Little secrets to buying diamonds

diamonds picsWhat is a wedding without the radiance of a diamond ring? Nothing quite symbolizes eternal love like these indestructible and brilliant stones. Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a friend on the topic of buying diamonds. A majority of my photography is focused on weddings; so naturally, purchasing those precious stones receives a lot of attention. I am by no means an expert on diamonds, but during the course of my work, I have encountered those who are. My associations have led me to accumulate a certain level of knowledge about these rare gems. One thing that struck me is the general lack of public knowledge about diamonds and buying diamonds. The idea that “diamonds are forever” thrives in our collective imagination. Everybody knows the implied value of diamonds: what they represent, what they signify, and how expensive they are. But it ends there. Dig deeper, and you will find that many people don’t have an in-depth understanding about diamonds, aside from what they see on TV and what commercial posters at shopping malls advertise. Here is where I can help to shed some light on the murky half-truths about these Pearls of the Earth.


Diamonds are one of the most abundant minerals on this planet. They are formed by the Earth’s intense compression of carbon atoms over many hundreds of thousands of years, if not longer. The purest diamonds are made up exclusively of carbon. The reason diamonds are so expensive is entirely a man-made phenomenon. A very famous diamond mining and trading conglomerate, based in Luxembourg, virtually dominates the diamond trade by manipulating the supply chain to jack-up prices, effectively creating a supply monopoly. Essentially, they buy up all the raw diamonds in the world and control how much is released back into the public each year, hence generating an artificial surge in global demand, which in turn creating a sustained price inflation. The concept is simple: the rarer the item, the more expensive to purchase. This is also the reason your diamond ring is worth so little when you trade it in (or sell it). Because the amount you initially paid was overpriced to begin with. The price you get when you sell your diamond is much closer to the actual value. Furthermore, even at that low price the buyer is still making a profit from “flipping” your diamond. There is without a doubt a level of business deception at work when it comes to the diamond trade. It is wise to exercise due diligence before buying a diamond to avoid unnecessary loss. I equate buying diamonds to taming a lion; there are many ways, hidden and predatory, the industry can finagle your money. But if you are patient, ask the right questions, know where and how to look, and continue to learn, then in the end you will master the cursed diamond. Its light will shine for you, and with it you can cast the magic spell of love on the girl of your heart.


The next major part of a diamond’s journey is called certification. This is when a diamond, after it has been cut, gets a legit “birth certificate” if you will. Each diamond that is destined to go on to a better life, from the Earth to your finger, has to go through a series of tests and evaluations to determine its quality and intrinsic properties. Think of it as a Standard of Evaluation. This certification process also aids in calculating the value of the rock when it is sold. There are quite a few scientific institutions that certify diamonds. Most reputable is GIA (Gemological Institute of America). If you haven’t heard of them that’s OK because you have probably heard of a system they developed called The Four C’s. GIA set the criteria for grading diamonds; they created the standard by which everything else is judged. GIA is a nonprofit organization with a mission to ensure the public trust in gems and jewelry by upholding the highest standards of integrity, academics, science, and research. In other words, you can’t bribe them to get a higher diamond grading report. And that is exactly what some of the lesser known institutes do; they falsify and doctor the grading report to make a diamond “appear” better on the certificate. These institutes work in cahoots with the retailers to supply mediocre-to-low quality diamonds with hyped up grading reports so they can sell their inexpensive diamonds at a higher price. Talking about bamboozlin’ the public! Similar institutes are: IGI, AGS, EGL, and a few others. They are pretty much copycat wanna-be’s so be careful purchasing diamonds that they certify. Very importantly – don’t buy a diamond unless it is GIA certified – period! GIA is renown for having the most stringent standards in the diamond certification industry. They invented The Four C’s, and they stand as an independent operation outside of any monetary or political influence. Forget about conflict diamonds, next time you walk into a jewelery store, ask them specifically for GIA certified diamonds. Your wallet will thank you later. As an added security measure against theft, GIA also laser-inscribes each diamond with a unique serial number. When time comes to have your ring serviced, you can be sure that nobody switched out your precious gem.

