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Learn before you buy: Getting to Know Diamonds | How to Use a Loupe | Caring for your Diamond Jewellery

Getting to Know Diamonds

Diamonds should never be bought as a gamble-the uneducated consumer will always lose. This is a basic rule of thumb. The best way to take the gamble out of buying a particular diamond is to familiarize yourself with the stone. While the average consumer can't hope to make the same precise judgments as a qualified gemologist, whose scientific training and wealth of practical experience provide a far greater data­base from which to operate, the consumer can learn to judge a stone as a "total personality" and learn what the critical factors are--color, clarity (also referred to in the trade as "perfection"), cut, brilliance, and weight-and how to balance them in judging the diamond's value. Learning about these factors and spending time in the marketplace looking, listening, and asking questions before making the purchase will prepare you to be a wise buyer more likely to get what you really want, at a fair price.

Try to learn as much as you can about the diamond you want to buy. Examine stones owned by your family and friends, and compare stones at several different jewelry stores, noting differences in shades of colors, brilliance, and cut. Go to a good, established jewelry store and ask to see fine stones. If the prices vary, ask why. Let the jeweler point out differences in color, cut, or brilliance, and if he can't, go to another jeweler with greater expertise. Begin to develop an eye for what constitutes a fine stone by looking, listening, and asking good questions.

Here are five key questions to ask yourself initially before you consider buying any stone:

1. Is the color what you desire?

2. Is the shape what you want?

3. Does it have liveliness, or "zip"?

4. Do you like it and feel excited by it?

5. Can you afford it?

If you answer yes to all five questions, you are ready to examine the specific stone more carefully.

The Six Key Steps in Examining a Stone

1. Whenever possible, examine stones unmounted. They can be examined more thoroughly out of their settings, and defects can­not be hidden by the mounting or side stones.

2. Make sure the diamond is clean. If you are buying a stone from a retail jeweler, ask that it be cleaned for you. If you are not in a place where it can be cleaned professionally, breathe on the stone in a huffing manner in order to steam it with your breath, and then wipe it with a clean handkerchief. This will at least remove the superficial film of grease.

3 Hold the unmounted stone so that your fingers touch only the girdle (the edge where top and bottom meet). Putting your fingers on the table (top) and/or pavilion (bottom) will leave traces of oil, which will affect color and brilliance.

The careful use of tweezers instead of fingers is recommended only if you feel comfortable using them. Make sure you know how to use them, and get the permission of the owner before picking up the diamond. It is easy for the stone to pop out of the tweezers and to become damaged or lost, and you could be held responsible.

4. View the diamond under proper lighting. Many jewelers use numerous incandescent spotlights, usually recessed in dropped ceilings. Some use special spotlights that can make any stone -- ­even glass imitations -- look fantastic.

Fluorescent lights are what professionals use for diamond grading, but they adversely affect the appearance of the stone. Diamonds will not show as much brilliance and fire, as much sparkle, when viewed under fluorescent lighting. We recommend looking at diamonds in several types of light, including daylight when it is available (sometimes the jeweler will let you walk to a window, or go outside to better see the stone's personality).

The light source should come from above or behind you, shining down and through the stone, so that the light traveling through the stone is reflected back up to your eye.

5. Rotate the stone in order to view it from different angles.

6. If you are using a loupe, focus it both on the surface and into the interior. To focus into the interior, shift the stone slowly, raising or lowering it, until you focus clearly on all depths within it. This is important because if you focus on the top only, you won't see what is in the interior of the stone.

How to Use a Loupe

A loupe (pronounced loop) is a special type of magnifying glass. The loupe can be very helpful in many situations, even for the beginner. With a loupe you can check a stone for chips or scratches or examine certain types of noticeable inclusions more closely. Remember, however, that even with a loupe, you will not have the knowledge or skill to see or under­stand the many telltale indicators that an experienced jeweler or gemologist could spot. No book can provide you with that knowledge or skill. Do not allow yourself to be deluded, or let a little knowledge give you a false confidence. Nothing will more quickly alienate a reputable jeweler or mark you faster as easy prey for the disreputable dealer.

