Diamonds, which “are forever” and “a girl’s best friend” are also the most common jewelry gift and center stone in an engagement ring. Because of this, it’s likely you’ll find yourself purchasing a diamond at some point during your lifetime. As such, you should be prepared with the knowledge to choose the best stone that you can.
It’s important to know about the 4Cs, but equally important is knowing how a diamond is graded. Most often, diamonds will come with a grading certificate that specifies the cut, color, and clarity (along with other details such as proportion percentages and fluorescence), decided by a group of professional diamond graders. This grading determines the quality and price of the diamond.
Until very recently, mined diamonds were the only option available. But the diamond industry has recently shifted significantly with technology and there has been a big rise in popularity of lab-grown diamonds, which are diamonds grown above ground in a laboratory. These diamonds are identical to mined diamonds in appearance and chemical composition, but they offer an eco-friendly alternative for consumers who are eco-conscious. Since the emergence of lab grown diamonds, diamond grading labs have had to adapt. Some existing labs now offer certification for lab grown diamonds, and new labs have also emerged that only certify lab grown diamonds.
Each grading lab has different standards, but is one better than the others? Let’s explore the different options available for diamond certification, so you can choose the best one for your important purchase.
Why Purchase a Certified Diamond
Although diamonds are not large items, they contain so much detail that it's hard to identify all their attributes with the untrained human eye. Special tools are needed under great magnification in order to see the specific traits of a diamond. Since most people don’t have these tools at home, it’s important to purchase a diamond that is certified by a reputable lab in order to feel comfortable that you’re receiving the best quality for the price you’re paying. Grading certificates provide consumers with very important information about the diamond that has been scrutinized thoroughly by trained gemologists.
The Various Diamond Certification Organizations
There are many organizations and labs that specialize in diamond grading and certifying, and they all set their own standards. It’s a good idea to be informed about each organization, what their standards are and how they compare to each other. Let’s take a look at each of those organizations.
Gemological Institute of America (GIA)
The GIA is probably the most recognized name in the diamond grading world. The GIA has been around since 1931 and it evaluates diamonds based on a very strict system. This organization was the one that developed the color grading system (D to Z) for diamonds that most organizations still use today. They use the 4Cs and also provide details on the diamond proportions, fluorescence, and include a visual plot so the consumer can see where the inclusions (tiny imperfections within the diamond) are located in the diamond and what type of inclusion it is. Each of these attributes helps to distinguish one stone from another. GIA certifies both mined and lab grown diamonds.
International Gemological Institute (IGI)
The IGI doesn’t have quite the lengthy history that GIA does, as it was founded in 1975, but it is still a very respected organization in the diamond grading world. They also utilize the 4Cs and provide detailed grading information on their report, although it is thought that their standards may not be as high as GIA and they tend to be more lenient in their grading. IGI also grades both mined and lab grown diamonds.
American Gem Society (AGS)
AGS, which was founded in 1934, is a non-profit organization that grades diamonds also according to the 4Cs. They utilize both gemologists and technology for their grading, and they were the ones to first suggest the idea of a cut grade, which is the quality of how the diamond was cut. This affects the light performance of the stone, or how much light is returned to the eye after it enters the diamond, which makes a difference in how much the diamond sparkles. AGS currently only grades mined diamonds.
Gem Certification & Assurance Lab (GCAL)
GCAL is an organization that utilizes technology to grade both mined and lab grown diamonds according to the 4Cs and they are known for their accuracy. They also include a light performance certificate, which is similar to the cut grade from AGS, but this specifically evaluates how the diamond sparkles and how brilliant it is. This is a very important aspect when purchasing a diamond because one of the first things most people notice about a well cut diamond is how much it sparkles in natural light.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Grading Lab
When shopping for a diamond and determining which grading lab you’re comfortable with, there are several factors to consider, such as timing, standards, and reputation.
Reputation and Industry Recognition
First and foremost, the reputation the grading lab has within the gem and jewelry industry should be taken into consideration. GIA, having been around the longest, is regarded very highly within the industry, so it should be at the top of the list when it comes to reputation. You may also want to consider how long other organizations have been open and what other people are saying about them. You can read online reviews, talk to friends and loved ones who have also purchased a diamond, and ask a trusted jeweler. There are also some labs that may be better for only mined diamonds or only lab grown diamonds.
If you are choosing to purchase a diamond that does not currently have a grading report and you would like it to be certified, you can select which organization you would like to send it to. Similarly if you already own a diamond or have a family heirloom that you would like to have certified (or re-certified), you should do some research on the turnaround time each organization takes on their grading. While GIA and AGS have a longer turnaround time on their diamond grading, IGI is fairly quick. This is something to consider depending upon how much time you have. If you need the diamond for a proposal or a custom design that will be a gift (birthday, anniversary, etc.), you may need to choose the quickest option.
Level of Detail
Each grading lab includes different details within their reports. Typically they will each contain information about the 4Cs, but some will include fluorescence, percentage proportions, light reflection, a visual plot, etc. If any additional reporting is important to you, consider the lab that offers that extra information. GIA or AGS tend to be the most in-depth, whereas IGI contains less information, but is quicker.
As diamonds retain their status in jewelry, the need to make an informed choice in selecting the finest stone becomes incredibly important. Understanding the 4Cs is undoubtedly crucial, however, it’s even more important to understand how diamonds are graded, a process which determines both their quality and price. The grading, often detailed in a certificate accompanying the diamond, includes a plethora of information for the consumer. For both mined and lab grown diamonds, many options exist for diamond grading organizations and with the proper research, you’ll be empowered to choose the certification that best meets your priorities.