Understanding the 4 C’s: Color, Clarity, Cut, and Carat Weight

Purchasing a diamond can test the nerves of even the most astute buyer – what do you look for? What do the terms mean? What makes one diamond worth more than another?

When you step into the jewelry store and attempt to buy a diamond, but do not know the difference between one stone or the other, you’re up for a challenge.  Even though two stones may have the same size and carat, the price can be completely different. Why? Here is a simple guide to the essentials of diamond grading.

Understanding these terms will help you discuss with the dealer the features most important to you, ensuring you get the very best diamond for your money. Diamond appraisers look for four qualities in a diamond when discerning its value. Commonly called the ’4 Cs’ they are: Cut, Clarity, Carat and Color.  The quality of the diamond in a diamond ring will either increase or decrease the value of the selection, but may still appeal to the visual senses of a buyer. This is fine, but with whatever selection you choose, dealing with a reputable jeweler is a must. This is especially suggested when buying a diamond ring for an engagement or wedding ring that is meant to stand the test of time. In any event, knowing the ins and outs of the 4 C’s will make you a well-prepared shopper when it comes to choosing the perfect diamond setting.


There are 2 main aspects of “cut” – the quality of the cut and the shape.  The quality of the cut refers to the brilliance of the diamond, while the other refers to the actual shape of the diamond.

1. Quality of the cut – affecting the brilliance of the diamond – is the most important characteristic of a diamond to consider. The brilliance is determined by the ability of the diamond to reflect light. A quality cut diamond will have facets angled to reflect the greatest amount of light. Beware of diamonds cut to maintain a higher carat weight while sacrificing the cutting of a good angle as this will dramatically reduce the brilliance.  The standard ratings for diamond cuts vary from greatest least as follows:  Ideal, very good, good, fair, and poor.

2. Shape – Diamonds are available in many shapes. Some of the more common are; round, oval, pear (teardrop shaped), heart, princess (square shaped), Emerald (rectangular shaped), radiant, marquise (football shaped), asscher, and cushion. Of all the shapes available, round diamonds are the shape most capable of being cut to exude the greatest brilliance.


Diamonds from natural sources are subject to individual flaws including trace minerals and scratches. A diamond without such characteristics is characterized as “flawless” and is the rarest kind. While these flaws are often not visible to the naked eye, they affect the light reflecting qualities of the diamond which affects the overall brilliance.

Diamond clarity is classified from highest to lowest as follows: Flawless, IF, VVS1, VVS2, VS1, VS2, SI1, SI2, SI3, I1, I2 and I3.

  • F
    Flawless: No internal or external flaws. Extremely rare.
  • IF
    Internally Flawless: no internal flaws, but some surface flaws. Very rare.
  • VVS1-VVS2
    Very Very Slightly Included (two grades). Minute inclusions very difficult to detect under 10x magnification by a trained gemologist.
  • VS1-VS2
    Very Slightly Included (two grades). Minute inclusions seen only with difficulty under 10x magnification.
  • SI1-SI2
    Slightly Included (two grades). Minute inclusions more easily detected under 10x magnification.
  • I1-I2-I3
    Included (three grades). Inclusions visible under 10x magnification as well as to the human eye. We do not recommend buying diamonds in any of these grades.

It is important to remember that the clarity of the diamond only effects the value of the diamond; not necessarily the appearance of the diamond until the level I.  Level I is more visibly flawed, and not a preferred diamond to purchase.


Carat is the measurement of the weight of a diamond. One carat is equal to 200 milligrams, or 0.2 grams. One carat may also be referred to as ‘100 points’. This means that a half carat would be listed as ‘50 points’ and so on.

The larger a diamond is, the more costly it becomes. Since the larger diamonds are much rarer in the environment, the cost will go up significantly with the increase in size. A one carat diamond will typically be more than double the cost of a half carat, however, a ring with multiple diamonds that have a combined weight of one carat will be cheaper than a single stone of that weight.  It is also important not to confuse “carat weight” with “karat,” the method of determining the purity of gold.


The color of a diamond typically refers to the grade of the whiteness of a diamond. The more light that is able to pass through the mirror like diamond – the more sparkle the diamond will emit.  The highest quality of diamond is presented in a colorless diamond. The more color that a diamond has, the less rare it is considered, as seen with yellow shades of these gems.

Diamonds that are classified as “colored” or “fancy” diamonds do not follow the same color grading as colorless, white diamonds.  These fancy diamonds are very rare and valuable.

To grade ‘whiteness’ or colorlessness, most jewelers refer to GIA’s professional color scale that begins with the highest rating of D for colorless, and travels down the alphabet to grade stones with traces of very faint or light yellowish or brownish color. The color scale continues all the way to Z.  A typical ‘white’ diamond should be as colorless as possible – a rating of ‘D’ being the rarest and most desirable. When choosing a colorless diamond it is best to stay within the D-J range or the diamond will have a yellow cast which lowers the value. The less natural color the diamond has, the more colors will appear in the flashes reflected in the prism.  It is important to match your setting with the color of the stone.  If you prefer a warmer diamond color with more of a yellowish hew, be sure to pair the diamond with a yellow gold band.

From the information provided above, it is important to remember the 4 Cs as factors to consider when buying a diamond. You don’t have to be a certified gemologist; however, having a basic knowledgeable about the features of a diamond that are of greatest importance to you will help you find a diamond within your budget that fulfills the value you are looking for.

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