A Man’s Guide to Buying Diamonds in 5 Simple Steps

Photo (cc) by jurvetson

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, the saying goes. Odd, because they can be a man’s worst enemy. They’re expensive, they’re complicated, and as a retail experience, about as far as you can get from Home Depot.

To make matters worse, because they’re always a popular holiday gift (more than one-third of diamonds are bought in December), when you go to the jewelry store, you’ll be in a pack of other dazed men being preyed upon by commissioned sales people. Not a pretty picture.

But don’t panic. Thanks in large part to the Internet, buying diamonds isn’t as tough as it used to be. Not because you should buy diamonds online, however: As I’ll soon explain, that may not be your best bet. But the web makes the education process a whole lot easier.

Let’s start your education with 90-second story I shot last week at a local jewelery shop. Then meet me on the other side for more.

Now, before we get into more detail, let’s stop here. As the gemologist said in the story above, buying a diamond isn’t rocket science.

If you’re buying a $100 stocking stuffer, stop reading right now. Hop in the car, head for the mall (or the computer) and do a little comparison shopping. See what’s in your price range, lay a few items out side by side, have a female clerk try things on for you, make a decision, and go home and watch the game.

Another way you can stop right here: Even if you’re spending a lot, you could use the same method your dad used when he bought your mom a diamond. This time-honored method is to start by finding a jeweler you can trust. Ask your friends for referrals, or talk to a few until you get a good feeling – you know: the same way you’d pick a mechanic. Once you have your jeweler, tell them your budget. Then look at enough stones side by side to get a feel for what you like. Finally, pull the trigger – go with your gut and pick one.

Keep in mind that, while there are many variables that affect the price and quality of diamonds, there’s one thing you can absolutely count on – she’s going to like it.

But if you’re about to spend some serious coin, or you’re simply the type that really wants to know what you’re doing before you shop, just follow the tips below and you’ll get through it. You’ll have to invest a little study time before investing your money, but you’ll be glad you did.

Step one – Set your budget.

This may sound like an obvious statement, but too many guys get caught up in details like cut, color, and clarity without first establishing how much they have to spend. Do that and the next thing you know, you’ve decided what you need is a 2 carat, ideal cut, D-color, VVS1-clarity diamond. Then you drive all the way to the store and find out that it’s in stock – but it costs $150,000. Now you have to go back and start over.

Step two – Understand the four C’s.

Diamond price is directly related to the four C’s: cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. But as I mentioned above, unless you’re super-rich, you’re not going to get the best in each category. So this is all about deciding what’s most important. If size matters most, get used to the idea that you’re going to be compromising on the other three: probably a bunch. So read about the 4 C’s below, but don’t decide while reading that you know what you want. Because until you combine these with your budget, you don’t.

That being said, here are the four C’s…

Carat weight: Since this is what virtually everyone talks about when describing diamonds, you probably already know this one. But remember that carat is about weight, not size. While they’re obviously somewhat related, they’re not the same thing: a well-cut diamond might weigh less but look bigger. Another important thing to remember about carat weight is that as it increases, the cost increases exponentially. In other words, a 2-carat stone might weigh only 33 percent more than a 1.5-carat, but because it’s far more rare, it could cost 300 percent more. The same thing applies in reverse when buying odd carat weights: Although it’s nearly the same weight, a 1.4-carat diamond will cost a lot less than a 1.5 carat.

Cut: Cut is not the same thing as shape – diamonds can come in different shapes and still have the same quality of cut. The cut is probably the most important of the four C’s in terms of a diamond’s appearance, because it affects how much a diamond sparkles. A well-cut diamond can appear larger than its carat weight would suggest. The grades of cut are Ideal, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor.

Color: Diamond color (or the lack of it) is graded by letter. After cut, color is generally considered the second-most important characteristic when selecting a diamond. The grades rank from Z to D, with Z having the most color and D being perfectly clear, and therefore the most expensive. Anything above J is considered high quality. The larger the diamond, the more color will show and therefore matter. Some shapes will mask color better than others: look for “princess” or “round” shapes in lower-quality diamonds.

Clarity: Nearly every diamond has imperfections – called inclusions – and that’s what clarity is about. Clarity grades include FL, IF (Flawless, Internally Flawless); VVSI, VVS2 (Very, Very Slightly Included); VS1, VS2 (Very Slightly Included); SI1, SI2 (Slightly Included); and I1, I2, and I3 (Included). In general, you’ll need magnification to see imperfections in any clarity VS or better. Some SI diamonds have imperfections barely visible under 10X magnification – with others you may be able to see them with the naked eye. This is why buying a diamond online based only on it’s certificate (a document issued by a diamond laboratory that specifies the four C’s, among other things) is risky business. You should never buy an expensive diamond without seeing it yourself under the magnification of a jeweler’s loupe. In other words, two diamonds with the same clarity grade may look completely different and have radically different values.

Step 3 – Use a website to bring you back to reality.

Now that you’ve learned a little about the four C’s, you’re ready to do something that was very difficult before the Internet came along: quickly see exactly how much diamond you’ll be able to buy with your budget. Here’s what to do – go to a web page like the Blue Nile diamond search and use the sliders there to modify the carat, cut, color, and clarity and see how much they matter to the fifth C: cost. By trying different combinations, you’ll quickly understand what I said above – unless you’re super-rich, you’re going to have to compromise. If you start with carat, you’re probably going to be getting lower grades than you hoped on the other C’s. But don’t worry: It’s all going to work out.

When you find a few diamonds that you think you can afford, print out the certificates for them, along with the prices. While you’re at it, if you’re getting a ring or other setting for your diamond, print out pictures of those too. Then you’re ready for…

Step 4 – Visit a jeweler.

Now you have a few diamonds that you think are right for your budget. You know the carat size you’d like, and you know what cut, color, and clarity you think you can afford to go with that weight. You’re a little freaked out, however, because the color, cut, and clarity you can afford with the carat you want doesn’t seem good enough. You may be right, but there’s only one way to find out: Go to the jewelry store, sit down with a jeweler, borrow a loupe and look at similar stones.

You don’t have to hide the certificates and web prices in your pocket – pull them out and show them to the jeweler. Tell them the truth: You’d like to deal with a local merchant, but at the end of the day, you’ll deal with whoever will give you the best value. If your local jeweler can give you the same price per carat for the same quality stone, you’re happy to deal with them.

Step 5 – Make the purchase.

My experience is that local folks often do as well price-wise as online stores, plus offer the major advantage of being able to see multiple diamonds in person before you purchase. But if you feel that an online merchant is truly giving you a better deal than your local jeweler, fine: Buy online. Just be absolutely certain that if you’re not 100 percent satisfied for any reason, you can return it, no questions asked. Most sites have 30-day return policies.

Bottom line? Diamond shopping isn’t nearly as much fun as buying a new cordless drill, and it’s a lot more expensive. But if you’re willing to do a little reading and a little comparison shopping, it’s not all that hard. And while using a drill for the first time is cool, it doesn’t come close to the look on the face of your lover when she opens that little box.

Good luck!

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