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The First Time Buyer Guide To Buying Diamonds

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Whether you are buying an engagement ring or a wedding ring, a pendant necklace, gem-studded bracelet, or maybe you are just in a mood to pamper yourself with diamonds. The worst thing that you want to avoid is to spend all those thousands and end up with something that is worth much less than what you paid.

It’s such an irony isn’t?

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You would think that for a product that is slowly losing mass appeal, if a jeweler can find customers who would willingly spend so much money on a luxury item, the last thing that would cross their minds is to shortchange their customers.

As if the 1000% markups they put on their products are not profitable enough…

Hopefully, this first time buyers guide will help you avoid being taken for a ride. This is not meant to be a professional guide. This is just enough knowledge so that you know what you are getting into as a diligent consumer.

Here are the critical factors to watch out for when it comes to buying diamonds.

Carat

These days, it is implied that the more carats a diamond has, the more valuable it is. However, do note that “carat” refers to the weight of the stone, not the size.

In industry jargon, it is also common to refer to carats in terms of points… where 100 points equate to 1 carat. This translates to a 3/4 diamond being referred to as 75 points.

Because of these fractional measurements, it is a common marketing gimmick to infer that a diamond is not really a true diamond unless it is one with 100 points (1 carat).

This is just blabber and also why you might have observed that diamonds jump in price in an improportionate manner once it hits that magical full carat. Because it is now a “real thing”.

Clarity

This is a measurement of how “clear” and “clean” a diamond is. You don’t need to be a genius to realize that the clearer and cleaner the rock is, the more valuable it is.

Because diamonds are naturally formed, it is rare for one to materialize without any blemishes, spots, or whatever the brochures say. This is why it is probably right to say that a blotless diamond is one in a million.

Blemishes, or exterior imperfections can refer to:

  • chips
  • scratches
  • extra facets
  • bearding
  • fractures
  • polishing lines
  • unpolished

Blemishes are imperfections on the surface of the diamond often cause while being manufactured. Imperfections found inside it are called “inclusions”. Use a loupe to help you.

Inclusions refer to:

  • feather
  • crystals
  • cloud
  • carbon
  • pinpoint

And as you might have guessed… there is a measurement that determines the degree of clarity. At least there is an authority that oversees this grading – Gemological Institute of America GIA.

Here they are as follows, from the clearest to the muddiest!

  1. flawless
  2. internally flawless
  3. VVS1 and VVS2
  4. VS1 and VS
  5. SI1
  6. SI2
  7. I1
  8. I2
  9. I3

Color

The world of gemstones is all about rarity. And colored diamonds are very rare indeed. It might surprise you that they can come in all colors of the spectrum.

The common ones we see on display at retail jewelry stores are usually white or yellow. With the exception of the canary diamond which has a brilliant yellow, regular yellow is caused by nitrogen and will make it less valuable than it’s white cousin.

The most valuable and scarce colored diamonds include green, violet, red, purple, pink, orange, yellow, blue, and even black.

Since we are talking about products costing hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, when color is questionable, the doubt is best resolved with a master set or a colorimeter.

Don’t let the name frighten you. It is basically a device that grades the color so as to eliminate human errors.

If you really go as far as using a colorimeter, take note of the following grading.

  • D,E,F – colorless
  • G,H,I – nearly colorless
  • J,K,L – slightly yellow
  • M,N,O – light yellow
  • P,Q,R,S,T,U,V,W,X – darker yellow
  • Z – color

For non-colored diamonds, D will be the best grade, while X is the lesser grade. Z is obviously the priciest as it describes a colored stone.

This level of grading is usually enough for the everyday buyer. But if you want to go deeper and be more refined like a sophisticated investor, there is an advance color grading method called color-typing.

The method of analysis further breaks down the lettered grading into 5 types… from the strongest to the weakest. It’s like pouring the dressing into the salad that’s already in a mess.

Since we are on the topic of color, also note that there is a factor known as fluorescence. This basically measures the diamond’s reaction to ultraviolet (UV) light. The clearer the diamond while being shown with black light (UV), the more valuable it is.