The loupe is a very practical tool to use once you master it, and with practice it will become more and more valuable. The correct type is a 10x, or ten-power, "triplet," which can be obtained from any optical supply house. The triplet type is recommended because it corrects two problems other types of magnifiers have: traces of color normally found at the outer edge of the lens, and visual distortion, also usually at the outer edge of the lens. In addition, the loupe must have a black housing around the lens, not chrome or gold, either of which might affect the color you see in the stone.

The loupe must be 10x because the United States Federal Trade Com­mission requires grading to be done under ten-power magnification. Any flaw that does not show up under 10x magnification is considered nonexistent for grading purposes.

With a few minutes' practice you can easily learn to use the loupe. Here's how:

1. Hold the loupe between the thumb and forefinger of either hand.

2. Hold the stone or jewelry similarly in the other hand.

3. Bring both hands together so that the fleshy parts just below the thumbs are pushed together and braced by the lower portion of each hand just above the wrists (the wrist portion is actually a pivot point).

4. Now move both hands up to your nose or cheek, with the loupe as close to your eye as possible. If you wear eyeglasses, you do not have to remove them.

5. Get a steady hand. With diamonds it's very important to have steady hands for careful examination. With your hands still together and braced against your face, put your elbows on a table. (If a table isn't available, brace your arms against your chest or rib cage.) If you do this properly you will have a steady hand.

A common A 10x Triplet Loupe

Above: A 10x Triplet Loupe makes a great investment ($14).

Practice with the loupe, keeping it approximately one inch (more or less) from your eye, and about an inch from the object being examined. Learn to see through it clearly. A 10x loupe is difficult to focus initially, but with a little practice it will become easy. You can practice on any object that is difficult to see-the pores in your skin, a strand of hair, a pinhead, or your own jewelry.

How to hold a loupe when examining a stone

Play with the item being examined. Rotate it slowly, tilt it back and forth while rotating it, and look at it from different angles and different directions. It won't take long before you are able to focus easily on any­ thing you wish to examine. If you aren't sure about your technique, a knowledgeable jeweler will be happy to help you learn to use the loupe correctly.

What the Loupe Can Tell You

With practice and experience (and further education if you're really serious), a loupe can tell even the amateur a great deal. For a gemologist it can help determine whether the stone is natural, synthetic, glass, or doublet (a composite stone to be discussed later) and reveal characteristic flaws, blemishes, or cracks. In other words, the loupe can provide the necessary information to help you know whether the stone is in fact what it is supposed to be.

For the beginner, the loupe is useful in seeing these features:

1. The workmanship that went into the cutting. For example, is the symmetry of the stone balanced? Does it have the proper number of facets for its cut? Is the proportion good? Few cutters put the same time and care into cutting glass as they do into a diamond.

2. Chips, cracks, or scratches on the facet edges, planes, or table. White zircon, for example, looks very much like diamond because of its pronounced brilliance and relative hardness, but it chips easily. Therefore, careful examination of a zircon will often show chipping, especially on the top and around the edges. Glass, which is very soft, will often show scratches. Normal wear can cause it to chip or become scratched. Also, if you check around the prongs, the setter may even have scratched it while bending the prongs to hold the stone.

3. The sharpness of the facet edges. Harder stones will have a sharp edge, or sharper boundaries between adjoining planes or facets, whereas many imitations are softer, so that under the loupe the edges between the facets are less sharp and have a more rounded appearance.

4. Bubbles, inclusions, and flaws. Many flaws and inclusions that cannot be seen with the naked eye can be seen with the loupe. But remember, many are not easily seen unless you are very experienced. With minimal experience, however, the amateur can even learn to spot the characteristic bubbles and swirl lines associated with glass.

When you use a loupe, remember that you won't see what the experienced professional will see clues about the diamond's quality, authenticity, and durability--but with a little practice, it can still be a valuable tool and might save you from a costly mistake.

