Practically Prioritizing the Diamond 4Cs
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Practically Prioritizing the Diamond 4Cs

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If you know anything about diamonds it’s probably the 4 Cs – Cut, Clarity, Color, and Carat Weight. There’s plenty of information about the 4Cs which can be found online and learned in conversations with professionals and enthusiasts – but prioritizing them is not always easy.

  • Some people want the most carat weight possible.
  • Other people want the iciest, whitest color.
  • Still others want to balance all of the Cs equally.

What to do, what to do?

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At some level it’s a matter of personal taste and values. Nevertheless, especially for round brilliant diamonds, it might be helpful to know the one important thread which links all of the Cs together. If you pull that thread properly all of the other Cs may improve:

The most important of the 4Cs is and always will be cut. Cut is King.

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The way diamond is cut determines whether it reflects back a minimum or maximum amount of the light it gathers. It’s something you can see across the room, the brilliant sparkle of a well cut diamond. Even a D Flawless diamond (the highest color and clarity) can look dull and boring if it’s cut poorly. And a huge diamond that’s dull and lifeless will not attract the eye like a smaller diamond exploding with brightness and fire.

The most attention and compliments reliably go to the diamond with fire and sparkle that attracts eyes from across the room.

Diamond design

Imagine building a state of the art race car. If you produce the hood, body, cockpit and spoiler with perfect aerodynamics it will hug the ground and cut the air. But if those parts are fashioned in a manner that’s not aerodynamic your car won’t perform as well as others.

Photo Credit: Wessel Hampsink on Unsplash

That’s the way diamond cutting works. When produced with geometric angles that create the best sparkle and brightness they can be compared to the most aerodynamic race cars. They gather light from above and efficiently send it back to your eyes as brightness, dispersion and scintillation.

“Why is cut the most important of the 4Cs?”

Because top cut quality is more visible and can even improve the appearance of the other Cs. Particularly with round brilliants.

Cut is > color

This one is simple. You can see the sparkle of a well cut diamond from across the room, but you will need to be around three feet away from a diamond to start detecting its color. And if those diamonds are in the range of D (colorless) to G (near-colorless) it’s difficult to see any difference in color unless you scrutinize them closely.

Cut also benefits color

If the diamond is extremely well-cut, gathering and sending light back to your eyes with top intensity, you can add a few more colors to that “hard to tell a difference” range, all the way down to J. This is because diamonds are color-graded upside down, viewed through the side. Those with top cut-quality can appear to have less color in normal viewing than their lab grade when seen from above. Alternately, diamonds with cut quality which forces longer ray paths can seem to have more color in normal viewing than their lab grade, since the body color becomes illuminated.

Learn more about how color is graded in our prior post: Keeping diamond color in context.

Cut is > clarity

Here again, sparkle and fire in a well cut diamond will speak from across the room – but you usually need to put your eyeball inches away to scrutinize clarity. The top six clarity grades, FL, IF, VVS1, VVS2, VS1 and VS2 all look identical to the naked eye. There are even diamonds in the SI1 and SI2 grades (rarely) that are “eye-clean.”

Learn more about how clarity is graded in our prior post: Some clarity on diamond clarity.

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Cut also benefits clarity

While not nearly as dramatic an improvement as color, diamonds with inclusions on the verge of visibility can be “masked” by cut quality when that diamond is sparkling.

“What about carat?”

Carat weight throws an interesting curveball into the mix. Color & clarity denote subtle, sometimes negligible differences, but carat weight denotes the diamond’s overall size. That makes your prioritization more subjective depending on your budget and size expectations. But while the size of a stone speaks loudly we can make this simple again: The CUT determines just how loud that diamond speaks when you walk in the room.

“So cut & carat are equal?”

In some ways, yes. But cut also has a profound impact on carat appearance.

Top cut quality not only means the diamond is proportionately the correct size – measured side to side. Additionally, the best cut diamonds are also visually the correct size because they remain bright from edge to edge in most lighting conditions.

Example: If you have two diamonds of the same carat weight but one is cut proportionately / with the best light return (the most aerodynamic race car) and the other is cut shallow or deep / where light escapes through the bottom (like a non-aerodynamic car), the proportionate cut will appear larger in many lighting conditions because it remains bright from edge to edge. But the deep cut will go dark at the edges in low lighting conditions.

Learn more in our prior post: Same carat weight – visible size differences.

Keep it real

Remember that no-one has a tag hanging from their diamond showing the color or clarity grade. No one says “Wow, cool VVS1.” when you walk into the room, but people may say “What a beautiful, sparkling diamond!” That’s what people see first – sparkle and size. And well-cut diamonds not only sparkle, they appear visually larger than diamonds of the same carat weight which aren’t well cut. Win-win.

If your interest is piqued you can check out these Cut Quality Cliffs Notes.

“So… Cut > Carat > Color > Clarity?”

According to me, yes. But you do you.

The endless combinations of the 4Cs influence appearance and performance and the price tag in many different ways. My recommendation is to make cut quality the absolute priority. Beyond that, focus on the balancing the other Cs according to your personal taste to get the most dazzling diamond possible.

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John Pollard

John Pollard is an educational consultant and subject matter expert for diamond producers, grading laboratories and jewelers in the USA, Europe and Asia. He has lectured for JCK Las Vegas, IGI workshops in New York, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, the American Gem Society in Washington D.C., GIA's Alumni Association and other industry organizations.

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