In his gemological science class at the University of Kansas, Tom teaches his students to identify diamonds, determine whether they have been either enhanced or synthetically grown in a laboratory, and to investigate the 3 features of diamond quality that combine with carat weight to determine the cost of the stone. At Tom Tivol Jewels, we teach the same thing to every client.

Each customer, especially engagement ring and diamond stud earring clients has a different goal. Some want a large diamond and are less concerned with quality. Others want a rare stone, regardless of its weight. Others want the most beautiful diamond (meaning maximum quantity and quality of brilliance and fire) and will sacrifice rarity/carat weight to achieve it. Most customers fall somewhere in the middle – they want to buy a great diamond with all of the best qualities, and stay within their proposed budget.


ou will be surprised to learn there are more than 200 shapes of diamonds used in fine jewelry. The most common shapes are:

  • Brilliant Round Diamonds
  • Marquise Cut Diamonds
  • Trillion Diamonds
  • Triangle Diamonds
  • Pear Shaped Diamonds
  • Princess Cut Diamonds
  • Starburst Diamonds
  • Half-moon Diamonds
  • Oval Diamonds
  • Radiant Cut Diamonds
  • Baguette & Tapered Baguette Diamonds
  • Shield Shaped Diamonds
  • Emerald Cut Diamonds
  • Trilliant Cut Diamonds
  • Trapeze Diamonds
  • Pentagon Shaped Diamonds
  • Rose Diamonds
  • European Diamonds
  • Old Miner Diamonds

Diamond shapes come into favor and go out of style over the years, and for this and other reasons, some shapes are more expensive than others at any given time. In 2016, the round diamond is the most demanded and most expensive. The marquise diamond is currently out of favor. All other shapes are regularly requested.


The Importance of Cut

The beauty of a diamond is not based on its shape, size, weight or rarity. It is based almost entirely on the QUANTITY and QUALITY of light that explodes from the top, all across the surface facets of the stone. This is called the Analysis of Cut and is the key to owning a beautiful diamond. Brilliance and fire are two kinds of light in optical physics. Together they create scintillation or sparkle. This is what people see from across the room when they view a diamond that is purposefully cut to hold all its light and explode it back to the eye.

The decision how to cut a diamond is made by the cutter. To obtain more light, the cutter must cut away and waste more of the rough, to produce the proper angles on the crown (top of the diamond) and pavilion (base of the diamond). All cutters know how to do this. Few cutters do it. Why? Because the majority of the public buys diamonds based primarily on carat weight and secondarily on the rarity features of color and clarity, with little attention paid to brilliance and fire. The great majority of both traditional and on line jewelry stores ask for and sell diamonds with average cutting, because what they want from their cutters are diamonds that weigh more. To obtain higher carat weight from the rough, cutters vary the angles and proportions of the crown and pavilion, causing lots of light to leak from the sides of the diamond, exploding into the carpet below.

If you compare a perfectly cut diamond with one of good cut, to one of average cut, to one which is poorly cut, can you see the difference among the 4 stones? Yes, easily. Training is not required. The explosion of light is right there before your eyes.

To understand the rarity of various kinds of diamonds, we study two factors that are part of the diamond’s formation and growth deep within the earth’s mantle – color and clarity. Color and clarity are present in the rough crystal and they are present in polished diamonds. Each affects the cost and the value of the diamond. Jewelers and gemologists have made many attempts to develop language that permits industry experts to communicate quality without the need to examine every stone. This process has been aided by the development of the microscope as well as by 20th Century advances in physics, advancing our knowledge of light and color.

Diamonds grow in many colors and may be divided into 2 groups. The first group, the most popular, are diamonds which are colorless to faint yellow. Group 2 is called natural fancy colors. Most diamonds are colorless to faint yellow. A small minority of diamonds are fancy colors, and consist of the bright and rich brown, yellow, pink, blue, orange, violet, green and red groups. The colorless to faint yellow group is by far the most often purchased.

The rarest stones in this group are completely colorless, like the purest water. As the diamonds become more common, they develop slight tints of yellow. In some, the yellow cannot be seen – although by comparison to the completely colorless stones, the yellow ones may appear a bit darker or less transparent. The most common yellow stones have yellow that is visible to the eye. As diamond color changes from totally colorless to visibly yellow, the cost drops.
In the GIA system, colorless diamonds begin with the letter D, then E, then F, and continue to the end of the alphabet. In the AGS system, numbers are used instead of letters.

