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Facts About Diamonds vs Diamond Buying Myths

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Buying an engagement ring can be stressful. Looking at diamonds and settings online can be particularly difficult, since you don’t have a sales associate who can answer your questions in real time. Hopefully, this guide can help you cut through some misinformation about diamonds you might find online. Here are the top five myths to be aware of and the facts about diamonds you’ll need to know so you can shop with confidence.

Diamond Buying Myth #1: Blood Diamonds are Still Readily Available on the Market

“Blood diamonds” or “conflict diamonds” are mined using forced labor under poor working conditions. Corrupt governments use the profits from the sale of these stones to keep themselves in power. Most consumers became aware of these diamonds thanks to the 2006 film, Blood Diamond. However, the conflict in Sierra Leone depicted in the film started much earlier. The diamond industry began taking measures against the trade in blood diamonds in 2000.

In 2003, the Kimberley Process (KP) came into effect. This certification program aims to follow diamonds from mine to market and ensure that conflict diamonds don’t enter the global diamond trade.

Has this agreement made any difference?

No diamond certification program is perfect. However, it’s estimated that the nations that signed onto the KP account for approximately 99.8% of the global production of rough diamonds. In addition to this political agreement, diamond retailers like Blue Nile often have internal rules and regulations, pledging to deal only with conflict-free diamonds.

You should feel confident when shopping that the diamonds available to you are conflict-free.

Twisted Halo Diamond Engagement Ring in 14k White Gold Blue Nile
Find this Ring at Blue NileBlue Nile certifies that all of the diamonds used in their designs, like this twisted halo engagement ring, are 100% conflict-free. © Blue Nile.

Diamond Buying Myth #2: Diamonds Can’t Break 

We’ve all heard that “a diamond is forever.” Where did this idea come from? This was actually a tagline for an advertising campaign created by De Beers in 1947 to promote diamond engagement rings.

Is there any truth to it?

The Mohs Hardness Scale

You’ve probably heard that diamond is the hardest of all natural materials. On the Mohs hardness scale, diamonds score a 10, the highest possible score. Hardness scores are also logarithmic, which means diamond is actually 10 times harder than the second hardest natural material, corundum (ruby and sapphire).

But what exactly does hardness measure?

Facts about diamonds - Mohs Hardness Scale
The Mohs hardness scale. Image by the National Park Service. Public Domain.

Strictly speaking, the Mohs scale only measures resistance to scratching. Only diamonds can scratch other diamonds. However, diamonds will break if hit with enough force. “Tenacity” measures a material’s resistance to blows. Like most gemstones, diamonds have a “brittle” tenacity.

Alas, nothing lasts forever, not even diamonds.

Diamond Cleavage

Diamonds also have an additional weakness: perfect cleavage. This means that if struck along a particular plane, they will split in two. Expert gem cutters take great care to orient diamonds during cutting, so jewelers can set the stones safely and protect this plane from direct strikes.

Diamond Fractures

Diamonds can also contain fractures, breaks that occur but not along a cleavage plane. If the fracture doesn’t reach the surface, the stone may remain intact but will have a lower clarity grade. In some cases, a fracture may be big enough for you to see with the naked eye.

Brian Gavin Diamonds
A diamond with a low clarity grade, due to various inclusions and fractures visible in the top left region of the stone. © Brian Gavin. Used with permission.

Fractures will usually appear as a white, cloudy patch or line inside the stone. Other times, you won’t be able to see them at all, especially if they’re small or hidden under prongs in a setting. Unseen fractures may become an issue when cleaning or resetting the stone. Some jewelers claim that up to a third of diamonds in vintage/antique mountings don’t survive a resetting because of fractures hidden under mountings. They can’t see them before beginning their work.

ZAC Zac Posen Vintage Three-Stone Diamond Engagement Ring in 14k White Gold Blue Nile
Find this RIng at Blue NileVintage-style engagement ring. © Blue Nile.

Some Diamond Cuts are More Vulnerable to Damage

Diamonds cut into shapes with points are more delicate than round shapes. Cuts like pears, marquises, and princesses all have tips, which can easily chip or break when struck.

If you choose beautiful options like these, especially for ring stones, select protective settings that can guard these vulnerable points. That means mountings that hold stones with thicker prongs covering the tips, v-settings, halos, or full bezel settings. 

Diamond Buying Myth #3: A Diamond’s Cut Grade Doesn’t Matter

Most diamonds are graded using a system developed by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in 1953. This system assesses diamond quality by evaluating four properties: cut, color, clarity, and carat. These properties have come to be known collectively as the “The Four Cs”.

Since the introduction of this system, people have debated which of the Four Cs are the most and least important, from a consumer’s point of view. In these debates, more often than not, the cut receives less priority. After all, color and clarity seem like obvious properties, and anyone can measure a rock’s carat weight. On the other hand, the cut seems like a property too complex for most consumers to understand.

A diamond’s cut grade describes how well the cutter cut the stone’s proportions and symmetry, so that it returns as much light as possible to the viewer. The GIA will give a diamond one of the following cut grades: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor.

Is it true that the cut is the least important of the diamond’s Four Cs?

0.70-Carat Princess Cut Diamond Blue Nile
These diagrams show the proportions that cutters take into account when fashioning a princess-cut diamond. © Blue Nile.

