Being the third generation of my family to make my living in the diamond industry, I've definitely seen evolutionary developments in the consumer's understanding of diamonds. However, just as the title suggests, when it comes to diamonds, a little knowledge really can be dangerous. Not dangerous as in life threatening, of course. But dangerous in the respect that consumers can make big mistakes before really understanding the true nature of diamonds.
There is no doubt that most consumers know more than most consumers did thirty or forty years ago. Unfortunately however, most consumers still don't know how to go about finding the most beautiful and brilliant diamond for their particular budget and often go about their search heading down the wrong path. Please read on and I'll explain.
Prior to the 1970's, when I first began working in my Dad's store, there was no universal grading system for diamonds. One store might refer to a diamond as their "AAA quality", the very finest available they would say. Another store might take liberties and call their finest diamonds "blue-white". Yet another might want to impress customers using some British sounding diamond terminology to describe their top diamonds such as "Wessleton", "Rivers" or "Premier". There was simply no universal standard for grading back then.
Back in the 1940's and 50's, one of the leading educational organizations, the Gemological Institute of America did in fact, formulate a diamond grading system, but it didn't really catch on with the general public until several decades later. It wasn't until 1975 that some of the top world diamond organizations got together to form the International Diamond Council to further the goal of establishing a universal system for grading diamonds. This was also just about the time that the GIA's grading system finally seemed to take hold and the basic 4 C's of diamonds began to slowly become a part of the public's general knowledge.
Of course, there were still other influential grading systems, the most notable probably being the American Gem Society or AGS. However, in time the GIA (with apologies to any AGS stores out there) became the most widely used grading system.
However, please understand that even today world-wide, there is no one single grading system that all diamond authorities, Gemologists and experts can agree upon. This remains a very hotly debated subject in many diamond circles.
Nevertheless, most customers even way back then seemed to understand the first C - Carat weight. Most customers could easily comprehend that a one carat diamond weighed 100 points and that points to a carat were like pennies to a dollar.
Then sometime in the late 1970's, most customers seemed to expand on this knowledge and got to know and understand — the next C, Clarity. You'd often hear customers ask about SI1 or VS2 or the like, knowing that these ratings indicated how easy or difficult it was to locate inclusions, (which many customers back then still mistakenly referred to inclusions as "flaws"). And at that time, Clarity became the most commonly sought out of the other C's. (Carat weight withstanding).
Then sometime during the 1980's, the third C seemed to catch on ñ Color. Customers increasingly seemed to understand the spectrum of D through F being identified as Colorless, and G to I as Near Colorless, etc. And color seemed to become the most critical of the 4 C's to the majority of consumers shopping for diamonds back then.
Then from around the 1990's and on, we have has seen the final C in this evolution, Cut become the most discussed and the most desired of the 4 C's. Consumers seemed to feel and jewelers and diamond purveyors further emphasized that Cut was the most critical of the 4 C's. As such, we began to see the tremendous growth in popularity of the Ideal Cut. We also saw a huge spike in popularity for other Cut brands. In fact, in the past decade in order to maximize profitability, Cutters came out with more and more new cuts and brands started to become an influential part of the diamond industry. Brands like "Hearts On Fire" and proprietary brands such as the "Leo" and others became more and more popular. Every jeweler around seemed to want to expound about the proportions of a diamond,
the symmetry, the polish, etc. and how important this all is to a diamond's beauty and brilliance, etc. And that is not to suggest that these proportions and cut characteristics are not important.
However, the irony of all this is that it's really quite ludicrous to think that one C is more important than another. If a diamond was perfectly proportioned (and diamond experts can't even agree on what this means exactly), how would it look if it were an L or M color or if it was filtered with so many visible inclusions that it affected that diamonds's light return?
It's inarguable that all of the 4 C's must work together to produce a stunningly beautiful and brilliant diamond. Just as if we were listening to an orchestra and one of the sections, such as the string section or wind sections were playing their instruments way off tune or not following the music. If that were the case, we know that they would not harmonize with the other sections of the orchestra. This would of course, destroy the integrity of the music, just like if one of the 4 C's was visibly not desirable; that diamond would not possibly be as brilliant or beautiful.
