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Diamonds are forever – how to find the perfect stone for your engagement ring

“Diamonds are forever,” “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” or, to quote Nicole Richie, “true friends are like diamonds – bright, beautiful, valuable, and always in style.”

We’ve been lauding the benefits of these beauties for centuries, often imbuing them with certain characteristics, so is it any wonder, they’re the go-to precious stone for engagement rings?

After all, as Emily Wan of jewellers Laings says, “Diamonds are one of the earth’s most precious creations and today are used as symbols of love, commitment and triumph.”

Traditionally a groom would prepare to spend three months’ salary on an engagement ring.

That expectation may have changed but the sentiment still stands.

This is the most important piece of jewellery you’re ever likely to wear, (apart from your wedding band of course).

So just how do you find the perfect sparkler?

The 4 C’s

One starting point to help is the “4Cs” – cut, colour, clarity and carat weight.

“These are the globally accepted standards for assessing the quality of a diamond and have great influence in creating the fire and sparkle that makes us fall in love with these enchanting stones,” explains Emily.

Price therefore will be largely determined by how a particular diamond is measured by jewellers and diamond graders.

However, remember they act purely as a guide.

As Lesley Elder of jeweller John McKay says, “It is important to the client only if they are looking for a specific colour, clarity, carat or cut of diamond.”

Using them simply as a guide, let’s take a quick look at how the 4Cs are determined…

Platinum 0.50ct G SI2 brilliant cut diamond halo ring (£3,200), Laings

The cut of a diamond has five grades; excellent, very good, good, fair and poor.

“When buying diamonds, I always look for excellent or ideal as the cut is the most overlooked of the 4Cs but the one which determines the beauty and lustre,” says Lesley.

“When you opt for very good you are sacrificing some brilliance.”

Emily agrees. “The sparkle of a diamond is determined by its proportions, symmetry and polish,” she says.

“Differences in cut greatly impact the beauty, aesthetic appeal, and value of a diamond.”

18ct white gold 0.47ct cushion cut yellow diamond ring (£2,435), Laings

Platinum 0.70ct round brilliant cut diamond ring (£2,800), John McKay

Colour actually refers to the absence of colour in a diamond.

“The perfect diamond will have no hue and will resemble a drop of clear water,” says Emily.

“The colour grade measures the degree of colourlessness in a diamond, beginning at D (colourless) and ending at Z (light colour).

The most desirable diamond colour is D, with no yellowish hue present, and complementing the brilliance of a well-cut diamond.”

Laings typically work with diamonds that are near colourless to colourless.

However, Lesley warns that diamond grading is not a science.

“In a typical diamond lab the stone can be passed to as many as 20 graders before it’s certified,” she says.

“There is a scale and most jewellers like us will have a set of master stones which is used for determining the colour the same as a diamond lab.”

Isabella 18ct yellow gold 0.21ct brilliant cut diamond three stone ring (£1,600), Laings

Clarity is a qualitative metric that grades the visual appearance of each diamond,” says Lesley.

“The fewer inclusions and blemishes a diamond has internally, the better its clarity grade will be.”

Clarity is measured on a scale beginning at ‘flawless’, referring to stones that have no visible inclusions under a 10x magnification, according to Emily, and the scale ends at ‘included’ where inclusions – “natural birthmarks” – are clearly visible under the same magnification.

Platinum and yellow gold 1.03ct I VS2 radiant cut diamond ring (£8,925), Laings

Carat indicates the weight of a diamond, not to be mistaken with the size.

Lesley says if a client requires a larger stone, John McKay will call upon several diamond dealers to obtain a selection that suits the budget they wish to work with.

Laings can also deliver an array of different carat weights, ranging from 0.30ct to 3 carat and above.

But Emily says weight isn’t everything.

“The overall appearance and beauty of a diamond should carry more importance, favouring a well-cut and colourless diamond to determine the desired sparkle,” she says.

Follow your heart

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PHOTO | Struve Photography

Now you have a basic understanding of the 4Cs it should help you decipher some of the labelling when shopping for that all important rock, but remember
this is purely a guide.

It may help explain the differences in price but ultimately you have to go with the ring you want to see sparkling on your finger for the rest of your life.

“A couple should be led solely by their heart,” says Lesley.

“A diamond certificate will give you every detailing regarding a diamond except the most important one which is the sparkle and brilliance, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Emily agrees. “No two diamonds are the same and it is still important to choose a diamond you feel drawn to and fall in love with,” she says.

“The 4Cs guide you to the characteristics of your diamond, and determine the fire and brilliance of the stone, but ultimately, each unique personality of the stone will allow you to follow your heart in deciding.”

Hot topic: lab-grown diamonds

Would you opt for a created rock?

Thinking back 10 years to when my then fiancé took me engagement ring shopping the subject of lab-grown stones came up.

A decade ago I think it’s fair to say there was a certain stigma around rocks that hadn’t been mined and ultimately I was swayed by the sales assistant at the time.

My own ring is a sapphire encircled by 12 little diamonds (à la Lady Di).

I was shown an array of different rings and stones, both mined and created, but mined won out in the end.

Given the same choice today though, I wonder would I have decided the same.

Lab-grown gems are definitely gaining popularity, and Lesley at John McKay has seen a strong shift in people’s buying.

“Within the industry there was a lack of education at first,” she says.

“There was a degree of snobbery but it’s swinging the other way.

We are dealing now with a generation that’s more socially responsible,” she says.

“It takes 250 tonnes of soil to be mined to get 1 carat of diamond.

“Lab-grown diamonds are kinder to the environment.”

And Dundee-based jeweller and designer Lorraine Law agrees.

“People are starting to research the ethics,” she says.

“The new generation are more aware. We’re getting into about 30% lab-grown.”

But will a lab-grown stone still have the same lustre and appeal?

“If you’re testing it with a thermal laser there’s no way to tell if there’s a difference between lab-grown and mined,” Lorraine assures.

And Lesley says they are “chemically and optically identical” and will still stand up to all the 4Cs measurements.

Life in colour

Diamonds may be the go-to stone of choice but they’re not everyone’s thing.

So, what are the popular coloured gemstones right now?

“Sapphire and ruby are always a popular choice, radiating a distinct and mesmerising charm that lends them perfectly to those looking for a unique engagement ring,” says Emily.

“These desirable gemstones sit directly under diamond on the Mohs scale of hardness at number 9, making them durable enough to wear as an engagement ring.”

18ct white gold 5.43ct ruby and 0.40ct diamond ring (£8,200), Laings
18ct white gold 1.16ct pear cut sapphire and diamond cluster ring (£3,440), Laings
9ct white gold marquise cut emerald and diamond ring (£775), John McKay

Blue tanzanite and orange or pink morganite are also on trend according to Lesley.

“But we still see a far greater percentage of diamonds to coloured gemstones.”

And remember, not every diamond looks like a classic white diamond.

“Salt and pepper diamonds are popular according to Lorraine.

These natural stones would previously have been cast aside when the raw diamond was being cut.

“In the past a lot of them would have been classified as inferior because they were so included,” says Lorraine.

“Now people are looking at them in a different way.

They’ve got character and it’s making the best of everything that comes from the natural diamond.”

salt and pepper diamond
Salt and pepper diamond ring (POA), Lorraine Law
Teal sapphire engagement ring (POA), Lorraine Law

Would you choose a diamond or a coloured stone?

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