Should I buy a “rock” – or settle for something that looks a bit smaller?
This is a tough question to answer because it depends on so many things, but somewhere in between is probably going to be the right carat weight/size for you. Your choice will involve a careful balance between budget, expectations and style:
- Your budget is the most important consideration, not forgetting how much you also want to spend on the setting.
- What are your expectations of what it should look like? What are her expectations, your family and friends’ expectations? Family and peer pressure are often difficult to withstand.
- Determine your priorities. Is the size more important to you than the quality? With a lower quality stone in terms of the 4Cs of clarity, cut or color, you can afford a higher carat weight.
- The shape of her hands and fingers. This is an important consideration! A big rock will overpower small, slender fingers.
- Your style as a couple and the message you want to send with your choice of ring. Ostentatious and “out there”? Simple and conservative?
What you’ll need to spend to get the diamond size you want.
We can’t stress the importance of setting a budget and sticking firmly to it. You do not want to go into debt before you get married. (See our previous article on this.)
We’ll go through the above considerations, one by one, but firstly let’s look at what the different carat weights can cost. Remember, carat is the WEIGHT of the diamond, not the SIZE, although we will refer to carat size in this article interchangeably with carat weight as both are accepted everyday terms.
If your budget is less than $1,000, you can still buy an understated, simple ring with a 0.10 to 0.34 carat diamond. Check out James Allen for diamonds of this size. 0.23 carat is the minimum size for diamonds at Blue Nile.
For around $1,000 will need to look at diamonds that are 0.5 carat weight. If you choose the best quality stone in terms of the color and clarity 4C grading, you can get a sparkling, beautiful stone. Punch it up with a halo setting to make it even look bigger, if you like.
At the $2,000 budget level, a 0.75 carat diamond always makes a lovely choice for an engagement ring.
For $3,000 – $4000 go for a 0.9 carat stone. Here’s why. A 0.9 carat stone will generally cost less than a 1.0 carat – and you will never be able to tell the difference. The most popular weight for a diamond is 1.0 carat, so you will see a big price increase at this weight, especially if it is a round brilliant. Expect to pay at least $4,500 for a good quality diamond of this size.
1.25 carat rings are notably bigger than 1.0 carat, and they are not usually as popular. You’ll need to pay around $6,500 for a good quality one – or approximately $4,000 if you are prepared to compromise on color or clarity.
A high quality 1.50 carat round brilliant diamond will set you back around $9,000. A lower quality one at this weight will be about $6,000.
A 2.00 carat diamond is starting to get into the very noticeable category – and because at a larger carat weight, it is increasingly difficult to find a diamond with exceptional clarity and color. A diamond of this size will be at the $16,000 or above level. Compromising on color and clarity will get you one at around $10,000.
A good quality 3.0 carat diamond sets you back approximately $35,000; a lesser quality one will be around $25,000.
And 5.0 carats? A good one can cost you up to $100,000 or more.
Now we are getting into the movie star/celebrity range. Paris Hilton’s engagement ring was 22 carats at a hefty price tag of $2.5 million. Mariah Carey was given a 35-carat ring costing a cool $10 million by Kerry Packer. Neither relationship lasted, by the way, so it is obviously not the size of the stone that counts in a long-term relationship.
You’ll want to be way more budget conscious, we’re sure.
Carat Size vs Clarity, Cut, & Color
So, is bigger better?
Not necessarily. The problem with buying a “rock” is that the larger the diamond, the more likely it is to have imperfections or yellowish tints which are more visible than with a smaller stone. The bigger the stone, the more attention it gets and the more visible are its blemishes.
Size vs. Clarity
If you are trying to save money on the clarity 4C, for example with a grading of VS2/SI1, choose a smaller stone, because it is likely to have fewer inclusions. Still insist on getting a big diamond? Pick one that is eye-clean in terms of clarity so no-one, but a gemologist will be able to see its imperfections.
Check out our guide on diamond clarity if you would like to learn more.
Size vs Cut
Should you compromise on your diamond’s cut in order to afford a larger carat weight? Depending on your criteria, the cut of a diamond is generally more important than its size. This is because the cut determines how brilliant the diamond is. A great cut lets light in and out of the stone reflecting off its facets and giving it that unmistakable sparkle and brilliance. If you can imagine it, think about a 0.9 well cut diamond that shines beautifully, compared with a 1.75 carat stone that is badly cut, dull and unattractive looking. We think you’ll probably go with the smaller one.
Check out our guide on diamond cut if you would like to learn more.
Size vs Color
Again, depending on your priorities, the color of your diamond may be more important than its size/weight. However, if you don’t mind a lower grade color, you’ll find plenty of larger diamonds with a hint of discoloration such as yellowish or even at the lowest end, brownish tints.
Most people prefer the look of an icy white diamond which is more affordable in a lower carat weight.
Check out our guide on diamond color if you would like to learn more.
- A bigger carat weight does not necessarily mean that the diamond looks bigger.
- A bigger carat weight does not necessarily make the diamond more beautiful.
- A bigger carat weight does not make the diamond sparkle more.
Consider Hand and Finger Shape
This is also a consideration. Does she have longer slender fingers, short fingers, big knuckles or petite hands? Some designs and carat sizes will look good on the different finger and hand types, and some will not. If you want to check out how a certain carat size will look on your finger, James Allen has a useful Carat Weight tool, which shows different carat sizes using a sketch.
