The Consumer GEM DANDIES

A buyer’s guide to diamonds.

In one of the fine retail jewelry establishments in downtown Dallas sits a one-carat diamond solitaire ring for sale at $12,000. Two blocks away, a newcomer to the local jewelry scene offers a one-carat diamond solitaire for $295. The more expensive gem is flawless, colorless and properly cut. The cut-rate stone bears a remarkable resemblance to Tommy Tooth before he discovered Crest. Any discriminating buyer would reject the $295 number, but what if you don’t happen to have $12,000 in your pocket? With a basic understanding of how local jewelers grade diamonds, and which diamonds are best-suited to your purposes, you can select In one of the fine retail jewelry establishments in downtown Dallas sits a one-carat diamond solitaire ring for sale at $12,000. Two blocks away, a newcomer to the local jewelry scene offers a one-carat diamond solitaire for $295. The more expensive gem is flawless, colorless and properly cut. The cut-rate stone bears a remarkable resemblance to Tommy Tooth before he discovered Crest. Any discriminating buyer would reject the $295 number, but what if you don’t happen to have $12,000 in your pocket? With a basic understanding of how local jewelers grade diamonds, and which diamonds are best-suited to your purposes, you can select the ideal stone at a fair price. And this is a great time to make a selection, since the local showcases are filled with Christmas goodies.

There is no universally recognized standard for grading diamonds. The closest thing to a reliable standard is probably the grading system used by the American Gem Society (AGS). Founded in 1934, this organization of jewelers has 1600 members nationwide, including two in Dallas, Adelstein’s and Everts. This is also the simplest of the systems to comprehend from the consumer’s viewpoint. Each stone is graded on a scale of zero to ten, according to its color and clarity. The $12,000 example would score zero on color, since there is no color in a flawless stone, allowing a kaleidoscope of reflected images to appear when exposed the ideal stone at a fair price. And this is a great time to make a selection, since the local showcases are filled with Christmas goodies.

There is no universally recognized standard for grading diamonds. The closest thing to a reliable standard is probably the grading system used by the American Gem Society (AGS). Founded in 1934, this organization of jewelers has 1600 members nationwide, including two in Dallas, Adelstein’s and Everts. This is also the simplest of the systems to comprehend from the consumer’s viewpoint. Each stone is graded on a scale of zero to ten, according to its color and clarity. The $12,000 example would score zero on color, since there is no color in a flawless stone, allowing a kaleidoscope of reflected images to appear when exposed to light from different angles. The stone would also score zero on clarity, meaning that it has no flaw detectable by a trained jeweler using a ten-power scope.

Flawless, colorless stones are, of course, extremely rare, which explains the five-digit price tag. A “1/1 “gem, which grades one in clarity (very slight, pinpoint imperfections), and one in color (an ever-so-slight departure from crystal-clear appearance), sells for around $6,000. And continuing downward on the scale, a “3/3” can be purchased for $3,000. The $295 specimen, were it to fall into the hands of an AGS grader, could fare no better than a “10/10,” meaning that it is brown in color and heavily flawed, perhaps even in danger of breaking apart.

Dallas jeweler Frank Everts considers color to be the single most important atto light from different angles. The stone would also score zero on clarity, meaning that it has no flaw detectable by a trained jeweler using a ten-power scope.

Flawless, colorless stones are, of course, extremely rare, which explains the five-digit price tag. A “1/1 “gem, which grades one in clarity (very slight, pinpoint imperfections), and one in color (an ever-so-slight departure from crystal-clear appearance), sells for around $6,000. And continuing downward on the scale, a “3/3” can be purchased for $3,000. The $295 specimen, were it to fall into the hands of an AGS grader, could fare no better than a “10/10,” meaning that it is brown in color and heavily flawed, perhaps even in danger of breaking apart.

Dallas jeweler Frank Everts considers color to be the single most important attribute of a diamond. Mr. Everts, who personally grades every diamond sold by Everts Jewelers, advises his customers to buy the finest color they can afford. After all, it is rare that you will encounter an admirer with a ten-power scope, even at the most pretentious of social occasions. But a brownish or even a yellowish stone will soon make you wish that your diamond were not forever. As far as clarity is concerned, perhaps the purchase of a flawless stone is justified if you want to father a family heirloom, but you should think twice before buying any diamond for investment purposes. “We don’t believe in selling diamonds for investment,” says Mr. Everts, “because there is no ready market for resale.” The best buy in a diamond with a beautiful appearance is a stone in the upper range of color (0-3) and in the middle range of clarity (4-5), a fine-colored stone with no imperfections visible to the naked eye. Such a gem can be found for less than one-fourth the cost of a perfect stone, and only your insurtribute of a diamond. Mr. Everts, who personally grades every diamond sold by Everts Jewelers, advises his customers to buy the finest color they can afford. After all, it is rare that you will encounter an admirer with a ten-power scope, even at the most pretentious of social occasions. But a brownish or even a yellowish stone will soon make you wish that your diamond were not forever. As far as clarity is concerned, perhaps the purchase of a flawless stone is justified if you want to father a family heirloom, but you should think twice before buying any diamond for investment purposes. “We don’t believe in selling diamonds for investment,” says Mr. Everts, “because there is no ready market for resale.” The best buy in a diamond with a beautiful appearance is a stone in the upper range of color (0-3) and in the middle range of clarity (4-5), a fine-colored stone with no imperfections visible to the naked eye. Such a gem can be found for less than one-fourth the cost of a perfect stone, and only your insurance agent will know the difference.

