On a Budget? Check Out Clarity Enhanced Diamonds as an alternative.
Tip: NEVER Buy Diamonds Online
Two Diamonds may have the same specs, but look very different
Call or E-Mail us to see diamonds in person, BEFORE you buy!
To get the best value:
1) Pick the shape first (round, princess, oval, etc.).
2) Then, choose a clarity between SI1 and SI2, and a color between G and I.
3) From there, change the weight (0.50 carat, 0.75 carat, 1.00 carat, etc) to find a diamond in your budget.
Loose diamond buying can be a daunting task. It's considerably easier than buying/grading colored gems like rubies, sapphires, emeralds and alexandrite, to mention just a few, but the technical details of grading and valuing diamonds can easily lead us astray, in my opinion. Don't lose sight of your real objective -- I'll guess that is to blow her away, without spending more than you should, right?
My educated advice to most buyers is to always buy your diamonds in person. We're pros and we NEVER by diamonds until we've seen them. Period. Two diamonds with the exact same specifications can have different levels of beauty. This makes it truly tough to shop, unless you can see several diamonds side-by-side in the same lighting. This is impossible in an online purchase, so at least be sure you can return your online diamond without any penalty. Bring it in and compare it side-by-side with one of ours. We beat online diamonds dealers all.day.long.
At the end of the day (or decade,) what matters most is that she's proud of her diamond and you paid a good price. However, if you enjoy all the details, by all means, let's have some fun with it!
I'm going to start at the end, because it helps to keep things in perspective. You probably can't grade diamonds. So ultimately you're going to have to trust someone to tell you the truth about your diamond's grade. Jewelry is one of the oldest industries dating back millennia, and every possible form of deception has been thought of, and used, long ago by less-than-scrupulous jewelers. The industry has tried to combat this deception with diamond certifications from independent laboratories with some success. However, even then there are challenges: a certified gem costs more and some laboratories are more honest than others. GIA heads the list for strict, honest grading practices. With EGL it depends on which division. The USA division is usually pretty spot on. The European division a bit less, and the Israeli division is nearly worthless most of the time.
We often have both certified and non-certified diamonds available to accommodate various budgets, along with an independent GIA graduate gemologist to grade your diamond for you. Still, it's about trust, so find a jeweler with a good reputation.
From here, I'll focus on "bang-for-your-buck" diamond grades. There are four parameters, often called the "Four C's". Clarity, Color, Carat and Cut ... along with Shape, which is often confused with Cut, so let's start there.
Shape: Usually this is where a shopper starts. Does she want a round diamond or a princess-cut (square) diamond? Or perhaps something a bit more exotic like a Marquis, Oval, Emerald Cut or pear shaped? Some shapes are more efficient than others when compared to the shape of a rough diamond crystal. As such, a 1-carat princess-cut will usually cost a bit less than a 1-carat round diamond of the same grade.
Clarity is a measure of flaws, or what jewelers call "inclusions." Many factors are considered. Are the inclusions black or white? Are they in the center of the diamond or toward the edge? How big and how many inclusions are there? Do the inclusions compromise the diamond's durability? Your best value is in the SI1 to SI2 range. Here the flaws are invisible to the naked eye, but pretty easy to spot under magnification. A better clarity grade will cost you more, but won't look any better to the naked eye. A worse clarity grade will be obviously flawed to the naked eye and the diamond's beauty compromised.
Color: The vast majority of diamonds have a slight tinge of yellow or brown to them. It's barely noticeable in most of the gem-quality diamonds you'll see, but it's still there. The whiter the diamond, the more expensive it is. Color is graded on a scale of D to Z, with DEF being the most expensive. Your best value is usually in the GHI range. J and K can be used in yellow-gold settings, because the color of the metal tricks the eye a bit.
Carat is a weight, not a size. There are 5 carats to a gram. (Karat is completely different: it's a measure of the purity of gold. 14k is 58% pure gold, 18k is 75%, and 24k is 100%.) Carat and value have some peculiarities. You would think a 2-carat diamond would be twice as much money as a 1-carat diamond (of the same grade,) but it's more like 2.5 times as much because they are so much more rare. This is the parameter I encourage my clients to play with to find a diamond in their budget. A smaller, prettier diamond is better than a larger, not-so-pretty diamond.
Cut: This is the human contribution to a finished diamond and is likely the most important in terms of beauty. It's all about the proper proportions, symmetry and polish that give a diamond its sparkle and fire. If we were to take a perfect, flawless diamond of D color and cut it poorly, it will look like a chunk of glass. This is one parameter that we shouldn't skimp on. Always go with a Very Good, Excellent or Ideal cut.