What Do the 4 Cs of Diamonds Mean?

A female hand with a stack of diamond rings on a finger.

When it comes to getting down on one knee and surprising the bride with the ring of her dreams, there is more to consider about a diamond than its sparkle. You might be surprised to know that each diamond has its own unique characteristics and qualities—which is why when you visit your jeweler, they will most likely talk about the 4 Cs of diamonds. The 4 Cs are the Gemological Institute of America’s (GIA) grading system for a diamond, standing for cut, color, clarity, and carat. This globally accepted standard assesses the quality of your diamond and therefore its price when factored altogether.

The Cut

A close-up diamond ring on a granite surface.

According to the GIA, the quality of a diamond’s cut “determines how well it unleashes its light.” Because the cut of the stone has the greatest influence on a diamond’s sparkle, the cut is the most important C. For example, your diamond may have a high rank on the color grade and great clarity (as discussed below), but if it has a poor cut, it may appear dull. So what does “cut” refer to? A diamond’s cutting style refers to how the diamond’s facets are arranged as well as its polish and proportion. While the most popular diamond shape is round, there are a number of other shapes (oval, princess, emerald, heart, and marquise) to consider. Cuts are measured on a scale of five: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor. The higher the quality of the cut (excellent or very good) the more expensive the stone will be.

The Color

A diamond ring on a gold velevet cloth.

When it comes to a diamond’s color, the less color it has, the better. Diamonds are graded on the absence of color, which means a “pure” diamond is not only colorless but has the highest quality (and is also the most expensive). The GIA grades diamond color on a scale of D (colorless) to Z (light yellow or brown). Diamonds ranging from D-F are rarest and perfectly clear, while near colorless diamonds (G-H and I-J) have no detectable color and are more budget-friendly.

The Clarity

A close-up of a diamond ring with a halo around it.

Clarity refers to the natural imperfections found on the diamond. According to the GIA, because “natural diamonds are the result of carbon exposed to tremendous heat and pressure deep in the earth,” when they’re extracted they often have a variety of inclusions and blemishes found in the diamond both internally and externally.

The GIA grading scale is divided into six categories and 11 diamond clarity grades, rating diamonds from Flawless (FL) to Included (I). However, because blemishes and inclusions tend to be so tiny and microscopic, you don’t necessarily need a diamond to be classified as FL to look beautiful and perfect. In fact, most of the so-called flaws are invisible to the untrained eye. This is why having an expert to accurately assess the diamond clarity is extremely important.

The Carat

A female hand with a solitare diamond ring.

Carats refer to a diamond’s weight—and ultimately how it appears in size. According to the GIA, a diamond carat is defined as 200 milligrams and is divided into 100 points. For example, per the GIA website, a 50-point diamond weighs 0.50 carats. Precision means everything, so even a fraction of a carat can mean an entirely different price point. The larger the carat, the larger the diamond typically appears, and the more expensive it is.

As the GIA notes, however, two diamonds of equal carat weight can have very different values (and prices) depending on the other Cs. This is why some jewelers think it’s important to consider cut and carat together. For example, a larger carat diamond with a poor cut can appear smaller, and vice versa.

Now that you know more about the famous 4 Cs of diamonds and what they mean, you can enter your favorite jewelry store with confidence, knowing that you are more than prepared to choose the perfect diamond for your perfect bride.

Find Amazing Vendors