Traditional Tamil culture doesn’t really do rings, let alone diamond rings. To be considered married as a Tamil Brahmin, in most cases, the bride wears a ‘taali’, otherwise known as a ‘mangalsutra’ - a necklace held together with a golden or yellow thread, and the beads are typically made of gold. Traditions change, however, and the British occupation certainly played a large role in that. These days it’s not uncommon for the bride and groom to exchange rings - typically also golden wedding bands - on the day of the wedding, but the engagement ring remains a uniquely western tradition that has not quite made it to South India.
For our marriage, having grown up in the US (and her partly in Canada), I wanted to buy a diamond ring - not as an engagement ring necessarily, but as some sort of hybrid between the two, knowing that my family would provide her a ring on the day of the wedding, and hers would provide one to me. And so the process of looking for a diamond began.
I hesitated in writing this blog post for so long because, in my opinion, the calculus was fairly simple. But I had a rather long discussion with an acquaintance who is soon to be married that ultimately changed my mind. As such, this post is mostly a dated outline of my then thought process, and why I ultimately bought the ring I did.
First, the most important thing to remember is that the fitting and style of the ring is ultimately going to be far more impactful than the diamond itself, even though that’s not what people tend to focus on. Does the ring protrude? Is it sharp? Is the rock at risk of falling off? All of these play factors in whether she will wear it every day or just take the ring out for special occassions. What are her ring wearing habits, if any at all? If she doesn’t wear rings currently, it’s a much safer bet to choose a traditional solitaire setting that will be secure and comfortable than adventurous. Basically, is this ring going to be a daily driver? Or is it a black-tie event only sort of ring.
With that being said, let’s dive into the actual diamond itself.
As almost anyone who’s done any modicum of research at all will know the 4 C’s of buying a diamond: carat, cut, color, and clarity. For completeness, there are actually two more: certification and shape, but those aren’t mentioned as often by most jewelers (and for good reason, from the jewelers’ standpoint).
This is probably the least important of the four.
And this is the one most men choose to focus on. Carat is a measurement of weight, where each carat is 200 milligrams. Each carat can be divided into 100 points, which some jewelers may choose to use instead of carat. Just know that they are two orders of magnitude apart from being one and the same.
Obviously, here one wants to choose a diamond to match the lady’s finger. In my case, Ahana, already being short (just under 5 feet) also has very slender fingers, so getting an enormous 3 carat diamond would look extremely gaudy. I was fortunate that my jeweler had nearly identical sized fingers to Ahana, and using her as a demo, decided on a fairly reasonable carat size.
You want something that will, obviously not be too small, but also not overshadow everything else.
Carat is not a manhood measuring competition, so don’t let the jeweler bait you into what is the largest. Choose what will look best on her finger. The ring is about her, not about you or your insecurities.
This is the most important aspect of buying a diamond. The cut will affect how sparkly the diamond really is.
Each vendor may have different gradings, but typically the scale is described as the following (from worst to best):
- Poor (can be called ‘Fair’)
- Very Good
- Ideal (can be called ‘Excellent’)
There are of course many marketing campaigns like one from Blue Nile where they make up new categories like ‘Astor’ or what have you to make you believe there’s even better than ideal, but know that, typically, these are not approved categories by most certification agencies. We’ll talk about the importance of certification agencies later on.
Ultimately a well-cut diamond should sparkle regardless of the kind of light it’s placed in. You’ll find that most jewelry stores are extremely well-lit to hide the less sparkly diamonds, so be sure to try out your diamond in low-light areas. Think of normal every-day activities when there aren’t four hi-beam lights around the diamond. If it still sparkles, you know you have a great cut.
Color is often the most confusing. For historical reasons, grades A, B, and C are no longer used, so all modern color scales for diamonds begin at D, which is the best (colorless) and go down to Z. The further down you go to the scale, the more brownish or yellowish the diamond becomes. Grades M through Z are typically sold to industrial plants where they need diamonds for specialized cutting equipment, where they don’t care for the color of the diamond as long as it cuts properly.
More recently, some smart MBA at Levian or other places began a campaign to market these normally sub-optimal diamonds as ‘chocolate diamonds’. Marketing aside, for all practical purposes most men will never buy one of these as an engagement or wedding ring.
Color is the second most important aspect, but it’s also extremely binary. Anything above J will effectively be colorless to everyone, unless you have a trained jeweler looking at it. From day to day life, you will not be able to tell at all. Nobody but a jeweler with special equipment will be able to distinguish between D, E and F. In addition, if you do end up buying a diamond that’s on the slightly yellow side, you can easily hide it by purchasing a gold or copper base instead of silver, and the diamond will look markedly whiter due to the contrast.
