“Now, after you get to the bottom of the alphabet and you come to Z, if you get any more color, you get into what are called fancy diamonds. Fancy diamonds can be almost any color — red, blue, green, pink, purple, orange, or yellow. It’s still a diamond; it just has trace elements in the atomic structure that create color. The higher the color rating in a fancy diamond, the more desirable, the more rare, and the more expensive.”

Beauty had dropped out of Dente’s list for a moment, and my mind fixed on rarity. I thought of my father, who seems to have a tale (tall or true) for every topic. I remembered his recounting the rumor of Russia’s stolen diamonds. Supposedly, he said, Joseph Stalin acquired millions and millions of dollars’ worth of diamonds. He had huge leather satchels full of them, and they are still at the Kremlin. They can’t be released onto the market because DeBeers would match them diamond for diamond and their value would plummet. As Dad told it, the rarity was at least partially manufactured.

The dollar value of the second C — clarity — is also affected by rarity. “Clarity speaks to imperfections in the stone, like a carbon speck, a cloud, a pinpoint, or a needle. A pinpoint might be a very microscopic speck of another included crystal. A cloud is a massed series of pinpoints that together make a body. A needle looks like a little straw needle went into the stone. There are a lot of different types of inclusions; we call them internal characteristics. The nature and type aren’t so important as the number of them, where they’re located, and the type per volume of the stone.”

Dente piqued my interest further when he explained how clarity is determined. “They take the diamond, put it under a microscope, and magnify it ten times. When it is magnified, the inclusions and their type are located. The diamond is then assigned a grade.” Again, we referred to a chart. This time, the ratings were given for flaws. “Flawless through internally flawless [F–IF] means that no inclusions are visible to an expert under ten times’ magnification. We then slide down the scale to very, very slight inclusion [VVS1–VVS2]. This refers to minute or extremely difficult to find inclusions under ten times’. Next is very slight inclusions [VS1–VS2], which are minor or difficult to find under ten times’. One more notch down, we have small inclusions [SI1–SI2], which are noticeable and relatively easy to find under ten times’.” The list finished up with imperfect [I1–I2] — inclusions so obvious they are visible to the naked eye.

“For the majority of these grades,” continued Dente, “the only way to see the difference is with a microscope. So the majority of the range doesn’t have much to do with beauty. It’s important only because each grade higher speaks to the rarity factor.”

The third C is carat weight. All diamonds are measured in carats. One carat is divided into 100 parts called points. One carat would be indicated numerically by 1.00, while one-half carat would be .50, and so on.

Dente’s face grew more intent as we dug into the fourth C, cut. “You cannot stress the cut enough. No matter how many times people talk about it, they haven’t talked about it enough. The objective with cutting and proportion is to maximize the stone’s potential to bring light to the surface of the stone. Every stone has its own inherent potential; by bringing the maximum amount of light to the surface, you’ve made the stone as beautiful as it’s capable of being.

“If you’re only trying to maximize the size of the stone” — that is, maximize carat weight — “then the proportions may be sacrificed. A person might make it a little heavier, or the angles a little steeper or more shallow. But if a stone is correctly proportioned, light will enter the top of the stone, reflect, reflect again, and come to the top of the surface. This will happen at every location.” No matter where light enters, it will be reflected through the top of the diamond. “If a stone is cut too deep or too shallow, light will escape out the bottom. Instead of light on the surface, you get a dark shadow. You get this little fisheye effect. For maximum light return, the proportions that they call ‘ideal’ are critical: every angle, the height and depth of the stone, how thick the girdle is, how big the table. All these issues are mathematically measurable in a stone, and we can tell you with absolute certainty if the stone will or will not reflect light.”

I thought of gaudy rocks on the fingers of brash, loud-voiced women in splashy outfits, women duped by the simplistic maxim “bigger is better,” boldly ignorant of the inferiority of their diamonds to smaller, more carefully crafted gems. Dente backed up my thoughts. “Say we have two rough uncut stones that weigh one carat each. The distance from point A to point B on the girdle is what we call the diameter. In a correctly proportioned stone, a one-carat diamond’s diameter is 6.5 millimeters. Now, say I take the second stone and make the diameter 5.9 millimeters — the same as a stone that should weigh three-quarters of a carat — but make it weigh one carat by carrying the weight vertically in the stone. The visual diameter of the stone is smaller, but it still weighs one carat. Two things happen when you put it in a ring: it looks smaller than it should, and, simultaneously, it isn’t reflecting light as well, because in order to make the stone deeper — and thus heavier — you’ve put angles on there that are insufficient to reflect light to its maximum potential. [Such a stone] might be worth 50 percent less than a one-carat stone that is cut to ideal proportions.

“If the second stone was perfectly proportioned, it might weigh three-quarters of a carat instead of one carat, and that is why it is valued at what a perfectly cut three-quarter carat stone would cost, instead of a one carat. The corrected weight is the basic premise behind every part of diamond evaluation.

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