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Diamonds 101: The Beginner's Guide to Understanding Diamonds

June 26, 2020 4 min read

How to Pick Diamonds for Engagement Rings

Learning about diamonds can be intimidating and complicated to understand. We’re here to help you make an informed lifetime decision! 

Choosing the perfect diamond can seem overwhelming, but everything a beginner needs to know is broken down into the four C’s: Carat, Cut, Clarity, and Color. Read on to learn more about the four C’, show they relate to both Brilliant and Rose Cut stones (and even Salt & Pepper diamonds) and how Valerie Madison hand picks her diamonds to create unique and personalized fine jewelry!


Carat weight is the most fundamental quality of diamonds: it measures the size of a diamond. The larger the diamond, the more rare it is, meaning that the price and size of a diamond do not correlate linearly. Thus, it’s important to consider the size of a diamond alongside the three other C’s. For example, a flawless lesser-carat diamond can be worth more than a larger-carat diamond with inclusions.

With regards to rose cut diamonds, oftentimes people new to the engagement ring shopping process come in thinking they want a 2 or 3 carat rose cut diamond. But, it’s important to recall that carat weight is somewhat irrelevant with this type of cut since it’s cut wider than it is deep. At Valerie Madison, we instead look for dimensions (measured in millimeters) to illustrate a diamond’s proportions. For example, a 1 carat round brilliant cut diamond with perfect proportions is about 6.5 mm round while a 1 carat round rose cut diamond can be about 7.5 mm wide. 

A hexagon cut colorless diamond


Diamonds are best known for their trademark sparkle — the result of diamonds refracting light through all of their facets. When a rough diamond is transformed into a polished one, its cut is determined by the diamond’s symmetry, polish, brightness, finish, and proportions. The more precise each facet of a diamond is, the more light it will produce through the top of the diamond which enhances its brilliance (although clarity also plays a strong role in this ability). Like the first C (carat), cut should be evaluated in context of the other C’s to diamond buying. For example, diamonds with more precise cuts can sparkle more than diamonds with fewer inclusions.

At Valerie Madison, rose cut diamonds are one of our favorite cuts to work with because they are not commonly seen in mainstream fine jewelry. Rose cut diamonds are known for their charming faceting style that was popular in the Victorian era. Rose cut diamonds feature a flat base and faceted dome, while brilliant cut diamonds have a pointed base and taller profile. To learn more about the difference between rose and brilliant cut diamonds, visit theWhat is A Rose Cut Diamond? blog post on our website!

Rose cut v Brilliant cut diamonds


Traditional white diamonds

To the naked eye, it can be hard to check a white diamond’s clarity as some  diamonds’ flaws are only visible when magnified. Diamonds have both internal and external flaws, known as inclusions and blemishes. Diamonds with fewer inclusions are more rare so this increases the diamond’s value. Inclusions are like a diamond’s DNA — no two diamonds have the same inclusions. Diamond clarity is graded on a scale from internally flawless to included. Traditionally, “flawlessness” (no inclusions and incredibly expensive) was of great importance to diamond wearers but we find that desire to be shifting somewhat with today’s ring shoppers. 

Alternative diamonds (like Salt & Pepper/Galaxy Diamonds)

Many of our customers are looking for a diamond that feels as unique as they are, something that no one else will have. That’s where alternative diamonds come in; the unique colors and natural inclusions (carbon causes the black and gray colors) make the diamonds more affordable while still being of beautiful quality and a unique conversation piece. In fact, all Salt and Pepper diamonds are heavily included and the traditional grading for clarity does not apply to them. This shows how much has changed and why clarity is important for traditional colorless diamonds (more on that soon) but not so much at all for alternative diamonds.

Salt and Pepper Diamonds Available for Custom Engagement Rings


The final of the four C’s is color — or rather, the lack thereof. Diamonds range from being colorless to being yellow or light brown. During the millions (sometimes even billions!) of years diamonds take to form, carbon may combine with traces of other natural elements which produce colors in diamonds. For a diamond to be considered colorless, it must be graded as D, E, and F, and near colorless encompasses diamonds graded G, H, or I. Near colorless or better stones are our preference for traditional brilliant cut diamonds as you’ll likely be most satisfied with a sparkling ring than something with a yellowish tint. 

On the flip side, we love working with unique salt and pepper, brown, peach, silver, and opaque white diamonds which are prized precisely because of their unique colors and  inclusions. These types of diamonds are not graded on traditional color criteria — rather, people value them for their unique look. The natural carbon inclusions create a distinctive, alternative look to every salt & pepper diamond, making every piece one of a kind for you and never boring. 

At Valerie Madison, we handpick diamonds from reputable vendors to make your ring with high quality diamonds, whether they are colorless and traditional brilliant cuts or unique salt and pepper rose cuts. There are many nuances to buying diamonds, so it is important to consider the 4 C’s and your individual preferences when shopping. Keeping these at the heart of your decisions will lead you to the perfect diamond for you! If you have any questions or are ready to get started on a custom diamond engagement ring, please reach out to us at or schedule an appointment.