When most people think of diamonds, they think of the 4 C’s: carat, color, clarity, and cut (some guys I’ve spoken to say there’s a fifth C – “cost” – but that’s another story). What most people don’t consider is that “cut” is the most important thing to consider when choosing a diamond.

Many confuse “cut” with the of a diamond (round, princess, oval, etc) – they are not the same thing. “Cut” refers to the way a diamond is cut from the rough (or from a larger diamond), affecting the proportions, the angles, and the overall sparkle. A well-cut diamond will look larger, hide imperfections, look whiter, and as a whole, be more brilliant. Unfortunately, the majority of diamonds on the market are not well-cut.

Let’s assume that all three diamonds are the same weight. The diamond on the right will face up smaller (look smaller when viewed from the top) because there is too much weight on the bottom. Not only do you end up paying for size you can’t see, but the diamond will have less light return as well. On the other hand, the diamond on the left will face up the largest of the three, but it will be lifeless because as you can see from the picture, light will leak from its sides.

Looking at this picture and the chart, it’s obvious that most people would want a colorless diamond in the D-F range. But 95% of the population can’t see any color in a well-cut “H” diamond. If a diamond is especially well-cut, you can even go down to “I” or even “J” and no layman would know.

Just for comparison, a 1.00ct, D, VS1 diamond costs between $7,000-$8,000. Compare that to a 1.00ct, H, VS1 with a range of $4,500-$5,500!
Now on to clarity. Clarity runs from the “FL” (flawless) or “IF” (internally flawless) range to the “I” (included) range:

Based on pictures like these, most people stay clear of anything below a “VVS2.” However, when plotting inclusions, gemologists scrutinize these diamonds under 10x, sometimes even 20x magnification. If you are lucky, you can find a beautiful “SI1″ that is completely eye-clean (which means that you cannot see the inclusions with the naked eye). I even read about one girl who wanted a 2ct diamond on a $10,000 budget. While most jewelers laughed at her, she was patient and found a jeweler who was able to find her a 2ct diamond that was an “I1.” Although she was able to see the largest inclusion, it was positioned on a corner so the prong in her ring completely covered it.

Unless you’re really adamant about a flawless diamond, anything in the “VVS” range is overkill. Why pay for something you can’t see? For comparison, a 1.00ct G FL diamond can cost $7,500-$9,000. Go down in clarity with a 1.00ct G SI1 and the price jumps down to $4,000 to $5,000.
To reiterate: find a well-cut diamond and you can sacrifice a lot on color and clarity. Use the extra money and invest it in your retirement fund. Put it towards your wedding or your honeymoon. Or just buy a larger diamond with it!