Still not engaged? How to buy a diamond engagement ring online.

So how did it feel, showing up to Easter brunch with your girlfriend and being asked yet again by the family “SO when are you going to make an honest woman out of her?”  I don’t know whether you know this or not, but the odds are that she really won’t wait around forever hoping that you’ll eventually get around to dropping down on one knee and popping the question. Um yea, she really does expect you to do that, even if she tells you that it’s not necessary, but before you can do that, you’re going to need to buy a diamond engagement ring bright boy! 😉

Now assuming that the two of you have been together for awhile, it’s doubtful that you’re suffering from a fear of intimacy and commitment  and much more likely that you’re simply researching the best way to buy an engagement ring online… note that this is a far better excuse than being paralyzed by a fear of intimacy of commitment, something which I can help you with by the way if you want to visit my personal development coaching web sites Bold Interventions and Challenge Your Gravity.

I know from my coaching practice that two of the greatest fears which we face as human beings is that we will not be loved, and that we will not be enough… not worthy enough, not good enough, not intelligent enough; and when it comes to buying a diamond engagement ring that the size and quality will not be good enough. Suffice to say that while it’s pretty cool that online diamond vendors like Blue Nile, Brian Gavin, High Performance Diamonds and James Allen offer generous return policies, the fact is that none of us want to look like a fool when making a substantial purchase which is why understanding the concepts which I am going to share with you today about how to buy a diamond engagement ring online are critical to your success.

Understanding the Players:

Understanding the players in the industry is the first key to your success, each of the vendors mentioned above are recognized throughout the diamond industry for the specific niche market which they represent. The list of Certified Diamonds from Blue Nile is impressive and the prices are reasonable, but are kind of like a big box store which offers everything and specializes in nothing.  You can get a great deal on a diamond if you know exactly what to look for and don’t mind spending a lot of time sifting through the hundreds of thousands of options which are available.

The extent of information featured on their diamond details pages consist of a copy of the diamond grading report issued by an independent gemological laboratory and occasionally a secondary report issued by another laboratory.  Unfortunately Blue Nile does not offer ASET images which would provide you with an indication of where in the room the diamond is gathering light from and subsequently provide you with insight as to the brightness and contrast of the diamond.  They also don’t offer Ideal Scope images which would enable you to determine the extent to which the diamond is leaking light and they don’t offer Hearts and Arrows images which would enable you to determine the Visual Performance of the diamond and the degree of Azamet Shift which will have a direct effect upon the Sparkle Factor of the diamond.

I’m told that these images are available upon request, but this is kind of like having to wander around Home Depot looking for a sales associate… the reality is that I don’t want to have to stop my diamond search and request images when I’m looking for a diamond, I just want to be able to consider a few options which fall within the confines of my preferred search criteria, take a few moments to look over the lab report and the images and decide whether I want to purchase the diamond or not.  So the Pro’s for Blue Nile are Price and Selection, the Con’s are comprised of a lack of readily available information about the diamond cut quality.

Without a doubt, Blue Nile is the Big Gorilla in the room when it comes to online diamond sales, they set the bar in terms of annual sales volume and the number of diamonds which they represent by way of republishing virtual diamond inventory.  From my perspective, the next contender in terms of annual sales volume and access to virtual inventory is James Allen with the primary difference being that James Allen provides their online customers with a rotating image of the diamond which is intended to show you how beautiful the diamond is.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this is definitely a step in the right direction because it makes it possible to get some idea of how the diamond looks and plays with the lighting architecture which it is being exposed to while being photographed.  From the perspective of an online diamond seller, I think that the technology required to make it possible to provide these images in an online platform is outstanding!

James Allen provides Hearts and Arrows images for their True Hearts Diamonds which makes it possible to get some idea as to the diamond cut quality and potential visual performance of the diamond.  However they no longer provide images of the diamond as seen through an ASET Scope or an Ideal Scope.  I imagine that these images are available upon request because they used to provide them on their diamond details pages, but stopped doing so when they began using the new diamond imaging system.

Once again, I don’t want to have to stop and ask for basic diamond grading information when I’m in the midst of a hunt, I just want to be able to make a decision while I’m looking at the diamond details page.  Pro’s for James Allen include price, availability and a state-of-the-art three dimensional representation of the diamond; Con’s consist of a lack of readily available ASET and Ideal Scope images.

