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What to Look for When Buying an Engagement Ring

Before you can start making decisions about the type of engagement you ring your want to buy, you first have to learn some of the primary characteristics of a diamond. Some of the characteristics will be familiar to you, while others will be new. Additionally, some of the traits of a diamond are a preference rather than a necessity. The important thing to keep in mind is that all of the characteristics contribute to the overall value of the diamond.


The shape of the diamond is the one characteristic you are probably most familiar. The 10 primary shapes of a diamond engagement ring include:

  •             Round
  •             Pear
  •             Marquise
  •             Heart
  •             Princess
  •             Emerald
  •             Asscher
  •             Oval
  •             Radiant
  •             Cushion



The round shape for an engagement is one of the most popular shape couples choose. Additionally, a round shaped diamond is a shape that allows you to find the most balance in the four Cs.



Pear shaped diamonds are also known as teardrop diamonds because the shape is similar to both a pear and a teardrop. Each object is round at one end of the stone and comes to a point at the other end of the stone. The elongation of the stone helps to make shorter and wider fingers look longer and thinner. Pear shaped diamonds come in different lengths and widths, with the average pear shaped diamond measuring 1.45 to 1.75 inches when dividing the length of the diamond by the width of the diamond.



A marquise shaped diamond has a similar effect on the finger as a pear shaped diamond. The shape of this diamond can make shorter and thicker fingers look longer and thinner. The marquise shape also gives the diamond a bigger look, as if it is more carats than it might actually be.  Marquise diamonds come in different lengths and widths, with the average pear shaped diamond measuring 1.75 to 2.25 inches when dividing the length of the diamond by the width of the diamond.



A heart shaped diamond is shaped just like that of a traditional heart. Most couples choose a heart shaped diamond as a representation of love. Because of the innovative shape of this diamond, the best color to look for is a J-shade heart diamond. Again, you find this information on the diamond certificate that comes with the diamond when you buy it. With the unique shape, you might also notice some shading of colors in the corners of the diamond. The most traditional of heart shaped diamonds measure .90 to 1.10 inches when dividing the length of the diamond by the width of the diamond.



Second only to a round diamond, princess shaped diamonds are also very popular shapes for engagement rings. While relatively square in shape, the corners of the diamond are pointy. The J-color diamond for a princess cut is one of the best colors, but because of the shape of the diamond, you night notice some shading in the corners of the stone. For a more square shaped princess cut diamond, look for a stone measuring between 1 and 1.05 when dividing the length of the stone by the width of the stone. If you prefer more of a rectangular shape, a length divided by width measurement should be great than 1.10.



With an emerald cut ring, the facets of the ring are cut into rectangles, which give the stone an innovative appearance. The emerald cut diamond comes in different grades of a rectangular shape. The most common length divided by width for emerald diamonds ranges between 1.3 and 1.4.



The asscher shaped diamond is similar to an emerald shaped diamond. The primary difference is the asscher shaped diamond provides more of a square look, while the emerald cut diamond provides more of a square look. SI quality with a J-color is what you want to look for in an asscher shaped diamond. The length divided by width ratio should be between 1 and 1.05.



An oval shaped diamond has a very similar radiance to that of a round shaped diamond engagement ring. What makes the oval slightly different is a round diamond is symmetrically round while an oval has a slightly more elongated shape. The oval shape helps to elongate shorter fingers. Length divided by width should range between 1.33 and 1.66 for oval diamonds.



Radiant diamonds have distinctly trimmed corners. The shape of a radiant diamond makes it ideal for flanking with round diamonds or baguettes. Radiant diamonds have more of a rectangular shape with length to width ratios of 1.10 or greater. If you prefer more of a square look, then length to width ratios should range between 1 and 1.05.



A cushion diamond is also known as a pillow-cut diamond. The corners of a cushion diamond are rounded and the facets of the diamond are cut in way that gives the stone a higher degree of radiance. The cushion shaped engagement ring ranges from a square look that of a more rectangular appearance. When dividing the length by the width, diamonds ranging from 1 to 1.05 have more of a square appearance, while diamonds with 1.15 and greater length to width ratios are more rectangular.