It is common for diamonds to emit a blue glow under UV light.

Corresponding grading

It’s as though what the industry has conditioned consumers into thinking how valuable their goods are is not enough. Because there is such a thing as corresponding grading.

This is basically a table that shows which clarity grade of diamond matches best with which corresponding color grade.

I don’t know who’s the wise guy who came up with this. But you can expect a diamond to be more expensive (what else?) when the clarity and grade matches according to the table.

I don’t think this is necessary for the average first time diamond buyer. So I won’t show the table here.

Cut

Cut is one of the 4Cs to determine good from bad diamonds. Don’t confuse it with shape. The reason being that how much it sparkles depends on it’s cut.

Even the heaviest clearest colored diamond won’t sparkle like a flare in the ocean night if it does not have a good cut.

Some of the popular modern cuts you will find at the local store include:

  • round
  • emerald
  • box radiant
  • marquise

The 3 basic parts to every cut are the crown, pavilion, girdle. They have their own key functions.

diamond-crown-gridle-pavilion

The crown captures entering light and splits it. The pavilion then reflects the brilliance of the white light into the prying eyes of your fiance. This is why the cut determines the sparkle. The girdle is basically there to protect the stone from chipping.

Yes, even though diamonds are the hardest natural substance on earth, they can break as well because being hard does not mean being tough.

Depth percentage

This refers to Height divided by Diameter.

diamond-height-diameter

With the exception of square and rectangular cut diamonds, the resulting depth percentage should be between 56% to 61%. Outside this figure and you are looking at a disfigured diamond.

Length to width ratio

The results of this ratio depends on the type of cut you are buying.

  • For a marquise cut, it should be between 1.75 and 2
  • For pear shaped cuts, it should run from 1.5 to 1.75
  • For ovals and emerald, it will be between 1.3 to 1.75

You can’t really expect perfect symmetry. But anything outside the ranges above, you are getting an “obese” or “skinny” diamond.

Warping

Don’t just assume that your diamond is just the way it is – perfect. Warping can occur to it. It is a natural substance after all.

Retailers and laboratories might attempt to mislead you by telling you the truth but not the whole truth. This can be the results of only showing you the best angles and lab results on those angles.

But they won’t lie to you as that will be fraud. So you can act like someone who knows his stuff and request for measurements of both the best and worst angles on a Megascope report. You should be able to observe any irregularities then.

Now that we have laid out the very basics of what give a diamond it’s value, let’s move on.

Jewelers

Most people will buy their diamonds in a physical store because it is not just about buying one. It is also about BEING SEEN to buy one. Surely a little VIP treatment from promoters and sales stuff is a good tonic for your self-esteem.

At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that more and more consumers are doing their shopping online. The internet, and now mobile, has become a great place for jewelers to offload lower grade gemstones and valuables at low prices.

After all, you’d imagine that someone buying a diamond off the internet will be looking for a good bargain.

But no matter you are walking into a posh looking storefront or surfing through a virtual retailer, the long arms of the big player will eventually reach you.

They usually target market segments by profiling the most common types of buyers:

  • The practical Joe
  • The bargain hunter
  • The branded buyer
  • The elitist

This is actually an important criteria to look into before you swipe your credit card or get the installment plan going. Because if you are a bargain hunter and ends up shopping at a place that’s meant for practical Joe, you won’t be getting the most out of your perceived value.

And if you are brand conscious, surely you wouldn’t expect to get a high quality stone at a bargain hunter’s store.

So keep this in mind.

Then there is the cherry topping of retailers called bonded jewelers. And the inventory they sell, which are bonded diamonds, will come with premium pricing, often between a 10% – 20% range more than non-bonded diamonds.

Is that because buying bonded diamonds comes with a free private jet?

I’m glad you asked. No. Here’s what they come with.

  • lifetime breakage guarantee. Get yours fixed or replaced if damaged.
  • lifetime buy-back policy. Sell it back to the jeweler at full price
  • lifetime exchange option. Change it to another shape when it gets boring
  • lifetime trade-in flexibility. This even takes into account appreciation and inflation.
  • value retainer guarantee. If the prices of diamonds implode, jewelers will top up the difference in cash
  • authenticity guaranteed. 100% natural and untreated
  • 100% non-confict. Watched the movie blood diamonds?

