Birthstone Jewelry

Understanding the 4 C's of Diamond Grading...there's a Fifth C

Color, Clarity, Carat Weight, Cut. These are the Four C's when buying diamonds.  But there's another factor that also influences price: shape. (There does' seem to be a good synonym for shape that begins with the letter 'c').  

Color: graded in a letter scale that begins with D, known as "colorless" and falls to Z.  Somewhere around J there begins to be a "warm" quality to the stone as it is getting noticeably yellow.  Not, NOT, fancy color yellow, but off-color yellow.  Fancy yellow will look like a canary, yellow like a chemically charged old banana peel.  

Clarity: graded from Flawless to a scale that combines letters and numbers:  Very Very Semi-Imperfect subset 1 (VVS1) to VVS2, then VS1, VS2, S1, S2, I1, I2, I3.  Go ahead and substitute the word 'industrial' for 'imperfect' when you get down to the bottom, not as a jewelry snob, but because the stones are usually a visual mess.  Before modern "marketing" these were ground up for industrial use.

Carat Weight: Size does make a difference.  As the size goes up the price goes up at an exponential rate. Carat weight is based on the decimal system.  One hundred points in a carat, one hundred pennies in a dollar.  50 points has the same meaning as half a carat and is written as 0.50 carat.  

Cut:  Cutting, or rather, faceting, a diamond is a mathematical equation that has evolved over time.  Any error can affect the appearance and/or the sparkle of the diamond.  There are various effects that are named, like "fisheye" or "thick girdle" or "shallow cut."  If the last facet, the cult (pronounced cue-lette), is cut too big then it stands out like a big black dot when you look at your diamond.

Shape: Sometimes included in Cut, but shape stands on it's own because it also affects price.  Given the availability on the market of certain shapes, the price will rise and fall on that factor alone.

Photo: Pelican Diamond Ring Custom Designed and Handmade by Lisa Voelker and Tom Owczarzak of Jan David, Inc (All Animal Jewelry, Jan David Design Jewelry, Tosa Fine Jewelry) 

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Choosing How to Have Your Diamond Set

Consider how you live and what you do for a living when choosing your ring and how your main stone is set.  

Both paper and bedsheets are very abrasive to prongs so consider a setting style other than prongs.  If you're pretty certain your ring is never going to come off except for the annual cleaning, whether-it-needs-it-or-not, or if you wear loosely woven clothes, or know that you're "hard" on your jewelry, etc etc then consider something other than prongs and stay far, far away from the popular, but delicate, microset ring designs.  Choices for setting your mainstone include hammer set, bezel set, channel set or bright set.  

Hammer set has a close cousin, gypsy set.  For both, the stone is flush set into the surface of the metal with a bead of metal pushed over the girdle around the entire circumference.  Your diamond is set into what looks like a slice of a thick-walled piece of drinking straw when you have your stone bezel set.  In channel setting, the girdle of a gemstone is set into a groove located on either side of a channel.  Bright setting is an old and beautiful technique where the stone is set in the metal, similar to hammer set, but then little beads similar to tiny prongs, are pushed up and over the edge of the girdle of the diamond; depending on the size of the mainstone, there might be 3 beads at four different points around the edge of the girdle.

Photo: Exclusive Diamond Ring Design featuring a bezel set diamond main stone and bright set accent stones in the underbar.  By Tom Owczarzak of Jan David, Inc (All Animal Jewelry, Jan David Design Jewelry, Tosa Fine Jewelry)

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Understanding Diamond Weight and Size

We each have more than 35 years in the jewelry business and yet I will still find articles written in the jewelry industry trades misusing the terms carat and karat. Here's the basics...

Karat is the term for metal purity.  Carat is the term for stone weight.  The term carat is believed to originate from one of the earliest counterweights used when measuring gems, the carob seed.  

Understanding the weight of diamonds is simple if you understand the decimal system, because that's the exact same basis of carats, just different terms.  1 carat = 1 dollar. 100 points to a carat, 100 cents in a dollar.  One half dollar is half a carat.  Fifty cents is written as 0.50 carats or stated as 50 points.  A dime is 10 points.  A quarter carat is also 25 points which is similar to saying 25 cents or a quarter.  When looking for a diamond is you want a carat size stone be prepared to know if you want exactly a carat or can it be a little heavy or a little lighter, which will have everything to do with your budget.

As far as size, which is different than shape, the most important factor to be aware of is the misconception that a carat diamond will cost twice as much as one half it's weight.  As diamond size increases, the price does so exponentially.

Photo: Custom designed and hand made 14 karat and Diamond pendant by Tom Owczarzak of Jan David, Inc. (All Animal Jewelry, Jan David Design Jewelers, Tosa Fine Jewelry)

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Diamonds are Pretty Amazing

The diamond industry is old and, more recently, very dynamic.  It used to be one player, DeBeers.  The very first diamond that began the South African diamond rush was a 21 carat fancy yellow cut to a 10.73 carat gem named "Eureka."  

Found on many continents, diamonds are indeed the hardest stone known to man.  Many people think that statement implies a diamond can't break, but that's simply not true.  In using the term "hardest" it is a reference to the hardness scale and means only that diamond is hard to scratch.  The Moh's Hardness Scale is named for it's inventor, Freidrich Mohs.

