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Ask a Diamond Pro: What Should I Focus on With Smaller Diamonds?

By Mike Fried,

We’re often contacted by readers interested in buying smaller diamonds. Choosing something smaller is great if you have a limited budget, or if you’re looking for an engagement ring that’s more discreet and less visible to others.

Recently, a reader contacted us asking about whether they should look for a certain color grade when choosing a smaller diamond. Our answer was that cut is the most important quality to look for in a diamond of any size, including a small one, and that color isn’t as much of a priority. 

Here’s the reader’s full message:

“Hi, first of all, thank you for a great site!

I’m looking to buy a solitaire engagement ring in white gold with a smaller stone, 0,35-0,45 ct (round). I know you mostly advise people interested in larger stones, but the key word here is discrete but still sparkly.

My question is regarding color, should I think any differently compared to buying a larger diamond? Should I go higher on the color scale, or lower?

Budget is not really a constraint, size is. But I still want to make the best deal on the stone we choose and not waste money on features we won’t be able to appreciate!”

This reader’s question is a good one, and it presents a great opportunity to talk about what you should look for when you’re shopping for a smaller diamond in the sub-0.50 carat range on sites like James Allen or Blue Nile

Small diamond engagement ring 0.50ct
A half a carat diamond solitaire engagement ring from James Allen

What to Look For in a Smaller Diamond

As we often say, the best way to buy a diamond is to put as much of your budget as possible towards the parts that you’ll notice, all while minimizing the amount you spend on things that just aren’t that important. 

This generally means focusing on cut quality and carat weight, then choosing a diamond with color and clarity grades that are good enough that it appears colorless and eye-clean. 

Diamond cut quality is somewhat complex, and something we’ve discussed in more detail further down the page. However, carat weight is simple. As the GIA explains, a metric “carat” is defined as 200 milligrams. This means that a 0.40 carat diamond, which is right in the middle of this reader’s preferred size range, weighs approximately 80 milligrams.

Since this reader asked about color grades, let’s start with color. The color of a diamond refers to how clear or yellow it is. Diamonds with very high color grades (D, E or F) usually appear to be totally colorless, while diamonds with poor color grades can have a yellow appearance.

Diamond color chart

When it comes to color, there’s no real difference between buying a small diamond and a large one, especially in the round brilliant cut. In general, we recommend buying a diamond with the lowest grade that still appears colorless when it’s in a setting.

For a white gold or platinum setting, this usually means a great of H to J for a round brilliant cut diamond, or slightly higher for step cut diamonds. Since a yellow gold setting will give any stone a noticeable tint, it’s okay to drop down to an even lower color grade for this type of setting.

Our guide to diamond color goes into more detail about the importance of color and provides a list of specific color grade recommendations for different diamond shapes. 

Likewise, when it comes to diamond clarity, your focus should be on picking a diamond that’s eye-clean, meaning it appears free of inclusions when viewed with your eye. 

With a smaller diamond, this process becomes easier, as the smaller size of the diamond helps to disguise inclusions. For a, more or less, 1/2 carat diamond in a round cut, a clarity grade of VS2 or SI1 will generally provide an eye-clean diamond.

A half a carat SI1 diamond in a rose gold solitaire setting from James Allen.

So, if the goal with diamond color and clarity is to avoid overpaying for something unnoticeable, what exactly should you prioritize? The answer, just like with larger diamonds, is cut.

When it comes to providing a diamond with its beauty, cut quality is by far the most important of the diamond 4 Cs. A well cut small diamond will look brilliant, whereas a poorly cut larger diamond will appear dull and much less impressive, even if it’s double the carat weight. 

We suggest limiting your selection to diamonds with a cut quality grade of “Excellent” (if GIA) or “Ideal” (if AGS). 

Cut is so important because it has a huge impact on a diamond’s appearance. A diamond with a high cut grade will have facets that are proportional, allowing it to take in and reflect a significant amount of light. This gives the diamond its brilliance and light return.

Diamonds cuts scheme and their brilliance

This is particularly valuable for a small diamond, as a good cut quality can help a modestly sized diamond appear impressive.

With this in mind, let’s say you’re shopping for a $1,000 engagement ring. Like this reader, you’re interested in a diamond that’s discreet but beautiful with a total carat weight of 0.50 carat or less. 

Within this range, you can find some stunning diamonds, such as this 0.44 carat, H color, VS2 clarity, round cut diamond from James Allen for $940, or this equally gorgeous 0.45 carat, H color, SI1 clarity, round cut diamond from Blue Nile for $922. 

Both of these diamonds will look gorgeous in any setting, and both are available for well below $1,000 each. 

To emphasize the extra value for money that’s offered by choosing non-perfect color and clarity grades, let’s adjust our search a little bit and look for diamonds of the same size that have color grades in the D, E or F range and flawless clarity (IF or FL).

From James Allen, we can find this 0.45 carat, F color, IF clarity, round diamond for $1,537. It’s undoubtedly a beautiful diamond, but it’s a full 38% more expensive than the VS2 clarity, H color diamond, all with little visible difference.

The lesson? Cut quality comes first when choosing a diamond of any size, since it’s by far the most consequential of the four Cs. Then, select a diamond that appears colorless in relation to its setting and eye-clean. 

In the end, our reader selected a beautiful 0.36 carat, H color, VS1 clarity diamond from James Allen. His wife-to-be loved it, and despite the diamond’s modest carat weight, they commented that it was sparkly and eye-catching. 

Our Recommendation

You don’t need to buy a large diamond to have a stunning, beautiful engagement ring. However, you do need to know what to prioritize. In just about every case, this means selecting a diamond with Excellent or Ideal cut quality, then treating color and clarity as secondary priorities. 

Choosing a small diamond has several advantages, from saving money to creating a ring that’s discreet, elegant and tasteful. Do it the right way and you’ll end up with a stunning diamond at a great price, as well as a timeless ring that your partner is sure to love.

If you’re looking for a smaller diamond and need help, feel free to contact us to talk to our team of diamond experts and receive personalized recommendations.

James Allen James Allen is the leader in online diamond sales. Their imaging technology is the same as inspecting a diamond with a jeweler's loupe. They have the largest exclusive loose diamond inventory online and fantastic prices. They also have the nicest collection of lab-created diamonds online.
What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. James Allen will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free International Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisals
  • One free resizing within 60 days of purchase
  • Free ring inscriptions
  • Best-in-class high quality imagery of all diamonds in stock
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • Best-in-class packaging
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Blue Nile Blue Nile is the largest and most well known internet jewelry seller. They have a very large exclusive online inventory. Their high quality images are catching up to James Allens' and their prices are amazing.Save 25% on settings at Blue Nile!

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What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. Blue Nile will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisal
  • One free resizing within the first year of purchase
  • High quality images of about half of their diamonds
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • 100% credit towards future upgrades (must be at least double in value)
  • Best in class fulfillment
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