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Diamonds are one of the most coveted gemstones in the world. As such, it can be overwhelming to select the perfect diamond when browsing for an engagement ring, wedding band or a nice jewelry gift for someone special.

The process can be made simpler by understanding the basic characteristics of a diamond: Color, clarity, cut and carat. These “4 Cs” are a globally accepted standard for describing diamonds, created by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).

Single Diamond


Carat is a measurement of how much a diamond weighs. A carat is equivalent to two-tenths of a gram. The heavier the carat weight, the larger the diamond is, but the other 3Cs are also taken into consideration to determine the stone’s value.

Carat sizes typically range on a scale of 0 to 5. You may have heard a jeweler refer to carat size in “points” before. One carat is divided by 100 “points” to get a decimal number, like 0.75 carats for a 75-point diamond.


Natural diamonds are created from carbon exposed to heat and pressure deep in the earth. As a result of this process, they can incur inclusions (internal flaws) and blemishes (external flaws). Clarity refers to the amount and location of these flaws when viewed under 10 power magnification. The GIA scale ranges from:

  • Flawless
  • Internally flawless
  • Very very slightly included (VVS1 and VVS2)
  • Very slightly included (VS1 and VS2)
  • Slightly included (S1 and S2)
  • Included (I1 I2 and I3)

Flaws can negatively impact a diamond’s transparency and brilliance.


When shopping for a diamond, the best quality stones have no color at all. GIA’s diamond color grading scale is the most widely accepted in the industry and ranges from D to Z. D is completely colorless in the “white range” (the scale can vary by diamond color). The scale grades from:

  • Colorless to near colorless
  • Faint yellow
  • Very light yellow
  • Light yellow

A colorless diamond allows the most light in to reflect, creating the most sparkle. The more colorless a diamond is, the more expensive it is for its high quality.


A diamond’s cut is the most complex to analyze of all the 4 Cs. Many think of cut as the diamond’s shape, but the cut grade of a diamond is a measure of how well it reflects light. Shape does have an impact on this because the proportions of each stone is determined by its shape. These proportions allow experts to evaluate how successfully the light that enters through the top of the diamond is reflected and dispersed back through the top. The GIA scale ranges from:

  • Excellent to very good
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Poor

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