Lifestyle, Wedding

How to Buy a Diamond – Secrets Retailers Won’t Tell You

I remember when my husband and I first started looking at engagement rings, I had NO clue about diamonds. Since this was going to be such a large financial investment, I did a ton of research (I mean days and days worth) to make sure that we were making an informed decision (we both work in Finance, so we both know the value of good research!). I will hit on the high points that I learned below and give an informative overview of the high-level practical lessons I learned.

If your fiance is choosing the ring without you, send him this article ASAP or pin the below pictures to come back to later!

AND one last story… when looking at rings, of course I had to go to Tiffany (because, Tiffany’s). The solitaire diamond ring I tried on was the same exact clarity, cut and color (and about 0.76 carats LESS) as the diamond we ended up buying and was 348% more expensive… yes, it was 3.48X the price of my same exact diamond. Keep reading to learn more about the buying process…

The Basics

  • The 4 C’s of diamonds: Clarity, Carat, Cut, Color
    • The 4 C’s are what determine the price/quality of the diamond. Higher (better) ranks in each of these categories make the diamond more expensive (i.e. a colorless, flawless 5ct diamond will be $$$). You will need to decide the trade-offs that you want to make on each C to find the perfect diamond for your budget.
      • 1.) Clarity– this is the amount of “inclusions” (flaws) in the diamond. They are ranked from F(flawless) -> VVS (very very slightly included) -> VS (very slightly included) -> SI (slightly included) -> I (Included)
        • Note: Typically any diamond with a F -> VS rating will be “eye-clean”, meaning that you will not see any flaws with the naked eye. You would need a microscope to see any type of flaw. SI diamonds can also be “eye-clean”, but it depends on the individual diamond and it is better to buy this stone in person rather than online where you cannot see it. “I” diamonds typically have an inclusion that can be seen with the naked eye.
      • 2.) Carat – this is the weight of the diamond. Larger diamonds are typically more expensive because they are more rare.
        • Note: Just because a stone is heavier, doesn’t mean it looks bigger to the eye or is more valuable than a smaller stone – you need to look at the dimensions of the stone to know what it will look like in a setting (i.e the cut). “Spread diamonds” are cut to look larger in a setting but are lighter weights and have a lower cut quality. 
      • 3.) Cut – cut is what determines how sparkly your diamond will be (most people get this confused with clarity). The cut determines how the light dances through the stone i.e. the sparkle. Poorly cut diamonds will seem dull and less brilliant. The rankings go from “Excellent” –> “Poor”. There is also a “Hearts and Arrows” cut which is not a technical term, but it is considered “Ideal”.
      • 4.) Color – color grading starts at D (completely colorless) –> Z (fancy yellow/brown).
        • Note: If you are looking for the standard, colorless diamond, anything from D-J are colorless to the naked eye. If you go past J, you can see a slight tint of yellow when looking in certain lights or angels. 
      • Bonus #5.) Ok, so this is not technically a C, but Shape makes a difference in price and style. Round diamonds are typically more expensive than fancy shape diamonds (oval, princess, cushion, etc) because it is a more timeless and classic style. BUT super rare cut diamonds such as a heart or old European cuts are more expensive than round because it takes a larger diamond to cut out these shapes.
    • Who is giving these rankings and where do you find the 4c scores?
      • Rankings and grading are done by rating agencies. There 2 main agencies are the GIA and EGL. When you buy a diamond from a reputable source, you are most likely to receive a copy of its grading certificate. The grading certificate with have the 4C’s plus additional information such as polish, symmetry, etc (these details aren’t as important as the main 4) and a picture of where they found all of the flaws on the diamond.
        • Note: The GIA is the more legitimate source since it is a gemological school and a not-for-profit entity. It has extremely strict standards that are not influenced by outside factors (i.e. diamond brokers can not call and opine on the quality of their diamond that they paid to have graded). Since the EGL has looser quality standards (i.e. a D color EGL diamond could be a F color GIA) and is a for-profit entity, you are safer to buy a diamond with a GIA certificate. The GIA is the most respected grading agency in the industry, and you can look up any diamond certificate on their website. The certificate is also important if you ever plan to sell your diamond in the future (but hopefully you won’t need to!) and for insuring your diamond. 
      • Not every diamond will have a certificate and this could be for a few reasons: it is an antique diamond (this site for antique diamonds is AMAZING!) that hasn’t been graded, the quality of the diamond doesn’t meet the standards of the grading reports (lots of flaws, fancy colors, it is synthetic* or has been enhanced**, etc), or some retailers (such as Tiffany) will grade the diamonds according to their own standards. You can request at some diamond dealers that their diamond be sent to a grading agency before you buy it.
        • * A synthetic or man-made diamond is an alternative to a natural diamond. For example, moissanite is a lab-made diamond that is almost indistinguishable to the naked eye from a real diamond, but is way less expensive. I’ll go into a little more detail below!
        • **An enhanced diamond means that its natural flaws have been manually concealed or removed and this severely lowers the value of a diamond, especially for re-sale.

