/ Terry’s Columns / Diamonds are Forever — So Buy Carefully

Diamonds are Forever — So Buy Carefully

By Terry Savage on May 29, 2018

Perhaps it’s the afterglow of the royal wedding, or maybe because June is the season for brides. But our attention has turned to diamonds. Meghan Markle’s engagement ring famously has two smaller side diamonds that came from Princess Diana and a center 3-plus carat diamond that was “ethically sourced from Botswana.” Assuming the center stone is the highest quality, the ring is valued at roughly a quarter of a million dollars!

Chances are you’re not about to spend that much on an engagement ring. But if you’re about to pop the question and present a diamond, there’s much more to consider these days in making your choice — and multiple ways to make that purchase.

Let’s start with the four traditional measures of comparison for diamonds, on which purchasing and pricing decisions are made. They are:

Color: The highest value diamonds are pure “white,” without any noticeable coloration. (There are, however, very expensive “fancy” diamonds that come in colors like yellow, pink and brown.) But the most desired diamond is pure “white” in color, earning a grade of D. The color scale goes all the way down to Z.

Carat: A carat is the measure of weight or size of the diamond. The larger the stone, the more value it has, as long as the other three ingredients on this list of four “Cs” are similarly high in quality.

Clarity: Almost every diamond has some internal flaws or “inclusions,” which take away from the value of the stone. Some are visible to the naked eye, while others are seen only under a jeweler’s microscope or loupe. The highest quality stones are graded “flawless.” Next on the scale is “internally flawless” (no imperfections seen under a 10x microscope), followed by VVS1 and VVS2 (“very, very slight” inclusions not visible to the naked eye) and on down through VS1 and VS2, and SI1 and SI2, denoting “slightly included” diamonds.

Cut: Even novice diamond buyers likely know there are various standard shapes into which raw diamonds are cut: marquise, pear, round, emerald and others. That’s just a matter of personal appeal, and fashion. But the concern with “cut” is how well the diamond cutter created the angles and proportions in that particular stone.

The Gemological Institute of America, a nonprofit organization, is the largest and most prestigious grader of diamonds, with offices around the world. A GIA certificate (matched to the diamond itself by specific variations in cut and inclusions) is the buyer’s guarantee of the four Cs graded for that stone.

But wait, there’s more to choosing a diamond. Newly mined stones purchased through reputable jewelers now come with a sort of “pedigree” certifying they are “ethically sourced” from places not marred by the use of diamonds to finance wars, or mined with child labor, or in a way that’s destructive to the environment.

Once you’ve been educated, it’s time to buy, either online or at a retail jeweler. Technology has changed the diamond market ever since Blue Nile started marketing stones in 1999, followed by James Allen, the second largest online retailer. They claim better prices because they don’t have the overhead of retail stores.

But retail jewelers are fighting back. They point out that online merchants will only ship one stone at a time, depriving you of the opportunity to use the fifth “C” in diamond grading: Comparison.

David Lampert of Lester Lampert Jewelers in Chicago is a certified gemologist and diamond specialist. He says: “The true beauty of the diamond is really not something that can be measured in numbers in a written report or in an online photo. You need to see the stones in person and compare them.” Only a jeweler can show you similar GIA grade stones side by side for a true comparison.

We’ve all learned that “diamonds are forever” — even though roughly half of all marriages will fail. So don’t be blinded by love, or by price alone, when you make this choice. Do your homework, get professional advice, make comparisons — and look before you leap. It’s a good recipe for marital success as well as diamond purchases. That’s the Savage Truth.

money

ASK TERRY

a personal
finance question