The Four C’s: Cut, Color, Clarity, and Carat Weight – this most people know. I am not going to get into heavy details on the four C’s because this information is widely available on the Internet. But I do want to point out a few things that some may not know off-hand. People talk about how big a diamond is by saying, Oh my diamond is this many carats or that many carats”. The carat measurement is not the size of the diamond but the actual weight of the stone, hence the Carat Weight. You can have a relatively small top surface area diamond that has a big carat weight. It is determined by how the diamond is proportioned and cut. A skillful cutter can place the majority of the weight closer to the top of the stone, giving it the illusion of a wider circumference, and enhancing the overall appearance of the rock. When you shop for diamonds, inevitably you will see some that appear smaller but are outrageously expensive. Contrarily, you might see stones that are bigger around the same price. Price is based on the carat weight, and it is just one factor amongst many in establishing the price of a diamond. Imagine the stone is cut where most of the weight is concentrated in the lower portion of the diamond. The carat weight remains the same regardless where the weight is shifted. It looks smaller from the top but the price is still based on the carat weight.

Now most people talk about the “bling factor” or the brilliance of a diamond: how dazzling and bright a diamond shines. Immediately, one may think that clarity is what makes a diamond shine brightly. That is not true at all. Clarity has very little or nothing to do with a diamond’s ultra bling’d-out shine called “brilliance and fire”. It is the cut of a diamond that determines the degree of shine. How a diamond is cut can greatly enhance or hinder the way light enters the stone and reflects back out. The shine we see when we look at a diamond from the top is basically light reflected back. So when light enters a diamond from all sides, and the cut is made in an angle allowing most or all the light to reflect back out through the top, then what you perceive is a very shiny diamond. However, when the cut is made too flat or too steep, light entering the stone is trapped and reflected out the sides or through the bottom, giving less light to escape from the top, this results in a duller looking diamond. So don’t be bamboozled into thinking that clarity is what affects the sparkle on a girl’s best friend. It is the cut that brings out the BLING! The better the cut the brighter your diamond will radiate pure white light.

So now that you know what gives a diamond its brilliance and fire, what exactly is clarity then? Most naturally formed diamonds have some imperfections in them. These imperfections are called inclusions. Inclusions may contain microscopic crystals, tiny cracks, and general flaws in the structure. They are like nature’s fingerprints for each diamond. When people say “eye-clean diamond”, what they are referring to is a stone’s unblemished appearance to the naked eye. GIA standard certification procedure uses 10x magnification to grade diamonds. Almost all inclusions, with the exception of the biggest and most obvious, cannot be seen with the naked eye without the aid of a loupe or a magnifying glass. Save yourself some money and lower the clarity of a diamond to meet your budget. Pull your money out from clarity and put it in the cut. Lastly, under clarity you see symbols like VS1, VS2, VVS1, VVS2, SI1, SI2, etc. What do they mean? VS = very slight (inclusion). VVS = very very slight (inclusion). SI – slight inclusion.

Finally, there is color. This is self-explanatory. However, there is a little bit of wisdom here that you can use to help find your perfect gem. As you know “D” designates the highest point on the color scale, meaning colorless. In fact, D E F are all under the colorless category. When you look at a fine diamond you will see pure white light dancing before your eyes. This is a spellbinding brilliance that is not seen anywhere else. It is no surprise many people are mesmerized by the glow of the wicked diamond. As the color scale descends, the diamonds take on a yellowish “warmer” tone. If you put a D or an E diamond next to an H or I, you can immediately see the yellowish tone of the H or I diamond. Likewise, you will also quickly notice the “cooler” bluish tone of the D or E. The bluish hue of the colorless stone is, in fact, pure white. It appears bluish only in contrast to a more yellowish stone. However, without a higher grade comparison, it is difficult to detect the difference in color. This brings us to something called fluorescenceFluorescence is a natural phenomenon found in some diamonds. It occurs when traces of the element boron is found in the stoneFluorescence can be seen in the presence of ultraviolet light. The diamond then glows blue. Under normal lighting the effects of fluorescence is not so noticeable. However, if the level of fluorescence is high, it can exhibit a slight bluish haze even under natural lighting. Diamonds with fluorescence are generally priced lower because of this impurity. 

