Diamond... there's nothing quite like it, quite literally!
The word diamond comes from the Greek and means “invincible" which is fitting since diamonds are one of the hardest naturally occurring minerals on Earth. They have high refraction, unusual brilliance, and intense fire. They're also rare in nature, which has made them desirable and valuable over the years. This perfect combination of characteristics and availability have solidified Diamond as the number one choice for a symbol of lifelong love.
The first known diamond engagement ring was given in 1477, by Archduke Maximilian of Austria. His gift of a diamond was a promise of marriage when he presented it to Mary of Burgundy. Jump ahead five hundred years and in 1947, De Beers (a South African company that is the world's largest producer and distributor of diamonds) launched its now classic advertising slogan, “A Diamond is Forever,” thus solidifying the tradition of proposing with a diamond engagement ring in many cultures all around the world.
Practially -- diamond is unbeatable in terms of durability, sparkle, and fire. Moissanite (a man-made alternative) is the only thing that comes close, but it's slightly less hard (a 9.25 on the MOHS scale, with diamond being a 10). Choosing a diamond as an engagement ring means that the center gemstone may outlast your marriage, lifetime, and sometimes even the metal setting that holds it! It has the ability to withstand a lifetime of wear and abuse, and to be handed down through generations -- often times being given as a token of engagement multiple times throughout a family history. Diamonds, can of course be damaged (it is a common misconception that they're indestructable) -- but it's unlikely, and a Diamond is the least likely of all the options to do so. Furthermore, a diamond of good quality and high clarity is much less prone to damage than a lower quality diamond of lesser clarity. Imperfections and inclusions can sometimes affect the durability of a stone -- so it's important to work with a trusted diamond expert when choosing your stone.
Sourcing a Diamond: Diamonds are everywhere these days, but experts are rare. The world has changed! You can buy a diamond online, much like you can now with a car. We don't, however, recommend it. Diamond specialists spend years looking at, setting, and comparing the tiny details and nuanced characteristics of these stones. They are able to see with the naked eye (in seconds!) details that may be difficult for an untrained eye to see even with a microscope or loupe. All this to say -- you need a trusted opinion (and source!). It's too easy to be misled to believe a diamond is better or worse based on paperwork, grading, or someone's personal opinion. Just because a dog has a pedigree doesn't make it a good companion. Similarly, keep in mind that a grading report is only as good as the person who graded it, and the day it was graded. People are behind each of these reports, and sometimes people have an 'off' day -- or maybe the report came at the end of the day. These reports are important, but not the only thing to consider. Diamonds that are graded SI or VS (or anything else for that matter) still have a range, and each diamond has an individual 'fingerprint' or series of inclusions or 'defects'. You could take 5 or 10 of the exact same grade of diamonds, and visually have a clear winner or more beautiful stone. Similarly, we've even seen lesser graded stones 'face up' or appear more beautiful, clean, or sparkly than supposed higher quality specimen. All to say, the paperwork can be helpful to a trained eye, but it's not the say-all-end-all, and you shouldn't expect to make a purchase this large or expensive based off paperwork alone. Do your due diligence, and fine a reputable jeweler to help. They'll rule out all the bad options ahead of time and only present you with good choices. Plus, they'll be able to talk you through the small differences. You can also often get an option to see a stone in person before you commit to it.
A note about color: Today, colorful diamonds are becoming more and more available and popular options. Translucent, clear fancy colors are available, as are opaque, milky, or earth tone diamonds in a range from blue/green to yellows, browns, grays and reds (with other color shades in between!). Generally, the more saturated the color and the rarer the color, the higher the value -- particularly in natural, earth-mined stones.
Because intensely colored diamonds are very rare many of the stones sold today have been chemically treated and technically should be marketed as “color-treated diamonds.” When considering the purchase of a shaded diamond it’s important to ask if any color enhancements have been added. However, this is common practice, so it is entirely your choice if you prefer an enhanced diamond or a purely natural one. A completely natural, untreated one will of course command a higher price.
Origins: Although diamonds were first mined mainly in India, most of the mined diamonds discovered today are from Australia, Africa, Canada and Russia. Lab Grown Diamonds offer 100% socially responsible options, and many are made in the US, although lab grown stones can be sourced all over the world. The Kimberly Process exists to certify the responsibility of earth-mined Diamonds as well -- so know that we've come a long way -- all diamonds that enter the USA are supposed to be ethical choices, backed by this tracking process.