accurately by an inexperienced consumer, so your best bet is to gain an education first by looking at lots of diamonds before making a purchase.  Any good jeweler will spend the time you need to get comfortable judging the clarity of your stone -- ask different jewelers to point out the  flaws in several stones until you can detect pinpoints and other flaws by yourself. 

One pitfall to avoid when shopping for clarity is the "clarity-enhanced" diamond.  This is an artificial process used to "fix" the flaws on an otherwise good stone.  Although a clarity-enhanced diamond can look nearly flawless (in some cases, it is impossible to detect the enhancement), it is intrinsically worth as much as a flawed stone.  Furthermore, the durability is nowhere that of pure diamond.  Be sure to confirm with your jeweler that the stone you are considering is not clarity-enhanced, and be sure to double-check this fact on the G.I.A. certificate.  If you do not receive a G.I.A. certificate with your stone, ask the jeweler to state that the diamond is not clarity-enhanced on the appraisal.

 Many people make clarity the least "important" of the 4 Cs when purchasing their diamonds.  The rationale is obvious -- when your partner shows the ring to all her friends, the likelihood that one of them will pull out a 10X microscope to examine the flaws on her diamond are very slim.  Given that, why spend a lot of money on a VVS1 diamond when an SI2 will look exactly the same to the naked eye? 

If you're purchasing an emerald cut (or any other step cut ), consider purchasing a diamond with clarity greater than SI1.  Clarity flaws are much more readily visible in step cuts than in brilliant cuts .

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