- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2005

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but buying a diamond engagement ring doesn’t have to be a man’s worst nightmare. All it takes is a little research before buying that very special Christmas gift.

“A diamond of any consequence will cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, yet most people don’t take the time to educate themselves about diamonds before buying,” says Alex Angelle, spokesman for the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), an independent nonprofit that analyzes and certifies diamonds. “If you bought a car or a major appliance, you would do some research.”

The first step to buying a diamond is understanding the four C’s, and they are not cash, check, credit and crying.

Really.

The four C’s are carat weight, cut, clarity and color.

“The GIA was the originator and creator of the system based on the four C’s,” Mr. Angelle says. “Know the four C’s and how they interact with one another. You want a quality diamond. The GIA offers a tutorial at www.gia.edu online. Go to ‘How to Buy a Diamond.’”

A diamond’s weight is measured in carats. The larger the carat, the heavier the stone, but carat weight alone isn’t enough to determine the quality of the gem. You have to consider the color. A stone with very light yellow undertones is less valuable than a colorless or nearly colorless diamond.

Ironically, if the diamond has an intense canary yellow or pink color, also called a fancy diamond, it’s considered very rare and valuable.

The clarity rating is a grade given to the diamond as seen under a microscope at 10x magnification. The microscope detects whether there are any imperfections and if they are visible to the eye.

Not to be outdone by the carat weight, color and clarity is the cut of the diamond. The cut doesn’t refer to whether the diamond is round or oval. That’s the shape of the diamond. The cut is where the mastery and artistry of the cutter comes through. The cutter has to understand the raw diamond to get the right amount of light to reflect properly and proportionally so light doesn’t leak out and create a dull-looking stone.

So how do you know about the diamond you will purchase?

“Get a grading report, preferably by GIA,” says Mr. Angelle, the GIA spokesman. “You want to be sure it’s an authentic, natural, unaltered diamond.”

There are other respected gemological labs that analyze diamonds, but the GIA report is a “world-recognized certificate,” he says. “It’s like the title of a car. You wouldn’t buy a car without the title. The GIA report tells you all the information about the diamond.”

The best advice, though, is to know the jeweler’s reputation.

“Know the seller’s credentials,” Mr. Angelle says. “Are they a reputable professional?”

Ronnie Mervis, owner of Mervis Diamond Importers (www.mervisdiamond.com), based locally, couldn’t agree more.

“Trust the reputation of a prestige house. It was hard-earned,” he says. “There’s a reason they are the biggest and the best.”

Mervis Diamond Importers’ new flagship store is at 1700 K St. NW. The company also has a store in Tysons Corner, at 1900 Mervis Way — “You know you are doing something right when Fairfax [County] names the street after you,” Mr. Mervis quips. A new one is coming soon for the holidays in Chevy Chase.

“It’s not just the cost of the diamond,” Mr. Mervis explains. “There is value, quality and service. Every aspect for years is taken care of, full 100 percent value, cleaning and adjusting.”

Another place to visit for engagement ring ideas is the International Gem and Jewelry Show, which is being held today at the Dulles Expo Center, 4320 Chantilly Shopping Center. Show hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

So now you know you need to have a certified diamond from a high-caliber jeweler. Here comes the tricky part, subjectively guessing what your girlfriend will prefer in a ring that she will wear most days of her life. What material of ring and shape of diamond will she prefer?

Does she wear a lot of gold or silver jewelry? Gold can come in yellow, white or rose. Then there is platinum, a more durable metal that is still hot for today’s brides-to-be.

“The trend is still platinum with lots of rectangles, cushion-cuts, radiants, princess, micropave around the diamond,” Mr. Mervis says.

The shapes have moved beyond just round, marquise, pear or oval. Cushion-cut diamonds resemble little pillows and often are seen with antique-looking rings. Princess diamonds are more square and very popular, and micropave is a technique of using small diamonds that are so close together that they appear to cover the surface of the metal. Also, in addition to the various well-known shapes, there are specialty shapes such as the Lucida, patented by Tiffany & Co.

Does she want a solitaire stone or a center diamond flanked by two baguettes (small, thin, rectangular diamonds) or two trillions (which resemble small triangles)?

Does she want a diamond surrounded by sapphires or rubies? Emeralds are not recommended for engagement rings because they are porous and not as hard as sapphires, rubies or diamonds.

Will the bride wear the engagement ring with a wedding band on her left hand, or will she wear the engagement ring separately on her right hand?

If you consult with the jeweler and still don’t know her taste but want to keep the ring and proposal as a Christmas Day surprise, see if you can get her parents involved. Who knows, they might have Grandma’s 3-carat stunner tucked away in a jewelry box somewhere. Perhaps then you can afford to upgrade to a better setting.

Just remember, the size of the diamond is no reflection on how good the marriage will be. Poor Ben Affleck’s love ran aground on the pink $1.2 million, 6.1-carat, radiant-cut rock of Gibraltar that Jennifer Lopez sported around Tinseltown. They finally made it to the altar — with other people.

Still, that was some rock.

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