Shopping for diamonds and jewellery can be a challenging and time-consuming expereince. If you didn't find what you were looking for on this page, I apologize in advance! May I suggest the following, alternate and highly-reputable sources for diamonds and jewellery: -- Never pay retail at

Jewelry Television the largest selection of jewelry and loose gemstones on the web!

While this web sites sells diamond-based jewelry, we must acknowledge that there is a Dark Side to girl's best friend. To learn more, check out popular film Blood Diamond .

We encourage anyone interested in this topic to visit your library and read the recently-published book Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit and Desire

Heartless Stone

Review of Heartless Stone:

Starred Review. After his fiancée dumps him and he is left with a diamond ring to unload, Men's Health contributing editor Zoellner crisscrosses the globe unlocking the mystique of this glittering stone "that brings misery to millions of people across the world." Zoellner probes how "blood diamonds" are used to fund vicious civil wars in Africa; how De Beers, seeing new markets to exploit, linked diamonds to the ancient yuino ceremony in Japan and played on caste obsession in India; and how India is pushing Belgium and Israel out of the gem trade. The author is expert with vivid prose: Australia's Argyle deposit is "shaped a little like a human molar"; impoverished urchins in the diamond-smuggling haven of the Central African Republic get high on bread-and-shoe polish sandwiches; and a Brazilian miner finds a rich concentration of river diamonds but fritters away much of the loot on prostitutes and booze, and eventually is ruined by a dishonest money changer. Politically conscious consumers can now avoid African and Brazilian mines teeming with human rights abuses. Canada pulls $1.2 billion worth of rough diamonds out of the tundra every year while enforcing tough environmental laws, and a Florida company uses Siberian high-pressure chambers to create low-cost chemically perfect diamonds. This is a superior piece of reportage.

Gemstone Enhancements & Treatments

The fashioning of gemstones is a skillful blend of art and science. Art is used to shape, facet and polish. Science is used to attain the finest color and appearance.

Tips for the care & handling of your gemstone jewelry

Preserving the beauty of gemstones is usually a matter of common sense and simple precaution. Maintenance most often involves properly cleaning jewelry pieces or keeping them out of harm’s way.

Periodically take time to clean your jewelry. Gems, particularly those in rings, will collect soap film, oil and dirt between the prongs of the mounting and the gem. By cleaning your gemstones with warm water, a soft toothbrush and a gentle dishwashing liquid, you can restore lost luster and brilliance to gems and keep them looking like new. This vendor offers a few cleaning products that may be helpful. (Note: Normal care for pearls includes rinsing and gently patting dry with a soft clean cloth after wear).

Avoid wearing gems during strenuous exercise. A random blow can damage the beauty of a gem. To prevent breakage, store gemstone jewelry in a safe place while engaging in activities where there's a possibility of hitting the stone.

Handle jewelry by the mounting not the stone. Grasping jewelry by the gem can loosen a stone in its setting and create a risk of eventual loss.

Store gemstones and gemstones jewelry in separate compartments or cloth bags. Gems that are harder than others will scratch softer stones if they come in contact.
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Guide to Caring for your Gemstones

Caring for your gemstones is often simple common sense. Taking a little time treat your stones properly can lead to years of satisfaction and delight.

Maintain their beauty by cleaning your gems.
Gems, particularly those in rings, will collect dust behind the gem. Clean your gemstones with water, a soft toothbrush and gentle soap.

Avoid wearing gems during strenuous exercise.
A well-placed blow could damage the beauty of stone, so it is safest to store them while engaging in any activity where they might be subject to high impact.

Do not handle jewelry by the stone.
You don’t want to loosen a stone from the mount and take a chance of eventually loosing it if the stone falls out. Store gemstones separately. Some gems are harder than others and a hard stone can actually scratch a softer stone.

Learn more about the Essentials of Diamonds, Jewelry and Gemstones through our hand-picked, best-choices-for-reading list

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