Buy the Diamond, Not the Paper
Updated: Apr 22, 2019
Friends don't let friends buy "certified" diamonds. Here's why:
Let’s say for a minute that you are ready to propose. You’ve met the love of your life. (You’re pretty sure she feels the same about you.) And now you are ready to go hunt for that all-important ring.
If you’re like most engagement ring shoppers, you’ve probably never bought a diamond before so you’ll start by doing a little research. Maybe you go online and read about the “4 C’s” (color, cut, clarity, and carat weight). Maybe, from everything you read, you even develop a sense of what you’re looking for.
You type “jewelry store” into your smartphone and find the three nearest businesses. You triangulate the route between stores. If you plan your time well, you may even make it home in time to watch the Twins play.
You get to the first store, maybe a little nervous, but also confident. After all, you did your research. All that online reading about diamonds wasn’t for nothing.
The salesperson asks what you’re looking for and you feel like you know how to answer. She proceeds to take out a few stones.
Then your panic sets in. Your reading didn’t prepare you for this.
They all look the same. How are you supposed to know which one to buy? How are you supposed to know which one is a “good diamond” and therefore a good deal? Will your fiancé be able to see a difference between stones? Because if she can, or her parents can, or her friends can, and you can’t, well… couldn’t you end up making a big, costly mistake?
You feel deflated. It’s worst-case scenario. You are reliant on a salesperson (who is probably working for commission) to help you make one of the biggest, most meaningful purchases of your life. A salesperson! It’s not like they won’t have their own skin in the game.
Then the salesperson takes out a sheet of paper to accompany each stone. It’s a spec sheet, and immediately you feel as though the clouds are parting.
Your relief is palpable. Here is something you can hold onto and it feels like proof of whether or not you are being shown a quality diamond.
The salesperson calls this paper the diamond’s certificate.
“Wow,” you think, “A diamond with a certificate? That’s basically the diamond equivalent of going to Yale,” and suddenly you feel confident to make this choice.
Even if you are sure you can’t see the difference between stones (and you can, we’ll get to that), the diamond is good if the paper says it is, right?
So very, very, very wrong.
And yet, this is one of the most common (and costly) mistakes people make when they go to buy a diamond. They inspect the paper, rather than the stone.
Part 1: Diamond “Certificates,” A Backstory
First off, while many jewelers still use the term “certificate” or “certified diamond” no diamond (not even those found in the crown jewels) are actually certified.
It doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing.
If a jeweler is adamant that his stones are certified, he’s either misguided or misleading you.
It’s important to remember that the VAST majority of all the world’s diamonds are still cut by hand. Why is that important? Well, just as not all sculptors are Michelangelo, not all diamond cutters are… well, exceptional at it.
Yet, it’s the diamond cutters who are sending diamonds to these labs to be graded.
Here’s the catch: there is no FDA for diamonds.
All these labs are working independently. As such, their grading standards may vary, between labs, and even between graders at the same lab. (Some labs have over 2000 different people grading these stones!) And because all the labs are competing with one another for business, they have every incentive to give diamonds a slightly too favorable grade.
To understand this, let’s go back to that diamond cutter. The better a grade he gets for his stones, the more money he can turn around and sell those stones for. The actual difference between any two grades is small, yet when it comes to diamonds (one of the rarest materials on Earth), small differences can drive the price up by thousands of dollars. Therefore, each cutter will continue to send his stones to whichever lab gives him the most favorable grades, even if those grades have been fudged.
Remember how we said there’s no such thing as a “certified” diamond? All these grades are subjective… opinion… nothing more. Even labs that try to be very honest can make mistakes. And the real rub is that the labs can’t be held accountable for their mistakes. Look closely at that “certificate” and you’ll see the small print.
So where does that leave you?
If you are making your decision based on a piece of paper, it can leave you paying higher prices for what may be a less beautiful stone.
Even labs with the best reputations make mistakes- too many of them. That’s why our advice is to take all grading reports with a grain of salt.
Even in the best-case scenario, when a grading report does give an accurate assessment on the stone’s color, clarity and carat weight, all this tells you is something about the rarity of the base material. It still can’t tell you a single thing about whether or not what you’re looking at is a beautiful diamond.
Let’s use clarity as an example: the clearer the stone, the fewer impurities it has. Because impurities (or characteristics) are common, clearer stones get higher clarity grades.
We all want a clear stone, so we should all be going for a high clarity score, right?
That’s what the untrustworthy jeweler, the one who is pushing these grading reports at you, will want you to believe.
But here’s the thing: there are eleven different clarity grades and under normal conditions, the first eight will all look the same to the naked eye.
In other words, the characteristics being measured are so tiny that you won’t see them unless you put the diamond under a microscope with ten-power magnification (which you and your partner will probably never do). Therefore, a stone with a higher clarity score will cost more, even if it’s no more beautiful.
This is why it is so important that when you shop for diamonds, you buy the stone, not the paper.
A grading report will never replace your own eye because while the grades may say something about rarity, they cannot tell you a single thing about beauty.
Part 2: How To View A Diamond.
All dogs go to heaven and all diamonds look the same.
We hear it every day. And you’re right. They do look the same, right up until you start really looking at them.
Remember when you were in college and you thought that Miller, Bud and Coors all tasted the same? It’s a little like that…
The good news is that learning how to look at diamonds takes all of ten minutes.
There are only two steps.
Think about what you want that diamond to do for you. A diamond’s only job is to sparkle, so imagine that sparkle.
Picture a diamond on her hand as she drives. See the way her stone catches the sunlight and sends a cascade of little glimmers throughout the car.
Imagine her reaching for her purse at a checkout. Imagine how even under horrible fluorescent lights, her diamond sparkles, causing the clerk to gasp and comment on “what a beautiful stone that is.”
Now imagine that same moment 50 years from now, when your sweetheart’s hand has aged beneath that unchanging stone. See the way the diamond you selected still stops the clerk in her tracks, the way it goes on sparkling, as playful as ever. That is what you are looking for when you go to buy a diamond.
You want a showstopper and the only way to get it is to trust your eye. Hold onto the picture in your head. Look at the diamonds before you and ask yourself which, if any, is a little performer. Which one has that sparkling personality?
Because that is the only diamond you want.
And if you aren’t seeing it, trust that too, regardless of what it says on the certificate. Keep walking. Six months from now, you won’t remember what was on that piece of paper. What you will remember are the compliments she gets on her diamond. Trust your eye. Compare what’s in front of you. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you become a connoisseur.
Compare multiple diamonds side by side, and take those little babies into as many different light sources as possible. Get them out from under the jeweler’s lamps. (Jewelry store lighting is designed to make stones sparkle.) Take the diamond you are interested in outside into the sun. Walk it into the shade. Look at it in a darker corner of the shop. Watch how it performs in different lights. If it’s not absolutely sparkling, if in any type of lighting you would describe the stone as “dull, cloudy, dark, or dead,” trust yourself, no matter what it says on that piece of paper.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to buy a diamond by the numbers.
Every stone is unique and at the end of the day, diamonds are objects of beauty. You’ll learn to recognize beauty when you see it. Spend a little time with each one. After all, she’ll be spending the rest of her life with hers.