You may consider diamonds to be merely expensive ornamental additions to your wardrobe. However, diamonds generally appreciate in value with time and are as much an addition to your financial portfolio as stocks, real estate and art. It is important to choose a good diamond rather than one of poor quality. If you are in the market for an engagement ring, you must educate yourself on the characteristics of diamonds in order to make a wise choice. Although there are many different types of diamond cuts, the two most popular are round brilliant cut diamonds and princess cut diamonds.
In 1477, Archduke Maximilian of Austria gave the first diamond engagement ring to Mary of Burgundy, setting a lasting trend for the betrothed. Although there were times in history that other precious stones were fashionable engagement ring stones, diamonds have prevailed as the most desirable gem over the centuries.
Diamond mining began in India in the 4th century B.C.E. In 1725, when the Indian diamond supply began to dwindle, new sites were discovered in Brazil. At the end of the 19th century, large diamond mines were found in Africa, leading to an influx of diamonds sold around the world. Since then, new diamond mine sites have been discovered in Australia, Siberia and Western Canada, making diamonds a global resource.
Diamonds are made almost entirely of carbon and begin existence in the deep recesses of the earth. Diamonds are brought to the earth's surface by quick-flowing lava running through kimberlite and lamproite pipes.
All diamonds have a crown (the top), a girdle (the widest part) and a pavilion or base of the stone. Diamonds are judged by their size, cut, color and proportions. The pavilion must not be too shallow or too deep, as the refraction of light is thrown off and the fire of the stone is compromised.
Round brilliant cut diamonds account for 75 percent of diamond sales and are popular in rings, earrings and pendants. Most engagement rings sold today have brilliant cut diamonds. The cut was created in 1919 by Marcel Tolkowsky, a Belgian diamond cutter. There are 58 facets cut into the stone, following a precise formula, which yield a play on light and color referred to as "fire" in the diamond industry. Unlike diamond cuts made before 1919, the round brilliant cut of the crystal yields two diamonds, one larger and the other smaller, lessening waste.
The princess cut is an inverted pyramid made with either 50 or 58 facets. Of all the cuts, it is the most forgiving of a flawed diamond because it hides inclusions and color variations well; it is also one of the smaller stones per carat weight because a high percentage of its weight is in the pavilion. The four corners are not cropped like a standard square stone, so the corners must be protected in a four-prong setting to prevent chipping. The princess cut was created in 1980 by Betzalel Ambar and Israel Itzkowitz. Not only does it yield a stone with more fire than a standard square stone, but 50 to 60 percent of the rough crystal is retained, which makes it less expensive than the brilliant cut.
The cost of a diamond is determined by four characteristics, known as the four C's: clarity, color, cut and carat weight. Clarity is a term that describes whether inclusions or flaws are visible under a microscope. The color scale ranges from colorless to yellow and is graded from D (colorless) to Z (visibly yellow). The cut is not a reference to the different shapes of diamonds but rather how closely it adheres to the proportions of an ideal stone. Carat is a measurement of the weight of a stone. Although clarity is considered to be the most important characteristic, the color and cut determine the beauty and fire of a good diamond. Even a flawless stone requires a good cut in order to exude light and fire.