Independent lab entities evaluate diamonds and provide certificates to verify their grading. Some labs are strict and consistent, while others are loose and inconsistent. Above all, it’s important to ensure you’re paying the right price for the actual quality of the diamond.
If you’re buying online, use James Allen’s highly recommended cutting edge diamond viewing tool or Blue Nile’s 360° Videos and stick with the GIA certification—the most consistent lab available. We have witnessed numerous gross mistakes by each major gemological lab, and want to ensure you make a safe and smart purchase.
Keep in mind that you are buying a diamond, not a piece of paper. If you feel at all hesitant about the paperwork—or anything else for that matter—don’t hesitate to contact our experts and run it by us.
What is Diamond Certification?
Diamond Certification (most commonly from labs GIA, AGS, IGI, EGL, GSI, and HRD) is a document you receive from an objective 3rd party lab that describes a diamond in all of its characteristics.
Along with each diamond you’re considering, you should receive and review its lab certification. This lab report or certificate will be issued by a grading entity and describes various elements of the diamond, such as Color, Clarity, length and width. Trained professionals evaluate, scrutinize and measure the diamonds using professional tools, such as a loupe or microscope.
Each entity grades and describes diamonds differently—and sometimes the difference is significant. Several lab entities exist and it’s important to know which ones are trustworthy and reliable, and which ones are not.
Because diamond certificates are not created equal, the price and value of diamonds are not comparable across varying certifications. Ensure that you purchase a diamond with a certificate from a highly reputable grading entity—and that you review the diamond closely before purchase.
If you have a diamond in mind and would like an expert’s review about its certification, contact us.
What to watch for in diamond ring certification
Consistency comes first
When it comes to comparing lab grading entities, it’s more important to watch for consistency than strictness of grading.
For example, the GIA will not grade a diamond the same way the IGI rates a diamond. The reliability of the Color and Clarity grades—and in some instances the Cut grades—is only as good as the certifying lab’s reputation. But if one lab consistently gives a single Clarity grade higher than another lab, that lab is by no means less “authentic.”
To highlight the importance of this issue, take Color grades as an example. We recommend sticking with an H color or better when putting a diamond in a setting like this one. You may think you have found a steal with an H color diamond with an IGI certificate. But once you have it home, you realize the diamond has a yellow tint. This is because the diamond is really an I color—by GIA certification—and the IGI just offers a weak certificate.
Rather than simply comparing grades between certifications, look for consistency within the entity’s grading decisions.
Diamond grading is subjective
All diamond grading is subjective—and contrary to popular belief—there is not a central organization that mathematically defines what a “G” Color is or what an “SI1” Clarity looks like.
If one lab consistently calls one color grade “G” while another lab will consistently calls that same color “H”, it’s perfectly acceptable and reasonable—as long as they do so consistently.
It’s important to note that even when an entity is consistent in its grading, it doesn’t necessarily mean the entity is reliable and trustworthy. Buying a diamond with a weak certificate at a high price point is not prudent—even if the entity consistently grades diamonds this way—because you are not getting the value for the price you’re paying.
Considering the price over the certification
Regardless of the certificate you receive, the price of the diamond should be heavily evaluated. The price should reflect the actual quality, beauty and Cut of the diamond—both on the certificate and to the naked eye.
If you’re unsure if a diamond is priced well or too high, be sure to have a diamond expert review it before purchasing. For questions about diamond prices and certifications, contact us.
Different certification labs give different results
Every lab has its quirks. Some are looser in grading Color, while others are looser with rating Clarity. Some labs will always upgrade specific Color ranges, while others favor particular arrangements of inclusions.
Smart diamond companies use this knowledge—gained from sending thousands of diamonds to different labs each month—to maximize their results. Knowing which labs are trustworthy and consistent will help you avoid purchasing a diamond worth much less than what the certificate is stating to be true.
If you have questions about the differences between diamond certification labs, contact us.
The GIA (Gemological Institute of America) is the most well-respected and renowned diamond grading entity. They are incredibly consistent and provide the greatest peace of mind when purchasing any diamond.