Diamonds have a high dispersion factor, what I refer to as the "sparkle factor."  Diamonds are most famously crystalline but can occur in what is known as fancy colors: pink and reds are very rare, yellow, brown, blue and a variety of hues and tones of all these colors.  

While plentiful to a certain degree, it takes alot of work and expense to find diamond rough and a very extensive process culminates in a faceted diamond gemstone. To be an investment grade diamond, there must be the quality of rarity.  For diamond that means at least one factor: fancy color, perfection, size.  If not fancy color, the diamond must be pretty close to perfect and big, really big.    

Photo: Custom design hand made 18 karat and 1.60 carat diamond ring by Tom Owczarzak, Jan David, Inc (Jan David Design Jewelers, All Animal Jewelry, Tosa Fine Jewelry)

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What Are Those Brown and Black Diamonds?

Short and not-so-sweet, they're poor quality diamonds served up to an unknowing public.  Black because they have so much carbon inclusions in them you can't discern any crystal.  Brown because they are so far down the color scale they fall off.  These are the stones that were typically used for grinding up and creating industrial supplies like diamond drill bits.  By the way, there's another devious stone in this group masquerading as a "gemstone," yellow diamonds.  Also "junk" diamonds that are way down the color scale starting somewhere around P.  

You might ask, "But what about all those news items about how valuable colored diamonds are?  Great question and that's what the advertisers and marketers and store owners count on (but not the ignorant sales staff, they simply don't know any better.)  The answer is the choice of words...colored diamonds versus FANCY COLORED DIAMONDS.  Fancy colored diamonds exist from nature and owe their color to secondary modifying agents within their structure.  Fancy is a federally protected term to protect the consumer.  If a diamond is just "colored diamond" then chances are it's either been heated or irradiated or is just an off-color (bad) diamond.  The black diamonds...they needed to cook in the magma a little longer.

photo: custom gent's ring with fancy yellow diamond by Tom Owczarzak of Jan David, Inc dba All Animal Jewelry

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Aquamarine Sources

The early 1980's saw some beautiful aquamarine coming out of Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe that far surpassed the aquamarines from Brazil.  Unlike South AMerican stones, the African stones are packed with color...deep, saturated tones that heretofore required a larger stone to find that much color.  If you're looking for aqua and the color is washed other words, you have to turn the stone just so to catch a little suggestion of color...chances are you're looking at South American aquamarine.

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So Where Are You From, Aqua?

Like many stones, where an aquamarine is from can speak volumes about it's quality and visual attributes.  Aqua used to be a mainstay in the jewelry business, but the sources dried up as these things usually do.  Enter Blue Topaz, a comparatively inexpensive gemstone readily available from several sources around the world.  Not so fast, pretty blue!  You stay put as one of November's birthstones.  There's not alot of aquamarine but there is enough that anyone born in March should take their time and find a pretty stone to celebrate their birthday, not settle for a look alike that really doesn't look like an aqua ....once you know your gemstones!

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March Birthstone, Aquamarine

Aquamarine is one of those gems that's not easy to find.  

Sure, the birthstone jewelry at most jewelry counters will have aqua, but it tends to be pretty pale, or "washed out." Top quality aqua is not plentiful, and, with a high demand in Europe and the East for top quality met with a willingness to pay top dollar, that means the US doesn't often see beautiful examples of aqua.  

Fine aqua is available but not in quantity so big stores usually won't have them  because they have to have enough to supply all their stores with all the lines in enough quantity to meet the market and sales goals.  Look to small, custom jewelers for this specimens of this gorgeous gemstone.

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World Sources for Amethyst, February's Birthstone

While the Ural Mountains are now inactive, they produced some of the finest amethyst known to the extent that any top color amethyst gemstone, regardless of origin, is referred to as Uralian amethyst.  

Of modern sources, it is the gemstones from South African that set the standard for excellence: Namibia, Zambia and Tanzania.  This broad area is known as the Umba Valley, a veritable treasure trove of some of the world's finest colored gemstones.  South American countries provide the bulk of commercial quality amethyst. Gemstones form Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Uruguay account for most of the world's supply.  Amethyst can also be found in Mexico, Western Australia, Sri Lanka and Madagascar, and in several states in the US including Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Montana.  

Photo: Amethyst Ring Custom Design and Handmade by Tom Owczarzak

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February's Birthstone Amethyst, An Ancient Prize

February's birthstone, amethyst, is a stone rich in history and folklore.  Amethyst is a variety of quartz and is found on several continents, the most notable being Siberian, African and South American, in that order and with a vast chasm between each.  Siberia is to amethyst what Kashmir is to sapphire however, like Kashmir, is a defunct source.  African gems, especially those from Zambia, have a dense, rich royal purple with red undertones.  Packing color into colored gemstones is a value grading factor referred to as "saturation."  

Prior to the 19th century, amethyst was once one of the four most prized gemstones in the world.  Prized by royalty, Pope and Bishops, there are beautiful specimens in the British Crown Jewels.  Catherine the Great prized amethyst rather than diamond.  The discovery of huge deposits in Brazil undermined the value of amethyst around the world.  While South America remains the most abundant source, it is the stones from Uruguay that are considered better quality.  

Stories and tales abound of the ability of amethyst to prevent drunkenness no matter the amount.  Amethyst was also thought to guard against illness, control evil thoughts, quicken intelligence and keep soldiers for harm.

Photo: Amethyst Pendant, February's Birthstone, Custom Designed and Handmade

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