The Role of the Cut

When it comes to finding the perfect diamond for you, each of the Four Cs deserves careful consideration. However, experts agree that the cut is the most important element of a diamond’s overall beauty. That should matter to consumers.

While you may not perceive the exact proportions or symmetry of a stone — the same way you can perceive color or size — you will notice when they’re poorly executed. Diamonds with high cut grades (Very Good to Excellent) will dazzle with strong brilliance (brightness), fire (colored flashes), and balanced scintillation (white flashes). On the other hand, poorly cut stones will appear dark and lifeless, regardless of their color, carat, and clarity.

Shape

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This chart shows how light may be misdirected and lost in diamonds with inferior cut grades. © With Clarity. Used with permission.

Still, you’re the ultimate judge of what makes a beautiful diamond, and there’s a way you can balance cut, color, clarity, and carat when you’re shopping online. If you buy from a retailer like Blue Nile, you can specify the grades of each of the Four Cs on their “Diamond Finder” page.

Petite Twist Diamond Engagement Ring in 14k Rose Gold Blue Nile
Find this Ring at Blue NileThis ring features a 1-ct diamond with a Very Good cut grade. © Blue Nile.

Most consumers have a budget in mind when diamond shopping. So, if you prioritize color or carat, you may need to accept lower cut and/or clarity grades. With careful comparison shopping, you can do this! However, if possible, avoid the lowest cut grades of Fair and Poor.

Diamond Buying Myth #4: Fluorescence is Bad 

Approximately a third of all natural, colorless diamonds show some degree of fluorescence when exposed to longwave ultraviolet (UV) light. Most of these diamonds typically fluoresce with a blue color.

Will this make the diamond look bad?

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Classic blue fluorescence of a natural diamond. Photos by CustomMade. Used with permission.

It’s important to note that, since 2008, the GIA lighting standard for diamond grading is a daylight-equivalent with a UV component. Thus, the effect of fluorescence is already included in a diamond’s color grade. A diamond’s blue fluorescence may counteract yellowish hues, which makes the stone appear whiter (colorless) and results in a higher color grade. But what happens when you view such a diamond under lighting without a UV component? Won’t the color look yellower?

As it turns out, in the majority of cases, you won’t see a noticeable difference in diamond color. Most fluorescent diamonds only have medium or very faint fluorescence that has little effect on color anyway. Slight changes in diamond colors are very difficult to detect, even for experts. (Try our impossible diamond color quiz and see for yourself).

However, what you will find is that many jewelers sell fluorescent diamonds at a discount, perhaps because of the misconception that diamond fluorescence is “bad.” See our guide to fluorescence and diamond pricing for more information.

One caveat: under light with no UV component, unusual diamonds that do show very strong fluorescence may look noticeably yellower than their color grade and may also appear milky or cloudy. This is most noticeable in stones with the highest color grades: D, E, or F. Take a careful look at any diamond with very strong fluorescence before buying.

Of course, if you want a diamond that glows blue under black light, these stones are perfect for you.

Diamond Buying Myth #5: Lab-Grown Diamonds are Inferior to Their Natural Counterparts 

Arguments over the merits of natural vs lab-created or synthetic diamonds occur frequently in the jewelry industry today. Let’s take a look at this debate. We’ll start with the bottom line: natural and synthetic diamonds all have the same optical, physical, and chemical properties. This means they look and perform exactly alike.

Facts about Diamonds - natural vs synthetic diamond
Natural (left) vs  synthetic diamond (right). © Ritani. Used with permission.

If that’s the case, why the debate? What’s the difference between natural and synthetic diamonds?

The difference lies in their origins. Natural or mined diamonds are defined as diamonds made in the Earth over a long period of time. Synthetic diamonds have been speedily crafted by humans using advanced machinery in laboratories.

How much does that difference matter to you?

Facts about diamonds - lab-grown diamonds vs natural diamonds
Direct comparison of the natural diamond growing process with the two primary synthetic diamond growing processes, HPHT and CVD.

Diamond growing technologies have advanced to the point where many professionals can’t separate natural from synthetic stones. The most recent synthetics can only be identified using specialized equipment. This has led to concerns that some synthetic stones are being sold as natural. However, in the United States, there are strict regulations regarding the sale of synthetic diamonds. Sellers are legally required to communicate clearly whether or not their diamonds are natural or synthetic.

Of course, consumers and sellers alike have different reactions to the increasing availability of high-quality synthetics on the market. Some reject synthetics entirely. Others embrace them. Regardless, the market for lab-created diamonds is only going to increase. Younger consumers have demonstrated a greater willingness than their older counterparts to buy synthetic diamonds.

Can you tell the difference between these 0.5-ct diamond necklaces? The one on the left is lab-grown while the one on the right is natural. © Blue Nile.

Remember These Facts About Diamonds

You’re sure to encounter many myths when you’re diamond buying. Hopefully, these facts about diamonds can put your mind at ease.

Remember:

  • The diamonds you’ll find for sale are most likely not blood diamonds.
  • Wear your diamonds with care.
  • Look for stones with a cut grade of at least Good.
  • Fluorescence has no noticeable effect on the majority of diamonds (except lower prices).
  • The only difference between a natural and a synthetic diamond is the source.

Happy shopping!