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The 4 C's of Diamond Grading: Cut, Color, Clarity, and Carat

Jewelry shopping can be intimidating. That’s why we started Ask HOLDEN, our blog where we answer your FAQs, break down scary industry lingo, and guide you in finding the perfect piece of jewelry.

If you’re looking to buy a diamond, you may have some questions. Maybe you know about carat, but you aren’t sure what cut, color, and clarity mean when choosing a diamond. You may be wondering: how are diamonds graded anyway, and what distinguishes higher quality diamonds from lower quality ones? These four factors are really most important to consider when purchasing a sizable stone 0.25 carats or higher (such as a center stone for a diamond engagement ring). For a stone of this size, you'll want to make sure to purchase a diamond that comes with a grading report from a reputable lab such as the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). For melee stones (stones that weigh less than 0.2 carats), you'll find that color and clarity are what's most important. These stones typically will not come with any type of grading report or certification due to their small size.

Cut Color Clarity Carat Diamond Diagram


Diamond cut grade is something that can only be determined by trained gemologists and is all about proportions. Poorly cut diamonds do not catch and refract light as effectively as well-cut diamonds. The ideal cut of a diamond is symmetrical and neither too shallow nor too deep. Diamonds are typically cut with lasers and polished with diamonds (since diamonds are known as the world’s hardest material, no other material can polish them!). As you can see in the diagram below, a well-cut diamond will refract and reflect light to give it the perfect sparkle. Keep in mind, diamond cut is different from diamond shape (pear, round, etc.).

Cut Color Clarity Carat Chart


Color grade is determined by a lack of color: the clearer the diamond, the higher the grade. A diamond with a slight yellowish tinge will be less valuable than a perfectly crystal-clear diamond. That being said, some deeply colored diamonds can be extremely valuable. These are referred to by the GIA as “Fancy Colored Diamonds.” Some fancy colors are more valuable than others - even though Rihanna loves “yellow diamonds in the sky,” a blue diamond is much rarer: there’s only a one in 200,000 chance that a diamond will be blue, and even then, most blue diamonds are extremely pale. A brilliant blue diamond (such as the Heart of the Ocean diamond from Titanic) would be extremely pricey! The grading scale for diamond color is determined alphabetically from D to Z, as shown in the graphic below.

Cut Color Clarity Carat Diamond Color Grading Scale


The clarity grade of a diamond is a measure of the imperfections on the surface and within a stone. Internal flaws are called inclusions while surface defects are called blemishes. Clarity grade can only be determined by a trained gemologist and depends on the size, nature, number, location, and relief of the inclusions/blemishes. Clarity rankings can be seen on the chart below - only SI and I inclusions can be detected by the naked eye.

Cut Color Clarity Carat Chart Diamond Clarity

While typically the most desirable diamonds are those with the highest clarity, there is rising interest in “salt and pepper” diamonds, which have a high density of imperfections and are valued for these imperfections. Another famous diamond known for its imperfections is actually fictional - the Pink Panther Diamond (from the Pink Panther films). This diamond is pink (yes, it’s fancy colored!) and has an inclusion shaped exactly like a panther.


Carat is determined by the weight of the diamond. For reference, a carat weighs 0.2 grams, about as much as a paperclip. Mariah Carey’s engagement ring from ex-fiancé James Packer features a 35 carat diamond. You heard it here: Mariah Carey has a ring finger of steel. Keep in mind: for a higher-carat diamond, clarity grade becomes more important (since the diamond is bigger, inclusions will be easier to identify!). Diamonds are priced per carat, but price per carat actually increases as diamond weight increases, since large rough diamonds without inclusions are more rare and difficult to find. Color is also more identifiable in larger diamonds.

Now you’re an expert on cut, color, clarity, and carat weight!

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