GIA has no financial stake in the sale of the diamond and evaluates diamonds on a variety of qualities and elements, including:
- Diamond’s evaluation date
- Measurements (in millimeters)
- Cutting style and diamond shape
- Carat weight
- Table %
- Depth %
- Culet size
- Proportion diagram
- Polish grade
- Girdle thickness
- Cut grade (Excellent, Very Good, Good, Poor)
- Color grade (ranging from D to J)
- Clarity grade (IF, VVS1, VVS2, VS1, VS2, SI1, SI2)
- Diamond plot showing all blemishes and inclusions
- Fluorescence grade
- Laser inscription (if applicable)
- Security features
- General comments
GIA has a reputation for rating rated Color and Clarity, the most subjective scales, more rigorously. Because of GIA’s high reputation, proven consistency and history, we recommend only buying diamonds with a GIA or AGS certificate.
We recommend these diamond sellers who provide GIA certificates with their diamonds:
- James Allen: 18+ years of experience, focused on customer satisfaction and excellent pricing. They have the most high tech diamond imagery in the industry, making it easy to accurately search and review diamonds.
- Blue Nile: 17+ years of experience, offering the largest inventory of diamonds. Blue Nile provides excellent diamond quality and an array of well-crafted settings.
If you need help choosing a GIA diamond seller, contact us.
The IGI (International Gemological Institute) began as the blue collar workhorse of the diamond business.
They were the most popular gem lab for major jewelry chains in the United States and Canada, like Kay, Zales and others.
IGI is like a factory: they work fast, and their prices are much better than those of GIA—which appeals to diamonds sellers but not necessarily the end consumer.
While IGI bills itself as a top-of-the-line laboratory, this is unfortunately not the case. From extensive experience in the diamond industry, we have continually seen that their grading is lax and less consistent than the standard bearers in the industry, like GIA.
Even the largest jewelry insurance underwriter writes:
“The most reliable diamond certificates (also called diamond reports) come from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the American Gem Society (AGS). These are the most respected labs, known for their accuracy and professionalism. These reports are not appraisals and do not carry valuations. Certificates from any other sources are often questionable and should not be relied upon by insurers.”
Likewise, Dateline raised serious questions about IGI’s integrity in 2005 as pertains to their appraisal values.
We recommend only buying a GIA or AGS certified diamond. In addition, purchase diamonds from reputable vendors that sell diamonds certified by these labs—such as Blue Nile.
We also recommend purchasing diamonds from James Allen. They do sell IGI certified diamonds, but we steer customers away from purchasing those particular stones.
Buying a diamond with an independent certificate should give you peace of mind, knowing your diamond is equivalent to the quality and value that is claimed. With our years of expertise, we do not believe IGI certificates provide this assurance.
To further learn how IGI grades, we sent four diamonds to various lab entities including the IGI, EGL, GSI, and HRD for a Clarity and Color grading. Because these two categories are the most subjective, we knew they would tell us a lot about how IGI grades diamonds.
The EGL (European Gemological Laboratory)—vastly and inconsistently—inflates their quality claims. When considering an EGL certified diamond, you may think you’re getting a better deal. In reality, the price is highly inflated for an inferior product.
We unfortunately have seen many customers purchase an EGL certified diamond thinking they found a great deal, only to realize they fell for a selling trick. We wish they had hit the contact us button sooner, so we could assist them in making a well-informed purchase.
As an example of one of these selling tricks, we found an EGL certified 1.00 Carat H VS1 ideal cut online for $4,450. At first, it seems like an incredible deal. In reality, though, when EGL claims it’s an H VS1, 50% of the time it’s actually a J SI1—and 50% of the time it’s a J SI2 or K SI1: not an H VS1.
Searching for a GIA certified diamond two or three Color grades lower or one or two Clarity grades lower will ensure you purchase a higher quality diamond for a cheaper price.
The bottom line is: don’t buy an EGL certified diamond. No matter how “cheap” it seems to you compared to GIA certified diamonds, it’s all a game.
Any EGL certified stone in the market is, by definition, more expensive than its identical self as certified by the GIA.
As evidence, we sent in the same four diamonds to EGL to receive Color and Clarity gradings — the most subjective scales.
It’s evident that the EGL graded the diamonds higher than the other labs. An EGL graded diamond with a Clarity of VS2, for example, it is not comparable to a VS2 given by the GIA. For this reason, the price and value of a EGL diamond is incomparable and inequivalent to a diamond certified by GIA.
In addition, the two EGL labs that graded these diamonds offered different results. The inconsistency among the labs makes it difficult to trust the grading and verify the actual quality and value of an EGL diamond.