If a bonded jeweler is found in your shortlist, I’d say go with them

The diamond and the setting

diamond ring with setting

People don’t usually think about setting until they walk into a store to buy an engagement ring for the first time. The only criteria they think about revolves around the stone.

In many cases, the setting is just as critical… unless you are just buying loose diamonds for whatever odd reasons…

You can either buy the stone and set it at another store. Or do both at the same store. I won’t be able to question the variables that influence your decisions. But if you are buying and setting at 2 separate locations, do take these pointers in mind.

  • How have you chosen the jeweler to set it?
  • If your “precious” is damaged during the setting process, who will be responsible?
  • Who will provide the after-sales service when you require them?

Because we are dealing with jewelry worth a lot of money here, you probably won’t be surprised to find that many jewelers will simply refuse to set it for you. Even veteran setters will agree that there is too much at stake should something go wrong.

Setting accidents can easily cause chips, scratches, and nicks.

And if you insist on find a third party to do the setting and they agree to do so, you will usually be required to sign an “immunity” agreement.

There are typically 3 basic types of ring settings:

  1. Tiffany setting
  2. Bridal set
  3. Wedding rings

Depending how you are setting it, you might also consider “decorating” your ring with smaller diamonds set around the main stone. Common add-on gemstones used for this purpose include trilliants, melees, baguettes, quadrillions, emeralds, sapphires, rubies, and even jade, etc.

How can you tell if a diamond is real?

If you ask the assistant serving you in the store, he would of course insist that it’s the real thing even when it is a fake.

Other than the word “fake”, players in the industry have other names to label them including:

  • synthetic
  • faux
  • artificial
  • imitation
  • replica
  • clone
  • man-made

Lately, there have been advances in cutting-edge technology that supposedly accelerate the forming of natural diamonds. I really don’t know whether to categorize those as authentic or fake. So you have to form your own opinion on that one.

The best and most reliable way to spot a fake from a genuine diamond is to get an independent appraisal. Just look up the local business directory and you should be able to discover a handful of service providers.

Just remember to request for the appraisal to be conducted in your presence. Maybe even in a laboratory. Surely you are not going to be a fool and allow your precious gem to leave your sight for even a second. It might just get switched to an artificial one with a quick slide of hand.

And if you are the happy-go-lucky kind of person, just walk into a jewelry store on your way for grocery shopping and ask for a quick evaluation. But don’t expect the moon when you walk into a store for free service.

There are also some unorthodox ways to “test” your diamond. Be mindful that these methods do not come with guarantees.

  1. A real one will scratch glass. Well… so does a lot of other things.
  2. You can read through a fake when flipped upside down and placed on text. Sometimes the real thing can also do this depending on it’s cut.
  3. Most diamonds will give out a blue glow when shined with UV light. And most, if not all, fakes will not. It’s not a 100% certainty test though.
  4. Since the most common material used for imitation diamonds are heavier than the real thing, weigh your stone and see if the scale shows the correct weight in carat.
  5. Place it in front of your mouth and try to fog it with your breathe like a mirror. Real diamonds are supposed to disperse heat instantly… meaning the fog will have disappeared by the time you look at it. Note that the presence of dirt and oil can render this test unreliable.
  6. Eat it. It should taste like chicken 😀 (comic relief moment)

Buying a diamond

Don’t forget why you are spending 3 months worth of salary to buy that diamond ring.

You are trying to present priceless intangible reasons into tangibles (diamonds). It is just a way of communicating to women how much you value them.

So you don’t have to absolutely go for the most expensive ones that your bank account allows just so to feed your ego and have something to boast about to your friends.

Also avoid those that are already in a setting. You won’t be able to meticulously examine it if it’s already set. Maybe it was even pre-set so as to hide some flaws. Buy it first and set it later.

And remember that it’s all about the diamond’s balance. A 1 carat diamond will be worth very little if it is not properly cut and as blur as your window pane inside.

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