Linz, Corrigan’s and Zale’s all use dual line grading systems, which are roughly equivalent to the AGS system. Sterling uses a dual line system in its two local stores, but not in its catalog. The diamonds offered for sale in the Sterling catalog are graded under a single line system, AAA down to A. Gordon’s also uses a single line system, from 2Q (the best) to 15Q (the worst). “Most of our stones are I0Q,” said one Gordon’s manager. “That’s what we stock because that’s what sells. Our monthly sales are about three times those of one of the stores in the Mall that carries those high-grade, expensive stones.” The single line grading system does not provide a prospective buyer with ance agent will know the difference.

Linz, Corrigan’s and Zale’s all use dual line grading systems, which are roughly equivalent to the AGS system. Sterling uses a dual line system in its two local stores, but not in its catalog. The diamonds offered for sale in the Sterling catalog are graded under a single line system, AAA down to A. Gordon’s also uses a single line system, from 2Q (the best) to 15Q (the worst). “Most of our stones are I0Q,” said one Gordon’s manager. “That’s what we stock because that’s what sells. Our monthly sales are about three times those of one of the stores in the Mall that carries those high-grade, expensive stones.” The single line grading system does not provide a prospective buyer with sufficient information to allow him to splurge on color and scrimp on clarity, as recommended by many jewelers.

It should be emphasized that the comparisons on the accompanying chart are rough equivalents, rather than precise ones. A diamond which Everts grades zero in clarity would not necessarily be scored as flawless by Linz, or vice versa. In fact, two jewelers applying the same standards of the same system to a single diamond may end by assigning it different grades. Diamond grading is a very subjective process. And human nature being what it is, there is an irresistible temptation to grade close calls below the line when buying, but above the line when selling. It should also be recognized that merely because a broad spectrum of grades is shown on a jeweler’s chart does not mean that the store carries all of the grades. sufficient information to allow him to splurge on color and scrimp on clarity, as recommended by many jewelers.

It should be emphasized that the comparisons on the accompanying chart are rough equivalents, rather than precise ones. A diamond which Everts grades zero in clarity would not necessarily be scored as flawless by Linz, or vice versa. In fact, two jewelers applying the same standards of the same system to a single diamond may end by assigning it different grades. Diamond grading is a very subjective process. And human nature being what it is, there is an irresistible temptation to grade close calls below the line when buying, but above the line when selling. It should also be recognized that merely because a broad spectrum of grades is shown on a jeweler’s chart does not mean that the store carries all of the grades. I have not found a diamond in stock at the Sterling stores rated above AAA+. Nor have I found any of the lower grade stones in Everts’ inventory.

In addition to a diamond’s inherent characteristics, there is a man-made attribute to consider: the cut. Some jewelers place more emphasis on a diamond’s cut than others. Frank Everts says that an improperly cut stone is worth about 25% less than a properly cut gem of the same weight in the same grade. One local jeweler argues that the cut of the diamond does not significantly affect the price, but Mr. Everts’ view is more reflective of the predominant thinking in the industry. All agree that cut is important to the beauty of the stone. All brilliant cut diamonds have 58 facets, placed in exact proportion to reflect light, giving a diamond its “fire.” It’s a good idea to look at a diamond under different lighting situations. Adelstein’s, which has one of the city’s finest showrooms at NorthPark, also has one of the worst backdrops for flattering a diamond, because of its heavy dark wooded decor. But if you take the diamond out into the brightly lit mall, it will take on a completely different appearI have not found a diamond in stock at the Sterling stores rated above AAA+. Nor have I found any of the lower grade stones in Everts’ inventory.

In addition to a diamond’s inherent characteristics, there is a man-made attribute to consider: the cut. Some jewelers place more emphasis on a diamond’s cut than others. Frank Everts says that an improperly cut stone is worth about 25% less than a properly cut gem of the same weight in the same grade. One local jeweler argues that the cut of the diamond does not significantly affect the price, but Mr. Everts’ view is more reflective of the predominant thinking in the industry. All agree that cut is important to the beauty of the stone. All brilliant cut diamonds have 58 facets, placed in exact proportion to reflect light, giving a diamond its “fire.” It’s a good idea to look at a diamond under different lighting situations. Adelstein’s, which has one of the city’s finest showrooms at NorthPark, also has one of the worst backdrops for flattering a diamond, because of its heavy dark wooded decor. But if you take the diamond out into the brightly lit mall, it will take on a completely different appearance. (Don’t forget to ask permission.) One more thing about cut: Watch out for the “swindle top,” a shallow cut stone with a wide facing made to look bigger than it really is. Take another look at the stone from the side to see whether it has any depth. A shallow cut diamond will not return the myriad of reflections that give a fine stone its splendor.

