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Love At First Sight
A Consumer Guide to Choosing the Right Diamond (and the Right Jeweler)

Congratulations are in order. You’ve made the right choice for this year’s splurge—a diamond. Vacations come and go. And that upgrade to the Lexus, with a down payment of roughly the cost of a diamond? That’s a gift that keeps on taking, the first of every month. And the high-tech you’d halfway decided on last week? It’s halfway to obsolescence. But a diamond, like the man says, is forever. (Actually, a woman, Frances Garrety, penned the phrase for the Philadelphia ad firm used by De Beers back in the day.)

But trepidation has reared its head. You’ve surfed the web, perhaps you’ve been to a jeweler, and you’ve gleaned the truth of the truism: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Each new answer has brought new questions. What is a diamond worth? Whom do I trust? Should I buy on the web, or go brick-and-mortar? Buy it loose and have it set, or just buy diamond jewelry? Should I look at “fancies”—different (non-round) shapes or (non-white) colors? Which of the 4C’s—color, clarity, carat weight, or cut—should I care about? And these “branded” diamonds I keep hearing of: How do you brand a stone that shot out of a volcano a billion years ago?

A few years back, a neighbor, Mark, brought such questions to me one morning. He’d decided on diamond studs for his wife, Mary, he had a price in mind, a friend (me) who had some diamond experience, and he could Google as well as the next guy. He surfed so well, in fact, that after a morning spent pricing out wholesale costs for colors, clarities, sizes, and cuts, Mark had his own pair of G VS2 65-pointers round brilliants, bought from an Internet dealer in Florida. (If you don’t already get the above letters and numbers, you will shortly.) It was four days later, and Mark had come to view the G SI2 65-pointers I had picked out for him from a retailer friend in New York.

Mark also had a swagger about him. The diamonds he’d bought on the web were two clarity grades above the ones from New York (a huge difference), and they’d set him back roughly 40 percent less—at retail. He was feeling pretty good about his shopping skills. Why was I trying to convince him to buy from an antiquated brick-and-mortar jeweler?

The answer was clear the moment Mark unveiled his Internet diamonds. They had very little life to them. They shimmered as you shook the paper, and they were white and clean—so much so, in fact, I decided to give them a once-over with my loupe. At 10x magnification, viewing the diamonds against a dark background with a white light source, it was clear why someone in Florida had been able to sell diamonds of the fourth-highest color and third-highest clarity ratings at such a price. They were fracture-filled.

Meaning? Once upon a time, probably in the past year, a rough stone had come out of the ground with a series of small flaws, known as inclusions, feathers, cleavages, or fractures. These flaws made it worth a fraction of what it would have been without them. Someone had cut and polished that stone into two round brilliant diamonds of roughly 2/3 carats apiece, injected their flaws with molten glass (in a vacuum, at high temperature and high pressure), and, once they’d cooled, cleaned them to remove traces of glass from the surface. It’s a common procedure, and no longer frowned upon by the industry as it was at first inception in the 1980s—so long as the diamonds are identified as “fracture-filled” or “clarity-enhanced.” These weren’t, and they were likely “worth” even less than their discounted price.

More important, though, was the difference seen the instant we unwrapped the diamond paper from the old-fashioned real jeweler. These were hearts-and-arrows (explanation to follow), and very good ones at that. They popped out as the paper was unwrapped, and they kept popping. Tiny movements of the paper brought flashes of white light or colors—yellows, reds, oranges, greens, blues—and their surface had a perfect polish that left you with no doubt: You were in the presence of greatness.

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Platinum and diamond engagement ring
Cover: Platinum and diamond engagement ring with 3 carat round center stone and pavé diamond accents from Katharine James.
Diamond engagement rings in 18k white gold
Diamond engagement rings in 18k white gold from Chad Allison.
diamond necklace
Asscher cut diamond necklace from Abe Mor Diamond Cutters.
Fancy yellow and white diamond 18k gold ring from Universal Fine Jewelry.
diamond from Hearts On Fire
Ring spotlighting an ideal cut round brilliant diamond from Hearts On Fire.
Two carat radiant cut diamond ring in platinum
Two carat radiant cut diamond ring in platinum from Mawad & Company.
Diamond stud earrings
Diamond stud earrings from Rahaminov Diamonds.
Diamond earrings
Diamond earrings featuring marquise diamond drops from Kwiat.
Diamond engagement ring
Diamond engagement ring and matching band from the “Carmella” collection by Kirk Kara.
pink and white diamond ring
Fancy pink and white diamond ring from Maidi Corp.
yellow diamond pendant
Fancy yellow diamond pendant from designer Michael Beaudry.
diamond ring
Ring featuring specially cut, branded “Crisscut” diamonds from Christopher Designs.
diamond grading report
A sample diamond grading report from GIA Laboratory.