The Four Cs

When it comes to buying a diamond, there are four primary characteristics you need to be concerned with before you buy: cut, color, clarity and carats. Each of the characteristics directly affects the cost of the diamond engagement ring you buy. Two of the characteristics–cut and carats—are characteristics that are more of preference than a necessity. The other two characteristics—color and clarity—directly affect the value of the diamond, so you want to make sure that you are getting the best of these two characteristics to ensure you are getting the best bang for your buck.



The cut of the diamond is the how the facets of the diamond are cut. As one of the most important characteristic of a diamond, the cut of the diamond is generally evaluated by how much of a gleam and sparkle the diamond possesses. How the diamond is cut does, however, affect how well the diamond reflects light. In this respect, the cut of the diamond does calculate the value of the diamond as well as the other characteristics that come into play. To help you understand how the cut and value of the diamond go hand-in-hand, the American Gem Association (AGS) assembled a scale that ranges from zero (0) to 10.

Scale key:

0 – Ideal: This diamond cut is the most expensive of the cut options available because it reflects virtually all of the light that reflects through the stone. Generally, you should try to stay within the good or very good level.

1 – Excellent: With a diamond possessing an excellent cut, almost as much light is reflected through the diamond as that of an ideal diamond. The difference is the excellent cut diamond is less expensive than the ideal cut diamond.

2 – Very Good: An excellent cut diamond reflects slightly less light, and therefore, has slightly less sparkle than that of an excellent diamond. A very good cut diamond is more expensive than a good cut diamond, but less expensive than an excellent cut one.

3-4 – Good: A good cut diamond reflects most, but not all, of the light that goes through it.

5-7 – Fair:A fair cut diamond is still considered a quality diamond, but it does not reflect as much light or sparkle as much as the good cut diamond.

8-10 – Poor: Poor cut diamonds tend to be deeper and narrower or shallower and wider than other diamonds. Because of the way the diamond is cut, it reflects very little light because the light leaks out of the bottom or sides of the diamond.    When evaluating and selecting the cut of the diamond for the engagement ring, you should choose the highest cut that falls within your budget.



Diamond size is measured by carats. Carats are the weight measurement for diamonds. Obviously, the higher the number of carats, the more the diamond weighs and the more money you are going to spend for that particular diamond. If you are buying a solitaire engagement ring, a ring with only one stone attached to the band, then the total weight is that of the single diamond.

Other engagement rings include a primary stone, but also have other diamonds in the setting of the ring. In a situation where the ring has more than one stone, then the weight of the stones is measured in total carats, adding the weight of each stone to the ring. Even if the center stone is not large, the multiple stones around it add to the weight, and therefore the value of the ring.

It is important to keep in mind that bigger isn’t always better when buying an engagement ring. While cost is certainly a factor, the size of the diamond also depends on other factors. The other factors include the other three Cs, but they include the size of your fiancé’s finger and preference. If your fiancé is very slender and has small hands, she might not want a two-carat engagement ring that looks like a doorknob on her finger. Additionally, your finance might prefer a smaller and simpler engagement ring because this is more her style.

Most jewelers and gemologists agree that when shopping for an engagement ring, buyers should consider the carat as the last characteristic, after finding a diamond that fits within the budget with the other three characteristics.

If the size or weight of the diamond is an important factor for you or your soon-to-be fiancé, then it is best to look for the biggest weight you can afford with a clarity of SI1 or SI2, with a good cut and an I or J color. This is especially true if you are on a strict budget. As the weight of the diamond increases by a full or half a carat, so does the price of the diamond. The size of your fiancé’s finger can make the size of the diamond appear smaller or larger than it actually is.

This is one of the reasons you should take the appearance of the wearer’s finger into account when choosing a diamond size. Even a smaller diamond can appear larger when the finger is short.  For example, a one carat diamond appears much bigger on a size 6 finger than it does on a size 10 finger.


Diamonds pick up their color from the refraction of light that goes through the gemstone. This refraction of light is also the origin of the sparkle of the diamond. When it comes to the color of the diamond, the clearer the diamond is, the more expensive it is. As the diamond turns more to a yellow tint, the less valuable the diamond is. The ironic part of the color scale of a diamond is that it is actually the measurement of the lack of color the diamond possesses.

A color grading system exists to help you figure out what the color is of the diamond you are thinking of buying. Clearer colors range from A to Z.

Z-N and M-K: These grade diamonds have a discernible color in them, which makes them less clear and less valuable.

