The 4Cs: What to Consider Before Purchasing a White Diamond

Flaunted by celebrities, coveted by ancient cultures, and worn as a ubiquitous symbol of commitment, is the legendary white diamond. While diamond rings can come in a countless colors - gray, blue, yellow, green, pink, blue, brown, orange, and even red, white diamonds remain the most recognizable gemstone in the world, synonymous with desire, beauty, and brilliance.

Golconda Diamond White diamonds are the most recognizable gemstone in the world but their significance goes beyond the realm of personal adornment.

However, the significance of diamonds extends beyond the realm of personal adornment. Like a thumbprint, every diamond is unique and possesses an imitable set of characteristics that sets it apart from all others. For example, while two same-size white diamonds, side by side, can appear to be identical, they, in fact, embody entirely different attributes. This means that before a white diamond even reaches a jewelry store, it already has inherent, specific characteristics that establish and determine its identity. As each white diamond is unique and imitable, what comprises each is the ultimate decider in value and rarity.

In order to classify and identify the differences, white diamonds are characterized by and based on four quality factors: color, cut, clarity, and carat weight. This worldwide standard is known collectively as the “4Cs” of diamond grading and evaluation, which is used to determine the value and rarity of white diamonds. Developed in the 1940s, this universal system was developed by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) to meet the industry’s changing and evolving needs in the diamond market. Now, it is the standard for diamond quality evaluation, discerning, and grading white diamonds. Each of the four quality factors included in this standard maintains its own grading range. Once evaluated, the four grades for the white diamond in question make up the gemstone’s overall evaluation.

When purchasing stone that fits your taste, it’s important to understand the key attributes of a white diamond. This comprehensive guide of the “4Cs,” aspects that should be most considered upon a white diamond purchase, contains explanations of the principal factors one should contemplate upon a white diamond acquisition.


COLOR

Although the term “white” is used across the board to describe this gemstone species, white diamonds actually exist in a color range of their own, from technically void of any color to those with smaller amounts of the trace element nitrogen that give the stone a slight yellowish, brown tint.

Color is potentially one of the most important Cs when determining the value and rarity of a white diamond. The subtlest differences in color can affect a diamond’s value. For example, two diamonds of the same clarity, carat weight, and cut could have vastly different values assigned if they are dissimilar colors.

White Diamond Color Evaluation

Diamond color determination is all about what you can’t see. Meaning, diamond color evaluation is based on an absence of color. The grading scale starts at the letter “D,” representing a colorless diamond, and continues alphabetically with an increasing presence of color to the letter “Z.” It’s important to know that each of these color grades represents a defined range of color that a white diamond may have. The color differences from one grade to the next can be very subtle and perhaps only distinguished by a trained professional.

Pear-cut Golconda Diamond Ring, 3.02 Carats A pear-cut white diamond that is graded as a D color, meaning the diamond is colorless without any presence of other trace elements

As you may imagine, diamonds with the first color grade possess the largest rarity and value. Commonly deemed “colorless” diamonds, a “D” diamond has absolutely zero color traces in it. In other words, a “D” diamond possesses no impurities, also known as the presence of trace elements, from formation that give it any other type of hue. As you may guess, the less color and the closer to a “D” color grade, the higher the value. Meaning, a diamond with no color is pure and structurally perfect.

How to Describe Color

When purchasing a diamond, it’s important to be familiar with the two most common ways to describe the color of a white diamond.

While diamonds will often be verbally referred to as the letter grade by which they were assigned to during diamond certification, the D to Z color grading scale, they will, from time to time, be described with the degree of how colorless the stone is. These descriptions directly correlate to the color grade that the stone may have:

  • Colorless (D, E F)
  • Near Colorless (G, H, I J)
  • Faint (K, L M)
  • Very Light (N, O, P, Q, R)
  • Light (S, T U, V, W, X, Y, Z)

The official white diamond grading scale, D-Z The official white diamond grading scale, D-Z

The official white diamond grading scale that shows an example of what each diamond grade looks like The official white diamond grading scale that shows an example of what each diamond grade looks like


CUT

A diamond’s primary goal and purpose is to be beautiful and a white diamond’s cut is a critical factor that determines a diamond’s allure and overall attractiveness. Diamonds are known for their ability to transmit light and, as a result, intensely sparkle before our eyes. The diamond’s ability to sparkle is strictly reliant upon its cut.

