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  • Writer's pictureValerieBound

Why the 4 C’s are so important for diamonds

If you’re shopping for a diamond, it’s likely you’ve heard of the 4 C’s. You might think they’re helpful, and you’re ready to go to town with all your diamond knowledge! But maybe you feel like they’re hard to remember….. and you’re not sure they’re really all that great. Fear not, consumer! I am here to tell you WHY the 4 C’s are so important! And best of all, it’s for your benefit. So let’s get started.

What was it like before the 4 C’s?

Diamonds and frankly, gemstones in general can be confusing for people. For one, how do you even know it’s a diamond? Any clear stone with a little bit of sparkle could be a diamond. Plus, diamonds come in other colors besides clear. There are plenty of yellow diamonds out there. Blue ones, too. Plenty of jewelers tended to describe diamonds by location, calling certain diamonds “river diamonds” if that’s where they were found, or “Cape diamonds” for ones from Africa. Diamonds can be cut very poorly and have other things that affect their sparkly-ness. But diamonds around the world were talked about very differently just based on where you were buying them. Before the 1500’s, even how much diamonds weighed was measured differently in different places. What a mess!

<img class="wp-image-6651 lazyload" title="the 4 c's are important in helping to compare diamonds, like these alluvial ones" src="" alt="the 4 c's are important in helping to compare diamonds, like these alluvial ones" width="500" height="333" srcset=" 999w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 500px) 100vw, 500px" /> Here’s what diamonds look like when you first fish them out of a river…..

The 4 Cs – important for transparency

With all that confusion, it’s surprising to me that it actually took so long to get some consistency for how we talk about diamonds. The 4 C’s as we know them today have only been around since the 1940’s. That’s because back in 1931, a guy named Robert Shipley founded the Gemological Institute of America. He wanted jewelers in America to have standard training. His belief was that jewelers should be viewed as professionals, so the public would trust them. He pushed for ethical standards too.

It took about a decade to get everyone on board with the 4 C’s. At first, the industry was not real happy with the 4 C’s. You know what you get when you’re not transparent with customers? Wide price variations. In fact, people still complain about how the 4 C’s drives down prices for jewelers. And reduces their profit margins.

<img class="wp-image-6665 lazyload" title="early advertisement for diamonds, just as the 4 C's were starting" src="" alt="early advertisement for diamonds, just as the 4 C's were starting" width="506" height="490" srcset=" 500w, 300w" sizes="(max-width: 506px) 100vw, 506px" /> An ad for diamonds from the 1940’s

But Robert was somehow able to get DeBeers on board with the 4 C’s. And once that happened, it was smooth sailing. I don’t think DeBeers had any real interest in transparency for consumers. Make no mistake – they wanted to sell diamonds. But if talking about the 4 C’s got more people talking about diamonds and talking about buying diamonds, well then that’s what they wanted.

Because, the 4 C’s were not just for jewelers, they were for consumers too. The entire diamond industry created ad campaigns, lectures, and did all sorts of education. All focused on buying diamonds. And it worked.

The 1st C of the 4 C’s is Color

The 4 C’s include all the things that help you judge a diamond and how valuable it is – color, clarity, cut, and carat. In my own opinion, some of these are more valuable than others in today’s diamond market. But they are all important!

Let’s start with color. There’s a D through Z color scale that’s used, with a D having the best color (essentially colorless), and Z having the “worst.” The decision to start with D was because lots of jewelers used A, B, or C to describe color. Or A, AA, and AAA. That’s why they just got rid of A, B, and C. Too confusing otherwise.

<img class="wp-image-6653 lazyload" title="Color range for diamonds is one of the important 4 C's " src="" alt="Color range for diamonds is one of the important 4 C's " width="500" height="273" srcset=" 1008w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 500px) 100vw, 500px" /> The range of colors for diamonds

So, obviously, color is important. But I will tell you in all honesty that the difference between a D and E diamond for color is very, very, very slight. You would very likely not be able to tell the difference. Really. In fact, I would say for color, you could buy an I color diamond and be totally fine. My own diamond is an H color and I have liked it for over a decade!

A note about yellow diamonds: As you add yellow on this scale, your diamond gets a worse grade. This yellow makes the diamond look kind of dirty. It’s not attractive. And it’s very different from the fancy yellow diamonds that a lot of celebrities have. Those diamonds are on a completely differently color scale.

The 2nd of the 4 C’s is Clarity

Clarity is all about what’s inside your diamond. We call them different things – inclusions, blemishes, imperfections, flaws, etc. And while it’s certainly interesting to look through a microscope and see what’s inside a diamond, to the consumer, this C is pretty meh. Most of these are not visible to the naked eye, so who cares?

<img class=" wp-image-6668 lazyload" src="" alt="Clarity is another of the 4 C's used to grade diamonds" width="504" height="199" srcset=" 737w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 504px) 100vw, 504px" /> Clarity for diamonds

Stay away from anything graded I, because these inclusions are visible to the naked eye. But truly, I don’t see a lot of those on the market anyway.

The 3rd of the 4 C’s is Cut

Cut is important because it’s all about how sparkly your diamond is. And people like sparkly diamonds! In fact, that’s the major selling point for diamonds!

I should point out that this C only applies to round brilliant cut diamonds. If your diamond is a square or a heart shape, you’re out of luck. But round diamonds are the majority of diamonds bought and sold.

<img class=" wp-image-6672 lazyload" src="" alt="How diamonds are cut is one of the 4 C's" width="719" height="360" srcset=" 858w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 719px) 100vw, 719px" /> Most gemologists think cut is the most important of the 4 C’s because it is all about how sparkly your diamond is.

Cut is something you should be able to notice. You want your diamond to be sparkly, so this feature is important.

The most important of the 4 C’s is Carat

I saved the best for last! Carat is the most important of the 4 C’s. Mainly because it determines how much you’ll pay, but also because women like to compare their diamonds to their friend’s diamonds.

In my experience, people like to buy something right around the one carat mark. And that’s fine. But you will pay less for a diamond that’s .92 carats versus 1.05 carats. And the difference is negligible.

The 4 C’s are for your benefit

What I like about the 4 C’s is that there’s no where to hide. You’re essentially being given all the information there is to know about the diamond so that you can do an apples to apples comparison. That’s pretty awesome!

And honestly, it doesn’t exist for other gemstones. A lack of transparency is what allows Macy’s to sell leaded glass as rubies. So I think the 4 C’s are a real gift to consumers. For something that you’ll probably be making a real investment in.

Of course, the 4 C’s don’t talk at all about metal types or settings. And those are really important too.

With jewelry, sometimes it’s hard to figure out what you’re really paying for. Is it the size of the stone, or emotion, sentiment, or a name brand? The 4 C’s strips all that away and makes it really easy. So go on now. And buy with confidence.


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