Most customers cannot see yellow in a diamond until they view stones fairly far down the colorless to light yellow scale. If there is no visible difference in the color of two diamonds between grades D and I, but there is a substantial price difference between them, what would influence you to purchase a rarer color? While we say that the colorless group consists of colorless to light yellow diamonds, there are many diamonds included here that also exhibit faint tints of gray or brown. These are called “top light browns,” and they are much less expensive. We see them used many times in earrings, bracelets, and other jewelry with a large total carat weight of stones for very few dollars comparatively. Some jewelers also use them as engagement ring diamonds.

Gemologists grade color while the diamond is un-mounted, and placed top down and side by side with pre-graded master comparison stones, sitting in the trough of a pure white tray, with pure white light above. Color is then graded through the narrow edge (the girdle) of the stone. Once the diamond is mounted, its color is much harder to see. This is true regardless of whether the stone is set in yellow or white metal. Even the best independent gemologist appraisers cannot accurately grade the color of a mounted diamond.

In the past 100 years, gemologists have developed grading scales for use by jewelers and the public to help position a diamond’s color. The original system was developed in Europe by DeBeers, the famous English company that discovered and learned to mine the great diamond mines of South Africa in the late 19th and 20th centuries. The American GIA system was developed in the 1960’s. BUYER BEWARE! Although these scales appear simple to use, they are far from simple. In addition, various laboratories use identical grading scales but interpret the grades differently. Some labs use scales with different language altogether so that there is no way to compare their grades. Some jewelry stores create their own grading systems, and their grades cannot be compared to those from any independent laboratory.

We are familiar with all of these scales, their interpretations, and the pitfalls of using each. We guide each client through this process with the goal of discovering their preference for a certain color. We then accurately identify that color and supply the correct laboratory grading report for corroboration. Tom Tivol Jewels uses grading reports that provide the legal standards for diamond grading in the United States. These reports include those from the Gem Trade Laboratory of the Gemological Institute of America and those from the American Gem Society Laboratories.

I like my customers to examine different grades of color, note the visual differences if any, and note the cost differences. Examine diamonds both un-set and mounted, to see if you can detect differences in color.

This group includes all diamonds that are not part of the colorless to light yellow group. Natural refers to the color given to the diamond by nature, not created in a laboratory.

Fancy colored diamonds have a language all their own to describe the color seen by our eyes. Each fancy color diamond is part of its own group. Example: color identification of the natural fancy yellow group:

A. Fancy Light
B. Fancy
C. Fancy Intense
D. Fancy Deep
E. Fancy Vivid

The paler yellows are labeled Fancy Light. Fancy Vivid describes yellow diamonds with the strongest brightest yellow grown in nature. These would cost the most while Fancy Light would cost the least.

The same or similar language is used to grade the color in all the other natural fancy colored diamonds.

Other than the process of analyzing and grading the color of natural fancy color diamonds, the analysis of these stones is identical to that we use for all other diamonds … understanding shape, cut, clarity, carat weight and so on.

Many diamonds grow with unattractive features. They have grayish, greenish, or brownish hues, and they may have unsightly flaws. Physicists, chemists, and gemologists have learned to alter diamond color through processes like nuclear irradiation and heat. This masks the unsightly features of the natural stones by creating in them the same strong colors as in the natural fancy color group, which then allows the diamonds to be sold.

Federal Law requires that artificially color enhanced diamonds be represented accurately. Natural fancy color diamonds are substantially more expensive than the artificially enhanced stones. However treated colored diamonds make spectacular jewelry, and at a cost that is often comfortable for many buyers. These days, lots of tiny treated colored diamonds are used by designers to create spectacular jewelry at a fraction of the cost compared to the use of natural fancy colors in the same pieces.

In the last 15 years, it has become possible to take some natural diamonds with yellow or brown color and change their color to colorless. Such a diamond cannot be distinguished from a rare colorless natural diamond to the naked eye, but gemologists can identify these treated colorless stones. They are substantially less expensive and federal law requires their correct identification. They are often sold under the label HPHT diamonds.

