What are the Four C's of Diamonds?

Mary McMahon

The four C's of diamonds are cut, color, clarity, and carat. They are all important considerations in grading a diamond for sale, and they will influence the eventual price of a diamond, along with any jewelry that it is used in. Consumers should familiarize themselves with the four C's of diamonds if they intend to purchase a diamond, since this knowledge can help someone evaluate a diamond and get the best stone for the best price.

The cut of a diamond has a major effect upon its appearance and price.
The cut of a diamond has a major effect upon its appearance and price.

The cut of a diamond refers to the way in which is it cut and polished after it has been mined. The cut of a diamond is very important, as it can literally make or break the stone. A well cut diamond will have a glittering array of facets which sparkle in the light, giving the diamond a rich look. In a diamond with an excellent cut, light will enter the diamond through one of the facets and then refract back, rather than being lost through the sides or bottom of the diamond. There are numerous different styles of cut for diamonds, ranging from table cuts to round cut brilliants.

The color of a diamond is the most important of the four C's when looking at raw diamonds.
The color of a diamond is the most important of the four C's when looking at raw diamonds.

The color of a diamond, as you might imagine, is concerned with the color of the diamond. Although most people think of diamonds as clear stones, they actually come in a wide range of colors. So-called “fancy diamonds” in rich colors like blue and yellow can command hefty sums, since they are quite unusual. Color is graded on the base of how rich the color is; a lightly tinted diamond, for example, is much less valuable than a diamond with intense color saturation. This is one of the most important of the four C's of diamonds, especially if you are looking at raw diamonds, since a good cut can hide a multitude of sins, but it cannot save a weakly colored diamond. If natural color is important to you, you should be aware that most diamond producers routinely irradiate their diamonds to bring out their color, and it is therefore extremely challenging to find a naturally colored diamond

Chocolate diamonds in a variety of cuts.
Chocolate diamonds in a variety of cuts.

The clearness of a diamond is graded according to clarity. A very clear diamond with no inclusions is extremely rare, and it can be quite expensive. More commonly, diamonds are sold slightly included, meaning that they have small flaws but they are still reasonably clear and attractive to look at. Heavily included diamonds are used more commonly for industrial purposes, since they are perceived as unattractive by consumers.

The final representative of the four C's of diamonds is the weight, or carat, of a diamond. While one might imagine that larger diamonds are automatically more expensive, this is not necessarily true. A diamond's value is based on assessment of all four C's. For example, a very large diamond with a bad cut would be worth less than a smaller fancy diamond with a cut which emphasizes its color.

If you've spent some time in museums lately, you may have noticed that antique diamonds were often minimally cut, since people wanted to preserve their size, rather than bringing out the beauty of the stone. Some very famous diamonds such as the Hope Diamond have actually been recut several times during their lifetimes, with later diamond cutters trimming the diamond down to create a stunning stone with a more modern look.

The four C's of diamonds also do not address the issue of conflict diamonds, diamonds which are sold to fund terrorism and other acts of violence. Consumers who are concerned about buying conflict diamonds should make this concern clear to a diamond dealer; some dealers participate in programs which are designed to stop the trafficking in conflict diamonds. One of the more reliable sources of cruelty-free diamonds is the Arctic; since Arctic diamonds are entirely separate from the African diamond supply chain, it is easier to certify them as conflict-free.

The four C's of diamonds are cut, color, clarity and carat.
The four C's of diamonds are cut, color, clarity and carat.

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Discussion Comments


@ ValleyFiah - There are all kinds of forums on line that will give you specific information, and allow you to ask certified gemologists questions in a non-sales setting. What I know, from my own endeavors in searching for the perfect diamond, is cut is the most important factor. I would recommend buying the best cut grade possible. The cut affects the amount of light that gets reflected back to you; light that is capable of hiding flaws and making a stone look bigger. A diamond with a lower quality cut grade allows light to fall through the bottom of the diamond; making it look like it has dark spots or inclusions. After cut, I would recommend the color as the next "C" to pay attention to. Anything above a "J" color will appear nearly colorless to the naked eye, with a diamond with a color grade higher than "H" being considered colorless. If you are buying a stone that has a “J” or “I” color I would recommend setting it in yellow gold because it will mask the very slight tint. If you want to set a "J" or "I" color stone in a white gold setting, look for a stone that has a medium blue fluorescence. This can only be seen under UV light, but a medium blue fluorescence will make a stone appear one color grade whiter. Stones with fluorescence are also a little cheaper. When it comes to clarity, a stone with an SI clarity grade will have no visible flaws as long as the stone has short facets (i.e. round, princess, heart). Stones with a large table or long facets may need a clarity grade of VSI2 or better. Lastly, most quality stones are graded by independent labs. Make sure you ask to see the grading report that is matched to that stone (done so by laser etching serial numbers around the girdle of the stone). Make sure you get the certificate when you buy the stone as well. Certificates from AGS, GIA, EGL, and Canadian diamonds are considered some of the best. A certificate can also add to the resale value of the stone because it guarantees the attributes for that stone.


I am looking to buy an engagement ring for my girlfriend, and I want the stone to be nice. I am looking at getting her a traditional solitaire diamond, but I am not sure what shape I want to get. I do have a budget, so I can't buy a flawless diamond. Where should I start, and what are the most important attributes to look for when I am choosing a diamond? How do I avoid getting ripped off?

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