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4 C's
Know Your Carats
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Diamonds: Know Your Carats

When most people think about buying a diamond, they think BIG. Well, why not? It's only natural to want the biggest, fanciest and most brilliant stone you can get. Many consumers go out aiming for a one-carat, D-flawless stone, because they've heard that's the best you can get. But is it?

Does Size Matter?
If you've done your homework and reviewed the Four Cs of diamond quality--carat, cut, clarity and color--you're already ahead of the game, because you know you need all four of these criteria to get the best diamond. But what if you're faced with the choice of buying a bigger, lesser-quality stone or a smaller, finer-quality one? Which will you choose? According to the experts, size does count, but overall quality counts more.

Although diamonds are mined in many parts of the world, more than 250 tons of ore need to be blasted, crushed and processed to yield just one carat of rough diamond. And of that relatively small amount, it is estimated that only about one-fifth of all rough diamonds are suitable for gem cutting.

The goal of the diamond cutter has not changed since ancient times: He wants to produce a diamond of the greatest possible weight and the finest quality. Obviously, the cutter's skill is a critical factor in the beauty and value of a diamond and there are precise geometric formulas for each stone shape. While diamond shape is a matter of individual preference and does not affect the stone's value, certain stones are cut certain ways to eliminate flawed or badly colored parts of the rough. Each cut, however, is aimed at giving you the highest caratage for the money.

The Basics
A carat is the term used for the measurement of a diamond's weight. It is equal to 200 milligrams, or 0.2 grams, and there are 142 carats to an ounce. (This is a totally different term from the "karat" weight of gold, which is actually a measurement of purity rather than weight).

In fact, the gemstone "carat" comes from the carob seeds that were used to balance scales in ancient times. While the use of seeds might sound like a pretty unscientific way to measure diamonds, according to historians, it was surprisingly accurate. These tiny, horn-shaped seeds were so uniform in size and weight that even today's sophisticated scales can't detect more than one three-thousandth of an ounce difference between them!
Of course, you don't have to worry about the use of carob seeds today. Gemologists use very sophisticated equipment to measure the size and weight of diamonds--assuring accuracy even when they are set in a piece of jewelry. This is important because when mounted, one diamond may appear larger than another, although they actually weigh the same.

For jewelry purposes, carats are further divided into points, a one-carat stone equaling 100 points. Therefore, a half-carat stone may be referred to as a "50-pointer," a quarter carat, "25-points," etc. The smaller stones used in pave or channel settings are sometimes called melee. In certificates, appraisals and receipts, however, the weight of your diamond should be written in carats, rounded to 1/100ths, such as .25 carats; .50 carats, 1.20 carats, etc.

Another fact that's important to understand is that prices of diamonds rise proportionately with the size of the stone. Because large diamonds are rare, they generally have a greater value per carat. For example, the price of a two-carat stone will be several times higher, than, say, four 50-pointers of equal quality. Likewise, a diamond that hits the one-carat mark will cost considerably more than a 95-pointer of the same quality.

Get that Cert
When you buy your diamond, be sure you ask for a certificate with it. A certificate from an accredited laboratory such as the Gemological Institute of America is important because every diamond, like every fingerprint, is unique and distinguishable from every other. Each stone bears its own individual characteristics and this evaluation will give you the diamond's exact measurement and weight, plus details of the quality of its cut.

The evaluation of your diamond will be performed by a qualified professional with the help of special gemological instruments and will map out all the information about your diamond. A certificate will not put a dollar value on your stone; to get that valuation, you must consult a qualified appraiser.