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It’s nearly spring and love is in the air. If there’s a diamond in your future, you should know how to choose the best quality stone while keeping an eye on your budget.

Most, but not all, diamonds are graded by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) before heading to a showcase, so verify with the jeweler that the sparklers you see have been independently graded.

You should also expect to receive a certificate with your purchase that verifies the diamond’s quality in terms of the four Cs: Cut, Clarity, Color and Carat weight.

Few diamonds are flawless, and those rated so are very expensive. The best diamond for you should meet a trifecta: what you see, how the stone is graded and what you can afford to spend.

With that in mind, here’s a guide to the Cs and how to get the most for your money:

  • Cut – No matter the shape of the diamond you like—round, emerald-cut, oval, to name a few—the cut determines the diamond’s brilliance. A well-cut diamond reflects light from one facet to another. If it’s cut too deep or too shallow, light escapes from the diamond prematurely, reducing the stone’s quality. Choose the highest quality cutrated good, very good, or idealyou can afford.
  • Clarity – As diamonds are formed underground over time, many develop microscopic imperfections, typically invisible to the naked eye. Graded from F (flawless) down to S12 or 13, most diamonds, even the lowest graded in terms of clarity, will not reveal their imperfections to your eye. But it’s sensible to select the highest grade your budget allows. 
  • Color – The highest quality diamonds are colorless, since colorless stones are rare and reflect light better than tinted diamonds. Most diamonds, though, have slight tints of yellow, often impossible to see with the naked eye. Since beauty matters only to the beholder, choose a stone you like and balance color with price.
  • Carat Weight – Carat size is what most people notice first. The more karats, the bigger the diamond and the more expensive it is. But a diamond weighing .098 carats—just short of a full carat—can be markedly lower in price. A reputable jeweler can help you balance diamond size and budget.

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