Here is where it gets interesting. It is advisable for some people to buy lower color grade diamonds with fluorescence. Because the bluish “cooler” tint of fluorescence helps to mask out the yellowish “warmer” color of the lesser grade diamonds. In effect, the lower color grade diamond may appear whiter and less yellow as the blue counteracts against the yellow. This option can help save you money and at the same time maybe even get you a diamond that looks like it’s in the near colorless category. Having said that, there is a caveat to taking this route. The general consensus is that if you are buying a diamond in the colorless, or near colorless class, avoid fluorescence. It may create a haze-like appearance that is quite conspicuous even to the naked eye. Furthermore, buying diamonds with fluorescence is not a prudent investment strategy due to its poor resell value.

Before buying a diamond make sure you are able to physically inspect it. This also means you have to be extra careful when buying online. Also, big name jewelry stores use indoor display lighting systems that exaggerate the appearance of the gemstones. Physical inspection is a critical step. If possible, inspect your diamond under normal lighting conditions. Use a powerful jeweler’s loupe to get a magnified view of the stone; turn the stone in a circular motion and examine each facet of the cut. Study every angle of the stone. Look for inclusions. Do a comparison with stones from a higher and lower grade to see the differences. Ask your jeweler about edge inclusion diamonds. They are quality diamonds with inclusions located mainly on the edge of the stone. This is preferable because when the stone is set, the prongs holding the diamond in place can hide these inclusions from view.

Lastly, if at all possible, do business with a real jeweler, not a salesperson at a jewelry store. You would be astonished at the deplorable lack of knowledge some of these salespeople have when it comes to the products they sell. However, they can be amazingly versed in the payment plans, extra charges, additional fees, every possible add-on and accessory they try to get you to buy. And once when I asked “can you show me a shared prong setting?” He looked at me bewildered and said, “what’s a shared prong?” You get the picture? Real jewelers work with precious gems on a daily basis, they know everything that needs to know about their trade. Furthermore, they are the go-to people should any problems arise. Basically, you want to cut out the gate blockers at the sales desk so you can get straight to the ring maker.

Familiarizing  yourself with diamonds can help you zero in on the gemstone of your dreams. There is a diamond for every price. The old saying goes, “size does matter, but it is not a measure of love”.

Good Luck.

– Odi Jin

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Fauxtographers and Bridezillas

Working in the wedding industry for 7+ years, I have personally witnessed many interesting occurrences; some humorously tragic, some tragically humorous, and some were downright ridiculous! However, the most frustrating thing to me is to watch a perfectly planned wedding get spoiled by a careless lack of informed judgement on hiring the right photographer.

Let me clear a few misconceptions right from the start. Just because a photographer has a website or a tax ID doesn’t mean he is professional. And just because he claims he is professional doesn’t mean he possesses the skills to create quality images. There are plenty of so called “professional” photographers out there creating – dare I say – crap (or would the word excrement be a more suitable nomenclature?). Seriously, the squalid quality of these self-aggrandizing ego-tripping FAUXtographers can only be aptly described by the phrase “a face (picture) only a mother could love”. Lol! That pretty much says it all.

But here’s the ugly side of the truth – and Richard Pryor said it best, “you ordered crap you eat crap!” Excuse my lowbrow humor here, but the universal truth is that you always get what you pay for. If you hire a donkey and a bell for $2 then what you will get is a loud resounding DUNG (or would the word manure be a more suitable nomenclature?). And what alot of people can’t understand is why would any Bride/Groom gamble their own wedding memories over a few extra dollars? Food gets eaten, flowers whither, wedding gown gets worn, tux gets returned, the limo drives off, the festivities come to an end, and what you have are the pictures. The pictures will be there long after all the razzle-dazzle has faded. You can’t physically relive that special day but you can always look through the wedding photos and rejoice every time.