Of all the 4Cs, cut, also referred to as the “make”, is the most difficult and complex to technically analyze because there exist so many possible variations. Moreover, cut does not reference the shape of the diamond, also known as the outline of the diamond’s perimeter. Instead, cut refers the way the diamond is cut: how many facets are used to maximize the diamond’s brilliance and the proportion of the diamond, among other details.

The ability for a white diamond to sparkle intensely, and display incredible brilliance, is reliant upon its cut The ability for a white diamond to sparkle intensely, and display incredible brilliance, is reliant upon its cut

Factors that Determine a Cut Grade

The cut of every white diamond is judged on the same scale based on a combination of seven factors, assessed individually to determine the stone’s cut grade.

The first three factors that determine a diamond’s cut grade are solely appearance-based aspects that one should pay close attention to when considering a purchase. The first aspect, brightness, is defined as the total light that is reflected from the diamond or the white light reflections that a diamond emits. As an essential attribute to a diamond, a very bright diamond returns lots of light from a “face up” position. A diamond with the best brilliance returns the most amount of light from the bottom of the diamond, the crown, to the face up position, which is the top of the diamond. The second determining factor, fire, is the amount of dispersion of light into the colors of the spectrum that radiate from the diamond. Interestingly, the amount and quality of fire emitted from a white diamond is a direct result of the symmetry and proportions of a diamond. Finally, scintillation is the pattern of light and dark areas and the flashes of light or sparkle when a diamond is moved.

The last four factors deal with the diamond’s actual design and craftsmanship: weight ratio, durability, polish, and symmetry.

Different Types of Cuts

The eventual shape of a diamond depends on the original rough, because it’s the jewelers primary goal to retain as much carat weight as possible. For white diamonds, cuts are separated into two categories, depending on their shape. Brilliant-cut rounds, perhaps the most recognizable, make up a category all on their own. All other shapes, referred to as “fancy” shapes, comprise the second category. These fancy shapes can include marquise, emerald-cut, rectangular step-cut, among many others.

Grading Scale

Used as the standard industry to grade a diamond’s cut, the GIA system determines the grade of a diamond’s cut from “excellent” to “poor.”

  • Excellent
  • Very Good
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Poor

The scale used to grade the cut of a diamond, ranging from excellent to poor The scale used to grade the cut of a diamond, ranging from excellent to poor


CLARITY

What is it?

If you’ve ever closely examined a white diamond, you may have noticed tiny irregularities, or little spots, inside the diamond. Or, you may have noted marks and scratches on the surface of the stone. Consider a diamond that displays small minerals inside the gemstone that seem to be suspended within or a diamond that features a large scratch on the face present from years of wear: this is an aspect that defines a white diamonds third C, clarity. Extremely important in the grading and determination of the value and rarity of a diamond, clarity also helps establish the diamond’s identity as no two patterns of clarity are alike.

In other words, diamond clarity relates to the visual appearance of internal characteristics inside and on the surface of the diamond. These discernable flaws inside and outside a white diamond are formally called clarity characteristics, or more commonly, inclusions and blemishes. The technical definition of clarity is simple: a gemstone’s relative freedom from inclusions and blemishes.

Inclusions

Inclusions are the clarity characteristics within the diamond, which can occur at any stage during a white diamond’s development and may potentially extend to the diamond’s surface. Diamonds form deep underground at extreme temperatures and high pressure, and inclusions result from these forces of nature during a white diamond’s initial formation. For example, smaller crystals are apt to become trapped within the diamond during formation. As a result, these confined crystals can grow irregular to the diamond’s atomic structure, causing a disruption in development and displaying itself as an inclusion. Other inclusions include: clouds, feathers, knots, cavities, cleavage, bearding, internal graining, pinpoints, among others.

