The Diamond Pro

Frustrated With the Mall Stores, Wants Fiery Diamond

The following is a real email conversation between The Diamond Pro and a reader just like you who contacted us.
Personal information is always removed. Learn from these posts, or contact us yourself to get free personalized help.

 Hello Ira, I’ve been reading your site to get educated in this complicated market. Like any purchase, it is best to be informed as much as possible.

Recently I have been looking to move to the next step in my relationship and propose. Trying to pick an engagement ring in the “mall stores” proved frustrating and fruitless. My best alternative after finding your site is James Allen. However, there is something that is lost in a picture of a diamond when trying to evaluate its quality, its fire. I can’t quite understand how this relates to the 4 C’s, so my question is two part:

First, a brief explanation of how to choose a fiery diamond from cut, symetry and polish data in a certified diamond.

Second, if limited with a $5000 budget, buying for a young lady with a size 3.5 to 4 ring, would it be best to maximize “fire” or carat size?

I’m trying to stay away from solitaires, and go with a three stone ring with small side stones that draw you to the center stone. (Like:

Thank you for your help.

  First of all, congratulations!  It’s a big step, and I’m sure you and your fiance to be will live a long and happy life together.

Secondly, thanks for taking the time to write me.  I’m very happy to hear that you have so far found my site useful.  I really hope I can be of more help now that you’ve opened up a direct channel of communication.

Also, I can tell you that you made the right decision not to buy in the mall.  The diamonds there are a lower quality than what you see on James Allen, and they’re more expensive.  Typical profit margins in the mall run between 50 to 100%.  James Allen’s profit margin is around 15-18%.

Lets get right to your questions.

I’m assuming by “fiery,” you simply mean “lots of sparkle.”  I don’t know if you read my “Truth about …” articles about Polish, and Symmetry, but I basically argue there that both of them are pretty much useless in determining a diamond’s beauty (and fire).  While it’s true that really bad symmetry or polish will take away from a diamond’s beauty, that will only really happen with stones rated “Fair” or “Poor.”  Diamonds with “Good”, “Very Good”, or “Excellent” Polish and Symmetry are VERY difficult to tell apart from one another.  You need a microscope and training.  An untrained eye will never notice a difference based on Polish and Symmetry alone (as long as it’s Good or better).

So that leaves us with “Cut.”  I’m also going to assume that you’re interested in round shaped diamonds.  Other shapes don’t have “Cut Grades,” so it’s much more difficult to discuss cut quality with the fancy shapes.  How nice a diamond’s “cut” is directly correlates to how much “sparkle” there is.  The only thing that can take away from that would be a diamond with a hazy cloudy rough material — but those are rare, and you’d be able to identify that in the James Allen picture.

A James Allen cut grade of “Premium” or higher will have tons of sparkle.  There is more “fire” in “ideal” or “Hearts and Arrows” James Allen cut grades, but the incremental difference is very slight.  So it’s probably not worth the extra money.  But sometimes you get lucky and find a diamond that has a higher cut grade that is cheaper for whatever reason than a lower cut grade diamond.  You have to just shop around and try to find the best deal on the best looking diamond.  That’s what I try to do with my “daily diamond recommendation.”

So that brings me to your 2nd question.  As I mentioned, the incremental improvement in “fire” between “premium” and “ideal” or “H&A” is slight.  So if I had a choice, to either get diamond X that was H&A cut, but a little smaller, or diamond Y that was Premium cut, but a little larger, I would, in a heartbeat, go with diamond Y that was a little larger.  Here’s my logic:  1) any untrained eye can easily see the difference between a larger and smaller diamond.  That’s not necessarily the case with a diamond with slightly slightly better return of light (sparkle/fire).  2) 95% of the time, the diamond will be dirty underneath, so that’s going to smudge up any added sparkle that you paid for really quickly. 3) Diamonds only really sparkle like crazy like you’ve seen in the jewelry store where there is special overhead halogen lighting designed specifically for making diamonds look great.  Once you’re out in the real world, the difference between H&A and Premium becomes a lot smaller — in fact, it becomes negligible for all intents and purposes.

I think the ring you chose is a beauty!  I’m sure she’ll love it.

I would love to help you pick the perfect diamond from JA’s inventory.  Would you mind just telling me if you’re getting yellow or white gold or platinum for the ring?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Congratulations again!

Ira,Thank you for the quick and excelent response. Interesting to learn that the sparkle comes from special lighting in the stores, didn’t know that. You are correct, I am interested in the Round Brilliant the most and think it would look great on that ring, which will be white gold by the way.

Following is two examples off what confuses me when browsing the JA catalog, and maybe I am looking for the wrong things. These two diamonds are the exact same weight and cut. However, the one that seems sharper and much more attractive to me has “very good” symetry and polish. The other one has “excelent” symetry and polish but looks duller. Somehow the price agrees with me, making the better looking one more expensive. Should I even be concerned by these differences under 10x magnification? Based on the pictures I would go with the sharp one , but based on your advice the dull one is just as good and would save me money.



These stones would be at the limit of my budget, there might be better deals out there in the 1.3 carat sizes when taking into account cutter’s mistakes and diameter vs carat weight. Shoping for a diamond is definetly not a simple matter,and I am greatful for your help in teaching me the skills necessary to make a smart choice.

