'Four C's' help diamond buyers

February 01, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

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'Four C's' help diamond buyers

Dealing with a local jeweler who is also a good friend, Hagerstown resident Harold Semler felt at ease shopping for a diamond engagement ring for his fiance last fall.

Still, Semler, 36, looked at 20 different rings before he decided on the roughly 1/3-carat diamond with which he would surprise fiance Annette Thompson, 32, on Christmas Eve.

"We could have went 1 1/2, 2 carats, but they didn't have the sparkle, the color," said Semler, who wanted to spend about $1,000.


Semler went the right route in choosing quality over quantity, according to local jewelers, who expect to educate a lot of customers on the mesmerizing mineral in the next few weeks.

Diamonds are always a hot item in the weeks before Valentine's Day, they say.

While their hearts might lead them into the market, buyers should be careful to let their heads guide their purchase, jewelers say.

Customers need to learn about the "four C's" - cut, color, clarity and carat - to understand how to derive at a price and be able to comparison shop, said Hagerstown jeweler Thomas C. Newcomer.

"It's amazing how quickly people can pick up on this," said Newcomer, a graduate gemologist and owner of R. Bruce Carson Ltd., Fine Jewelers.

The first thing affecting a stone's appearance is cut, which refers not only to the shape of stone but also to how well-proportioned it is, he said.

The cut determines how much white light returns to the eye and the range of spectral colors you see, commonly referred to as brilliance and fire.

Color is second in "priority to the eye," Newcomer said.

Though most diamonds contain a slight tinge of yellow, brown or gray, higher-quality stones will show little or no visible body color, he said.

The more colorless the stone, the rarer and more highly desirable it is.

Clarity, third in importance to appearance, refers to any surface blemishes and inclusions, or imperfections, the stone has, Newcomer said.

There are five aspects of inclusions to consider in determining their effect on the stone's value: number, size, nature, position and color.

For example, an inclusion in the center of a stone would be more obvious - and thus more detrimental - than an identical one on its fringe, he said.

Newcomer said he suggests using a microscope to see differences among higher-grade diamonds which wouldn't be visible to the naked eye.

The last "C" is carat, or the weight by which diamonds are sold, Newcomer said.

A carat equals 100 points, he said. So a stone referred to as a "3/4-carat" should weigh a full 0.75 carats.

While size matters in determining the value of a diamond, the price of same-sized stones can vary significantly depending on the other three C's, said Courtney Detwiler, manager of Saum's Jewelers in Hagerstown.

If you have a set price range, it's better to go for a higher-quality stone of smaller size than a lesser-quality, larger stone, Detwiler said.

Once they realize the difference quality makes in a diamond's appearance, customers usually put quality above size in making their decision, she said.

"We try to get people out of here with the nicest stone for the price range they're willing to spend," Detwiler said.

Tips for buying a diamond

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