Importantly, inclusions are truly an integral part of a natural formed diamond, giving a white diamond unique “birthmarks.”

Blemishes

Blemishes, or external clarity characteristics, can occur at any stage after the diamond’s formation during cutting, setting, or simply normal daily wear. Existing on the surface of the diamond, blemishes may include chips, nicks, abrasions, polish lines, scratches, nicks, pits, chips, and even an extra facet.

Factors

As you may assume, the number and size of clarity characteristics directly correlates to the diamond’s value: size, number, location, position, and nature (type of characteristic) are all evaluated separately to determine the clarity grade. In other words, the fewer discernible inclusions and blemishes, the better. Even the smallest clarity characteristics can have the biggest impact on a diamond.

As the role of a jewelry cutter, the goal would be to utilize as much as the diamond rough as possible while ridding the diamond of as many clarity characteristics as possible.

Grading Scale

On a white diamond certification, a plot-diagram will be drawn to visually show the location of certain clarity characteristics On a white diamond certification, a plot-diagram will be drawn to visually show the location of certain clarity characteristics

A plotted diagram that shows the specific clarity characteristics is included on a white diamond certification. Trained graders use different symbols for the different clarity characteristics and place the symbols on the relative location where they occur on the diagram. Using a “key to symbols,” the grader creates a map for one to easily identify the blemishes and inclusions.

  • Flawless (FL) - Shows no inclusions up to 10X magnification, the rarest clarity grade (less than 1% of diamonds)
  • Internally Flawless (IF) - Shows no inclusions and very slight blemishes (less than 3% of diamonds)
  • Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1) (VVS2) - Shows inclusions that are very difficult to see under 10x magnification
  • Very Slightly Included (VS1) (VS2) - Shows minor inclusions that are minor and range from difficult to relatively easy to see at 10% magnification
  • Slightly Included (SI1) (SI2) - Shows noticeable inclusions at 10% magnification
  • Included (II) (I2) (I3) - Shows inclusions that are obvious to see at 10% magnification and may be visible to the unaided eye. A diamond with this grade may have an altered brilliance and transparency due to the clarity characteristics.

The industry-standard scale used to grade clarity of white diamonds The industry-standard clarity scale used to grade clarity of white diamonds


CARAT

White diamonds aren’t the only gemstone to be weighed in the carats. In fact, it’s even used for pearls and is the most objective of the 4Cs.

History

Formally known as the metric carat, it was developed in 1907 at the General Conference on Weights and Measures. Soon, it was adopted in numerous countries throughout the world, including the United States in 1913, as the standard unit of measurement for diamonds and all other gemstones.

Taking its name from the carob seed, early gemstone traders would use these as counterweights in their balance scales because the small seeds have a uniform weight.

How it’s Measured

One carat is equal to 100 points and each point is two milligrams, or 0.2 grams. Surprisingly, one carat is about the same weight as a paperclip. In other words, if you are holding a 1.50-carat gemstone, then the gemstone weighs 150 points, 0.3 grams or 300 milligrams.

In the jewelry market, diamonds with a carat weight greater than one is expressed in decimals. Carat weight is measured to the thousandth place and then rounded to the hundredth place. In other words, you might see a diamond that weighs 2.36 carats.

While it may be obvious that larger diamonds are rarer and command higher prices than smaller examples with a lesser carat weight, the increase in value is not directly proportionate to size increase. This is because the other three Cs, color, cut, and clarity, all play an equal role in value determination. For example, consider two diamonds of equal carat size. While their carat weight and size may be identical, one may hold an inherently higher value and level of rarity if it is free from inclusions and blemishes and possesses a high color grade, such as D or E.

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