May 20, 2013 Updated: May 20, 2013 at 6:50 am
Buying a diamond ring can be intimidating. What do you look for? How much should you pay? Should you buy online or in a store?
Demystify the process by learning about the four C's: carat, color, clarity and cut. This system of grading diamonds was developed 60 years ago by the Gemological Institute of America.
Then do some research online or visit jewelers. You'll soon understand your options. Here's a primer on the four C's and other advice.
The four C's
- Carat is a weight measurement. A 1-carat diamond weighs 200 milligrams. But there's no ideal size for a diamond. It depends on your budget and taste. Some women want a big rock; others prefer a delicate, less blingy look. A ring with three small diamonds totaling 1 carat costs less than a single 1-carat stone of similar quality.
- Color is graded by letter, starting with D for rare, colorless diamonds. E and F are considered excellent, but G or H diamonds will look just as good to the naked eye. Farther down the scale, you'll notice differences.
- Clarity measures diamond flaws, called inclusions, which might appear as tiny spots, clouds or cavities in the stone. The clarity grade SI stands for "slightly included." VS is a better grade, "very slightly included." VVS is even higher, "very, very slightly included." Most inclusions in the VVS-SI range cannot be seen by the untrained eye.
- Cut measures workmanship, rather than a diamond's inherent qualities. The way a stone is cut enhances sparkle and luminosity and can hide flaws. The best cut rating, ideal, is rare. About a third of diamonds are rated fair, good or very good.
What should you look for in each of the C's?
"The one thing you should not trade off on is the quality of the cut," said Russell Shor, senior industry analyst for the Gemological Institute. "Even a nice color stone, if not well-cut, will be dull and lifeless. But if it's a middle color - like K - and it's got a real excellent cut, it will pop and flash with all the sparkle that diamonds are famous for."
After choosing the cut, "balance the color, clarity and carat weight based on your personal preference to find the best diamond for you.
For $2,000, you might pick a 1-carat, K-color stone with a slight inclusion, or a half-carat, G-color, with a very slight inclusion. An L or M-colored diamond at that price "will get you a 2-carat honker, but you'll definitely notice the yellow and you'll see some inclusions," Shor said.
Consumers pay $3,500 on average for engagement rings, according to Jewelers of America. On the low end, Shor recommends spending at least $700 to $1,000.
It's easy to compare options online. At BlueNile.com, set your price range, then play with carat size and the other C's to see tradeoffs.
Shape and style
Engagement rings traditionally feature gold bands with a center diamond, though some have smaller diamonds on either side.
Melissa Colgan, senior style editor for Martha Stewart Weddings, said the engagement ring that Prince William gave to Kate Middleton, a large sapphire surrounded by diamonds, has increased interest in rings with other gemstones.