Buying a piece of loose diamond, whether for an engagement ring, earrings, or any other form of jewelry, can be quite challenging. It is often hard, especially for an untrained eye, to tell the difference between one piece and the other, let alone understand why one is $1000 and the other is $10,000. It can, therefore, get very frustrating. Well, worry not. Below is a simple guide on features you need to look at in order to buy a diamond that perfectly suits your need and at the right price.

1. Diamond Shape

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This is the first feature you need to consider, and probably one that stands out the most. Whenever one looks at a diamond ring, the shape is the first thing they'll notice. It defines the entire look of the piece, and its feel for whoever is going to wear it.
Diamonds come in a wide array of shapes. The top 10 basic shapes  include round, princess, emerald, asscher, cushion, radiant, pear, oval, marquise, and heart.

There are hundreds more of shapes, and designers keep coming up with new shapes every single year. However, the above ten shapes account for most loose diamond pieces in the market.

The round shape is the most popular and common shape in the market. It is the most brilliant shape and makes the best cuts of diamonds. That's why it's commonly referred to as the Round Brilliant Cut (RBC) diamond. Since its creation in 1919, it has grown to be the most popular shape for diamond rings and currently makes up over 75% of loose diamond pieces in the market. It is simple, yet elegant, and works perfectly for rings, earrings, necklaces and other jewelry pieces. If you are not sure on which shape is best for you, it is always safe to go with round.

Fancy shapes are actually cheaper

Is there a relationship between shape and price? Yes, there is. And this is true for every single feature of a diamond. The common whole shapes such as round, princess, asscher and emerald tend to be more expensive. This is because they need to be cut from a large piece of pure diamond. Heart, pear, and marquise shaped diamonds can be cut from pieces with inclusion. The rough diamond is cut off while shaping the piece, this way minimizing wastage due to impurities. That's why such shapes may be more affordable.

The shape is a matter of taste

At the end, it all comes down to taste. Different people find different shapes appealing. Therefore, the best way to decide on which shape to get is to consult the recipient of the diamond and get to know what he/she prefers.

2. Carat Weight Range.

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Carat weight is one of the 4Cs of diamond shopping; Cut, Carat, Clarity, and Color. It is probably the first feature most people look for when buying diamonds. This is because it has the largest impact on pricing compared to all the other features.
So what does carat mean? It simply means the weight of the diamond. It is a unit exclusively used in measuring the weight of precious stones and gems whereby 1 carat represents 0.2 grams. The common weight range for most diamond rings is 0.5 to 2.0 carats. There are however larger cuts in the range of 2.5 to 3.0 carats which are often referred to as "rocks".

Is the carat weight similar to the size of the diamond?

These two terms are often used interchangeably in the diamond industry despite having a different meaning. Though the carat weight of a piece largely influences its size, the two are not similar. The size of a diamond is determined by both carat weight and shape. For example, a princess-shaped 2.0-carat diamond is 7mm in size while an oval piece of the same carat is 10.5mm long.

Impact of carat weight on the value

The higher the carat weight, the higher the price of the diamond is. Large and pure diamonds are harder to come by in nature, hence the proportional increase in price. Apart from monetary value, there is also aesthetic value in carat weight. Most people prefer larger diamond pieces as it showcases the value of the piece.

How to choose a diamond carat weight

The ultimate deciding factor is how deep your pockets are. If you are willing to spend more, you can always go for larger pieces. It is however important to consider the expectations of whoever is receiving the piece. A small carat piece, such as a 0.25 carat diamond, will most likely disappoint the recipient. It is therefore good to cleverly gauge what she expects. There are however a few tips on how to get maximum value for a given carat weight:

- Buy shy – that is, instead of buying a 2.0-carat diamond, get a 1.9-carat piece. The difference may be negligible to the eye, but your pocket will thank you.
- Clever selection of diamond shape – for a good number of people, size is more important than weight. You can, therefore, get away with a smaller diamond if you choose a shape that favors size.