When it comes to making it easy for me to buy a diamond engagement ring online with confidence, two vendors are Rock Stars in my opinion… those are Brian Gavin Diamonds and High Performance Diamonds because both provide all of the images and information necessary for me to form a detailed opinion about a diamond within minutes of clicking on the diamond details page.

If you have a limited amount of time and simply want to purchase a diamond which offers superior light performance and visual performance because it has been cut to exacting standards which exceed the criteria for both the GIA Excellent and AGS Ideal 0 grades, then look no further, you can literally point and click your way to stardom with practically any diamond from the Brian Gavin Blue or Brian Gavin Signature collections and the Crafted by Infinity production offered by High Performance Diamonds.

Despite the confidence which I have in the overall diamond cut quality and visual performance of the diamonds offered by these two vendors, I still like to look over the individual characteristics of any diamond which I am buying, so thankfully both Brian Gavin and High Performance Diamonds feature images of the diamonds as seen through an ASET Scope, an Ideal Scope and a Hearts and Arrows Diamond viewer.  In addition, the results of computerized proportions analysis is also readily available for most of the diamonds featured in their collections and is readily available upon request for the few diamonds which have not yet been scanned.

Light Performance, it’s all about the numbers!

This has nothing to do with the cost of the diamond, but rather the proportions of the diamond which affect how light moves through the diamond.  The correlation between the angle and depth of the various parts of the diamond will have a direct effect upon the light return.

We can geek out on the numerical aspects of the diamond selection process as much as you’d like, or you can simply limit the scope of your search to diamonds which have been graded by the American Gem Society Laboratory (AGSL) on their Platinum Light Performance grading platform.  Within the scope of the diamond market here in the United States, the two top tier gemological laboratories are the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the AGS Laboratory.

Both gemological laboratories are essentially equal in terms of their consistency and accuracy for grading diamond clarity, diamond color, diamond carat weight, diamond polish and diamond symmetry.  However the AGS Laboratory provides additional insight in terms of Light Performance via their Angular Spectrum Evaluation Tool (ASET) which can not be determined simply by using their handheld scope.

The ASET scan provided on the AGS Platinum Light Performance Diamond Quality Document (DQD) is the result of the diamond being scanned from something like 244 different positions and not just the top down profile provided by the handheld ASET scope.  The handheld scope is useful in terms of determining how the diamond collects light from a room in a static 90° position and provides insight into the contrast of the diamond, but let’s be real… the diamond is not going to remain static in that position and will be collecting and reflecting light from all over the place, so it’s nice to see how it performs from all angles.

While restricting your online diamond search to diamonds which have been graded by the AGS Laboratory and received an overall cut grade of AGS Ideal 0 on the Platinum Light Performance grading platform will certainly increase your odds of successfully buying a diamond online, you can increase the odds further by limiting your search to round brilliant ideal cut diamonds cut within the following range of proportions and characteristics:

Total depth between 59 – 61.8%
Table diameter between 53 – 57.5%
Crown angle between 34.3 – 34.9 degrees
Pavilion angle between 40.6 – 40.9 degrees
Girdle between thin to medium, faceted or polished
Culet: GIA none or AGS pointed
Polish:  GIA Excellent or AGS Ideal
Symmetry: GIA Excellent or AGS Ideal

I’ll be the first to admit that there are other combinations of crown and pavilion angle which work quite nicely as an offset for each other, but assuming that you don’t want to major in mathematics and spend a whole lot of time doing mathematical ray tracing, limiting your search to diamonds which fall within this precise range of measurements will make it easier for you to buy a diamond engagement ring online and have it be outstanding in terms of light performance!

Diamond Inclusions to Include and Exclude:

Be sure to review my article on diamond clarity characteristics for a more detailed explanation about the different types of inclusions which can be found within a diamond, but here are the basics… my favorite type of inclusions within a diamond are crystals, clouds, needles and pinpoints because they are simply tiny diamond crystals which were trapped within a larger diamond crystal as it formed.  Next on the list of “who cares and don’t worry about it” are naturals and indented naturals which are simply part of the original skin of the diamond which is kind of similar to the peel of an apple, sometimes the cutters elect to leave a little bit of it on along the girdle edge of a diamond because removing it would reduce the carat weight of the diamond, it has no effect upon the beauty or durability of the diamond.

Feathers which are minor cracks within the crystal structure of the diamond resulting from either the natural formation of the diamond or from pressure placed upon the diamond during the cutting process fall into two categories… “nothing to be concerned about” and “this really doesn’t look like a good idea to me” and the difference is determined by the size, location and extent of the feathers.

