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Buying a Diamond: Does Size Really Matter?

Hung up on size? Get the scoop on how to buy a diamond that expresses how big your love is.

How big? It’s often the foremost question in the minds of nervous diamond engagement ring shoppers, yet you’ll notice jewelry store salespeople have a hard time answering this question.

It depends, they tell you. You have to work within your budget.

That’s technically the right answer. The “it depends” approach actually gives you a lot of flexibility when buying a center stone diamond for an engagement ring. The 4Cs of diamond buying — carat weight, cut, color and clarity — let you mix and match different characteristics of a diamond to get the best bang for your buck, so to speak.

You can make a big impression with your diamond engagement ring by choosing a well-cut center stone flanked or surrounded by smaller and less expensive diamonds.

Still, the diamond engagement ring is the expression of your commitment, the symbol of how big your love is. With all the factors you must consider when buying a diamond, that nagging question still remains: Will the diamond I buy be big enough?

It’s not all about the carat weight

The diamond industry has done a fantastic job of educating consumers over the years about the 4Cs, but the carat weight “C” is simplest to understand because it’s the easiest to spot. People equate carat weight with the “size” of a diamond. When they spot a sensational rock on a woman’s hand, they immediately wonder: How many carats is that diamond?

The truth is, you can achieve some of that same impact and dazzle by focusing on other diamond factors, including:


The way a diamond is cut and proportioned affects how the light shines through it. In round diamonds, well-cut diamonds tend to be more expensive, but they also sparkle more, allowing you to compromise on carat weight and still get impact.


If you’re going for the illusion of size, a fancy-shape diamond such as emerald, pear or marquise gives you a larger table size, or top surface area. This makes the diamond look larger, regardless of carat weight.


Diamonds are graded on how white they are: a D grade is the whitest; a Z grade is yellow, brown or gray. Most diamonds sold range between F and J. While a whiter diamond doesn’t necessarily compensate for size, it makes for a more beautiful and impressive diamond. However, differences between color grades are very slight and hard to see with the naked eye, which means you can compromise a little on color and still buy a beautiful diamond.


This “C” measures how many surface blemishes or internal “inclusions,” a diamond has. Very large inclusions can be visible to the eye and potentially block light flowing through the diamond, but some inclusions don’t really affect diamond quality. One way to save money when buying a diamond is to focus on well-cut diamonds of good color that have a lower clarity grade. 

Go for steak and sizzle

As you see from the above points, diamond quality matters just as much, if not more, than size — in fact, the bigger the diamond, the more poor quality shows. If your budget requires you to make tradeoffs, always err on the side of quality.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make a big impression with your diamond engagement ring. For example, you might consider a high-quality (but smaller carat weight) center stone flanked or surrounded by smaller and less expensive diamonds. This can create the big wow factor you’re looking for, while still working within your budget.

Some settings, such as a halo, can also make diamonds appear larger.

Study her style and personality

Men, you aren’t asked to be fashion connoisseurs often, but this is the moment it matters. Pay attention to how your fiancée dresses and the choices she makes. Does she prefer big, chunky jewelry or simple basics? Loud prints or muted colors? The highest of high heels or mostly flat, comfortable shoes? Her style can give you clues about the size and style of diamond ring that she will love and be excited to wear every day.

Also think about who she is. Does she like to make a splash or is she understated and quiet? She may prefer a small, simple ring (and feel embarrassed by one that’s too big) or she may be drawn to a ring with more prominence and dazzle. Remember, she’ll wear this ring every day for much of her life — so it should reflect her taste and personality.

Environment matters 

Where you live and work can play a big role in the importance of size in a ring. While the average carat weight throughout the United States is a little more than one carat, engagement ring diamonds tend to be larger in big cities, such as New York, where there is more of a focus on fashion, status and dressing up for special occasions.

Think about your soon-to-be fiancée’s lifestyle:

  • Does she work in a high-profile job — as an executive or a salesperson who needs to appear successful? If so, the size of her diamond might matter very much to her overall image.
  • Does she spend the day working with her hands, as a chef, landscape architect, graphic designer or comparable career? She’ll most likely have to remove a large diamond to avoid banging it against things or distracting her from her work.
  • Does she travel internationally, or work in situations where she might put herself at risk by wearing an obviously large diamond ring? Consider whether a more discreet diamond size might be the safer option for her.

If you put careful thought into choosing the diamond engagement ring that best represents your fiancée-to-be — her tastes, personality and environment — you can be confident that you’ve selected a diamond engagement ring that she’ll love wearing every day of your new life together. 

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