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Saying It With Diamonds

You'll sparkle if you select a stone based on cut, clarity, color, carat.

May 29, 1999|LEO SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In recent weeks we've offered advice on wedding planners, limousines, tuxedos and other items popular during early summer.

So why not take it a step further?

We won't tell you where to find a wife, but we will suggest a way to show your deep affection for her.

Diamonds. The sparkling gems have a reputation for inspiring love. And not only do they make a splendid gift for the love of a man's life, they make a nice present a woman can buy for herself.

In speaking with Ventura County diamond experts, we heard a couple of commonly held beliefs (or sales pitches, depending on your perspective): "Diamonds are a girl's best friend" and "A diamond is forever."

We also heard from one longtime diamond dealer who said that "a woman who has a bad diamond on her finger, it will bother her, and the couple will always get divorced."

Whether a bad gem will lead to divorce or whether there is no better friend to a woman than a diamond are debatable statements. But as far as the longevity of a diamond, it can, indeed, be virtually forever. So when it comes time to lay out the money for one--whether you're buying it for yourself or your partner--it may help, psychologically, to factor the price out over a lifetime.

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Before you begin shopping for a diamond, keep at least a couple of things in mind. As in shopping for any pricey item, it helps to go in with a price range. And don't be afraid to ask the diamond dealer a lot of questions.

"The more a customer knows in regards to diamonds, the better, because it's such a blind subject," said Jim Koven, owner of Hart's Jewelers in Thousand Oaks. "Very few people know enough [coming in] to make an informed decision."

What's there to know?

Well, to start, each of the dealers we spoke with recited the four Cs--cut, color, clarity and carat--the combination of which determines the quality and value of a diamond.

Cut refers to the shape of the diamond (round or oval, for example). Color refers to the diamond's shade--with the whitest white preferred. Clarity refers to how flawed or pristine the diamond is inside. And carat is a measure of the weight of the diamond's size.

"It's very difficult just to explain to somebody the differences between a half-carat diamond that sells for $500 and one that sells for $2,000," Koven said. "But you can see it visually . . . sometimes a customer will want a larger diamond with lesser quality. We show them the variables and walk them through the [options] at the price they want to pay."

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Teresa Salinas, a sales associate with the George Thompson Diamond Co. of Oxnard, said the most popular diamond sizes are three-fourths-carat and one-carat.

"Usually when customers come in they are wanting a certain shape, a certain size and they have a certain budget," Salinas said. "Then we can tell them how low they can go [in price] and what quality they can get.

In general, Salinas said, quality three-fourths-carat diamonds are priced at $2,000 and up. One-carat diamonds, she said, start at $3,000, but for something of higher quality, expect to pay at least $4,000.

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Diamonds come with certificates documenting their quality. The grading report put out by the Gemological Institute of America, in particular, carries more weight than others.

"Back in the late '70s, diamonds went absolutely out of sight, they skyrocketed, because people were investing in them, because they needed to put their money into something," Koven said. "Once this came out in the public, every scam artist started in, and everything had a certificate. It could be the worst type of diamonds still usable as a gemstone and it would have a certificate."

Hart's Jewelers, Koven said, grades its diamonds, based on institute standards. Wherever one shops, he recommended, write the color, clarity and carat weight on the sales receipt for legal documentation.

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