This Is What a Diamond Looks Like at Every Size—from .5 Carats to 10
This visual guide will help you better understand engagement ring stones.
Many future brides will tell you that they already have their dream engagement ring picked out. Though their visions differ in terms of cut, one thing is usually pretty universal—the size of the diamond is often on the larger side. If you fall into this camp, we hear you. The bigger the diamond, the prettier and more radiant it is, right? According to Olivia Landau, expert 4th-generation gemologist and founder of the custom engagement ring company The Clear Cut, the answer to this isn't clear-cut at all.
To clarify, we worked with Landau to bring you this visual guide to diamond carat size, so you'll be able to envision exactly what that one-, two-, three, four- (and beyond!) carat engagement ring will look like before hitting the stores. There are, however, a few things you need to take into account that go beyond or even supersede carat size, says Landau. Most importantly? No two cuts carry their weight the same way, which means that a one-carat round stone will look infinitely different than an emerald-cut rock. There are also so many factors that go into a great diamond—all of which are summed up in the stone's overall grade.
Regardless of the carat size you're shopping for, you'll want to familiarize yourself with jeweler jargon, so you can best understand why two same-weight stones might have different presentations and price points. That means reading up on terms like "cut," "clarity," "inclusions," and "color." Luckily, Landau also walked us through the gemologist's complete vocabulary. Ahead, your engagement ring required reading.
A diamond that's less than a carat doesn't have to feel (or look!) small, says Landau. It all comes down to choosing a shape that magnifies the rock, whatever its size. "If you only have the budget to purchase less than a carat, go for a round or oval cut," she explains. As for a shape to avoid when purchasing a smaller stone? "Don't go emerald."
It's important to remember that a 1-carat round diamond is going to visually differ by cut. This means that an asscher-shaped stone will present differently than a princess-cut rock, even if they share the same weight. "People directly correlate carat weight to its looks, and while this is more or less true with rounds, other shapes aren't impacted just by carat size—it's also about dimensions," says Landau.
If your budget prevents you from hitting that 2-carat mark, there's a way to make an in-between stone (a diamond that's around 1.5-carats, for instance!) appear larger. "If you want to make your diamond look bigger, either set your diamond with side stones or with a halo," says Landau. "A halo is like a push-up bra for a diamond—it'll make the stone look a carat to a carat-and-a-half larger than it actually is."
This particular size is often the sweet spot for brides-to-be, explains Landau (at The Clear Cut, most fiancées envision something between 1.5-2.5 carats). But the biggest mistake an engagement ring shopper could make, she says, is getting bogged down by the weight. "Don't go in with a carat number, fall in love with something smaller, and pass it up," she advises. "Believe it or not, you just might find a 1.9-carat that looks bigger than a 2-carat—you have to have flexibility."
If you're shopping for a larger-sized stone (which starts at around the 2.5-carat mark), you'll want to make sure the diamond you purchase lives up to its price tag—and this has everything to do with determining appropriate dimension. "If a stone is shallow, it might appear larger than it is, but often won't look as vibrant, or won't reflect light well," the jeweler says. "If a stone is too deep, it'll appear small."
A 3-carat diamond is quite the investment—and, like all financial decisions, you want to ensure that the venture is sound. The best way to do that? "Shop for diamonds when they're loose," advises Landau. "A lot of settings can alter a diamond's appearance. You're investing in the stone, not the setting."
Whatever carat weight you're considering, you'll want to ask your jeweler about the diamond's clarity, says Landau. This value takes into account the stone's inclusions, which are the natural particles that get caught as the diamond forms under pressure. These inclusions (they can be as obvious as a black dot in the center of the diamond or completely unnoticeable) are factored into the diamond's overall grade—which ultimately impacts the price.
According to Landau, there's no such thing as too big a diamond—but she knows they're not for everyone. "It's so personal and it ultimately comes down to your lifestyle," she says. "To some, a 5-carat ring is so big it looks fake. For others, there's no limit."
A larger stone naturally prompts questions about quality versus quantity. Should you choose a smaller ring with exceptional quality or a larger one with a lower overall grade? That's another personal choice, she says, especially since overall "quality" is a multi-pronged question. "Quality grades mean different things for different cuts," explains Landau, who recommends talking to your jeweler about how color and clarity impact your cut of choice.
Splurging on a rock that's 7 whole carats might make you conservative with your shape choice. But cut popularity is changing all the time, says Landau. "Marquis-cut stones were really popular over 20 years ago, fell out of favor, and are now on the rise," she says. Another hot-right-now shape? Pears, which have graced the left-hand ring finger of many recent celebrities, including Paris Hilton, Sophie Turner, Cardi B, and Ariana Grande.
When your job is sourcing, designing, and setting diamonds (especially ones like this 8-carat beauty!), you probably have solid idea of what your own future engagement ring—and its carat size—will look like, right? For Landau, this isn't the case. "I have no idea! I'm always envisioning something different," she says. "I'm personally torn. I gravitate towards oval or an elongated antique cushion cut, though."
Small-handed girls, a diamond like this 9-carat whopper will likely dominate the majority of the space between the base of your finger and first knuckle.
Think a 10-carat diamond is big? Landau once tried on a rock that was around 40: "It was an antique cushion cut and it was like wearing boulder on your hand!"
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