4 Cs – a system of diamond grading

The prospect of selecting a diamond can seem like a daunting task, but a little knowledge makes the process much easier!

You’ve probably heard about the 4 Cs in relation to diamond quality and price, but what do they really mean, and how do they come together?

The 4 Cs, originally developed by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in the 1930’s are a consistent, objective system of diamond grading used throughout the world. While there are other grading systems based on GIA’s concept, GIA remains the industry standard.

Every diamond is graded by at least three professionals using a set of master stones, and each diamond on the market falls somewhere between the ranges of the master stones and can, therefore, be assigned a grading based on each C. All diamonds are graded using 10x magnification under controlled lighting so much of what a diamond is graded on isn’t perceptible to the naked eye! 

The 4 Cs are:

Color of a diamond

Outside of fancy colored diamonds, which are graded separately by their own system, a diamond’s lack of color is most prized when it comes to white diamonds. It is prized as it is most rare, and therefore, most expensive. Many people find that lack of color best shows off a white diamond’s icy sparkle. The diamond color scale begins with D being absolutely colorless, going all the way to Z with tints of pale yellow, brown, or grey being easily noticed by the naked eye. Diamonds graded DEF are considered Colorless, GHIJ Near Colorless, KLM Faint, NOPQR Very Light, and STUVWXYZ Light. Well cut diamonds in the Near Colorless range will not have a perceptible tint to the average naked eye when set in jewelry. 

Clarity of a diamond

Because earth formed diamonds are a natural creation, formed deep within the earth under great heat and pressure, they typically contain tiny characteristics. These characteristics are known as inclusions when they are internal or blemishes when on the diamond’s surface. Diamonds without these characteristics are exceedingly rare, and therefore, more expensive. The rarest category is Flawless (FL) and is as close to a perfect clarity grade as possible. FL diamonds are so rare that they are mostly collector’s stones that are not set in jewelry. A diamond’s clarity falls into one of 11 categories, which take into account the type, size, location, nature, color, and quantity of the diamond’s characteristics.

  • Flawless (FL) – No inclusions or blemishes are visible to a skilled grader using 10× magnification
  • Internally Flawless (IF) – No inclusions and only blemishes are visible to a skilled grader using 10× magnification
  • Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1 and VVS2) – Inclusions are difficult for a skilled grader to see under 10× magnification
  • Very Slightly Included (VS1 and VS2) – Inclusions are minor and range from difficult to somewhat easy for a skilled grader to see under 10x magnification
  • Slightly Included (SIand SI2) – Inclusions are noticeable to a skilled grader under 10x magnification
  • Included (I1, I2, and I3) – Inclusions are obvious under 10× magnification and may affect transparency and brilliance

The vast majority of diamonds on the market fall between the VS and SI categories with characteristics that are not noticeable to the naked eye. Included stones typically do have inclusions that are more easily noticeable to the naked eye. 

*Lab grown diamonds can also have clarity characteristics, but they are different than those found in natural diamonds. 

Carat of a diamond

Carat is foremost a measurement of weight, but also, is indicative of a diamond’s visual size. A carat, written 1 ct, or 1.00 ct is the standard unit of diamond weight, much like the dollar is the standard unit of Canadian or US currency. A carat can be divided into points much like a dollar can be divided into cents. A half carat is shown as 0.50 ct (referred to as ‘fifty points’) and a carat and a half is shown as 1.50 ct.  The bigger a diamond is, the rarer and more valuable it will be with all other factors being equal. 

Cut of a diamond

Cut can refer to the style and shape of a diamond (known more specifically as Fancy Cuts), but as one of the 4 Cs, it refers to the symmetry, proportions, polish, weight ratio and durability of a diamond. These factors directly influence brightness, sparkle, scintillation – a diamond’s relationship with light – all of the factors that give a diamond pizazz! 

Cut is the controllable human contribution to a diamond’s beauty and sometimes diamonds are cut to remove, hide, or minimize clarity characteristics. A well-cut diamond can also minimize color making a diamond appear brighter, whiter and more animated although the assigned cut grade remains the same. 

The Round Brilliant Cut is the most popular shape of a diamond on the market, and it is the shape that is scientifically formulated to make the most of cut to show off a diamond’s pizazz to the maximum. 

There are five cut grades: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor. While some antique diamonds and “native cuts” (diamonds cut for markets outside of Europe and North America where carat weight is valued over “pizazz”) are graded as Fair and Poor, the majority of newer diamonds on the North American and European markets have cut grades of Good to Excellent. 

All of the 4 Cs are important to diamond’s beauty and value! 

With  Flawless D color diamonds with Excellent cuts over a carat being so rare that only a handful may exist on the global market at any time, most people find a diamond with a nice balance of the 4 Cs will suit their taste and budget. While many people consider a colorless diamond with an Excellent cut and no visible characteristics to be the gold standard, a Very Light diamond with an Excellent or Very Good cut can have a fantastic sparkle with a gentle warmth. A colorless diamond with visible clarity characteristics can have a very unique beauty, and many people view clarity characteristics like birthmarks that celebrate the individuality of a particular stone as well as being proof of a diamond’s natural origins. A large diamond can have a commanding presence and a smaller one can be a subtle punctuation. Every diamond is an individual and there are countless combinations of the 4 Cs that can make a beautiful diamond–it’s all up to your taste! 

There is nothing like selecting a diamond in person! Our friendly, professional and knowledgeable team would love to help you choose the perfect diamond with you! Come in for a consultation, and we’ll be happy to answer any questions about finding the right diamond for you.