As part of this buying guide, we’ll walk you through the steps of figuring out what to buy, how to choose a quality diamond, and picking the perfect diamond that fits your budget/need.
1. Help Me Define My Budget
The first and most important thing to do is to set your budget. Give this one a considerable amount of thought. Put aside everything you’ve heard about “how much should I spend on a diamond ring” as the majority of it is the jewelry industry’s marketing engine hard at work. For a little fun and to put things in perspective, think about some common sayings about diamonds buying:
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend
Ask any girl wearing a diamond to tell you 3 things about their diamond. You’ll be hard pressed to find a woman who can name more than two – usually size and color, or size and clarity. Not being able to name a third thing about your best friend makes you not so much of a good friend!
Spend 2x your monthly salary
Look for two similar diamonds from two different women. Can you tell which diamond cost 1 month’s salary versus the one that cost 4 month’s salary? Most likely not. Retailers have conditioned us through marketing into spending more than we should. Case in point, compare two equivalent diamonds – one sourced from Birks and one sourced from Blue Nile. One cost 3x as much as yet they are both equally beautiful. This is brand marketing at its best. Don’t be fooled by it.
Buying a diamond is an investment
While it is true that diamonds are a precious commodity and that their market value may increase over time, no one should be purchasing an engagement ring as a way to drive financial growth. Case in point: Ask your investment banker when the last time he/she bought an engagement ring to diversity their portfolio.
Treat budget in the same way you would when buying a car. Set the budget before you start shopping rather than letting a sales person tell you how much to spend.
The average spend on a 1.0+ carat diamond ring is approximately $4000. In contrast, the average spend on a 0.5 carat diamond is about $1500. Decide which of these two seems more in line with your lifestyle and financial position and go from there.
2. How to Identify a Quality Diamond
Given that you are reading this, you’re astute and know the facts – buying a diamond online is considerably cheaper than buying a diamond through a brick and mortar retailer. Overall, buying online will save you about 2/3 the costs. This being said, you still need to know –
Given the thousands of diamonds available online, how to I select the best diamond for my budget??
In order to do this, the following sections of this diamond buying guide will help you identify the right diamond properties to look for and then help you weed out the poor performing diamonds using a number of methods and tools. In a nutshell, the process consists of 3 steps:
- Weeding out poorly proportioned diamonds
- Selecting diamonds with excellent light return
- Narrowing down the high visual performing diamonds
STEP 2a: Weed out POORLY proportioned diamonds
Limit your search to only well-proportioned diamonds. Many online sites allow you to filter diamonds based on “advanced characteristics” (refer to image above). Use this and start by limiting your search based on the following properties when available (some sites only allow for Depth and Table):
|Total Depth||between 59 – 61.8%|
|Table Diameter||between 53 – 57.5%|
|Crown Angle||between 34.3 – 34.9 degrees|
|Pavilion Angle||between 40.6 – 40.9 degrees|
|Girdle Edge||thin to medium|
To make your searching easier, we’ve provided links to a few of the popular online diamond vendors. These links open up the respective vendors’ diamond search page with the right properties already set. Remember to put in your budget and other personal criteria like size and color.
When putting in the 4 C’s, our recommendation is to always start with the strictest criteria your budget allows. The following is an excellent starting point that provides the best purchase for your budget (i.e. maximum beauty with minimum budget)
- Cut : Ideal
- Clarity : SI2 – VS2
- Color : H – J
- Carat : This is up to you
To get good value, select a range just below the usual thresholds (i.e. 0.45 – 0.49 for a half carat ring, 0.90 to 0.99 for a 1 carat ring). As you narrow down your choices, if you feel that you’re not getting many good results, then relax your search parameters in the following order:
Order in which to relax your criteria:
STEP 2b: Remove diamonds with noticeable inclusions
Online diamond retailers have made great strides in recent years bridging the gap between viewing a diamond in store and viewing a diamond online. Most online retailers now offer photos and images of the diamonds within their inventory. Those online diamond vendors that carry a mix of real and virtual inventory at minimum share real diamond images of their premium line of diamonds. Thanks to all this technology, it’s increasing easier to achieve this next step in the diamond buying guide with minimal effort.
Spotting inclusions in this step is the same as what you would do in-store except without all the squinting. Comb through the diamonds that match the well proportion criteria and start to look for those diamonds which appear eye clean. An eye clean diamond for the purpose of this buying guide is any diamond that appears free from noticeable inclusions on first look.
