With Valentine’s Day looming, your thoughts — or perhaps the thoughts of your beloved — may be turning to diamonds. If so, you should be very, very afraid. After all, these tiny sparkly crystals cost more than your car and most of us can’t tell a flawless emerald cut from a cubic zirconia. So how can you make sure that you’re not taken advantage of when you walk into a jeweler’s shop?
Antoinette Matlins, an internationally recognized diamond expert in Woodstock, Vermont, and author of Jewelry & Gems: The Buying Guide, can help. She’s seen every one of a diamond buyer’s worst fears realized. She knows that reports attesting to a diamond’s quality can be forged or inaccurate. She knows that diamonds are sometimes heated to thousands of degrees under tremendous pressure, which improves their color but can make them more likely to chip. She’s seen fractures filled with a glass-like material, and laboratory-produced diamonds of such high quality that you can’t tell them from natural diamonds with the naked eye. “The closer you get to a wholesale diamond market, the higher the incidence of fraud and misrepresentation,” she says. “It just boggles the mind what they’ll do to fool you, they’re so creative and clever.” Luckily, she also knows how to make sure that you don’t get duped.
The first step is to familiarize yourself with the four Cs — cut, color, clarity and carat — because these four factors determine what a diamond is worth.
Cut is the most important, says Matlins. As a general rule, she suggests that you ask for a certificate from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) grading the cut as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good.’ “Don’t go below ‘good,'” she says. “the cut is what gives a diamond its liveliness, its sparkle and its fire.”
The next factor, the color of a diamond, is graded by a letter from D to Z. The D grade is the best and means the diamond is completely colorless. Diamonds get more yellowish or brownish as they go down the scale. Matlins says the highest grades are very close together, so there’s no point in paying more for an D grade if a diamond with an F grade looks the same to you.
Next up is clarity, which refers to the number of miniscule black or white specks in the diamond, as well as any other tiny flaws. The top grade is FL (Flawless), followed by IF, VVS1, VVS2, VS1, VS2, SI1, SI2 and I1. Matlins says you can trust your eyes on this one. An IF stone could be dramatically more expensive than an otherwise identical SI1 stone, but you may need a magnifier to see the difference, so there’s little sense in paying for the upgrade. “The clarity grade has nothing to do with the sparkle,” she says, “so this is the place to get a lot of leverage on your budget.”
The final factor, the carat, is the weight of the diamond. The more carats, the bigger and more expensive your rock will be. The price jumps up at each whole number, so Matlins says you can save a lot by buying a 0.95 carat diamond instead of a 1 carat stone (whether you reveal this rounding error to your beloved is up to you). However, in general this is not a good place to go cheap. Your beloved may tell you that size doesn’t matter — but it does.
If you’re familiar with the four Cs, you can price shop among jewelers and be confident that you’re comparing apples to apples, but you could still get swindled. Your jeweler could claim a diamond was graded as a VS1, but it could actually be an SI2. Even a reputable jeweler could unwittingly have a stone that was laser drilled, meaning that a tiny laser beam was used to tunnel down to a flaw so that it could be removed. To make sure you don’t get duped, you should buy your diamond loose from a jeweler who agrees to put the four Cs in writing right on the receipt, and who will refund your money if a third party appraiser comes up with different grades.
After you’ve bought the diamond, says Matlins, take it to an independent gemologist appraiser (preferably one who doesn’t sell diamonds). You can find properly certified appraisers through the American Society of Appraisers (Appraisers.org) and the American Gem Society (AmericanGemSociety.org), both of which have members in Canada. Don’t trust the in-house appraiser or even an appraiser recommended by your jeweler. If your appraisal agrees with what the jeweler wrote on the receipt, you got what you paid for, and you can now have your diamond set. If not, get your money back and shop somewhere else.
Thanks in part to the recent Leonardo DiCaprio movie Blood Diamond, it’s now common knowledge that diamonds from places such as Angola and Sierra Leone can be used to fund bloody conflicts. If you want to ensure that your money isn’t bankrolling violence, follow these tips from diamond expert Antoinette Matlins.
Don’t fool yourself
There’s no way to be 100% sure that you’re not buying a conflict diamond, says Matlins. The odds are against it, as innovations such as the Kimberley Process have reduced the percentage of conflict diamonds to less than 5% of all diamonds mined. However, certificates and laser inscriptions can be forged, and there’s no surefire way to tell where a diamond is from just by looking at it.
Don’t take the jeweller’s word
The path a diamond takes from a mine to the jeweler’s case can be a long and tortuous one. Some jewelers are quick to assure customers that they don’t sell blood diamonds, but even well-meaning jewelers don’t know for sure, because they’re just taking the word of the cutter they bought the diamond from.
Even though there’s no perfect guarantee, Matlins agrees that if you buy a Canadian diamond from a mainstream Canadian jeweler, you can be 99.9% sure it’s not a conflict diamond.