Understanding Diamond Carat: Everything You Need to Know

Do NOT buy a diamond engagement ring before you read this easy, plain English guide.

If you’re like most people shopping for a diamond for the first time, you’re probably making this mistake. Are you looking for a diamond with a specific Carat weight, first and foremost?

Diamond Carat Weight Isn’t Always the Most Important Aspect of an Engagement Ring

That’s right. It’s a mistake to put carat weight at the top of your list of qualities in a diamond.

I’ll tell you why in just a minute. You’ll think, “Why didn’t I think of that? So obvious!”

But it’s not obvious, if you’re new to all this. Almost everyone makes this mistake, at least at first, and until or unless they talk to an expert willing to act only in their interest, like a buyer’s real estate agent does.

Most people ask first about the carat weight of a diamond because it’s frontloaded in advertisements and product descriptions. An unhealthy cycle perpetuates this misplaced emphasis on Carat weight. Advertisers and retailers emphasize Carat weight because it’s what people ask about first. People ask about it because it’s featured in ads.

The fundamental reason is that Carat weight is objective. It’s easier to grasp than Color, Clarity, or Cut. Advertisers can speak directly to the one thing people are sure to understand, even if they don’t know anything else about diamonds except that their sizes are expressed in Carat weight.

It’s the most basic, understandable information about a diamond. Does this remind you of how the first thing people want to know about a baby, after its sex, is “How much does the baby weigh?”

That’s the least important thing about a person. But it’s one of the few things you can say about them when you’re absolutely new to that person.

A baby has a personality already. A baby is more or less conscious, although in its infancy. They have innumerable qualities already, which are individual, idiosyncratic personal. People have no way of beginning to talk about these qualities because the baby is entirely new to them. So they talk about the weight and length of the baby.

Just as with babies, even when they’re brand new in the world and unknown, the weight of diamond is one of the least important qualities.

There is much more to know about a diamond, and much more important things to know about it, before you take it into your family, than how much it weighs.

Let’s find out what these are, and how to evaluate a diamond quickly for possible purchase.

Why Is It a Mistake to Put Carat Weight at the Top of Your List of Qualities to Look for in a Diamond?

The most important quality of a diamond is how it handles light, otherwise known as its fire, brilliance, or sparkle.

And that is determined by how well it is cut – diamond Cut is not the same as diamond shape.

This mistake is made by many people. They end up with a larger diamond, all right. But it’s a diamond with less sparkle than they could have had. A much less impressive diamond.

That’s fine. It’s their diamond engagement ring and it means the world to them. But — just between us — it could have been much better if they’d read this article first.

  • Many people end up with a large, rather dull diamond, because they mistakenly think that the size of a diamond is the most important quality.
  • Plus they see they can “save money” by choosing a diamond with much worse cut, but extra carat weight.
  • They legitimately think (and who can blame them) that the larger a diamond is, the more fire, or brilliance, or sparkle it has.
  • Nothing could be further from the truth. The size of a diamond is irrelevant to the way it handles light.

And you know what? They end up — for decades — with a rather large, glassy looking, dull rock on their finger. In some ways, at least to the snobs and the connoisseurs, the larger size makes it worse, because it’s just more obvious that they naively chose size over brilliance.

  • Not that anyone would say that to them.
  • And maybe most people wouldn’t even notice.
  • But now, having read this bit of expert advice, you would notice.
  • So you’ll avoid the mistake.

 Especially if you take my specific advice, just below, on how to compare diamonds at James Allen, which has exceptional imaging quality for looking at diamonds. 

If they’d only known what to prioritize — cut — they would have had a slightly smaller, but much more lively and beautiful diamond.

How to Get the Largest Diamond for the Least Amount of Money

Pour a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, or a mug of beer, and get ready for an enjoyable hunt.

Set a timer for 30 minutes, an hour, or even 90 minutes. Make it only as long as you’ll enjoy doing some interesting and enlightening window shopping for diamonds.

When you’re comfortable, open up a new tab in your browser.

Go to James Allen.

