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Whether it’s for a necklace or an engagement ring, knowing what to look for when buying a diamond is essential. The trick to buying the perfect diamond is first understanding the 4 Cs of diamonds. The 4 Cs are the 4 most important traits of a diamond and serve as the jeweler’s cheat sheet to finding the best diamonds. So, what are the 4 Cs of diamonds, who came up with them, and what do they mean?

The 4 Cs: A Crash Course

For centuries, the jewelry industry was a patchwork of different systems and standards, with no formal education for the jewelers in the trade. This endlessly confusing system allowed for rampant fraud to take place. One of the biggest problems was the total lack of training and education for jewelers. Because of this, an ambitious and charismatic jeweler named Robert Shipley had an idea.

In the 1930s, Shipley, himself a successful jeweler out of California, came up with an idea to professionalize the jewelry industry through proper education. This idea led to his creation of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in the early 1930s. To this day, the GIA is still the world’s foremost resource for all information, training, and certification for jewelers all over the world.

Shortly after establishing the GIA, Shipley set to work standardizing the diamond grading process. To him, the most important thing was to keep it simple. Shipley identified the 4 most important traits of a diamond: color, clarity, carat, and cut. By the end of the 1940s, the 4 Cs of diamonds were created and the jewelry industry was forever changed.


One of the 4 Cs of diamonds is color, best seen close-up, like with this fancy color diamond; come see it in real life at F.A.O. Jewelers in Brighton, MI.
When it comes to diamonds, the best color is an absence of color. Over the years, many different methods of color grading for diamonds were developed and used. So many, in fact, that many of the systems conflicted with each other. It was more and more difficult for jewelry customers to get a clear and consistent grading. That’s when the GIA and their 4 Cs of diamonds stepped in.

The GIA color grading scale goes from D-Z, and it actually rates a diamond’s colorlessness. The purest diamonds in the world have no color in them and they’re rated a D. As you go down the scale, diamonds appear more and more yellow or brown. Z-rated diamonds have a pretty distinctive yellow-brown hue to them.

You can get an excellent visual of the color grading scale right here on our site.

Fancy Color Diamonds

Not on the GIA color grading scale are what’s known as “Fancy Color Diamonds”. These are some of the rarest, most precious, and most valuable gemstones on earth. Fancy color diamonds are absolutely stunning and they come in a whole array of different colors. These natural diamonds come in vibrant hues of blue, red, green, purple, gray, black, and basically any other color you can imagine. Because fancy diamonds are so rare, they typically command a much higher price than colorless diamonds.


One of the 4 Cs of diamonds is clarity, and these stunning stones are about as clear as can be; see the real thing at F.A.O. Jewelers in Brighton, MI.
The clarity of a diamond refers to the perfection of the diamond. In order to determine the clarity of a diamond, a professional gemologist needs to inspect the stone for imperfections, like inclusions and blemishes.

An inclusion refers to an imperfection within the diamond. A blemish refers to an imperfection on the outside of the diamond. Inclusions and blemishes diminish the value of a diamond because they affect both the beauty and structure of the gem.

The GIA, in their 4 Cs of diamonds, came up with a generalized, universal grading system for clarity. The scale is broken into 6 categories and 11 total grades. The variations between these different categories may seem slight, but skilled gemologists can tell the difference.

GIA Clarity Grading Scale:

FL – Flawless: No blemishes or inclusions detected at 10x magnification.
IF – Internally Flawless: No inclusions detected at 10x magnification.
VVS1 & VVS2 – Very, Very Slightly Included: Inclusions only slightly detectable by skilled graders at 10x magnification.
VS1 & VS2 – Very Slightly Included: Inclusions can be detected (with some effort) at 10x magnification.
SI1 & SI2 – Slightly Included: Inclusions detected at 10x magnification.
I1, I2, & I3 – Included: Inclusions are easily detected under 10x magnification.


The carat is the easiest of the 4 Cs to explain; it refers to the weight of the diamond. Diamonds are incredibly valuable stones, and some of that value is dependent on how big the diamond is. One metric carat is equivalent to 200 milligrams. To be as precise as possible, each carat is broken into 100 points. This allows the carat of a diamond to be precise down to the hundredth decimal point.


The cut is the final C of the 4 Cs of diamonds, and it's the most complex one; come learn more at F.A.O. Jewelers in Brighton, MI.
Finally, there’s the cut of a diamond. This member of the 4 Cs is often hailed as the most important “C”. It’s also the most difficult to rate because of its complexities. A diamond’s cut essentially rates how beautiful a diamond is based on how it interacts with light.

When people think of “diamond cut”, they’re typically thinking of the shape of the diamond instead of the cut. The best cut diamonds seem to come to life under light. They sparkle and shine in the most beautiful ways. This is achieved by, very precisely (and artfully!), cutting and shaping the diamond’s facets to perfectly bounce light across and through the diamond.

The most seasoned and skilled diamond craftsmen and women can almost make the light dance across their diamonds. This skill requires an incredible amount of patience, precision, and creativity in order to achieve the perfect cut.

The diamond cut grading scale, from the GIA, goes from Excellent to Poor.

Find the Perfect Diamond at F.A.O. Jewelers in Brighton, MI

Finding the right diamond for your piece of jewelry is easy, with a little guidance from the pros. That’s what we’re here for. The diamond experts here at F.A.O. Jewelers have years of experience finding the perfect diamonds. With a huge supply of individually sourced diamonds, we can help walk you through the 4 Cs of diamonds to ensure you get the perfect stone.

Give us a call at 810.229.5335, or stop by our location in Brighton, MI to see our engagement rings firsthand. For even more information, check out our Jewelry 101 blog or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.