The Beauty and Value of Diamonds

Diamonds, in addition to being the traditional birthstone for April, are the most coveted gems in the world. While there are colored gemstones that are rarer, and ones that are just as costly as fine Diamonds, no gem is perceived as being as desirable as a Diamond.

Gemstones are judged and valued based on three traditional criteria: beauty, rarity, and durability.

Beauty is subjective, and some people won’t wear their own birthstone because they find the color unattractive. However, all materials considered to be gemstones are found attractive by someone, somewhere. The clear, brilliant sparkle of a fine quality Diamond has nearly universal appeal.

Rarity is a relative term, and Diamonds are not as rare as many other coveted gemstones, such as fine Alexandrite or Demantoid Garnet. However, man must mine and sort through a lot of ore to find diamonds. The Mir Mine, in the 1960s Soviet Union was considered a very productive mine, producing 4 carats of Diamond per tonne of ore. Four carats of diamonds equals .8 grams, which means that over 1,000,000 grams of rock produced less than 1 gram of diamonds. Since only about 20% of the diamonds were of gem quality, this translates into less than 1 carat in diamonds suitable for use in jewelry. The odds of finding a rough Diamond that can produce a 1 carat fine-quality gemstone are at least “One in a Million”, as they used to say in the ads for a Diamond of a carat or more.

For durability, Diamond is the hardest natural material known. This claim is based on measurement in the Moh’s Scale, which measures resistance to scratching. This does not mean a Diamond is indestructible. Toughness and hardness are different things, and a diamond can be chipped or shattered. Because of the nature of its crystal structure, Diamond actually contains planes which it can separate rather easily. This property, cleavage, can and is used to start fashioning rough Diamonds into finished gems.

The Diamond definitely makes the gemstone grade using these standards. However, when it comes to establishing a value for a Diamond. More exacting standards are used: The 4 C’s.

Carat Weight. The size of the finished gem certainly impacts value, as larger stones are rarer. A one carat Diamond of a given quality will be worth more than two half-carat Diamonds of the same quality. The two half-carat Diamonds will be worth more than four quarter-carat Diamonds of the same quality. One carat is equal to 1/5 of a metric gram.

Clarity: The clarity grade of a diamond is established by the presence or absence of natural inclusions in the finished gemstone, when viewed by a trained eye. Standardized grading was pioneered by the Gemological Institute of America, from the 1920s onward. Other accurate grading systems do exist, and many terms are interchangeable in these systems. Some minor variations in terminology and standards do exist, primarily between European systems and American systems, and often in reference to the best of stones and the worst of stones. Higher clarity stones may be graded on the basis of internal and external blemishes in some systems, and only on internal blemishes in other systems. Lower quality stones, which exhibit inclusions visible to the naked eye, may be described in different terms. Grading terms such as VVS, VS, and SI are largely equivalent. Diamonds with less natural inclusions are rarer, and will demand a higher price than those of lower clarity, when all other factors are equal.

Color: In the case of colorless and near colorless diamonds, the absence of any color is considered best. A diamond will generally decrease in value as any increase in color, especially yellow, brown, or grey, is noted. There are also ‘Fancy Diamonds’, showing definite body colors of green, blue and pink, as well as stones that show intense yellows or browns. After a certain point, increase in color may cause an increase in value.

Cut: This can refer to several things. Many equate cut and the shape of the stone, which is not correct. A stone may have a round shape, an oval shape, a marquis shape, or a large number of other shapes. Some shapes will be more popular than others, at different times, and a popular shape may boost the price of a stone a bit. However, when talking about the 4c’s, the term cut refers to the stones ability to handle light. A well cut stone will create maximum brilliance, a blend of the refraction, reflection, dispersion, and scintillation of the stone. Expert graders have different opinions on the most desirable blend of these elements, and legitimate disagreement sometimes. However, there is no argument that fine cutting standards produce a prettier stone than if the same rough diamond is cut with only a large weight in mind.

Please understand that most of these standards are subjective. The weight of a finished gem can be established accurately with a set of calibrated scales. Different graders may disagree on an exact clarity grade for a stone, and the same highly respected gem labs have graded the same stone differently, and different times, with respect to clarity. Color perception can vary from one individual to another, and the same grader’s perception can be altered by eyestrain, medication, or a number of other factors, and total consistency in light sources is needed for consistent results. The cut of a stone can be measured precisely, with every angle precisely charted to a fraction of a degree, but the actual appeal of the stone can not be measured.

A wise old-school diamond dealer once told me “Pick the prettiest stone with your naked eye. Then use all that grading stuff to find out what you should pay for it.” The advice has served me well.

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