Looking for a ring: Know your 4 Cs

Looking for a ring: Know your 4 Cs
Ring bearer: Who doesn't want that little blue box from Tiffany's -- provided there's a nice chunk of jewelry in it. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Let's face it: picking out that killer diamond ring can be tough whether it's an engagement ring or a "just because I love you" token. Lucky for you (or better yet -- your valentine), the offers us a crash course on shopping for a diamond engagement ring.

Carat: Size Matters

Carat refers to the weight of the diamond, not to be confused with the "karat," which indicates the purity of gold. For most couples, the average center stone is 1.05 carats, while the average engagement ring has a total carat weight (counting side stones or other accents) of 1.50 carats. However, it's important to remember that there's no right or wrong size when it comes to carats. If you're looking to save, buy shy, meaning buy a 1.49-carat diamond instead of 1.50. The difference won't be much to the naked eye, but the price jumps significantly every time you reach one of the half-carat marks. You'll save big without having the ring really look any smaller.

Cut: The Big Decision

Cut helps to determine the diamond's sparkle or brilliance: when a diamond is cut to the right proportion, experts will say, light is returned out of the top for that gorgeous sparkle. Often, cut and shape get thrown into the same category, but there is a slight difference. Shape refers to the physical shape -- not the sparkle -- of the diamond: think round, princess (square), emerald, pear, Asscher, or cushion, just to name a few.

Color: Or the Lack Thereof

Color grades actually refer to the lack of color the diamond has. The rating system, given by GIA (Gemological Institute of America), ranges from Z (the lowest) to D, the highest rating, meaning the diamond is absolutely colorless. And though for celebrities colorful diamonds seem to be all the rage -- pink for Jennifer Lopez or yellow for Carrie Underwood -- most brides still prefer a "white," or colorless, diamond above anything else.

Clarity: Imperfect Can Still Be Beautiful

Clarity refers to the visual appearance of the diamond and can be affected by blemishes (scratches or marks on the surface) or inclusions (marks on the inside). We know it's easy to be seduced by the idea of a flawless diamond -- in reality, these are pretty rare.

However, when a diamond gets this rating, it comes from a trained pro who examines the diamond at a 10x magnification to spot the flaws. In other words, while an FL diamond is truly flawless, diamonds with lower ratings, like VS1 or VS2 will have imperfections that are typically not visible to the naked eye, and will cost much less than the FL diamonds.

Note: All figures and statistics courtesy of The Knot Market Intelligence Bridal Series: 2009 Jewelry Study.


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