The 4 Cs: A Cheat Sheet
Updated: Aug 5, 2019
If you’re going to buy a diamond, you’re going to hear a lot about the 4 Cs: Color, Clarity, Cut, and Carat weight.
The Four C’s are the four main factors used to determine the value of a given diamond. While each of the C’s offers some information about the quality of a stone, the four Cs are not created equal, no matter how much any jeweler tells you otherwise.
Three of the C’s can tell you about a diamond’s rarity, but only one of them can speak to a diamond’s beauty.
Understanding the truth about each of these categories will not only help you choose the most beautiful diamond; it could also save you thousands of dollars along the way.
Consider this guide your CliffsNotes to diamond shopping.
Okay, to appreciate the 4 Cs, you have to first realize that no two diamonds are alike. None. Anywhere. Diamonds are like fingerprints, or snowflakes, or oak trees. They’re all different because just like fingerprints, snowflakes and oak trees, diamonds come from nature, and Mother Nature loves variation.
On top of the natural differences, there’s the fact that each and every diamond is it’s own little work of art: diamonds are carved by hand, and so its helpful to look at diamonds the way you look at sculptures. In other words, don’t get too caught up on the innate quality of the marble… pay attention to what the sculptor did with that marble.
Without further adieu, the Four C’s:
Clarity measures the purity of the raw material, which in this case is diamond. No diamond is actually 100% pure so the clarity grade is based on the diamond’s natural inclusions, or characteristics. The higher the clarity grade, the purer, more rare, and more expensive the diamond will be.
But here’s the tricky thing about clarity: There are eleven different clarity grades and under normal conditions*, the first eight of the eleven grades will all look the same to the naked eye.
*Normal is defined by normal light, and a vantage point equal to a “reading distance” of approximately 16 inches…in other words, normal mirrors the way you’ll be seeing that stone 99% of the time.
The difference between two subsequent grades is subtle, yet that subtle difference in grade could make for a major difference in cost.
Clarity may be a good area to practice that fifth C… compromise.
Diamond color grades begin at D and run all the way to Z, and like with clarity, the difference between grades is subtle.
In fact, to see the color of a stone accurately, the stone must be turned upside down and viewed under balanced white light alongside “master stones” that have already been graded by the Gemological Institute of America.
The reason stones have to be turned upside down to be color graded is that diamonds are cut to reflect and refract light, and if a stone is cut well, all that light being tossed around can actually mask a poorer color.
In other words, when diamonds are viewed right side up, their sparkle can make them look brighter than they are, and here’s the thing about that… once the stone is mounted in a ring, you’ll never be looking at it upside down again.
So our advice with color is similar to clarity: don’t get too hung up on it. A diamond with a lower color score can perform just as well as any other diamond, if it’s cut correctly.
A carat weighs exactly one-fifth of a gram. Diamond size is measures by points (kind of like bucks during hunting season). There are 100 points to a carat, so a 50 pointer is a half-carat stone.
However, a half-carat stone won’t cost half the amount of a comparable one-carat. Instead, diamond prices multiply as their sizes increase.
Remember that fifth C? Compromise? DON’T DO THAT HERE!
Cut is by far the most important element of any diamond. While the other three C’s attest to the stone’s rarity, only Cut can influence a stone’s beauty.
Diamonds have what is called a “unique refractive index.” Basically, what this means is that diamonds can reflect and refract light more efficiently than any other material. The cut of a stone, the unique angles of each and every facet, determine how well a stone plays in light, and this determines how much that stone will sparkle.
Cut is so important, it actually accounts for between 40-60% of the worth of the stone.
Diamond cutters try to retain as much of the original material as possible. This can lead to some off cuts.
If a diamond is cut to deep, light will leak from its sides.
It its cut to shallow, light will leak out the bottom.
To know if your diamond is cut well, think of it like this: the facets on the bottom of the stone should act like mirrors, not windows.
If a diamond looks dead, dull, or drab, it is because it is leaking light from a bad cut.
Cut is the single most important factor to consider when you buy a diamond. It is the reason no diamond should be bought sight unseen, and it is the only reason your diamond will garner compliments for years to come.
Think of Michelangelo’s David. We’re fairly certain no one who goes to see that sculpture comes away saying, “What fine quality marble that was!” Color, clarity and carat weight are all about the quality of that marble… err, diamond.
Cut is about the artistry. Cut is what transforms a diamond into a masterpiece.
Take your time, be discerning, and remember that every diamond is different. Purchasing a diamond will always be about navigating those differences.
But just as you wouldn’t let your stylist give you a pixie cut when you went in for a bob, don’t compromise on the cut of your stone either. Bad hair might last a day, but a poorly cut diamond- that’s forever.