smart spending

Diamond-buying tips from the pros

Look good on a budget: simulated diamonds

Also a man-made product, simulated diamonds look the part but have none of the same properties. The most popular of the fakes is cubic zirconia, a crystalline form of zirconium dioxide that first hit the jewelry market in 1976.

Benefits: While cubic zirconia stones come in colors, they are naturally colorless. Vivid whites cost a fraction of similarly sized natural diamonds. They also weigh 1.75 times more, making the equivalent carat stone feel heavier.

The cut and proportions of a cubic zirconia, measured in millimeters, are also more exact, says Cynthia LoPresti, CEO of BodyJewels.com, a manufacturer and online retailer of hand-cut cubic zirconia. To purchase the equivalent of a 1-carat diamond, ask for a 6.5-millimeter cubic zirconia.

Considerations: Cubic zirconia stones last from one to five years and are not scratch-proof like natural diamonds. They can even fracture or shatter. The cheapest of them are machine-cut, says Cuellar, and sell for 35 cents to a few dollars per carat. To get a quality cubic zirconia, ask for a hand-cut stone.

For the concerned shopper, Canadian diamonds

Canadian diamonds are natural diamonds that are mined in Canada, then laser-inscribed and certified as being of Canadian origin.

Benefits: Canadian diamond sellers position their stones as the only conflict-free diamond because you can trace them from mine to purchase. You've probably heard the term "blood diamond" -- natural diamonds mined in a conflict zone and used to fund civil wars or at the expense of child labor. In 2000, the diamond-producing countries, backed by the United Nations, created the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme to track rough diamonds to ensure their production does not finance conflict. But the industry is still policing itself, so some experts, including Cuellar, say there's no guarantee the natural diamond you're buying is conflict-free.

Consideration: To further ensure the origins of your Canadian diamond, Cuellar suggests that you demand a money-back guarantee that protects you should you discover it's not the real deal.

Old European cut diamond

What to do with inherited, antique diamonds

Antique diamonds are stones in one of the original cuts of diamonds, known as the old mine, old European, cushion, rose and Asscher cuts. These cuts produce diamonds with extremely high crowns, extra weight and low sparkle.

Benefits: Savvy dealers often shop auctions for antique diamonds looking to score one that will yield a beauty when recut to modern proportions. Antique diamonds are 30 percent to 50 percent less expensive than modern-cut diamonds and cost $150 per carat to recut.

Considerations: Antiques can lose anywhere from 15 percent to 50 percent of their carat weight when recut. If you inherit or purchase an antique stone with flaws, called "inclusions," those tiny faults can result in cracks or a shattered diamond when recut.

"If you're going to ask a cutter to cut it, he has to be willing to insure it during the cutting process. If you can't get insurance for the cutting, don't buy it," says Cuellar, who recently recut a customer's 4.5-carat, old mine-cut diamond down to a 1.8-carat modern cut for $600.

Memorial diamonds are forever

Victorians carried locks of loved one's hair. Now you can do the same and wear it as a diamond. LifeGem, a synthetic diamond manufacturer in Elk Grove Village, Ill., uses cremated remains or a simple hank of hair to create "memorial" synthetic diamonds.

Benefits: "These diamonds are ordered and produced for personal, sentimental reasons," says Dean VandenBiesen, co-founder and vice president of LifeGem. "It solves the dilemma many have of keeping their deceased loved ones close," he says. Customers can choose the cut, color and carat of their diamond, with prices ranging from $2,500 to $25,000 per piece.

Considerations: Because LifeGem diamonds are created individually from start to finish, the manufacturer doesn't guarantee the clarity of the finished product. As with other lab-grown diamonds, memorial diamonds have no resale value, with the exception of those created using carbon material from celebrities.

A LifeGem diamond created with locks of Beethoven's hair, for instance, sold at auction for $200,000. VandenBiesen says his company is now working on creating a diamond with hair from late pop star Michael Jackson.

A diamond for every budget and style

Whether you plan on buying a modest gem or one that can be seen from across a football field, there's a diamond out there within your means. And keep in mind that diamonds come in all styles, including classic round cut, colored diamonds and antique stones. Finally, be sure to research area jewelers, comparison shop and ask about warranties and discounts when you browse the counters.

 

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