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Diamonds: How to Buy, A Beginner’s Guide

As someone who has been in the jewelry trade for close to 15 years, I know just how hard it is to understand all the details and nuances to look for when purchasing a diamond. It took me many years to confidently know what to look for when buying them for our inventory and I still find myself learning something new each day.

By Aric Behar

How to Buy a Diamond: A Beginner’s Step by Step Guide

Looking back to when I first started in the business, I can relate to the confusion and frustration faced by a first-time engagement ring/diamond shopper.  Venturing into any field outside of your realm is always uncomfortable especially when the stakes are higher.

With diamonds sometimes the more you research, the less you feel like you know.  Because there are so many different sources providing conflicting information it can make your head spin.  A lot of the information out there is not based on facts so you have to filter through it all to find what is important and what you should focus on.  In this article, I will try to break down diamond buying into nine easy to follow steps that any custom engagement ring or diamond shopper can use as a great starting point.  Let’s try to take the stress out of it and make it an enjoyable, insightful experience!


Step #1: Set a Budget

Regardless of what you want to achieve in terms of the center-stone or overall engagement ring, make sure to first set a limit on what you would like to spend for the entire purchase. Once you have decided on a ring design (a process of its own that we will cover in a future blog), subtract the cost of the custom engagement ring setting itself from your total engagement ring budget and this will leave you with the amount you can spend on the center diamond alone.  Insert image of an engagement ring

Do not make this a hard cap and allow some flexibility if a great opportunity presents itself.  For instance, if you have allotted $7,500 for the center diamond but you find something that is even better quality, or larger that goes $800 over your budget - you should strongly consider it.  On the other hand, you do not need to max out your spending; if you put together a combination that comes in below your magic number, then pocket the difference instead of looking for ways to spend more.


Step #2: Pick the Shape

various diamond shape engagement rings on ladies hand

Selecting a center diamond shape is a relatively easy step and this is simply a matter of preference.  Today, many couples shop for engagement rings together to start, and then it ventures off into a one-person show to keep the element of surprise alive. During this initial browsing/discovery phase be sure to nail down the center diamond shape as this is something you cannot get wrong.  Even if you are able to narrow it down to two or three top contenders, that will be better than trying to guess by yourself.

At Lauren B, our design consultants work one on one with our clients to help guide them to the shape of their choice by trying on and comparing our many in-stock engagement rings either in-store or virtually.  Make sure that your choice for center-stone shape is based on what suits your hand best and goes well with the style of engagement ring you had in mind. Certain diamond shapes tend to lend themselves better to specific custom engagement ring designs.

For a quick rundown of the shapes read here and to see all the diamond shapes in different carat sizes on the hand go here.


Step# 3 Choose the Cut

Diamond “cut” and “shape” are sometimes used interchangeably but do not be mistaken. The shape is the overall outline of the stone, while cut refers to the facet arrangement and dimensions of a particular shape. If you are not selecting a round cut diamond, this step becomes even more crucial.  Round diamonds are easier to gauge because they all are cut to be a perfect circle.

All other shapes have variations in how they are cut such as a radiant or cushion diamond which can be square or elongated.  To take it a step further, a cushion cut diamond can come in different forms of modern, antique, and brilliant; this video shows you all five varieties.   In the same sense, an oval or pear can be elongated or extra elongated depending on how they are cut. Take a look at this video comparing different oval diamond ratios.

This is not to say one type of cut is better than the other and really comes down to what you as the buyer likes best.  When we purchase diamonds for our inventory, we try to gauge what clients, in general, are favoring and go in that direction.  As an example, our clients are loving the longer oval cut diamonds with ratios of 1.5:1 or even higher so that is an area of focus for our inventory selection. Also, elongated cushion cut diamonds have far surpassed square cushions in demand so we try to have the longer ones make up a larger part of our diamond inventory.


Step #4: Find Your Color & Clarity Range

GIA Clarity Scale Diagram showing difference in clarity levels GIA Diamond Clarity Scale
GIA Diamond Color Scale GIA Diamond Color Scale

Because each diamond shape exhibits quality characteristics differently, the shape you selected above can guide you in choosing these quality parameters.  For instance, emerald cut diamonds are great at hiding color but you need to aim higher on the clarity; watch this video on Emerald Cut Diamonds to see exactly what we mean.

Conversely, oval and pear shape diamonds show color more and hide inclusions better so you may aim for something in the “F” range.  For many brilliant-cut diamonds (round, oval, pear, radiant, etc) the most popular clarity range that our clients select is the SI (slightly included range). However, you have to be very careful in this range and be sure to select ones where the inclusions are not visible to the naked eye and do not cloud the sparkle of the diamond. For more on ‘eye clean’ diamonds watch this insightful video here.

You can also base your decision on whatever you feel comfortable with; some clients want the best quality regardless of whether or not they can notice the difference between that and a ‘lower’ rated diamond.  Whatever you choose, always give yourself some leeway as what you read online or hear from overnight experts like friends or relatives may not hold true in person.  More on this later.


Step #5: Target a Carat Size

diamond carat weight diagram GIA Diamond Carat Weight Scale

Based on your budget, the shape you have selected and the quality you are targeting, you can then determine what size carat diamond you would be able to achieve.  Because some diamond shapes are priced higher than others and quality characteristics differ from shape to shape, this will help you land at the correct carat size to aim for.