So now what do I do with this information, and where do I get the best deal?

  • DO NOT BUY A DIAMOND AT A RETAIL STORE!
    • UNLESS you just really want that Tiffany blue box or tell everyone it’s a Harry Winston diamond. If that’s you, then go get that blue box girl!
    • It has been proven that “name-brand” diamonds are marked up 200-300% and they are the SAME diamonds that are sold other places. The GIA graded quality standards could be the exact same! A GIA F Color, 2.00 Carat, Excellent Cut, VS2 diamond from Tiffany is the same you will get from other sources, but you are paying for the name brand and the experience of buying it from a fancy store.
    • **I DO** recommend going in person to a few retail stores just to look, ask questions and price check. Try a few rings on, look at styles and get a sense of what you want.
    • Where should I go then?!
      • 1.) The internet — BUT only certain, reputable sources!! If you see a diamond that is too good to be true, it probably is!
        • James Allen – While I understand it can be scary to make such a large purchase without ever seeing it, this website is amazing because you can actually have a 360 spin of each and every diamond along with the grading certificates. So you know how I mentioned before about how SI1-SI2 might be eye-clean, you can see the exact stone at 20x magnification on the site. They also have a filter where you can search for only GIA rated diamonds. This site lets you choose the diamond with the setting and they set it for free. Their settings are reasonably priced and they have good pictures fore each setting (they also have option for a gemstone setting if you don’t want a traditional diamond which I love!). This is a great site to play around on, and it makes me want to design another diamond ring! It also has a free 30 day money back guarantee. I’ve read reviews that this site has great customer service!
        • Blue Nile is also a  reputable site that let’s you filter on your exact specifications, price point, etc and give you all of the details for each diamond. They also have a PDF available of each diamond’s grading certificate so there are no surprises when the diamond shows up at your door! There are only some diamonds with a 360 degree view which can be a pain if you want to see if before you buy it. The prices are reasonable, and it is a good place to price check a diamond that you find at a dealer or another source. This site also lets you choose a setting for the diamond. Has a free 30 day money back guarantee, but does not pay for return shipping.
      • 2.) A legitimate in-person diamond dealer! If you are too nervous to make the online purchase, go to an in-person diamond dealer. We used a diamond dealer to buy my diamond. A diamond dealer specializes in buying and selling diamonds. While they may have other inventory, diamonds are usually their specialty. A dealer will usually have a large supply of diamonds that you can see in person, or they can find you the exact diamond that you are looking for by trading with other dealers. They can help educate you on what is in your price range, and show you the options during your appointment. They can (sometimes) help you create a custom setting without the retail markup. Diamond dealers are usually in office buildings rather than retail locations. If you live in Texas, I highly recommend  our dealer! If you have a family jeweler or watch dealer, they can probably help you find a reputable person too. I had our family jeweler custom design my ring, and it was a fraction of the retail price.
      • 3.) Costco – umm huh?! Say what? That’s not romantic?! But guess what is romantic – more $$ for the honeymoon! And **no one asks where your diamond is from – like, ever. So even if you do get it at Tiffany’s, you would have to blurt it out without being asked. Now I did not personally look at Costco, but through research I learned that they are a great source. You can price check them against the online diamond sellers as well.

Diamond Alternatives

  • While going through this learning process, I learned about all different types of engagement rings and diamonds are absolutely not your only choice! There are many budget friendly alternatives that are just as beautiful and special.
  • Lab-made diamonds:
    • Moissanite – moissanite is a stone very similar to a diamond and less than half the price. The difference is that it is created in a lab versus found in nature and has a slightly different chemical composition. It has a slightly different look in person because it has more fire and brilliance (sparkle!) which causes the light reflections to look more colorful, and since it is made in a lab, it has minimal flaws. Though I’ve never seen one in person (only video), I’ve considered getting a replica of my ring made with a moissanite for traveling.
    • Cubic Zirconia – CZ rings are extremely inexpensive! They are also lab-made diamonds (also a different chemical composition), but do not have the hardness or quality of a moisaanite. They can become scratched and dull easily if not frequently cleaned and taken care of. I’ve had many CZ pairs of earrings in the past that are beautiful for special occasions, but I’m not sure they would hold up for everyday wear.
  • Gem stones – you can always replace the diamond with a gemstone center stone. The one thing to note is that it is best to use a stone that is high on the hardness scale and that won’t be scratched, chipped or cracked easily over time. For example, I loveee morganite, but it is not considered a hard stone and typically isn’t recommended for an engagement ring that will be worn every day.

At the end of the day, just find something that you and your fiance love! Good luck finding your dream ring! Would love to see what you find! Do you have any tips that I missed?

Disclosures: I am NOT a gemologist or diamond expert (even though I feel like I am at this point!), so make sure to do any additional research on any outstanding questions and policies I have listed above in case they have changed since we bought my ring. The GIA is a wonderful source for all things Diamond, and I highly recommend you check out their website.