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Q: My fiancee and I are shopping for a diamond. What should a man consider spending on an engagement ring? What determines how much a diamond is worth?

A: The Jewelers of America, a trade group in New York, suggests that the buyer of a diamond engagement ring should consider paying two months' salary for it. Remember that it is a once-in-a-lifetime purchase that will last.The value of a diamond is determined by what the jewelry industry calls the "Four Cs": carat weight, color, clarity and cut.

The carat is the unit of weight used for diamonds. There are 142 carats to an ounce.

Grading a cut stone for color means deciding how much it deviates from a colorless stone. The best way to see the true color of a diamond is to look at it against a white surface. Although most diamonds are a shade of white, they do come in colors. These are called "fancies" and are valued for their depth of color, just as white diamonds are valued for their lack of color.

A diamond's clarity is determined by the absence of "inclusions" (nature's birthmarks) and surface irregularities. Under Federal Trade Commission rules, a diamond can be called "flawless" only when no imperfections are visible to the trained eye under 10-power magnification and in good light.

"Cut" deals with the shape of the diamond. Traditional shapes are round, emerald, marquise, pear, oval and heart.

Diamonds are cut according to an exacting mathematical formula. A finished diamond has 58 "facets" (small, flat, polished planes cut into a diamond so the maximum amount of light is reflected to the viewer's eye). This reflection is called "brilliance" and is important in evaluating the quality of a diamond.

Jewelers of America says it is vital that you purchase your diamond from a local jeweler whom you know and trust. Ask questions. A reputable jeweler will explain why diamonds that appear to be virtually identical may show a wide range of value.