For many women, an engagement ring marks their first foray into buying or receiving serious jewellery. Most jewellery purchases could be considered impulse buys: there's no checklist, no certification, no science. When it comes to buying an engagement ring, however, brides- and grooms-to-be can be plunged into a pit of confusing gemmological jargon, with the technicalities often taking over the romance of a tradition that dates back to a time long before the 'four Cs' entered our vocabulary (more on those to follow).
Baffled? Let us help. We spoke to Tiffany & Co's chief gemmologist, Melvyn Kirtley, to get expert advice on how to make sure you get the perfect ring. Here's what to make note of...
The four Cs demystified…
You may have heard of the 'four Cs', a term that refers to the cut, clarity, carat and colour of a diamond. Tiffany, however, is keen that we think beyond these traditional parameters and consider the "presence" of each individual stone. "Presence is our unique series of measurements. It determines the diamond's brilliance and beauty in profound ways, including the precision of the cut, the proportion of the cut and a diamond's high-polish grade," explains Kirtley. This might seem to be knowledge reserved for the experts, but you can train yourself in the basics very easily. Try looking at lots of different stones and considering the following:
1. The cut
The cut of a diamond is all about proportion, and bringing out the beauty of a stone as much as possible. For example, if a round brilliant-cut stone is given too large a 'table' (this is the flat, top part of the stone), the diamond can seem duller. Ideally, you don't want too deep a cut either, as a tiny black point can appear in the centre of the stone. There are lots of different cuts to choose from, so it's worth familiarising yourself with the shapes you prefer before you go ring-shopping. You also need to learn to identify a good-quality cut; try to get a feel for which one best brings out the fire, brilliance and sparkle of a stone.
2. The colour
Colourless diamonds are classed as D, E and F; near-colourless ones are labelled G to H; and I to J diamonds have a very faint colour. Grade K or beyond are more noticeably coloured. The choice of colour tends to be very personal: some people are keen to pay more for an extremely bright, white stone, while others prefer the look of a diamond with a slightly warmer tone. It's worth trying on a few to decide which you personally prefer.
3. The clarity
This grading details the natural flaws within the stone. Diamonds often have tiny inclusions, some visible to the naked eye, and some invisible without using magnification. The fewer the imperfections, the better the quality of the stone. The sliding scale of clarity grading can be quite tricky to understand, so it's best to work out whether the technical grading matters to you, or whether you're happy to use your eyes alone and judge how many flaws make a difference to your appreciation of a stone. Absolutely flawless diamonds are exceedingly rare, and therefore priced accordingly.
4. The carat
Often, people think this refers to the size of the diamond, but it actually refers to the metric weight: one carat is 200 milligrams. People new to the diamond world can be quite confused about why a larger-looking stone might have a similar carat weight to a smaller-looking one, but this depends on the cut of the diamond: the shape and cut can make similarly weighted diamonds look very different in size. Slight variations in carat weight often have little effect on the look of a stone, but make a big difference in terms of price, so it's worth comparing.
That's the stone sorted, but what about the setting?
The classic solitaire (and world-famous Tiffany Setting), will never go out of style, but many brides are now considering opting for coloured gemstones, or band-style engagement rings in order to create a stacking effect with their wedding ring once they're married.
"In choosing a ring style, couples should think long term," says Kirtley. "The diamond will last a lifetime and the style of its setting should reflect the taste and personality of the wearer." This means looking closely at the mounting to check the quality of the finish and how the ring will wear over time, as the overall durability of the piece is very important. "A stone of the finest quality combined with superb mounting makes for a ring that will remain perpetually beautiful," he explains.
Tiffany diamonds are set in platinum with an extremely high level of purity, which complements the high colour grade of their stones. However, it's also worth trying on some yellow gold and rose gold settings to see which suits your skin tone best.
What about ethical diamonds?
Conflict-free diamonds are those that have not been smuggled out of war-torn regions in order to finance acts of violence. They must be compliant with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme – an international system that aims to eliminate the flow of conflict diamonds by requiring participating countries to control the rough-diamond trade tightly. All Tiffany diamonds are certified as conflict-free, and this should be a primary concern for brides when they're shopping for their wedding jewellery; such a happy purchase shouldn't come from the suffering of others.
Via Harper's Bazaar UK