3. Optimal clarity grade

Flawless diamond pieces are extremely rare to come by. This is because the formation process of this gemstone leaves foreign inclusions and blemishes. These impurities affect the clarity of the piece.

So what exactly is clarity grade?

It is a scaling that is determined by qualitative analysis of the visual clearance of a piece of diamond. It ranges from Internally Flawless (IF), a perfect piece without even microscopic blemishes, to Inclusions 1 and 2 (I1 and I2) which contain visible impurities.

Determination of clarity grade

This is a feature you can't determine with your naked eye. Analysts use a x10 magnification to check diamond pieces for impurities. The size, number, nature, and location of these impurities all come into play when grading a piece. For buyers, you can simply look up the clarity grade of a piece of loose diamond online, or on its certification details.

Impact of clarity on price

As expected, the higher the clarity grade is, the higher is the price. The increase in price is however almost exponential, with diamonds in the Internally Flawless grade being tens of times more expensive than the average clarity grades.

Eye-clean clarity is often good enough

A naked eye can hardly distinguish a mid-grade clarity diamond piece with slight inclusions from a flawless piece. Unless it's for aesthetic purposes, buying top-grade clarity pieces makes no sense. Go for a piece that is clear to your naked eye. It will serve the same purpose as a flawless piece, yet cost you much less.

4. Color Grade

Diamond's color LAColor is the feature that determines how the diamond glows and reflects light in different settings. It is another of the 4Cs of diamond shopping. But unlike the other features, there isn't much to benefit from high grades and it is, therefore, the feature to compromise and save on.

Colorless is always preferred

Colorless diamonds are transparent and have more scintillation. They, therefore, absorb light better and have more sparkle. Therefore, the more colorless a diamond is, the higher its grade. Color is graded from D which is completely colorless to Z which is light yellow in color. Purely colorless diamonds are very rare to come by. The grading is determined by gemologists after analysis on a white background. It is largely subjective.

Background and setting affect the color

The color of the ring or jewelry piece that the diamond will be mounted on will affect its color. For instance, a golden ring gives the centerpiece a golden yellow hue. Therefore, for a colorless diamond to stand out, it has to be mounted on a plain colored ring such as silver. This is a factor that can be exploited to your advantage by using a lower grade piece on a golden ring. The mild yellow tint will blend with the golden background.

Impact of color on price

The more colorless a piece is the higher its price. Diamonds in the D, E, and F grade (colorless) are very expensive and very rare to come by while those in the S to Z grades are much more affordable.

How to choose a diamond grade

Again, stick to what your eye can notice. The differences between one grade and the other are so minute that even gemologists have a hard time differentiating, yet the price difference is huge. A quality piece is a near colorless diamond (grade G, H, I and J). You can, however, opt for a faint color diamonds (grade K, L, and M) if you choose a golden ring. This will save you a lot, without much change in appearance.

5. Cut quality

If the loose diamond was a building, then its cut would be its architectural design, finishing, and decoration. That's how important cut is to the overall look of a diamond. It is, therefore, the feature that will the largest impact on beauty.

Grading of diamond cut

A lot of factors are considered when grading a piece's cut. These include proportions, symmetry, polish, brilliance, scintillations, and finishing details. In general, the best cut is one that absorbs light from all sides and reflects it through the crown, thus giving it a sparkle. Grading is done by gemologists and employs using various certification systems. The most common grading system, GIA, places diamond cuts into the following categories: excellent, very good, good, fair, poor.

How to select diamond cut

If you are out to buy a round or princess diamond, always go for "excellent" cut. This is the most preferred quality, and over half of round diamonds in the market fall into this category. This cut quality is sometimes referred to as ideal in other grading systems. As for other shapes, check the diamond's cut quality online, and go for the best that is available.
If you want to get technical in your selection, focus on proportions; that is, the diamond's depth, width, and table. This is the most influential feature as it will affect how the piece will appear and feel when adorned.