In our earlier discussion, we described the quantity and quality of light exploding from the top of a diamond. In that section, we spoke of the quantity of light controlled by the cutter’s choice of angles and proportions. Here, we briefly discuss the quality of this light, and how it relates to diamond color:

When a ray of light completes its journey through the diamond and explodes from the top of the stone, it breaks apart into the colors of the visible spectrum. If the color of your diamond is one of the rarer colorless stones, each “piece of color” from that exploding ray of light will be crisper and brighter. If your diamond is one of the lower grades of color, possessing a small amount of yellow, then each piece of color from that exploding ray of light will be slightly more blurred…not quite as bright. If there is a reason to justify the expense of purchasing a rarer grade of colorlessness, then if your diamond is also perfectly cut, the fire scintillating across its surface will reach its maximum brightness and beauty. This is the connection between the quality of light that explodes from the top and the color that grows in your stone.

Almost all diamonds grow in nature with markings inside and outside. The inside markings are called flaws/imperfections and the surface markings are called surface blemishes. Some of the typical ones are called:
Gemologists study five features of these markings. They are:

Number of flaws
Size of flaws
Types of flaws
Position of flaws
How flaws affect the passage of light through the diamond
The most universally accepted clarity grading systems are those developed by the Gemological Institute of America and the American Gem Society. The meaning given to the grades within these systems represents the industry and the legal standard. Knowing the clarity grade of your diamond is interesting and important to your insurance company, but it doesn’t give you much information about your stone. In fact, it may be successfully argued that before grading systems were available to jewelers and the public, customers learned more about their diamonds because jewelers needed to spend more time pointing out and comparing actual features of stones. In 2016, most of these features have been reduced to writing on laboratory reports, which jewelers use to position a diamond on various color and clarity scales. Here are the questions to ask your jeweler to get to know your diamond inside and out.

Do any of the markings affect durability?
If these flaws cannot be seen with the naked eye, do some of them become visible when the diamond is not clean?
Are any of the flaws on the edge of the diamond?
Do any of the flaws open onto any surface of the diamond?
Are any of the flaws crystals of other minerals that are typically found in diamonds?
Are the flaws centrally located or dispersed to the perimeter of the stone?
Asking these questions will help you understand the value of your purchase and how that value is affected by the diamond’s internal and external markings.

IMPORTANT NOTE: A clarity grade, like VS-1 or SI-1 refers to a group with thousands of diamonds with different kinds, locations and types of flaws, but all generally following the standard set for that particular group. Unfortunately most jewelers and most members of the public do not know that within every clarity grade group, there is a spread of prices, based on the analysis of the characteristics themselves. In other words, all SI-1 clarity diamonds are not the same price, even setting aside all other features of the stones. Those with flaws in the center are less expensive than those with flaws near the perimeter. Those with flaws that affect durability are less expensive, regardless of their location. Those with surface blemishes which actually open into small surface cavities are less expensive. And all of these might be accurately and ethically placed in the same clarity grade group. This is why, despite the availability of advanced laboratory reports, always discuss the characteristics of your diamond with your jeweler, to make certain you understand what you are buying and how the flaws affect its cost.

Diamond is weighed on a diamond scale and priced by its carat weight. There are 100 points to a carat. A one carat diamond weighs about 1/5th of a gram. All other factors being equal, as carat weight increases, cost increases exponentially rather than geometrically. Example: A 2 carats diamond is over 3 times the cost of a 1 carat diamond, even though it weighs only twice as much. Why? Polished diamonds are cut from rough diamond crystals, referred to simply as “rough.” About half the weight of the rough is lost in the cutting of the polished stone. A 4 carats piece of rough, which cuts into a 2 carats polished diamond, is more than 3 times rarer in nature than a 2 carats piece of rough, which is cut into a 1 carat diamond.

At various times, with various shapes, there are advantageous “price breaks” at certain carat weights. Example: A diamond weighing .90 carat, which cannot be distinguished from a full 1.00 carats diamond, may be 20% less expensive. Why? Because the rough that weighed 1.80 carats, which was cut into the .90 carat polished diamond costs about 20% less than the 2 carats rough that was cut into the polished 1 carat diamond. Clients interested in the best value for their dollars should ask jewelers about these price breaks, assuming the seller does not offer the information outright. The billions of dollars spent worldwide to convince the public to purchase diamonds which weigh more sometimes creates a psychological block that prevents the client from examining diamonds of very slightly lesser weighs, even if those stones would save the client lots of dollars.

