A bride's engagement ring is the first major piece of jewelry that most couples purchase. When purchasing a ring to be worn for a lifetime, it's important to understand the terms jewelers use to describe gem quality.
Four distinct factors contribute to the value of the stone you select as the centerpiece of your engagement ring. Commonly, these factors are referred to as the Four C's:
Carat Weight: The weight of precious stones is measured in carats. Originally, the word "carat" was derived from a natural unit of weight, the seeds of the carob tree. Traditionally, gemstones were weighed against these seeds; today, a standardized system has been developed in which one carat equals one-fifth of a gram. Carats are subdivided into 100 "points;" e.g., a gemstone of 25 points equals a quarter carat.
Clarity: Virtually all diamonds-the stones most commonly selected for an engagement ring-have some minute traces of non-crystalized carbon, the element from which they were formed. In most cases, carbon traces are only visible under magnification, and are referred to as "inclusions." Such inclusions are actually nature's fingerprint and make each diamond unique. Stones with fewer inclusions are less common, and therefore of greater value.
There are three major international grading systems for classifying diamonds - GIA, CIBJO, and HRD. The GIA terms a stone "flawless" if it is without internal or external inclusions. The other systems use the term "loupe clean," or "internally flawless."
Color: Color is perhaps a diamond's least obvious attribute, but diamonds do cover a spectrum. They range in color from a barely perceptible yellow or brownish tint to the rare "colorless" stones. The rarest diamonds, sometimes referred to as "fancies," can be found in shades of green, red, blue, or amber.
Cut: Each diamond's cut directly affects its fire and sparkle, since the cutter's skill ultimately releases the beauty of each stone. This person's talent, artistry, and years of experience enable the stone to best capture the light, reflecting it from one facet to another before it disperses through the top of the stone. The better the cut, the more brilliance and sparkle you will see in the stone you select.