I tend to avoid feathers which are large in appearance, stacked together in close proximity of one another, or which appear to run from top to bottom through the girdle edge of the diamond.  It is reasonable to assume that the durability risk is quite low if the diamond survived the pressure  placed upon it during the cutting process, but it’s also reasonable to assume that the feather might spread if one day the diamond is subjected to just the right amount of pressure.

Suffice to say that if a feather seems minuscule and of no consequence, then it probably isn’t going to be an issue… but if you’re sitting there staring at it and trying to justify in your mind whether it has the potential to be an issue or not, then you should probably err on the side of caution and just move on to another diamond.

I pretty much avoid diamonds which contain knots, cavities or twinning wisps because I feel that these types of inclusions present a reasonable durability risk.  There are many people in the diamond business who disagree with me on this, more than a few diamond cutters have called me a diamond snob because of my selection criteria… I’m good with that.

While terms like “internal surface graining” and “surface graining” might sound ominous, the reality is that it is rarely a concern unless it is extremely substantial and that is quite rare.  I’m apt to overlook this comment entirely since the only time I’ve ever been able to clearly identify graining is while evaluating a diamond using extremely high levels of magnification.

Coloring the Real World of Diamonds:

When diamonds are graded for “color” they are observed in controlled laboratory conditions which generally consist of a pitch black room where the only light provided is from the diamond grading light contained within the white light box where the diamonds are placed upside down (bottom point up) and compared side-by-side with other diamonds within the same range of color.  This set-up makes it relatively easy to separate diamonds based upon their body color and tonal value.

Judging diamond color in the real world is not so easy because the light source is always changing and the color of the diamond is continually being affected by all of the colors in the room which reflect through the prismatic facet structure of the diamond.

Therefore while your natural inclination might be to focus on finding a D-color diamond because that is the highest diamond color available, the reality is that something in the G-color or H-color range might be perfectly fine.  When grading diamonds for color, what we’re actually looking for is an absence of color, but keep in mind that this is similar to grading “white paper” for an absence of color… all of the paper being graded is “white” in appearance, it’s just a matter of how white is white.  In my experience, most people begin to be able to easily ascertain color in a diamond around the H-color to I-color range and will be able to easily identify color within a diamond around the J-color to K-color range.

Keep in mind that some people prefer cooler tones and other people prefer warmer tones, thus a person who prefers cooler tones is likely to be attracted to diamonds in the D-color to G-color range while a person who prefers warmer tones is more likely to prefer diamonds in the J-color to N-color range.  The only right and wrong to the process of selecting a diamond for color is knowing whether the recipient prefers warmer or cooler tones.  The trick is understanding that there isn’t a right or wrong choice when it comes to selecting diamond color, it is merely a matter of personal preference.  If by chance you don’t happen to know what range of color your girlfriend prefers, focus your search on diamonds which are G-color to I-color because this is essentially the middle ground of the spectrum for white diamonds and is appealing to a broad range of people.

Getting Clear about Diamond Clarity:

Diamond clarity is graded by evaluating the diamond from a top-down perspective using 10x magnification which is the industry standard for diamond grading.  If an inclusion can be seen readily and immediately from a top-down perspective without magnification, it will be graded as I-1, I-2 or I-3 in clarity; I generally try to avoid these diamonds for engagement rings unless the recipient is actively involved in the diamond selection process because a lot of people don’t like to be able to see the inclusions within their diamonds… that said, there can be “perfection in the imperfection” if a person is able to appreciate the fact that diamonds are a natural crystal structure which contain a myriad of natural imperfections which make up the character of the diamond.

I’ve met quite a few people over the years that love being able to see the inclusions within their diamond and view the inclusions as nothing more than the personality of their diamond.  Just like diamond color, diamond clarity is very much a matter of personal preference.

The SI-2 clarity grade is used to describe diamonds which contain inclusions which are a little less obvious to a trained observer and which may or may not be visible without magnification.  Quite often I am able to locate and easily identify inclusions within an SI-2 clarity diamond and as such tend to avoid these for use in diamond engagement rings unless I know that the person who is going to be wearing the ring does not mind being able to locate the inclusions within the diamond without magnification.

If you are looking to maximize your budget and don’t mind the possibility of barely being able to see an inclusion with just your eyes, then the SI-1 clarity grade is a pretty safe bet!  The majority of diamonds graded as SI-1 in clarity which I have seen over the years have been “eye clean” at first glance, but I find that I’m able to find the inclusions with just my eyes once I know where and what to look for.

