Diamond Certification Vs. Appraisal

Certificates and appraisals are important ways to determine a diamond's value.

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Diamonds are worn on ring fingers to signify commitment, and the finest diamond specimens can cost a fortune. With so much riding on the reputation of this gemstone, it’s no wonder that every buyer wants to be certain he is getting what he pays for. Certifications and appraisals are two ways of proving a diamond’s origins and worth, so make sure you know the difference before you shop.

History Matters

While it’s impossible to trace the roots of diamond mining, the precious stone became a negotiable instrument by the 1800s. South Africa is considered an epicenter of diamond mining; Tel Aviv and Antwerp are the leading trade centers for diamonds. One company remains a dominant force in the diamond trade: DeBeers. Despite decades of foreign and domestic upheavals, DeBeers remains the star of the diamond industry.

It’s All About Image

DeBeers hired the N.W. Ayre Advertising Agency to shape the public’s perspective of diamonds. According to the author of the February 1982 “Atlantic” magazine article “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?” Ayre’s marketing goal, to “strengthen the association in the public's mind of diamonds with romance,” was further promoted by targeting young women and persuading them to perceive diamonds “as an integral part of any romantic courtship.” Certificates of authenticity also became an important strategy when marketing stones.

Why Credentials Are Critical

Certifications and appraisals became an essential component in the marketing of diamonds, and consumers know to ask for these documents when a diamond is bought, sold, consigned, traded, auctioned or bequeathed. Credentials became even more important when stolen, black market and faux gems flooded the market. When the issue of "conflict diamonds" -- stones mined by slave labor that often included children -- became public, certifications and appraisals became even more important to the diamond trade.

Diamond Certification

A certification is a quality report issued by an independent laboratory with no ties to the mining company. Measurements, color, cut, clarity and carat grades plus “specifics that most jewelers do not have the equipment or the knowledge to determine, such as the diamond’s fluorescence, polish, and symmetry” appear on typical certifications, according to Diamonds Direct. Certifications offer reassurances of authenticity to distributors, wholesalers, retailers and consumers. The certification should bear the logo of either the Gemological Institute of America or the European Gemological Laboratory.

The Diamond Appraisal

An appraisal is an estimate of the worth of a diamond as determined by a lab, jewelry store or gemologist. Appraisals came about to help insurance companies set replacement values, and they consider such variables as economic trends, the availability of stones, production and middleman costs. During a December 2006 NBC Dateline investigation, producers learned that diamond appraisals are subjective. “It’s probably one of the more shameful things in our industry -- appraisals used as marketing tools,” Don Palmieri of the American Society of Appraisers says in the broadcast.

So What’s a Diamond Buyer to Do?

Patronize only certified appraisers, recommends Jerry Ehrenwald, president of the International Gemological Institute. Have several appraisals done if you’re not happy with one. Verify the appraiser's track record. Use an appraiser who is not affiliated with the firm selling the diamond. Even if everything’s on the up and up, industry members place disclaimers on certificates and appraisals, so don't be surprised to find phrases like "appraisals are bona fide opinions..." or “these values are not for investment purposes, nor are they an endorsement of the price you should pay" in small letters on either document.