Everything You Need to Know About Engagement Rings

Diamonds come in all shapes and sizes, cuts and carat weights. Here, your guide to finding-or familiarizing yourself with-your dazzler, from the four Cs to the most beautiful settings around.

Photo: Anita CaleroPhoto: Anita Calero Clarity
The Gemology Institute of America's scale to grade a diamond's transparency boils down to whether or not you can see flaws, or "inclusions" in jeweler-speak. These might be light or dark spots, tiny cracks, and surface blemishes like scratches or nicks. Their presence determines which clarity grade a diamond is given: Flawless (FL); Internally Flawless (IF); Very Very Slightly Included (VVS1 and VVS2); Very Slightly Included (VS1 and VS2); Slightly Included (SI1 and SI2); and Imperfect Included (I1, I2, and I3).

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Because most imperfections are microscopic, they affect cost more than appearance; for example, an FL diamond and a VS2 stone look the same to the untrained eye, but they carry wildly different price tags. In general, diamonds that fall anywhere between VVs and SI are solid picks (very few jewelers deal in the exceptionally rare and incredibly expensive FL and IF diamonds), while those in the I category are best avoided.

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Photo: Anita CaleroPhoto: Anita Calero Cut
Looking to supersize your sparkle? Pay close attention to its cut. More than just the shape of a finished stone, it refers to how well a diamond reflects light. In fact, it's the biggest factor in determining a gem's overall look. "It's really the most important characteristic of all the Four Cs," says Henri Barguirdjian, President and Ceo of Graff Diamond USA. If expertly done, maximum shine is guaranteed; if not, a diamond will appear lackluster.
Photo: Anita CaleroPhoto: Anita Calero What's in a Shape?
Round shapes, which represent roughly 80 percent of all diamonds sold worldwide, are popular for good reason: they have the most cut facets and hence the most sparkle. Also worth noting: a first-rate cut can compensate for a smaller rock and less-than-perfect clarity or color. "Always buy a smaller stone of a higher cut quality over a larger stone of poorer cut quality," says Barguirdjian.
Carat
First: Carat refers to the weight, not the size, of a diamond. So how large a stone looks isn't always an accurate representation of how much it weighs. Russell Shor, a senior industry analyst at GIA, puts it another way: "If you buy a round diamond, most of its weight is hidden under the prong. With other cuts, there's a lot more weight up top, so a 0.5-carat princess-cut diamond will appear to be at least a 0.75-carat stone," he says. If size matters most to you, but budget is a concern, you're better off selecting a diamond with a lower carat weight that's cut to maximize its size.
Photo: Anita CaleroPhoto: Anita Calero Color
If cut is considered the most important of a diamond's characteristics, then color is the runner-up. For this, the GIA uses two scales. The first grades colorless diamonds, also called white diamonds, on a D-to-Z scale. Those graded D are completely clear (and supremely rare), while those at the other end of the range, the Zs, will have a noticeable tint. That said, when a diamond is so deeply hued that it would fall below a Z grade, "We call it 'fancy'-the point where the color becomes an asset, not a liability, and the value starts to rise," says Shor.
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If you're more of a yellow-diamond gal, you'll be looking at the institute's other color-grading system. This second scale ranges from a grade called Fancy Vivid down to diamonds labeled Faint, with five points in between. These blue, brown, pink, yellow, and other colored stones represent only one of every 10,000 diamonds mined and are-you guessed it-priced to match.
Photo: Anita CaleroPhoto: Anita Calero Setting
Pals may ooh and ahh over the shine, shape, and size of your stone, but nothing can elevate a gem to jaw-dropping status quite like its setting. To wit: If you want to highlight a larger diamond, you might consider a classic four-or six-prong mounting that holds it up from the band, keeping all focus on the rock. On the flip side, you can augment a less substantial stone with a split-shank setting, in which the band "opens up" to frame the diamond.
Photo: Anita CaleroPhoto: Anita Calero Find Your Style
First: Carat refers to the weight, not the size, of a diamond. So how large a stone looks isn't always an accurate representation of how much it weighs. Russell Shor, a senior industry analyst at GIA, puts it another way: "If you buy a round diamond, most of its weight is hidden under the prong. With other cuts, there's a lot more weight up top, so a 0.5-carat princess-cut diamond will appear to be at least a 0.75-carat stone," he says. If size matters most to you, but budget is a concern, you're better off selecting a diamond with a lower carat weight that's cut to maximize its size.

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