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February is here, and that means plenty of clueless guys are going to be scoping out the best gifts to impress their gal for Valentine’s Day. Many of them are going to swing by the local jewelers to pick out something shiny and expensive – a.k.a. a sure-fire crowd pleaser. There’s a good chance the chubby salesman will eventually present your man with some kind of diamond encrusted gewgaw – in fact, it’s virtually guaranteed if he’s thinking of popping the question.

That’s when things get complicated (and we’re not talking about your pre-nup1!)

They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but I doubt anyone has a best friend with a history as sordid and checkered as the humble diamond. No two diamonds are alike, and the industry is full of terms and technicalities that can easily befuddle even the most intelligent Lothario. Lucky for you, we’ve put together this handy-dandy guide for you and your beau.

Anyone about to dive into the diamond world should know about the four “C’s”: Cut, Clarity, Carat and Color. These characteristics are imparted by the powers that be at institutions like the American Gemological Society, who certify the results. While that may not seem like a big deal, diamonds that aren’t certified are worth less and are harder to insure. Like a purebred dog, a certified diamond comes with papers proving its provenance and characteristics.

shiny diamonds


Carat is the most straightforward, that’s how much the diamond weighs (a carat is equivalent to 200 mg). If two diamonds are identical in every way except size, the bigger one will be more expensive. While the concept is not complicated, you do have to decide whether quantity (more carats) is more important, or quality (fewer flaws, less color) is. A relatively modest sum can buy you an enormous stone, but you could be giving up a lot of brilliance for the extra real estate.

Besides budget concerns, think about the hand you plan to slide the ring on. A smaller hand needs a smaller diamond. Longer hands can wear a larger diamond, but don’t forget that in the diamond world, bigger isn’t always better, as we will see…


Cut is a little more complicated, but it basically boils down to personal preference. Some cuts are better for certain ring types or finger shapes. Other cuts are better at making your stone look bigger. Marquis cut is often suggested for shorter fingers, while cushion cuts need longer hands to look good. The popular “princess” shows off a diamond’s fire and brilliance more than the most common cut for diamond rings, the “round brilliant.”

The bottom line is that unless you’re a gemologist, you’re probably not going to notice the fine differences, so just pick a shape that you think looks most like you. One important point: more complicated shapes are more prone to breaking, and can be more difficult to insure – think about that before you get your heart set on that butterfly-riding-a-poker-playing-unicorn solitaire pendant.


Clarity is where you’ll likely do your first head-scratching. While size and cut are a function of budget and preference, clarity can get complicated. Diamonds come out of the Earth, and the Earth is a dirty, messy place. Sometimes dirt or imperfections during formation create so-called “inclusions” in the diamond.  Depending on the conditions surrounding a gem’s formation, the number of inclusions can vary dramatically. 

The clarity of diamonds is rated along a scale that begins with FL diamond medley(flawless) and goes step by step down through IF (internally flawless, meaning there are some surface imperfections), VVS1 and VVS2 (very very slightly included), VS1 and VS2 (very slightly included), SI1 and SI2 (slightly included), and then three ranks of I, which – you guessed it – means “included.”

Most gems put up for jewelry are SI1 or higher. Sometimes SI2 find their way into a jeweler case, but most reputable jewelers wouldn’t be caught dead hawking an I-rated gem.

The thing about these ratings is that, to the naked eye, an SI1 and, say, a VVS are virtually indistinguishable. Sure, hold them under a magnifier and it looks like someone sneezed into your SI1 diamond, but how often are you going to do that? No one will cast a condescending glance at your lower-rated diamond. By the same turn, if you have the scratch to grab a coveted flawless diamond, no one will know unless you tell them – and no one likes a braggart.


The last consideration is color. Diamonds are certified on a color scale ranging from “D” alphabetically all the way to “Z” (don’t ask me what happened to A, B, and C). D diamonds are completely colorless, while Zs sport a dingy yellow.  A colorless diamond is more valuable, while the further down the alphabet you sing, the less desirable your diamond. Most jewelry diamonds are I-level or higher.

Like clarity, it is difficult for an untrained eye to see the difference between the differently rated diamonds. Go look at an I-rated diamond and it looks as pure and colorless as freshly fallen snow. Even the pickiest of paramours isn’t likely to know that their E-rated diamond is sporting some tan, even next to a completely colorless one.

Don’t get me wrong, the distinction is real, but to the untrained eye, the difference is just for bragging rights.

If the story of diamond color stopped right there, then it wouldn’t be all that complicated. Colorless equals good, more color equals bad. The problem is once you’re in the middle of diamond shopping and stumble across a rainbow of brilliant blue, yellow, brown, orange, pink, red, black and olive diamonds.

blue diamondThe first thing to know about these naturally colored diamonds is they can command a hefty pricetag. While it’s true that the colors are caused by structural imperfection and contaminants, the rarity (less than %.01 of all diamonds) of these “fancy colored” diamonds and the fact that they are--scientifically speaking--“purtier” than that rest, means that many colors command a premium.

While a yellowish tinge can sink an ordinary diamond’s value, a nitrogen-infused canary diamond’s brilliant yellow means a higher price.

The same goes for boron-blasted blue diamonds like the famous Hope Diamond, their extra blue means extra green for lover-boy. 

Did someone say green? Green diamonds got their olive hue from a healthy dose of radiation - don't worry, they won't irradiate the wearer.

Diamonds have long been a source of intrigue, crime, and suspicion, and the black diamond is no diffferent. Scientists still can’t figure out how the enigmatic “carbonado” black diamonds came to form. Some theories suggest they were the product of a supernova explosion, and then deposited on Earth by a meteorite collision. These opaque stones can only be found in Brazil and the Central African Republic.

Brown diamonds, often referred to as “chocolate,” “champagne,” “cognac,” or “coffee,” were once not even considered worthy for jewelry. Clever marketing by companies like Le Vian have changed that, though, and now many people have gone to the dark side with these Australian stones. That said, there’s nothing wrong with brown diamonds, so if they catch your eye, go for it.

If you happen to find a red diamond while digging in the ground one day, start planning your retirement. The redder the diamond, the more rare and valuable it is. These little fiery beauties can be exorbitantly expensive, so you might want to rethink your plans for commissioning an all-diamond American flag for next year’s 4th of July barbecue.

Just don’t confuse them with “blood diamonds” if you ask for them at the jewelers – you might get a funny look.

If you saw the 2006 Leonardo DiCaprio movie, Blood Diamond, then you know the story behind “conflict” diamonds. These dirty diamonds are usually extracted with less-than-voluntary labor, smuggled out of the country, and then the money is used to pay for things like guns, drugs, and other naughty things. Despite attempts to filter out these diamonds (the Kimberley Process), the savvy diamond buyer knows that those systems do not catch 100% of the diamonds. We all know what happened to Leo. You want to end up like him?BIG diamond

Of course, some ask why they should wait on the Earth at all. Man-made diamonds are cheaper, conflict free, and 100% identical to mined diamonds. Despite these perks, most man-made diamonds are found on the edges of saws, but there are plenty of companies who are able to simulate the intense forces in diamond creation to make you a gorgeous stone for a fraction of the cost of a mined one. If you couldn’t care less about certification or provenance, but just want to have a good deal and a clear conscience, then this is the way to go.

The truly committed can even have the process performed on their ashes. One company, LifeGem, will turn part of your remains into a diamond that your relatives can wear – or get freaked out by – for generations. Cut: Cushion… Clarity: Flawless… Carat:1.33… Color: Great Aunt Silva… / Issue 166 - September 7758
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