Market research suggests cost and carat weight are the primary concerns of most diamond buyers. The numerous lists of diamonds on jewelry store websites, whether online or in traditional brick and mortar venues, influence many of today’s buyers to reduce diamond values to a series of letters and numbers. This process influences diamond buyers to rush through quality analysis; the inevitable result being that they reduce both the beauty and the value of their purchase.
How are diamonds priced? After all, when they are removed from the earth they are ice cube-looking raw crystals, some with dirt attached and certainly not beautiful. Cost is based on the following factors:

Time and labor to find diamonds, remove them and sort them
Labor to study, cut and facet the crystal into polished diamond
Weight of the crystal and size of the polished diamond
Rarity of the crystal and rarity of the polished diamond
Brilliance, Fire, Scintillation (Cut) of the polished diamond
Marketing costs
Seller’s commission
Size and rarity of the rough crystal are the most important factors in cost. Brilliance, fire, and scintillation are the primary factors which produce beauty. Because nature provides far fewer crystals of greater carat weight, diamond prices rise quickly with increases in the weight of the stone.

Most customers have a budget in mind when they begin the process of searching for a diamond and a ring to hold it. By providing the budget to your jeweler, you should expect your jeweler to concentrate on the best combination of size and quality within that number. This also allows customers to spend more time examining the quality of a diamond, which almost always results in a diamond of better value.

Remember: the cost of a diamond is always important. Yet, like other features of the stone, it’s ultimately a statistic that fades over time. What remains should be a gorgeous sparkling diamond, what the woman first sees when she looks down at her hand.

Around 1960, the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) developed the first laboratory grading reports to identify diamonds and report on some features of their quality. This followed the original system developed in Europe by DeBeers decades earlier. This also marked the beginning of the growth of the laboratory report industry. Those involved believed that some day many diamonds would be sold with reports issued by laboratories that were independent of the selling process.
In 2016 there are many such laboratories, each issuing their own version of a diamond grading report. The reports issued by the GIA and the American Gem Society (AGS) laboratories are considered to be the most accurate in the industry. For our customers we use and recommend reports issued only by these two laboratories.

There are several laboratories outside of the GIA and the AGS that claim to be using the GIA-AGS systems. But when their diamonds are re-graded using the GIA system, the final grades are often different, usually lower than their claim. This is because each laboratory may interpret differently identical grading language, causing many diamonds to be incorrectly graded and misrepresented at the time of the sale.

When clients bring in diamonds with other grading reports, they are examined to determine their grades under the GIA-AGS systems. Those grades are then compared to those stated on the customer’s report.

Laboratory reports of all kinds are here to stay. In fact, with diamonds of certain sizes and values, they are required by some homeowner’s insurance policies. Here are the questions you should always ask about laboratory grading reports:

If the report is not from the GIA or AGS, what grading scales are used and what do the grades mean in reference to the GIA grading system?
What features of the diamond are not described by the report? How do those features affect price?
Does the report provide a grade for the cut of the diamond? How is that grade established? What is the meaning of the grade compared to the systems designed by the GIA & AGS?
Was the report issued fairly recently? If not, has anything happened to the diamond since the report was issued?
Does the report contain any cost information? The best laboratories do not comment on cost of the gemstones they examine. Jewelers who use lab reports with values are attempting to create an appraised value that differs from their selling price. The gap between the two is used by buyers to judge “the deal.”
Don’t rely solely on the laboratory report to fully guarantee the quality of the diamond you purchase. Review the plot of the diamond’s flaws with your jeweler. Have the flaws explained. Ask if they affect the durability of the stone. Ask if the flaws block or distort light traveling through the diamond. Ask if flaws that are usually invisible suddenly become visible to the naked eye when the diamond’s pavilion is not clean.

Review with your jeweler the angles and proportions of the diamond and the amount of light that explodes from the top of the stone. This information is often hard to interpret from even very fine lab reports.

You are purchasing a diamond from your jeweler who should be your diamond expert, and the report is merely a written statement of corroboration that is useful to your insurance company. It is the jeweler’s knowledge that should create the necessary credibility to complete the purchase, not that of any faraway laboratory which has nothing to do with your satisfaction or happiness with your diamond.

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