However, there is more to it than the simple 4 C's when it comes to diamonds and this is the reason we use the expression "a little knowledge can be dangerous" when shopping for a diamond. Many Diamond Cutters and diamond experts are clearly frustrated and saddened by the simplistic approach that many jewelers and even gemologists and other so called diamond experts take in teaching the public about diamonds. They find it absurd that a diamond could be adequately described by using only 4 C's or even the practice and sale of a diamond by presenting and obsessing over the minute details listed in that diamond's Lab Certificate rather than viewing the diamond itself in person. If you ever have the opportunity to hear someone like Gabi Tolkowski speak about diamonds, you will hear his obvious frustration as well as his passion for the unique personality that each and every diamond possesses. Gabi is inarguably one of the world's most respected diamond cutters and also the nephew of Marcel Tolkowski, who invented the most widely used standard for cutting diamonds of the last half century or more, the modern Brilliant Cut diamond. The times I have heard Gabi speak; he spoke almost lovingly about how each diamond is unique and different and how foolish it is to judge a diamond simply by its ratings or its proportions. He understands that diamonds cannot be cubby-holed or identified in such simplistic terms. He obviously loves diamonds and hates the idea of diamonds being treated as cold hard commodities. This is not much different than trying to judge a person totally by their physical statistics without even seeing or meeting that person. Imagine judging a person strictly by their driver's license or even by a psychological profile such as a Myers-Briggs test, etc.
Would you select your mate for life using only these criteria and not by meeting them first and spending time to get to know them? Not likely. Imagine not learning about their personality, their individuality, those indefinable character traits, both physical and non-tangible that determine who we each are as a one-of-a-kind human being.
The same unique and often indefinable attributes are equally applicable to diamonds. Their crystalline structure, the natural rough of the diamond before it is ever cut and polished ñ this cannot be properly identified or adequately described on a Gem Laboratory Certificate. This is why diamonds from specific mines around the world often look quite different from one another, both in their natural state and after they are cut and polished. For example, it is said that diamonds that come out of the Siberian mines have a certain glow to them; that they can sustain a higher polish because of their unique rough material. Let's compare this to wine, where every grape can taste differently depending on what region it was grown in, what the soil and weather conditions were at the time they were grown and a thousand other factors way too numerous and complex to even list and possibly not even completely understandable to mere mortals.
Nevertheless it is human nature to want to try to put diamonds (and most other things of value) in a simple to understand grading system and base their value on their ratings. However even Martin Rappaport, the genius inventor of the Rappaport grading and pricing index knows that diamonds cannot truly be defined this way. It is only a rough short-cut to describing diamonds, a mere approximation at best.
In order to truly appreciate a diamond, every true diamond expert knows that a diamond must be viewed up close and personal in the proper lighting and compared to other diamonds side by side to be fully evaluated and appreciated. To further illustrate this point, you can take two one carat diamonds with the same exact clarity, color grade and proportions and compare them. Chances are that they will both look quite a bit different from one another. How can this be when they may possibly share the same exact ratings on paper or on a Lab Certificate? This is the true nature of diamonds. Just like human beings, snowflakes and other products of nature; every single diamond in the world is totally unique and one of a kind.
Now let's look at another aspect of diamonds that is hugely important. Herein we'll offer up another well known, but poignant quote, "beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder." Just as we are attracted to different people, each of us prefers different colors or shades of colors, we enjoy different art, different cars; we don't all like to wear the same identical clothing, we wear our hair differently and on and on. We just don't respond to the same things in the same way. We each see the world with our own set of eyes and ears and with our own individual heart and soul.
The very same thing can be said of diamonds. People respond to the beauty and even to the brilliance of diamonds quite differently. We see this every day. People interpret beauty differently. It is what makes both people and diamonds unique.
The only way to fully appreciate a diamond and select the diamond that is right for you is to find a store and a person you can trust; hopefully a store with a large selection of loose diamonds to choose from. Then shop around and view diamonds under the proper lighting, with the proper magnification and compare one diamond to another; taking the time and effort to find the diamond that shouts out to you "I'm the diamond you want to spend your life with. I'm the only diamond for the one person you love!" This is why we say that when it comes to diamonds, "a little knowledge can be dangerous"