For very short fingers – go with no more than a 1.0 carat elongated shape like a marquise or a pear, plus a thin band.
For long fingers – any shape looks good, including the classic round brilliant. Size dependent on your budget. Intricate and extravagant rings also look good on long fingers.
For short, wide fingers, a larger carat ring, or a halo ring will work best as you need something larger to offset the short, fat shape. A small carat ring will make the fingers look shorter.
For large, wide fingers, choose a raise prong setting or split shank to make the finger look narrower. Don’t choose a large carat, square or rectangular shaped diamond. Also don’t choose a wide band as this will not flatter large fingers.
For petite fingers, go for small, delicate, pave settings. A smaller carat weight diamond will look bigger on petite fingers.
For large knuckles – choose a larger carat, 3-stone ring to detract away from the knuckles.
For large hands – look for bigger finger coverage with a larger carat center diamond. Don’t buy a thin or minimalist band.
For small hands – Smaller carat size diamonds will suit small hands better. Don’t overwhelm her hand with a large stone. Simple solitaires work best for this hand type.
Bear in mind her personal taste and lifestyle. If she is a sporty outdoor type – and would like to wear her ring every day, a large carat diamond might not be the most practical for her as it will tend to catch on clothing.
James Allen has a cool virtual ring “Try-On” which allows you to see what a ring will look like on your actual finger. You take a picture of your hand with the “Try-On” icon next to a ring you are considering, and it will appear on your finger.
Cut & Style
The most popular shape for an engagement ring diamond is the round brilliant, which has cutting standards dictated by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). It has 58 facets and a cone shape which ensures maximum light return through the top of the diamond.
It is also the most expensive cut because of its popularity and the loss of more rough diamond in order to cut it into a round shape. For example, approximately 50% of the rough stone is lost during a round brilliant cutting, compared with much less in a square or rectangular shaped one.
Tip: You can often get away with a lower carat round brilliant, as this cut enlarges the diamond’s sparkle and look. Round brilliants are more often seen in the classic engagement ring look – that is, a simple, elegant solitaire.
Some fancy shaped diamonds appear larger than round cuts, so you can compromise on carat size and still get a jaw-dropping ring.
There are 9 fancy shapes for diamonds; these are Emerald, Asscher, Princess, Radiant, Cushion, Marquise, Oval, Pear and Heart. (See our previous article on diamond cuts)
Each one has its own distinctive characteristics – and because of the way they are cut, they can often give you the illusion of a larger carat weight than they actually are, at a substantially lower cost. Check out some of the cuts mentioned below to save money.
- Princess cut diamonds cost 25%-30% less than a round cut of the same carat weight.
- Marquise cut diamonds have the largest face-up area of all cuts, at 10-25% less than round diamonds of the same carat weight.
- Asscher cut diamonds have a distinctive, Art Deco, vintage look, at up to 43% less than rounds.
- Emerald cut diamonds, with their long flat table, look larger than their carat weight would indicate and again, they are a great value per carat.
- Oval cut diamonds are 10%-30% cheaper than rounds with an approximate 8% larger face-up area.
- Radiant cuts can cost 20-39% less than rounds; an elongated radiant cut also looks larger than a round.
Tips to Make Carat Size Appear Larger
- Halo orpavé settings surrounding a center stone make it look much bigger than its carat size.
- A thin band will make the center stone look bigger in comparison.
- Choose a setting with slender/fewer prongs to make the stone look bigger.
- Choose a bright, white metal band.
- Go for a three-stone setting, with smaller side stones so the center one looks bigger.
Yes, but don’t all women expect a large flashy ring? Shouldn’t I buy the most ostentatious ring I can afford? A bigger diamond is a direct reflection of our love, isn’t it? Our friends bought a 2- carat whopper. Shouldn’t I get one like that, so I don’t look cheap in comparison?
It’s totally up to you, of course.
However, unless you are a Hollywood celebrity with a bottomless wallet, we recommend you have a discussion about budget with your significant other before you get engaged, even if the ring is to be a surprise. If you both have an agreement upfront about expenditures for the engagement, the wedding and your future lives together you will not make a mistake and go overboard with something you can’t afford. And you will respect each other for being responsible.
You are also both likely to suffer from peer pressure, or your families’ expectations about the size of the diamond you buy. No doubt you have friends whose engagement ring sets the bar far higher than you can ever attempt to match. Your families will also have their own opinions about what you should buy.
Try to resist the pressure and ignore them. It’s about YOU, not them. And no, a small diamond does not mean you do not love each other as much as the couple that has a larger one. It just means that you may have different (and probably smarter) priorities.
In the US, the average diamond carat size for an engagement ring is 1.0 carat. Couples in New York and L.A. typically spend more than that, but there is no need to feel pressured into spending more than you need to. It is up to you to spend what you feel comfortable with – and this is a decision that only you, or you as a couple need to make.
An engagement ring symbolizes a promise you have both made to each other, so whether that promise is sealed with a 2.0 carat diamond or a .20 carat one, it is completely up to you. A diamond is not directly related to the depth of your commitment to each other.
Remember, size isn’t everything.