If your priority is size, then you can switch Steps 4 and 5, and first, see what carat size you want to aim for and select a quality diamond that fits within there. The only reason we caution against this is that you do not want to downplay the quality too much and end up with a diamond that lacks beauty; either saturated in color, visible with inclusions, or hazy/milky in appearance. Remember there are always trade-offs to be had where you can sacrifice one aspect to achieve more elsewhere.  In this video we show you some different carat VS quality trade-offs; would you prefer a top-quality 1.6 carat round diamond in the ‘D’ color and ‘VS’ clarity range or would you rather step it to a 2-carat size and drop down to a perfectly acceptable ‘I’ color and ‘SI’ clarity range

There is one big caveat to carat weight; use this measurement only as a guide when selecting a diamond.  The proportions and how the facets are arranged within the stone is equally important to ensure that it has proper measurements.  At Lauren B we put a huge focus on selecting diamonds for our inventory that are cut to maximum faceup dimensions while maintaining a beautiful sparkle.  This is a great video explaining this point using radiant cut diamond as an example; did you know that two diamonds of the same carat size and shape could look so different?


Step #6: Start the Process

The next step is to start getting some ideas on specific diamonds that meet your criteria cost and their availability on the market. The best way to do this is to speak to a real person who can guide you through the process. Using website-only diamond vendors can be good to help gauge pricing and give you a broad sense of the market, but you will not be able to get the expert advice you need.

These websites do not own any of the diamonds they list nor will they source any that are not in their immediate database. To top it off they do not filter out their results and will list any diamond under the sun from manufacturers across the world.  This means that you will have to navigate through all the ‘bad diamonds’ to find the right one.  While many will have videos and Gemological Institute of America (GIA) grading reports for each diamond, it is still difficult to not feel overwhelmed and make a mistake.

This report is only a guide and within each grade there are variances. Moreover, there are characteristics of diamonds that are not listed on the report and can not be seen in their digital videos. For instance, a report will never tell you if a diamond is hazy (lacks sparkle) or has brown/green tint to it.  Also, because fancy cut diamonds (non-rounds) do not receive a cut grade it becomes very tricky to find the ring one on your own.

At Lauren B we have an exclusive in-house inventory that gives clients a very good starting, and many times ending point, to their purchasing process. We try to stock a wide array of color/clarity combinations across all shapes with a strong emphasis on the cut and face-up size of the diamond; our 1.5-carat diamond will look like the 1.8-carat diamonds you find elsewhere. Keep in mind we also have access to many of the diamonds you see online and can bring those in for comparison purposes (although many times they will be inferior).


Step #7: Narrow Down Your Selection

diamond selection on a ladies hand with jewelry

Once you have found the diamond quality/size/price you like best it is time to sharpen your focus. You may want to get at least one more stone for comparison purposes just so that you are certain is the right one. It is not a good idea to compare the exact same (or very similar) size, clarity, and cut of diamond within a shape.

For instance, if you really like a 1.8 carat round diamond G color/VS2 clarity diamond, maybe you want to see what a slightly larger 2 carat H color/SI1 clarity diamond will look like next to it; they will have similar price tags yet you will be able to see a size difference.  This is an excellent time to see if you can expand your quality guideline and perhaps get a larger carat weight without going over the budget.

Here is a great video showing round diamonds from 1.8 to 2 carats in different qualities; they are similarly priced because the quality goes down as the carat weight goes up.


Step #8: Don’t Get Bogged Down

This step can fit anywhere in the process, but a lot of times we find that a client is ready to pull the trigger on a diamond but something stalls them; either they ask too many people’s opinions or start over-researching the topic on the web. The diamond can look great visually, check all their boxes for quality and price yet they find something to get stuck on. Some sites say do not purchase a diamond with a cavity or ones with fluorescence, or their friend might say the color they selected is ‘not good enough’, etc.  While you do want to make sure you are getting a good deal, there are certain things that you can be more lenient on.

As a rule of thumb, we believe that if you cannot see it with your naked eye and it does not affect the beauty of the diamond, then it is a trade-off worth considering.  For instance, diamonds with fluorescence are priced at a discount despite the fact that they will almost never have a negative impact on the diamond’s appearance. This has even been confirmed by the world-renowned Gemological Institute of America (GIA) which you can read more about on their website here. Despite this, many online and in-person resources will tell you to avoid these diamonds although they provide excellent value.


Step #9 The Right Time to Buy

radiant cut diamond ring image

The diamond market is very fluid so a well-cut diamond with good quality characteristics that is priced to sell will go fast - especially in the more popular fancy shape diamonds.  You do not want to go through all the steps above, land on the correct diamond, and have to start over because someone else beat you to it.

At Lauren B we allow clients to secure diamonds with a 50% deposit which will also begin production of the ring.  We have seen many times in the past where a client hesitates on a particular stone, only to come back one week later and find out that it has sold. While we try to replenish our diamond inventory as fast as possible, no two diamonds alike.

For fancy shape diamonds, the measurements will always be a little different and sometimes prices fluctuate depending on what is available.  We advise that if you see something you like and you have conducted all of your due diligence, then it is time to move forward.