The most inspected diamonds in the world are those found in engagement rings. Top quality color and the absence of imperfections visible to the naked eye are absolute essentials. In earrings, you can get away with a little less. Single stones are preferred by sophisticates. The gaudy display of a whole swarm of minuscule diamonds in a reflective setting is known ance. (Don’t forget to ask permission.) One more thing about cut: Watch out for the “swindle top,” a shallow cut stone with a wide facing made to look bigger than it really is. Take another look at the stone from the side to see whether it has any depth. A shallow cut diamond will not return the myriad of reflections that give a fine stone its splendor.

The most inspected diamonds in the world are those found in engagement rings. Top quality color and the absence of imperfections visible to the naked eye are absolute essentials. In earrings, you can get away with a little less. Single stones are preferred by sophisticates. The gaudy display of a whole swarm of minuscule diamonds in a reflective setting is known in the trade as the “’Texas flash.” Don’t be confused by ajeweler’s discussions of “points.” A point is .01 carat, so a stone that weights 47 points weighs 47/100 of a carat. A carat – the word derives from the carob seeds used to balance scales in ancient times – is the equivalent of 200 milligrams.

Many jewelers furnish a written appraisal with your purchase, rather than a written warranty. The appraisal tells you little more than that the stone you purchased is worth what you paid for it, and is of little value other than for insurance purposes. Zale’s furnishes a “Diamond Bond” that goes much further than this. First, they agree to refund your money if you “find a better value” within 60 days. The bond also includes a one-year warranty against chips or breaks, or against the diamond’s loss from its original mounting. Zale’s and Sterling’s will allow you the full amount of your purchase price if you buy a new diamond costing at least twice the original cost of your trade-in. These buy-back agreements are of little benefit, however, in a rapidly rising price cycle such as we are in now.

Any jeweler should be willing to clean your diamond and periodically inspect the mounting for you at no cost as long as you own the diamond. And if you are buying an expensive stone, the dealer in the trade as the “’Texas flash.” Don’t be confused by ajeweler’s discussions of “points.” A point is .01 carat, so a stone that weights 47 points weighs 47/100 of a carat. A carat – the word derives from the carob seeds used to balance scales in ancient times – is the equivalent of 200 milligrams.

Many jewelers furnish a written appraisal with your purchase, rather than a written warranty. The appraisal tells you little more than that the stone you purchased is worth what you paid for it, and is of little value other than for insurance purposes. Zale’s furnishes a “Diamond Bond” that goes much further than this. First, they agree to refund your money if you “find a better value” within 60 days. The bond also includes a one-year warranty against chips or breaks, or against the diamond’s loss from its original mounting. Zale’s and Sterling’s will allow you the full amount of your purchase price if you buy a new diamond costing at least twice the original cost of your trade-in. These buy-back agreements are of little benefit, however, in a rapidly rising price cycle such as we are in now.

Any jeweler should be willing to clean your diamond and periodically inspect the mounting for you at no cost as long as you own the diamond. And if you are buying an expensive stone, the dealer should be willing to agree to warrant it for at least a year, against breakage or loss due to a defective mounting.

Now that you know all this, what next? You go to the right place, and even there, ask questions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about quality at even the most strait-laced of establishments. Some old-timers may resent it and imply that the name over the door speaks for itself. But that’s their problem, not yours. Go somewhere else. And avoid salespeople who either don’t know or won’t tell. One saleslady responded to my questions about quality by saying, “Gosh, I don’t know. The manager might know, but I sure don’t.” Another said, “Oh, we have our own grading system, but it wouldn’t mean anything to you.”

Insist that the salesman focus his attention on the matter at hand rather than the competition. In surveying the local scene, I was told time and time again that Zale’s owns Corrigan’s, and Gordon’s owns Linz. One salesman asked, “Do you know what that means?” I guessed massive purchasing power and lower prices. “Wrong! It means stockholders,” he corrected, with the same tone that Professor Harold Hill used to say “pool.” I elected not to pursue the specifics of the inherent evils of stockholders. Trying to understand diamonds is difficult enough.

should be willing to agree to warrant it for at least a year, against breakage or loss due to a defective mounting.

Now that you know all this, what next? You go to the right place, and even there, ask questions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about quality at even the most strait-laced of establishments. Some old-timers may resent it and imply that the name over the door speaks for itself. But that’s their problem, not yours. Go somewhere else. And avoid salespeople who either don’t know or won’t tell. One saleslady responded to my questions about quality by saying, “Gosh, I don’t know. The manager might know, but I sure don’t.” Another said, “Oh, we have our own grading system, but it wouldn’t mean anything to you.”

Insist that the salesman focus his attention on the matter at hand rather than the competition. In surveying the local scene, I was told time and time again that Zale’s owns Corrigan’s, and Gordon’s owns Linz. One salesman asked, “Do you know what that means?” I guessed massive purchasing power and lower prices. “Wrong! It means stockholders,” he corrected, with the same tone that Professor Harold Hill used to say “pool.” I elected not to pursue the specifics of the inherent evils of stockholders. Trying to understand diamonds is difficult enough.

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