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The Four C's of Engagement Rings Friday, July 13, 2012 ~ 9:15 a.m.

This might be bad luck, but Happy Friday the 13th? :)

Now, is it just me, or does it seem like you need to take a college level course to feel even remotely prepared to purchase an engagement ring? Whether it's a marquis, asscher, solitaire or cushion cut diamond; in a channel, pave, prong or gypsy setting; with a yellow gold, white gold or a platinum band, there are a million and one different combinations, and it can be difficult to know where to start!

The pressure of choosing the right engagement ring can be overwhelming, and if I could give you guys out there any one piece of advice, it would be to find out what your lady likes before you do anything else. She is going to have this thing on her finger for the rest of her life (hopefully), and trust me, she'll have an opinion about what it looks like. If she is being tight lipped about it, then ask her best friend to do a little digging. My best friend secretly went shopping with my husband to pick out my ring (although I think he had is mind made up on what style he was getting anyway!).

Diamond shapes

Once you have a general idea of what your lady likes in terms of style and design, you'll want to educate yourself on the basics before you start shopping. The four C's: Carats, which refers to the weight of the diamond; Cut, the depth and width of the stone; Clarity, which rates the blemishes and inclusions in the diamond; and of course, Color. You can learn more about these criteria on the Gemological Institute of America website, but here are the basics:

To determine size, diamonds are weighted in metric carats, where one carat is equal to 0.2 grams. Because the weight is so important, it is usually measured to the hundred thousandths of a carat. For instance, a a one and a half carat diamond will be measured as 1.55 carats, to ensure accuracy.

Diamond color is all about what you can't see! Obviously, unless you're going out to purchase a yellow or pink diamond, you want your diamond to be as close to colorless as possible. In this case, the less color a diamond has, the higher its value. The color is measured on a grading system, using a scale that begins with the letter D (being totally "Colorless") and continues to increase with color all the way to the letter Z. Each letter grade has a clearly defined range of color appearance, and obviously, the closer you can get to "D," the better.

Probably the trickiest of the diamond criteria, in my opinion, is clarity. They say that no diamond is truly perfect, unless it's a cubic zirconia! This is because diamonds are naturally formed under extreme pressure and heat, and often contain "unique birthmarks" as the GIA calls them, that are either internal (a.k.a. inclusions) or external (blemishes). Using the GIA International Diamond Grading System, diamonds are assigned a clarity grade that ranges from flawless (FL) to diamonds with obvious inclusions (I3). There are 11 grades, with most diamonds falling into the "VS" (or "Very slightly included") or "SI" (Slightly included) categories. Here's the diamond clarity scale, as provided by the GIA:

  • Flawless (FL) - No inclusions or blemishes are visible to a skilled grader using 10x magnification
  • Internally Flawless (IF) - No inclusions and only blemishes are visible to a skilled grader
  • Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1 and VVS2) - Inclusions are difficult for a skilled grader
  • Very Slightly Included (VS1 and VS2) - Inclusions are clearly visible under 10x magnification but can be characterized as minor
  • Slightly Included (SI1 and SI2) - Inclusions are noticeable to a skilled grader
  • Included (I1, I2, and I3) - Inclusions are obvious under 10x magnification and may affect transparency and brilliance

You may be surprised to hear that cut is actually the biggest and most important factor in how "brilliant" or sparkly your diamond will be. A properly cut diamond can be amazing - whether it's 3 carats or 0.5 carats. Really. It's that important. I see big, fat diamonds all the time that don't sparkle, simply because they weren't cut precisely enough. Though extremely difficult to analyze or quantify, even to the most trained eye, the cut of a diamond has three attributes: Brilliance (the total light reflected from a diamond), Fire (the dispersion of light into the colors of the spectrum), and Scintillation (the flashes of light, or sparkle, when a diamond is moved). Kind of sounds like the adjectives used in your favorite romance novel, doesn't it? ;) These attributes are judged, and each diamond is given a rating on Cut, ranging from "Excellent," to "Very Good," "Good," "Fair," and "Poor".

Engagement rings
Our Labor of Love by Heidi via SMP | Christine Chang Photography via SMP | Troy Grover Photography via SMP

While these four criteria can certainly complicate things, it's actually a rating system that will help ensure that you get the right diamond for the right price. You just have to do your homework and educate yourself first!

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