So the Bride/Groom have come to their senses and ready to invest in a good photographer. But wait, what exactly is a good photographer? This confounding topic has intrigued artists, critics, and social scientists for years. What it comes down to, in my experience, is what a customer values. In the world of art there is something called “perceived value”. It basically means the value of a piece of art (this case a picture) that a customer places on it regardless of its true market price. If you take a famous painting like The Scream, by Edvard Munch, which is roughly priced as $120 million USD at its most recent auction – that is perceived value. It is how much a person would pay for a piece of art work. The painting itself with all the cost of oil paint, canvas, transportation, storage, handling, etc., even with inflation factored in, is probably less than a few thousands dollars. Why would anybody pay $120 million for it? Are they insane? Lol! Not really. The Mona Lisa is deemed priceless and is so precious and rare it cannot be purchased, not even governments can buy it, let alone a single wealthy art collector. This is the mechanism of perceived value at work. The value is in what the art represents to an individual or to a culture; its significance far outweighs the sum of the materials used in making it. What is the price of a picture of someone you love or miss?  You have to value that in your own heart.

I would pay any price for a picture of my grandmother. She passed on before I was born. Rumor circulating in the family has it that there were a few pictures of her taken in her youth, but they are nowhere to be found. This is the kind of value a picture has. A picture of my grandmother may mean nothing to someone else, but to me it means a world of importance. Your wedding photos may not mean much to that man standing across the street drinking starbuck’s coffee, but to you it is different. How do you value that special meaning?

Cheap-ass (frugal?) bridezillas belong in the same category as fauxtographers. Because they do not know how to value something. Fauxtographers, fronting as “pro”, charge money and basically rip people off to make a quick buck do not know how to value his customers. It is on par with a lack of responsibility. In this respect, a fauxtographer who doesn’t know how to value his customers, doesn’t know how to value the knowledge of his craft. He probably doesn’t know how to assess these values either. He won’t spend the time learning the necessary skills to improve his game. He won’t bother to do research. He won’t bother to comprehend the idea that study and practice are not just an essential part of self-improvement and for the enrichment of his business, but it is also a vital part of being responsible to his customers. All he sees is the money and all he cares is to snatch it up fast.

Now frugal (cheap-ass?) bridezillas are like the twins of fauxtographers. They come from the same mother of cheap-dom and father of imprudence; lacking both foresight and well-informed judgment. The bridezilla doesn’t know how to value things either. She doesn’t understand the cost in running a business, and the necessary costs and time in producing high quality photography. You will always hear things like, “well my cousin is studying photography in college, why should I pay you when I can just get my cousin to shoot my wedding” – right? You hear something similar to this all the time. And the catchphrase for fauxtographers is “why pay so much for your wedding photography, I can give you the same thing for less” – you hear this from low-balling fauxtographers all the time too. Simultaneously alike and yet reversed, bridezillas want to keep the money and get more for nothing while fauxtographers want to take the money and give less – and neither of them really give a (insert word)! And here lies the major paradox – it does not work! The bridezillas and the fauxtographers would both end up exhausted, feeling completely cheated and unsatisfied. And the result is 3rd-world quality photographs that are so wack they could wipe the intoxicated smile off a pothead. So when I said I have seen things that were humorously tragic and tragically humorous, this is what I was referring to. You would think this kind of thing doesn’t happen often but believe you me, it happens all the time.

It comes down to what you value. If you value money more than anything else then your path is chosen for you and the fauxtographers are waiting, because after all, they value money just as much. If you value something more sentimental, something more abstract and in the heart, then you will readily find good and honest photographers providing good and honest services. After all, boas of the same feather always hang together 🙂

I do not judge how people conduct their businesses. But I will say, for the benefit of all of us (and here is where I get all philosophical), that certain things have a reason to be a certain way. A wedding is a very important event. I liken weddings to births, having children, and deaths (and winning the lottery or seeing a UFO); these are life-changing events. There are probably more life-changing events but whatever. You can’t stop fauxtographers from operating, after all they need to eat too. And you can’t stop bridezillas from behaving their ways because they may have a budget issue or just an issue. So where’s the tissue? All is fair in love and war? It doesn’t have to be that way. I will conclude with a little appropriation by taking a famous quote from Indiana Jones The Last Crusade and making it less famous now – “You must choose, but choose wisely. For the true photog will bring you great memories, the fauxtog will take them from you” :-p

A great picture vs. a great picture of ME!

