Rules for rock-solid romance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 February, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 February, 1997, 12:00am

SO you got caught up in the romance of Valentine's Day, popped the question and need to seal the deal with a diamond? Fear not. Though an engagement ring is a big, scary investment, it could pay dividends - emotional ones if you pick the right woman, and financial ones if you pick the right rock.

Newly betrothed couples usually do not know much about gems when they start making the rounds of jewellery shops, and the soon-to-be groom often buys the ring with little guidance. But the task can be made less daunting by a few basic pointers.

For starters, check for what Tiffany & Co dubs the 'Four Cs': cut, clarity, colour and carat weight.

Cut determines a diamond's brilliance because each of the stone's facets acts as a light-dispersing mirror.

Pressed to choose, the New York-based jeweller - which claims to have sold more diamond engagement rings than anyone else in the world - says cut is the most critical C.

'A word of caution: few diamonds are cut to the proper proportions. The vast majority are 'spread'. This means that the cutter has cut the stone to maximise weight,' Tiffany says in its how-to booklet for diamond buyers.

'Beauty and brilliance are sacrificed for size, and the customer is unknowingly paying for this 'extra padding'.' The second C, clarity, refers to the minute crystals, feathers and clouds - called inclusions - that are present in nearly every diamond. The third, colour, is recognition of the fact that most diamonds carry slight traces of yellow or brown, even if they appear colourless to the untrained eye.

Finally, carat weight - one carat is equal to one-fifth of a gram - is the standard measure of a diamond's size.

However, if you are the type who goes straight to the bottom line, then look beyond the four Cs. Where you buy the engagement ring can be as important as its stone.

The wise buyer will consider the artistry of the setting and the reputation of the maker.

Pieces by some of the world's most renowned jewellers will go under the hammer at a four-day auction in St Moritz later this month. Creations by Bulgari and Van Cleef & Arples will undoubtedly command big prices.

One Bulgari piece, a yellow square-cut diamond weighing 6.2 carats, is expected to fetch about US$90,000. Other items will include Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces, whose highly collectible designs make them popular, and expensive.

On Thursday in London, Sotheby's will devote an auction to rings, with items from the Victorian, Edwardian and later periods. Hong Kong buyers can fax in bids.

Asian money has become increasingly important in the diamond market, keeping it afloat when recession hit the traditional collectors.

Last April, Hong Kong was the site of Asia's hottest diamond bidding to date when a marquise-cut 22-carat stone sold for more than HK$6.8 million at a Christie's auction.

Still, this pales in comparison with the highest price paid at auction for a diamond: the Star of the Season, a flawless 100-carat stone, sold in May 1995 for US$16.5 million.