J-I: These diamonds are close the colorless, so they are clear, white diamonds, but might have some discernible color.  Generally, you want to buy a diamond that has a minimum color of J.

H-G: This grade of diamonds is as close to colorless as you can get without buying a colorless diamond. The only way to really tell that these diamonds has some color in them is if you place them next to a colorless diamond.

F-E: These diamonds are colorless, which also makes them rare. While there might be more traces of color in these diamonds, it is extremely hard for anyone other than a trained gemologist to see it.

D: This diamond is completely void of color. It is also the highest and rarest grade of diamonds. The color information pertains to “white” diamonds. If you happen to be shopping for rare yellow or pink diamonds, for example, then this information does not apply. Colored diamonds, such as pink and yellow, are rare. Rare automatically means they are more expensive than white diamonds. These rare diamonds are typically out of the price range of the average couple planning to get married. (Hint: Ben Affleck bought Jennifer Lopez a yellow diamond when they were dating. That should give you a frame of reference on how expensive these diamonds can be.)


The clarity of a diamond refers to its gleam and shine. The more a diamond shines and gleams, typically the higher the value of the diamond. Clarity also determines how many imperfections there are in the diamond and the size of each imperfection. Some imperfections are so small that it’s not detectable and doesn’t affect the value of the diamond. Larger and discernible imperfections and inclusions do, however, affect the value of the diamond.

When it comes to learning the four Cs, clarity is one of the simplest concepts to understand. Additionally, clarity is the one of the four Cs that has the least affect on the diamond’s appearance.

Clarity has a measurement scale, so you review the diamond certificate and determine the clarity of the diamond you are viewing simultaneously.

I2 to I3: These diamonds have the lowest grade of clarity. This means the diamonds have a large amount of inclusions, especially those that are discernible to the naked eye.

I1: Diamonds with this clarity have several inclusions. Most are visible to the naked eye. The inclusions are minor, especially when compared to I2 and I3 grade diamonds.

SI1 and SI2: These diamonds have minor inclusions. Some might be visible by the naked eye, but generally cannot be seen unless under magnification of 10X.

VS1 and VS2: With these diamonds, you cannot usually see any inclusions with the naked eye.

VVS1 and VVS2: Diamonds with this clarity grade have inclusions, but they are difficult to see, even under 10X magnification. Generally, this is a high-quality diamond as far as clarity is concerned.

FL and IF: This is the rarest grade of diamonds because these diamonds do not have any internal flaws, making them essentially flawless.  Keep in mind that one of the characteristics of a diamond can complement another characteristic, or work against another characteristic. To give you an idea how this can work, consider the size and clarity of a diamond.

A three-carat diamond has a higher weight than a one-carat diamond, which also means that a three-carat diamond tends to cost more money than the one-carat diamond. Now, add the clarity of the diamond to the equation. Assume the three-carat diamond is cloudy, meaning that is dull and possesses little gleam and shine. Now, the one-carat diamond doesn’t weigh as much, but its clarity is clear—much clearer than the three-carat diamond. In this situation, the one-carat diamond might cost more than the three-carat diamond because even though it is smaller, the diamond is clearer; it has better clarity and therefore a higher value.

When you start to shop for diamonds, you will hear the term “inclusions” come up from time to time. Inclusions are marks or flaws that appear in the diamond. Typically, inclusions occur during the cutting process of diamonds. Inclusions might also appear during the natural process to create diamonds. If you look at a diamond, you might be able to see these inclusions or flaws with the naked eye. If you can see inclusions, especially with the naked eye, this automatically reduces the value of the diamond.

The bottom line, when it comes to the three Cs, is that you want to find the right balance in characteristics. You want to find a diamond engagement ring that is the cut you want, with the number of carats that allows for a clear diamond with the sparkly color preference most women prefer.

So, what clarity should you look for in the diamond you want to buy? Generally, you want to buy a diamond that falls in the exceptional level, which is the VVS1 and VVS2 range. Diamonds at this clarity level provide you with the highest quality for your money. While these diamonds are more expensive than the clarity levels below it, the VVS1 and VVS2 diamonds are less expensive that flawless diamonds.

SI grade diamonds are also high-quality diamonds. When considering this grade of diamond, hire a third-party jeweler or jewelry appraiser to view the diamond under magnification to let you know of any inclusions under magnification or with the naked eye.

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