There is no shortage of skillful photogs offering their services to capture your wedding. And the diversity of individualistic styles and tastes are almost immeasurable. But one thing is certain, a wedding is about the Bride and the Groom. They are the center of attention; they are the beating heart of the party; the stars of the show, and they should definitely be the center focus of the lens. The problem arises when a photog takes precedence of his style over the Bride and Groom, by that I mean he emphasizes his photography rather than emphasizing the Bride and Groom in his photography. So “a great picture vs. a great picture of me!” is the main focus of this post. A photog may have special skills to make all his photos look like stunning replicas of Richard Avedon, but if all he can do is focus on himself then he missed a major point of being in a service-oriented industry. A wedding customer hires a photog in the good faith that he will use his craft to make them look good, not so he can satisfy his burning desire to be the next Andy Warhol.

When you look at a potential photog’s portfolio, ask yourself, “where is his center of focus?” Look at the photo above. Notice all the space that adds nothing to the image, except for…well space! Why waste all that precious real estate where it can be utilized for the Bride and Groom to make them stand out more? After all we are talking about wedding photography here, not a solo exhibition at the MOMA. Is this photographer trying to say the space is more important than the Bride and Groom because he obviously gave the negative space an overwhelming amount of focal property. Have you seen wedding photos similar to this? One may argue that it is artistic. Sure, I agree it is quite artistic – then so is wearing a Gaga-matized Meat Dress. But again, where is the center of focus? Is the photographer focused on himself (on his quest for artistic uniqueness) or is he focused on you? You will start to say to yourself – after the initial 2 seconds impression of “wow this is artistic” – wait, if I were the Bride and Groom I don’t want to be stuffed in the bottom left corner of the frame with 80% of my body cut off. This is what I mean when a photog gives priority to his idiosyncrasies over his customers’ needs; he emphasizes his photography over what he is hired to do – to make his clients look good in his photography.

Albums

Designing and producing a wedding album is really an art in itself. Aside from the aesthetics of the material, look, feel, and even the weight of the book, that you envision would gorgeously encapsulate your wedding photos, one must also grapple with the complex design layout of each page. The placement of each image and in conjunction to its surrounding images can help to tell a story or ruin it. Like Japanese Ikebana, the highly esteemed art of flower arrangement, mindful arrangement of a collection of images is an art form. And not only is placement an important element in the inception of a design, but also more subtle factors like color, size, angle, vector graphics, and even the contents of an image can be a critical and coherent fulcrum upon which a larger concept rests.

A wedding album is a telling of a story. It follows a natural course. The designer can influence how that story is told by using creative and clever visual cues. If you watch Hollywood movies you will notice many movies have a similar theme, meaning most movies out there have a central idea like love for example. And that central theme gets recycled and remade over and over again. So why are people still lining up to watch yet another love story? It is because they want to see HOW that love story is told, or for some it is how a particular actor plays that role to tell the story. We all know it’s about love but HOW it is told is what makes a story interesting. And likewise, a wedding album is of course a storybook about the marriage of two people. Sure. But the fashion with which that marriage/love story is told in the design is what gives it the potential to be an Oscar-award winning story or a b-rated flick stuck on the back shelf at some Walgreen’s $1 DVD sale.

So now on behalf of the Academy, I would like to thank….. 🙂

A Fine Art Wedding

Working on giving a fresh look to wedding photographs. There are lots of photogs shooting weddings out there and trying to find one to capture your wedding can be a stressful task. There are also tons of helpful tips to aid you in choosing the right photographer, but there is a little trick that most all online forums, blogs, and even wedding magazines don’t tell you about that can help you zero in on the perfect choice. Look for photographers that are NOT primarily wedding photogs. Why? Because your pictures will look like all the other ones he has shot and as his practice ages – well you know how cheese ages, it smells even worse. It is banal and no room for creativity and the uniqueness you deserve that reflects your wedding most likely won’t get produced. It’s not like buying a car where every model that comes off the line is exactly the same. You simply don’t want your wedding to be the same as everybody else’s. Some of the best wedding photographs I have seen come from photogs who are not wedding photogs. You definitely want a photog who has experience and technical skills but not necessarily a wedding photog to shoot your special day. If you can convince an artist whose work you like to shoot your wedding at the right price, you are in for a happy surprise!