I just looked at the photos.  I definitely see what you’re talking about, but I’m 99% confident that the reason for the “dullness” is too much light in the photo and not dullness in the diamond.  Let me explain how JA functions.  Like Blue Nile, James Allen doesn’t own any of their own inventory of diamonds.  They receive lists of diamonds from partner vendors that they import into their database.  They add their profit margin to their price, and list the diamonds on their site.  That’s where the similarities to Blue Nile end, though.  When a customer buys a diamond from Blue Nile, the vendor to Blue Nile ships the diamond directly to the customer with a custom printed Blue Nile invoice.  Blue Nile has vendors all over the world.

James Allen, on the other hand, only works with vendors within a few blocks in New York’s diamond district.  This allows them much greater control.  When a diamond is ordered from JA, the vendor sends the diamond via a human being to JA’s office. They inspect the diamond to make sure it’s nice, and then they either have it set in a ring, or they ship it.  This is also how they’re able to have photos of every diamond.  Since it’s all in such close proximity, so they’re able to provide the photography equipment and training to their vendors.

The reason I’m telling you all this is to let you know that the pictures on JA are taken by a range of different vendors, so the qualities will vary.  Some might try to use more light thinking it will improve the photos, some won’t.  It’s unfortunate, because it creates inconsistencies in the quality of the photos.

I would like to make 2 comments about your choices, though:

1) I’m sure it’s tempting, because there’s pictures available, to try and find a stone that looks completely clean of inclusions in the magnified picture.  You should, however, resist this urge.  Most SI2s and even many I1s will still look clean to the naked eye.  There’s no need to buy and <a title=”Diamond SI1″ href=”” target=”_blank”>diamond SI1 or higher, especially in a Round Brilliant cut (which chops up the light greatly making it even harder to see inclusions).  Its better to take that money and put it into a larger diamond.  A larger diamond IS visible to the naked eye.  Why pay for something you won’t be able to appreciate when you could put that money into something you will be able to appreciate?

2) You might have missed the fact that the first diamond you sent (the sharp one) was certified IGI while the 2nd was certified GIA.  GIA is a much more highly respected lab that IGI.  You can pretty much correctly assume that if the IGI certified diamond received an H color, it is almost certainly an I color according to GIA standards.  It’s also fairly likely that the SI1 in really an SI2 by GIA standards.

Having said that, and better understanding your requirements, I have chosen a few diamonds for you.

H Color I1 Clarity Eye-clean 1.41 cts

This first diamond is my personal best pick.  It’s going to require a leap of faith on your part, though.  Even though you can clearly see inclusions in the magnified picture, I promise you now that when you receive this diamond, you will not see a single inclusion in the diamond with your naked eye.  This is a perfect I1 to buy.  This type of inclusion is called a “wisp” and it’s the most desirable kind because it’s faint white color and long and thin structure make it invisible to the naked eye.  This is the kind of diamond that diamond dealers look for to buy for their wives.  The “sharp” diamond you chose had a diameter of about 6.70 mm, this diamond is about 7.30mm.  That’s a very significant noticeable difference.  It’s got a great cut (rated Ideal by JA).  1.40-1.49 is a super premium size.  It’s very rare because it’s a clear cutting mistake that cost the cutter a lot of money.  He was supposed to leave it over 1.50 and have it be an uglier cut, but they clearly screwed up.  It’s an opportunity for you to take advantage of.  Because it has an Ideal cut, it’s going to have tons of fire and sparkle.  Inclusions, by the way, have no effect on fire/sparkle.  The best part is, if you’re not happy with the diamond after you receive it, you can always return it for a full refund — even if it’s mounted already.

1.23 ct H color SI2 Clarity Eye-VISIBLE inclusion

This is an example of a diamond I DO NOT recommend.  Even though it’s an SI2, it will most likely NOT be eye-clean.  You see the solid grayish-black inclusion right in the middle?  An inclusion of that size and color will probably be just noticeable to the naked eye.

1.20 ct H SI2 Eye-Clean coverable inclusion

This diamond has a slightly larger inclusion, but it’s all off to the side.  Even so, this diamond’s inclusion would probably be invisible to the naked eye simply because of it’s color.  It’s irrelevant though, because you can have JA’s jewelers set the prongs of the ring to cover the inclusion!  This is a trick that people in “the business” do all the time to take a diamond with a lower clarity and give it an instant upgrade simply by hiding the inclusion under a prong.

Again, I strongly recommend the 1.40 ct H I1.  It’s clearly the best “bang for the buck.”  It’s the kind of diamond I would buy for my wife, and it’s the kind of diamond I know all of my colleagues would buy as well.  You’ll be getting a diamond that basically as big as a 1.50ct diamond, it’s an ideal cut, so it’s going to have fire and sparkle like crazy.  The inclusion pattern is guaranteed to be eye clean.  And the best part is, you don’t need to worry — if you don’t like it, you can always send it back.


That 1.41 cts round brilliant is incredible, I never thought that 1.5 carot diamonds where in range of my budget! What a great find indeed. Looking at the 10x pictures is always disconcerning, but you have to keep in mind these things are barely 7mm across. This stone will definetly stand out on her tiny finger. I am very happy with your choice and also with the extent of information you provided me. Thank you again for the help, I will be purchasing this stone soon from JA. I will let you know how it goes.

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