The GSI (Gemological Science International) is a new grading entity that’s only been around for a few years. Unfortunately they didn’t come to the industry with fresh ideas or innovative technology. They built their business by appealing to the big retail chains in the United States like Jared The Galleria of Jewelry, Kay and Zales.
Scoring those major companies means millions of dollars in business. The Capital Forum claims that GSI took Sterling’s (parent company of Kay, Jared and Zales) business away from IGI by opening up a laboratory down the street from their headquarters to make it easier to cooperate and undercut their pricing significantly.
We have found that GSI grading is not only looser than the gold standards (GIA and AGSL labs), but weaker than than the next level down (IGI and HRD) as well. GSI also doesn’t maintain consistent gradings, to try, for example, adjusting the grades down 1 or 2 qualities and calculating the value.
For these reasons, we do not recommend buying a diamond that has a GSI certificate. We strongly encourage only buying diamonds that have a GIA or AGS certificate. By doing so, you actually know what you’re getting and you can compare apples to apples. Retailers don’t use inaccurate certificates like GSI in order to give the consumer a better deal; they do it to make more money off of those consumers.
To demonstrate how GSI grades diamonds compared to other labs, we sent four stones to GSI, IGI, HRD, EGL and GIA. For the Color and Clarity grades—the two most subjective categories—we received distinctly different results.
GSI graded some of the diamonds higher than the GIA and some lower, making it hard to determine the consistency of a GSI grading. When looking for a diamond, it’s critical to chose a diamond certified by a reliable, consistent entity, like the GIA, so you know that what you are buying matches the actual value of the stone.
The AGS (American Gem Society) prides itself on being the original lab to provide diamond cut grades. Long before the GIA introduced their cut grade a few years ago, the AGS has been offering its unique cut grade scale from 0 to 9 (with 0 being termed “ideal”).
Back in those days, the AGS had the monopoly on the “ideal cut” market (with top vendors such as Brian Gavin Diamonds). A diamond couldn’t be called “ideal” unless it has an AGS certificate claiming so. Now that the GIA has entered the cut grade game, though, their share in this market has dropped significantly.
The AGS generally tries to bill itself as being a bit more fancy and refined than the GIA. In reality, there’s hardly anything at all to distinguish the two except for the fact that the AGS generally grades slightly looser than the GIA.
Most large diamond companies recognize this and take diamonds that don’t receive the intended grade with GIA and send them to AGS in order to receive an upgrade in Clarity and Color. Usually in those circumstances, they succeed.
Unlike the EGL, however, there isn’t much of a market-wide consensus to this fact, so generally diamonds certified by the AGS sell at similar prices to their GIA equivalents. We estimate that the AGS selects on average a half a grade above what the GIA would grade in Color and Clarity.
All in all, though, the AGS is a very reliable laboratory. We only recommend diamonds certified by GIA or AGS and we only work with vendors (such as James Allen, and Blue Nile) that emphasize these two labs.
If you have more questions about the reliability of an AGS certified diamond, contact us.
HRD (Hoge Raad voor Diamant) is a diamond grading organization based in Europe. Not generally regarded as a legitimate alternative in the United States, HRD still claims to be the authority for diamond grading in the world.
Over the years, we have experienced incredible inconsistency with HRD grading. They usually average about two Color and/or Clarity grades above the GIA’s grading. HRD graded diamonds are usually priced much higher than equivalent diamonds graded by the GIA. This allows for significant profits to be made by diamond companies.
To offer a comparison between HRD grading and other labs, we sent four stones to various lab entities. In the chart below, you can see HRD graded the same four diamonds better than the GIA in the categories of Color and Clarity: two highly subjective grades.
The clear difference between the grading demonstrates that it’s not prudent to compare apples to apples among lab entities. Simply put, an F Color grading given by HRD will not mean the same as a GIA F Color diamond. The price you’ll pay for an HRD diamond will not compare to the value and quality of a GIA graded diamond—even if it’s a grade or two higher
If you are considering an HRD certified diamond, we suggest reconsidering. We recommend only purchasing diamonds that come with a GIA or AGS certificate.
In case you live abroad, James Allen offers free overseas shipping and great conditions for overseas buyers.
We only recommend diamonds certified by GIA or AGS because we know their grading is consistent, reliable and trustworthy. We only work with vendors (such as James Allen or Blue Nile) that emphasize these two labs.
If you have questions about lab certifications or want assistance in ensuring you purchase only a high-quality diamond, please don’t hesitate to contact us.