Diamonds 101: Understanding the 4 C's

The 4 C's – cut, color, clarity, and carat – are the criteria used by gemological laboratories and the fine jewelry industry for assessing the quality and value of both natural and lab grown diamonds. Understanding the 4 C's will help you make an informed decision when purchasing diamond jewelry, allowing you to select a stone that strikes a balance between value and beauty.


Arguably the most crucial of the 4C's, the cut of a diamond determines its brilliance, fire, and overall visual appeal. Contrary to popular belief, the cut does not refer to the shape of the diamond but rather to its proportions and how well its facets interact with light. A well-cut diamond reflects light internally from one facet to another and then disperses it through the top, creating that mesmerizing sparkle. Conversely, diamonds cut too deep or shallow compromise light performance, resulting in a diminished sparkle, and ultimately, value.

A diamond's cut is graded on a scale ranging from Excellent to Poor, with Excellent representing the highest quality. It's important to note that reputable gemological laboratories only assign a definitive cut grade to round brilliant cut diamonds. However, the cut quality for all other diamond shapes can still be determined using proportions and characteristics listed on their laboratory certificates.


Color in diamonds refers to their degree of colorlessness and is graded on a scale from D (colorless) to Z (light yellow or brown). The closer a diamond is to being colorless, the rarer and more valuable it becomes. Grades D, E, and F fall within the colorless range and are highly valuable, while the Near Colorless Range of G, H, I, and J offers excellent value and is widely popular as these diamonds often show very minimal color. It is important to note that depending on the diamond’s cut, carat weight, and shape, the color of a diamond may be more or less apparent.

The one exception to the D to Z scale is fancy color diamonds, which includes rare hues such as pink and blue. These are assessed using a separate grading system.


Clarity refers to the presence of internal and external flaws, known as inclusions and blemishes, within a diamond. They may look like tiny crystals, pinpoints, clouds or feathers. These natural characteristics are formed during the diamond's creation process and are unique to each stone. Clarity is graded on a scale ranging from Flawless (no inclusions or blemishes visible under 10x magnification) to Included (inclusions and blemishes visible to the naked eye).

While flawless diamonds are incredibly rare and command top prices, most diamonds have minor imperfections that do not detract from their beauty. The key is to select a diamond with no visible imperfections to the naked eye. Because clarity is graded under 10x magnification, one can typically go relatively low on the clarity scale and without being able to see any inclusions or blemishes.


Carat is perhaps the most familiar of the 4C's. Many believe it represents the size of a diamond, but it actually refers to the weight. One carat is equivalent to 200 milligrams, or .2 grams. While a higher carat weight diamond is generally more valuable, other factors such as cut, color, and clarity also influence a diamond's overall worth.

It's crucial to understand that because of differences in diamond shape and cutting techniques, two diamonds of identical carat weights can vary significantly in appearance. Elongated shapes like oval, marquise, and pear typically boast larger surface areas compared to a round brilliant diamond of the same weight. Ideally, you'd aim to choose a diamond with a generous surface area relative to its weight, while also finding a balance among cut, color, and clarity to achieve the utmost beauty and sparkle.


Understanding the 4C's is essential for anyone looking to purchase diamond jewelry. By considering each of these factors and how they interact, you can make an informed decision that reflects both your preferences and budget. For many, prioritizing Cut and Carat offers the greatest value, as these aspects significantly influence the diamond's size and sparkle. Following this, Color and Clarity can be considered, as there is flexibility to opt for lower grades without compromising on the stone's appearance. 

Explore our additional expert articles and guides for more in-depth insights into the 4C's and our recommendations for selecting your ideal diamond.

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