Overall, I would aim for F for a silver ring, or a J with a golden ring, and be confident that nobody would ever be able to tell the difference unless they dragged your wife-to-be into a jewelry store and brought out the microscopes. Think of color as a check-off item, and not an actual scale.
Clarity is the third most important C, and likely the one you should compromise on the most. This is because most imperfections cannot be seen without ten time mangification on the diamon, and usually you’re more likely to find imperfection in the mangifying lens more than the actual diamond (this happened to me twice with the diamond I ended up purchasing).
These imperfections, also known as inclusions or blemishes, are extremely small. While they do affect the diamond’s sparkle, their tiny size typically means they don’t contribute to luminescence as much as cut.
The scale for clarity is as follows (from worst to best):
- Included 2 (I2)
- Included 1 (I1)
- Slightly Included 2 (SI2)
- Slightly Included 1 (SI1)
- Very Slightly Included 2 (VS2)
- Very Slightly Included 1 (VS1)
- Very, Very Slightly Included 2 (VVS2)
- Very, Very Slightly Included 1 (VVS1)
- Internally Flawless (IF)
- Flawless (FL)
You do not need a flawless diamond, and it’s almost impossible to find or make one in either case. Like color, think of these gradations as a stepstool, with clear and important demarcations at certain levels.
Avoid I1 or I2 diamonds, if you can - the most accessible level is typically SI1, or alternatively SI2 if the inclusion is not close to the center of the ring. But prefer SI1 if you can spring for one.
VS2 and above is not noticeable to the unaided eye, so if you’re slightly strapped for money, this is the area to compromise on - look for nothing better than VS2.
VVS2 is the first grade where the inclusions are considered to not compromise the luminescence of the diamond at all. In other words, even if you have money to spare, getting anything above a VVS2 is purely for vanity (even in the jewelry world, that is). If you simply want the brightest diamond, you can stop at VVS2.
IF means it does have inclusions, but they are purely on the inside of the diamond, and the exterior shape is perfect.
And lastly, flawless. No inclusions anywhere.
Keep in mind that the threshold for spotting most magnifications is 10x - even flawless diamonds will have inclusions at, hypothetically, 800x magnification.
The shape of the diamond is probably the single most important thing to consider, well before the 4 C’s.
This is another aspect of knowing the one you to whom you wish to propose. The standard, fool-proof, ever-classic is a single solitaire round diamond. If you’re not too sure, I recommend going with this one. This is also the safest bet in terms of maximizing brightness. Square can also be cut well. The fancier you get with shapes, however, the more likely that the cut will be off. Heart shapes, for example, are very difficult to cut, and I personally have found that even hearts that claim to be of the same cut as a round diamond simply do not shine as well.
But I’m not a jeweler, so take whatever I say with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Any diamond you buy should come with a lab certification, and if it does not you should make sure it does. Before buying, I would pick out a certifier that you are happy with, and ensure that this particular certifier validates your ring. As you can imagine, some certifiers are more loose with gradations than others. This often is the case of why turning in a $10,000 diamond into a jeweler may only be appraised for $8,000 - even assuming the price of diamonds does not change. Different certifiers can, and often do, produce different grades for a given diamond.
diamonds.pro has a long page on the detailed differences between most of the major certification labs, but you should do your own independent research on which certifier you trust, and which ones play fast and loose.
There is no reliable way to prove a diamond is not a blood diamond.
I’ll say this again - there is no way to prove a diamond is not a conflict diamond.
Anyone who claims to say otherwise is wrong. Unless you go to a Canadian mine, pick out your diamond, and make sure you don’t lose sight of it the entire time, you will never be able to say with certainty that the diamond you have is not a conflict-free diamond. There are extensive videos of this explaining why diamonds in particular are so hard to track. Not only are they obviously one of the hardest substances known to man, making them very difficult to mark, but virtually every client in the world wants them unblemished, so why would any mine ever try to mark them in a permanent (read non-forgeable) manner? There are videos after videos claiming disproving jewelers who claim their diamonds are Canadian.
There is simply no way to prove it.
So if you want absolute certainty, you are better off with a lab-grown diamond. If you live in Canada and just want reasonable assurances, then you’re probably okay as well. If you live anywhere else in the world, there simply is no such reassurance for you. Sorry.
Lab Grown Diamonds
Lab grown diamonds will, on average, sparkle more, and they will also be significantly cheaper. This is ultimately what I ended up choosing, for many reasons. The guarantee (not semi-assurance) that it would be conflict-free was a huge drawing factor. Those who know me also know I want the most bang for my buck, and there’s no better way than a lab-grown diamond. I looked up a similar diamond to one I purchased on Blue Nile, and it was $10,000 more expensive. I decided a down payment for a house meant more to me than a silly ring in any rate.