The SI-1 clarity grade can be a pretty good middle ground in terms of balancing diamond clarity and cost per carat.  However if the person receiving the diamond tends to be a bit of a perfectionist, this probably isn’t a good diamond clarity grade because sooner or later it is likely that they will be able to detect the inclusion with just their eyes, it’s usually just a matter of the viewing conditions being just right.

For this reason, the VS-2 clarity grade is where I recommend that most people begin looking at diamonds for clarity… it provides a selection of diamonds which are almost always eye clean from a top-down vantage point and which contain inclusions which are a little more difficult to locate using 10x magnification.  Of course if you want to be really careful, you can step up into the VS-1 clarity range where the only way to locate the inclusions from a top-down perspective is by using a diamond grading loupe and even then the inclusions will be quite small and difficult to locate.

There is a natural inclination to always want the best in life, in terms of diamond clarity, the rarest and therefore highest rating is VVS-2, VVS-1 and Internally Flawless.  Keep in mind that these clarity grades are determined using 10x magnification and that inclusions will be more visible when using higher levels of magnification, therefore “internally flawless” may exist at 10x magnification, but not at something like 30x or 40x magnification.  I used to joke that you should buy an internally flawless diamond if you wanted to ensure that at least one thing in your relationship was flawless…

Bringing together the 4C’s of Diamond Grading:

In practical terms, I find that most people are really happy with diamonds in the SI-1 to VS-2 clarity range combined with a G-color to I-color providing that the diamond cut quality is top notch.  You can ensure that the sparkle factor and visual performance of the diamond will be exceptional by reviewing the ASET Scope, Ideal Scope and Hearts & Arrows images for the diamond.  You can increase the odds of buying a diamond engagement ring online which exhibits superior light return by restricting your search to diamonds which have been graded by the AGS Laboratory under the Platinum Light Performance grading platform.

While online diamond vendors such as Blue Nile and James Allen focus on offering a large number of diamonds at great prices, niche vendors such as Brian Gavin and High Performance Diamonds take the guesswork out of buying a diamond engagement ring online by restricting their inventory to diamonds which have been cut to a superior level of diamond cut quality and visual performance.

If you would like help selecting a diamond, just drop me a note and give me an idea about the range of characteristics that you are looking for.  It helps if you have spent some time reviewing the diamond inventories of the various vendors and have a realistic idea of what diamonds sell for and have an understanding of what combinations of clarity and color are applicable to your particular situation and preferences.

Todd Gray
Todd Gray is a professional diamond buyer with 30+ years of trade experience. He loves to teach people how to buy diamonds that exhibit incredible light performance! In addition to writing for Nice Ice, Todd "ghost writes" blogs and educational content for other diamond sites. When Todd isn't chained to a desk, or consulting for the trade, he enjoys Freediving! (that's like scuba diving, but without air tanks)
Todd Gray


Professional diamond buyer with 30+ years trade experience in the niche of super ideal cut diamonds. In my free time, I enjoy freediving & photography.
The incredible #story behind the Sirisha diamond necklace by @BrianGavin 71 #Diamonds cut to order #Amazing - 2 years ago

Leave a Comment:

Wink Jones says April 1, 2013

While I agree with you about knots being a danger sign, and cavities are not my favorite thing, either in my diamonds or in my teeth, I am in mild disagreement with you on twinning wisps.

I am not fond of them, but have NEVER in my 30 plus years had a stone break along the plane of the wisps.

I rarely see them in rounds, but then I tend to deal with a better quality of cutting, and wisps tend to occur much more frequently in macles, or flats as they are called, rather than in well formed octahedrons. These roughs do not lend themselves well to rounds, but it can be difficult to find a trillion without them and to deny them out of hand is to deprive yourself of many beautiful stones that are much less expensive for having these frequently eye clean inclusions.

Trillions also tend to be used more as side stones, but I have set a few as center stones, and I would bet that all of them had some degree of wisps in those larger stones.

Just my thoughts about your well written article.


    Todd Gray says April 3, 2013

    I understand perfectly Wink, but you know that I tend to be extremely conservative in my diamond selection process which is why our dear friend Paul at Crafted by Infinity refers to me as a diamond snob 😉

    Twinning Wisps are definitely something which needs to be considered on a diamond by diamond basis, the minor presence of twinning wisps would be of little concern to me, but there are many diamonds which the twinning wisps run through the entirely of the diamond and those are the ones which concern me. I know that you tend to be as selective as I am, so this is more of a clarification type of thing.

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