Ready? This is what you’re looking for. You’re looking for white diamonds that meet all these three qualifications:

  1. CLARITY: They are “Eye clean” in Clarity. (“Eye Clean” means a diamond has some flaws which brings its Clarity grade down, but the flaws are invisible to the naked eye, when it’s viewed from a natural distance on someone’s hand.)
    1. To find a diamond that is “eye clean,” look for S1 and better clarity diamonds. And click on “Super Zoom” below the product image. (See this article on Clarity, if you have any doubt about what I’m saying. Understanding Diamond Clarity quickly is a lot easier than you may think.)
    2. You’ll see some “inclusions” (flaws) in S1 diamonds. If you can see inclusions from the top of the diamond, go to the next one. If you can see inclusions from the side or bottom of the diamond, but not from the top, then you’ve found an eye clean diamond.
    3. You’re looking for diamonds which have flaws, but the flaws aren’t visible from the top. These are known as “eye clean” diamonds.
    4. You can spot these flaws in James Allen’s imaging, with just a few minutes of looking at various levels of clarity. Look for diamonds of Clarity S1, VS2, and VS1.
    5. That’s where you’ll find some cost savings, because these diamonds have flaws. But some of them have flaws which are visible from underneath the diamond, but not from above it.
    6. When such a diamond is mounted on a ring, and worn on a hand, no one ever sees the flaws. The flaws lower the price of the diamond when you buy it. They’re priced in. But the flaws are invisible in the real world.
    7. These are “eye clean” diamonds. And this is a fun game to play at James Allen — looking for “eye clean” diamonds among the Clarity grades of S1, VS2, and VS1. You don’t have to buy them! Just save them as favorites. You’re going to know 1,000% more about diamonds, experiencing them in this way even for just 30 minutes.
  2. COLOR: The diamonds you’re hunting for should also have an H, I, or J Color grade. (This brings down the price, compared to G or higher colors, up to the top color — which is perfectly colorless — of D. See this article on Color if you need a full, quick understanding of Diamond Color.)
  3. CUT: And finally, the diamonds you’re looking for should also have a GIA (Gemological Institute of America) Cut grade scale of Very Good or Excellent, or else the AGS (American Gemological Society) Cut grade scale of Ideal.
  4. CARAT weight: Now feel free to select as heavy a carat weight from among these diamonds as your budget allows. Carat weight is important, yes! But it’s the last of the 4 C’s to consider.

When you find a diamond which meets all three of the first three criteria, then choose a Carat weight that matches your budget, then you can know that you’ve very likely found a great buy.

It’s not a bargain. Don’t think in terms of bargains in diamonds. They don’t exist. There are no real bargains in diamonds themselves. Their prices hew very close to market prices, because diamonds are strictly graded and known. (There are sales and bargains on settings, but almost never on diamonds themselves.)

So, it’s not a bargain, but it’s very likely an excellent choice for you. Why?

Because you hunted individual diamonds of Very Good or Excellent cut, which is the most important factor in a diamond. (Cut determines fire and brilliance.)

You cleared some room in your budget by going slightly lower on Clarity and Color.

And only then did you adjust as high in Carat weight as your budget allows.

The Carats Don’t All Have to Be in One Single Stone

Don’t forget to consider a cluster diamond engagement ring. A cluster arrangement, one type of which is the popular floral diamond engagement ring, has smaller diamonds in pleasing arrangements in a beautiful setting.

Selected with care — much care, because there can be several diamonds on such a ring, not just one — cluster diamond engagement rings can truly provide an eye-catching fireworks show of sparkling brilliance and fire.

As with any diamond or cluster of diamonds, you have to choose only diamonds of Good, Very Good, or Excellent cut.

Remember that Cut determines brilliance, the most important quality in a diamond.

These smaller diamonds always create much more beauty and allure, clustered together, than a single diamond of inferior cut.

Final Thoughts

Now you know why Carat weight is the last of the 4 C’s of diamonds that you should filter for, when you’re shopping for a diamond engagement ring.

Carat weight is important. It’s one of the 4 C’s after all. But by focusing on it last, you’ll get a better diamond for you, at a better price for you.

If You Have Any Questions

If you have questions, or requests, never hesitate to contact us. We’re here to assist you, as your advisor. We have a passion for helping you as a first-time diamond ring buyer to make a good decision for you, at a price that fits what you’ve budgeted, without making a mistake, or getting ripped off.