Every diamond is different. The 4Cs are a set of objective and widely accepted standards used by jewellers and gemmologists to compare diamonds. The concept of the 4Cs was first introduced in 1939 to help consumers understand the different characteristics of a diamond. Though a diamond’s beauty and value are based on many factors, the 4Cs continue to provide a common framework through which consumers, jewellery designers and retailers can talk about diamonds.
A diamond’s cut refers to the quality of the tiny surfaces, or facets, polished onto its surface. A well-cut diamond reflects light internally from one mirror-like facet to another and disperses it through the top of the gem. The facets, known as the crown, culet, table, girdle and pavilion, are arranged with precise, mathematical proportions to maximise a diamond’s fire, life and brilliance. The cut, the only element of the 4Cs influenced by the human hand, is often considered the most important. A well-cut diamond may be given a higher quality or value than one that is larger or of a better colour.
Carat is a measure of weight, not size. One carat is equal to 200 milligrams. The term is derived from the word carob; carob seeds were used as a reference for diamond weight in the ancient world. Because larger diamonds are rare, they are more valuable than the equivalent weight in several smaller diamonds. A 1-carat diamond will generally cost more than two 1/2 carat diamonds, assuming all other qualities are equal.
White or colourless diamonds actually occur in a range of shades – from truly colourless to off-white. They are graded on a colour scale from D (colourless) to Z. The differences between one shade and the next are very subtle, so grading is done under controlled lighting, using a master diamond sample set for comparison and accuracy. Natural diamonds also occur in shades of blue, green, yellow-orange, pink, red, and even black. Known as ‘coloured fancies’, these stones are extremely rare and valuable. They are graded according to the intensity of their colour.
Clarity refers to the presence of inclusions in a diamond. These are naturally occurring features – wisps of minerals, uncrystallised carbon, tiny fractures – formed deep within the diamond when it was first created. Though usually invisible to the naked eye, they can influence the way light is reflected and refracted. A gemmologist will examine a diamond under 10x magnification before assigning a clarity grade from F (Flawless) to I (Included). The grade may also indicate whether the inclusion is near the centre of the stone or along its girdle, or outer edge.