Have a look at the screen above courtesy of James Allen. 4 of the 6 diamonds displayed on the page have easy to spot inclusions. We can rule these diamonds out without the need to view the diamond on its own.
Tips on how to judge an inclusion:
- Inclusions close to the table (face of the diamond) will appear much more noticeable then an inclusion towards the tip of the diamond
- Black spots near the girdle (outer edge of the diamond) reduce the value of the diamond but can often be covered with a prong from the ring. This makes for a good value diamond.
- Inclusions which are hard to see on your screen will be essentially invisible in real life (online diamond images are enlarged several fold). In addition, most people view a diamond from approximately 2ft / 24″ away.
Additional Online Features to Spot Inclusions
Some leading online diamond vendors offer a 360 degree view of the diamond. This is EXTREMELY helpful in pinpointing other inclusions which might be invisible from a straight on shot of the diamond.
Take the following diamond for example, can you notice the inclusion?? Rotate the diamond a few degrees left and right. Can you spot the inclusion on the table? It’s at the base of the South-East arrow. The following image provides a zoomed in view of the inclusion. Notice how small the inclusion is even at high magnification. Not all diamonds will be this clean so exercise flexibility when narrowing down your selection.
Start Keeping Track of Good Diamonds
At this point, it helps to start a list of your possible candidate diamonds. My personal favorite way to build this list is Evernote (or Dropbox). Using your tool of choice, save the diamond inventory number and a few comments about it – this will come in handy later. If your list of diamonds is getting too long, open the certificate associated to the diamond and use the inclusion map to help weed out some of the poorer performing diamonds. Note that some diamonds less than 1 carat do not have an inclusion map in the certificate.
Step 2c: Finding diamonds that shine with the Holloway Cut Advisor
Gauging Light Return
The Holloway Cut Advisor (HCA) is a mathematical prediction tool that takes in the proportion of a diamond and evaluates the amount of light returned based on a computer model. The more light returned, the more desirable the diamond. By entering in the specifics of a diamond into the tool, one can get a rating of that diamonds light performance. This being said, take note that this step is more involved as you will need to copy-paste diamond specifics for each candidate diamond. The fewer diamonds you need to apply the Holloway Cut Advisor against, the easier your life will be.
HCA Score of 0-2 Represent Great Diamonds
Our goal is to find a diamond with HCA score in the 0-2 range. One key thing to note in this step is that a lower score does not necessary represent a better diamond (i.e. 0.5 is not better than 1.5). For each of the diamonds on your selection, take note of the score. Also, our recommendation is to keep those diamonds that are slightly above a HCA score of 2.0 as these often times are very good purchases.
Step 2d: Creating Your Final Selection of Diamonds using IdealScope
At this point, you should have narrowed down your selection to no more than rough 10 diamonds after the HCA scoring. One key thing to remember is to not use the HCA for final selection. Because it’s built on a computer model, some aspects of a diamond are not accounted for. Final selection should always be done with an IdealScope or an appraisers help.
Measuring Visual Performance for Final Selection
This step in our diamond buying guide is the easiest as we are looking for a shade of red within a diamond image. This diamond image with shades or red and black is generated from an IdealScope. In simple terms, an IdealScope is a simple bright colored reflector with a viewing hole and lens. Online retailers leverage this tool to photograph the diamond under the lighting condition it creates. The results are an image of the diamond that gives an indication of a diamond’s brilliance (i.e. the light return and the light that leaks out of the diamond).
Not all diamonds have IdealScope images shown on the detail page, however this does not mean that it cannot be requested. Online vendors are usually happy to accommodate the request for your final selection of diamonds.
- Areas of white and pale pink = light leakage
- Consistent spread of red / pink = more brilliance
- Even spread of black and pink = good scintillation
An eight arrow pointed start is a good indicator of excellent symmetry. Here’s a reference chart on symmetry: http://www.ideal-scope.com/1.using_reference_chart.asp.
3. Making the Final Choice
By now, your selection should be narrowed down to 2 or 3 choice diamonds. It’s always a good idea to put these diamonds on hold with the vendor. Most online vendors have gemologists on staff and so it’s always in your best interest to leverage them. With everything outlined in this diamond buying guide, complementing it a knowledgeable set of eyes that can perform a side by side review and comment on your final selection is always a smart move!
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