Think “a diamond is forever” is simply a marketing slogan? Don Adams believes the statement reflects a deeper truth. Sure, diamonds are part of his job – he’s the COO and general manager of Barnes Jewelry – but Adams observes every day how the process of choosing a wedding or engagement ring leaves an indelible impression on both bride and groom.
Adams himself got married 35 years ago, but still can remember the details of the day he and his wife-to-be picked out their wedding rings. “We can remember where we went, who we bought it from, when I proposed to her, what we were wearing, what we were eating, what the weather was like,” he says. “Do you remember what you had for lunch two weeks ago on Wednesday? No, but she can remember every detail about that day because it’s a milestone.”
That’s why he and his associates take so seriously the task of helping customers choose a diamond. He says it’s not just an educational process or a sales experience, but an experience the couple will remember for the rest of their lives. “You’re a third party in this person’s engagement,” he says.
At the same time, shopping for a diamond can be a bewildering experience. The gems are described in a dizzying combination of terms, from shape (“round” or “princess” cuts) to clarity grade (VVS2 or SI1) to letters designating coloration (from D to Z). And that’s just the diamond.
“Sometimes it’s overwhelming when a customer comes in and they see this massive sea of rings,” says Adams. He begins by asking for photos of diamond and ring styles. “Typically I find that most buyers have looked at Pinterest or Facebook, and they have some pictures on their phones that they like. I start from there and we navigate and narrow it down for them.”
With that process in mind, he guided us through the most significant elements of diamond quality. These are popularly known as the “four Cs.”
Carat Weight: If the non-expert public knows anything about diamonds, it usually begins with the casual understanding that a higher number of carats equals a bigger diamond. A one-carat stone is nice. The actor Sofia Vergara’s seven-carat diamond from husband Joe Manganiello is way, way nicer.
The term “carat” simply measures the diamond’s weight – five carats equal one metric gram. Small diamonds are much more common than large diamonds, so a diamond with a higher carat weight tends to be rarer and therefore more valuable. However, two diamonds of the same carat weight won’t necessarily be sold at the same price. “People will shop for a one-carat diamond here or there and compare price. They think this diamond equals this diamond equals this diamond,” says Adams says. “But it’s not really that way.” That’s where the other Cs must be considered.
Color: Diamonds come in a variety of colors, but those lacking color have generally been the most prized. Though few diamonds are perfectly clear, a diamond graded D will be considered “white” or colorless. As a diamond gains color, the grade continues down the alphabetical designation all the way to Z. “Anything between a D and an H-I-J can be considered the near-colorless range,” says Adams. Traditional engagement rings have always been white, but Adams says color preference is subject to celebrity trends. “Because of the red carpet, the pink diamond had a resurgence,” he says. “That’s an expensive diamond.” Other past trends have included diamonds with a sunny, yellow tint and even brown diamonds.
Clarity: All precious stones have tiny impurities or imperfections. These may not always be visible to the naked eye, but become apparent when viewed at magnification. In the gemology world, these imperfections are called inclusions. The fewer inclusions, the more valuable a diamond. Diamonds with larger inclusions are said to have lower clarity. The highest clarity grade is “Internally Flawless” (IF). The lowest clarity is “Imperfect” (I), which indicates inclusions visible with the naked eye. Between these extremes are several other designations up and down the scale, including VVS (“Very Very Slightly Included”) or VS (“Very Slightly Included”). Most of these differences are often visible only to trained gemologists equipped with a jeweler’s magnifying loupe, which means clarity is one place budget-minded customers can save money.
Cut: According to Adams, designations like color and clarity may represent only half of a diamond’s value. “The other 50 percent weighs in the cut,” he says. “Not the shape of it, but how well it’s cut.” He compares this to a spotlight reflected in a mirror. Put the mirror in one position and the light will shine directly in the viewer’s eyes. “It will be blinding,” says Adams. “But if I shifted the mirror ever so slightly, the light is still coming in but it’s going over your shoulder now.” That difference – how the brilliant, “blinding” light is focused within a diamond – is what makes one cut better than another.
“Cut is something we rely on heavily,” Adams says. “A lot of diamond-cutters will cut a diamond for weight because they sell it for that.” Trying to keep a diamond at a certain premium carat-weight, they often attempt to reduce waste while cutting it. “Sometimes they might cut it too shallow or cut it too deep in order to maximize that weight.” The result might be a less-brilliant diamond. “A properly cut diamond will have more waste to it, because it’s not too shallow and it’s not too deep,” Adams says.
While “round brilliant” cut diamonds have long been a bridal preference, other cuts have increased in popularity over the years, from square-shaped princess cuts to trendier (and now less-fashionable) pear- or heart-shaped cuts. “Over the last year or so, the cushion cut has become very popular,” Adams says. Squarish or rectangular with rounded corners that maximize brilliance, a cushion-cut diamond is common for brides who want a halo setting – where small, round diamonds surround a large, central diamond. “They fit nicely in halos, which are holding very strong” in terms of popularity, he says.
Once educated about the “Four Cs,” a diamond-shopper is limited only by budget. Adams says the old standard of spending two months’ salary on a wedding ring shouldn’t be an inflexible rule. Instead, he believes couples should spend whatever amount is comfortable for them. “I don’t want one couple to feel like it will put them in a pinch” by spending too much, he explains. On the other hand, “I don’t want another couple to limit themselves into not getting a design or size they want” because it exceeds the two-months rule. No one is checking bank statements or pay stubs. “I let it be their decision,” Adams says. “It’s an important decision and it should be a fun one. We want people to come in and enjoy the whole experience.”
After all, if history holds true, shopping for a diamond will be an experience the couple remembers forever.
by Jason Boyett
Jason is a journalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, and the author of more than a dozen books. His most recent is “12 World Religions: The Beliefs, Rituals, and Traditions of Humanity's Most Influential Faiths”, published by Zephyros Press. Learn more at jasonboyett.com.