6. Fluorescence, Polish & Symmetry

Loose Diamonds LAFluorescence refers to the ability of a diamond to glow when subjected to ultraviolet light. This usually comes out as a soft colored blue glow. It does not have a significant impact on appearance, but rather on value. The value of fluorescence depends on the color grade of the piece. Diamonds in the medium grade, that is I to M benefit from fluorescence. The blue glow complements its yellow color, thus giving it a better appearance. Therefore, diamonds in this grade can be up to 20% more costly when fluorescent. The opposite is true for a colorless diamond. Fluorescence is considered an impurity in this grade and lowers the value by almost a similar margin.

How to choose diamond fluorescence

Given that it is a feature with little aesthetic value, let alone visible to untrained eyes, it is always wise to trade off fluorescence for value. Go for fluorescent pieces in colorless diamonds, and avoid it in medium grade pieces. This way you get to save more.

Polish and symmetry

These are often included in the analysis of cut quality. However, it is often good to take a look at them separately, considering their bearing on the aesthetic value of the piece. Polish refers to the surface finishing and its ability to reflect light. It partly takes into consideration the presence of surface impurities and inclusions. This is a feature that is assessed by gemologists and graded using various standards. You will have to check on it online or from the provided details on the piece.

Symmetry is another important factor. Our eyes subconsciously analyze the symmetry of all objects to determine its appeal. In fact, that is how we are able to tell the difference between a pretty face and an average-looking face. Symmetry increases not only the piece's aesthetic appearance, but also its price. This is because it requires a perfect piece to carve out symmetrical shapes. Those with reduced symmetry can utilize diamond roughs with inclusions, hence cheaper. It is, therefore, a trade-off. There is, however, a limit to the level of symmetry our eyes can perceive, and this should be at the highest level to go for.

So how do you decide on polish and symmetry? These details will be provided on the diamond's certification. Go as high as your naked eye can make out of the quality of polish and symmetry. But ultimately, the price will be your limiting factor.

7. Diamond certification

A diamond certificate is like a report from a third party, providing details on the piece's various qualities, mostly the 4Cs. Every piece is sent to an independent lab that professionally analyzes all the features of the diamond. It is, therefore, a way of guaranteeing quality and eliminating any foul play from vendors.

There are various labs that issue certification. Some of the popular ones include:
- Gemological Institute of America (GIA)
- American Gemological Society (AGS)
- European Gemological Laboratory (EGL)
- International Gemological Institute (IGI)
- Diamond High Council (HRD)
- International Confederation of Jewelry, Silverware, Diamonds, Pearls, and Stones (CIBJO)

Certification is subjective, but consistency is key

Grading of loose diamonds relies on human observation and analysis. It is purely subjective, and there is no clear scientific way of doing it. That's why one lab would give a diamond a color grade of J, while another grades the same piece as I. However, consistency is the most important factor. If a lab consistently gives diamonds a higher rating, then their certificates are legitimate. It simply means they are using different standards. However, labs that sometimes give high ratings for certain diamonds, despite the piece being graded lowly by other labs, is most likely a fraud, and unreliable.

Stick to GIA and AGS certifications

The most popular and reliable certificate is that from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Since its establishment in the 1950s, GIA has grown to be the standard measure for diamond quality. The lab has proven to be genuine and built a reputation that dates several decades back. It is therefore relied on by almost all diamond vendors. In case a GIA certificate isn't provided, which rarely happens, AGS is an equally good alternative.

In conclusion, every piece of diamond has a lot of details, each of which affects its appearance, aesthetic value, and price. To an untrained eye, most of these features will go unnoticed. It is therefore important to check up the diamond's details on its certificate and even look it up online. At the end of the day, it comes down to balancing between the features you'd like to get, and how much you are willing to part with. These 7 tips will definitely help you succeed when out to buy a diamond.