Ask a Diamond Pro: Buying an Oval Diamond for $20,000

Michael Fried
Michael Fried

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Recently, a reader emailed us asking for help buying an oval cut diamond. They wanted a 1.5 to 2.0 carat diamond without an obvious bow-tie effect. They also had several questions about the correct cut, girdle size and inclusions that could affect the diamond’s appearance. 

We helped this reader find a beautiful oval cut diamond within their price range, and also helped them to avoid a few mistakes common to oval cut diamonds.

Here’s the reader’s full message:

“Hi Diamond Pro, 

My boyfriend and I have started looking at diamonds together so he (and I) can better understand what kind of engagement ring I want. My favorite shape, by far, is the oval but I do not like the bow-tie effect (I understand that the bow tie effect is almost inevitable with an oval). So we want to minimize the bow tie effect while maximizing brilliance. Here is the range of diamonds that we have been looking at: 

Carat: 1.5-2.0 / Clarity: VS2 – VVS1 / Color: G – D 

I have found some diamonds within this range that appear to have minimal bow-ties. I would greatly appreciate any feedback/guidance that you can provide.

Also, I had several questions: 

1. In reviewing the diamonds on James Allen’s website, I noticed that the diamonds are laid down on their side for the 360 view. Does that affect one’s ability to discern how the bow-tie effect will look once the diamond is mounted? 

2. One thing that we have been told to look for diamonds that are well-placed (e.g. that are not on the table; and are on the pavilion or lower girdle) so that the inclusions do not affect the brilliance of the diamond. Is that true? 

3. What factors does one look for to identify a well-cut, brilliant oval vs. one that will not shine as brilliantly once you see it in person? Thank you.”

These are all excellent questions. Oval cut diamonds are unique and interesting, and because they’re fancy shape diamonds, finding a good one is just as much about inspecting it in photos as it is about looking at its certificate.

In the end, we recommended a 1.90 carat, G color, VS2 clarity oval diamond from James Allen to this reader: 

Before we get into this reader’s three questions, let’s quickly go over their specifications for an oval cut diamond. 

In their email, they state that they’re looking for a diamond in the 1.5 to 2.0 carat range, with a clarity grade in the VS2 to VVS1 range and a color grade between G and D. 

Let’s start with clarity. As we’ve explained in our guide to oval cut diamonds, the oval shape is great at hiding inclusions. In fact, of all the diamond shapes, the oval cut is one of the best for making inclusions and other internal imperfections harder to see.

This means that there’s really no need for the reader to go as high as a VVS1 clarity grade for their diamond as a lower clarity grade is perfectly fine for an oval cut diamond.

In the end, we recommended a VS2 clarity diamond to the reader. With oval cut diamonds, you can actually go much lower than this — many diamonds in the SI1 to SI2 clarity range also look eye clean, as the oval shape does a great job of preventing inclusions from being visible. 

Likewise, there’s no need to go as high as a D color grade for an oval cut diamond. In fact, there really isn’t any need to go for a D color grade with any diamond shape, as the difference in color between a D and G (for example) diamond is very difficult to perceive with the naked eye. 

For an oval diamond, any color grade of H or better will ensure that the diamond looks white in a white gold or platinum setting. For metals such as yellow or rose gold, it’s also fine to choose a J or K color diamond, as the color of the metal will also affect the diamond’s appearance. 

These things may not seem significant, but they can have a big impact on the price you pay for a diamond, and as such, the quality of the diamond you get, especially when you’re buying a $20,000 engagement ring.

For example, this 1.70 carat, D color, VVS1 clarity oval diamond costs $21,380. By lowering the color grade to G and the clarity grade to VS2, we’re able to buy this diamond of a higher carat weight for less than $16,000 (see image below). 

Set in an engagement ring and viewed under natural light, it’s virtually impossible to notice any difference between these two diamonds. Despite this, there’s a more than $5,000 difference in price. 

Now, with the value for money aspect out of the way, let’s get into the reader’s three questions. 

1) Is it possible to see the bowtie effect using James Allen’s diamond photography?

Yes, it’s absolutely possible to see this clearly in photos. The photos and video on James Allen are very high quality, meaning you’ll be able to make out all key details by viewing the diamond online.

In fact, since the 360° view on James Allen is zoomed in and under intense lighting, the bowtie effect will likely be more noticeable on screen than it will be in real life, especially once a loose diamond is mounted in a setting. 

If you’re concerned about a bowtie effect in an oval cut diamond, you can contact us and have our experts review your diamond before purchase. 

2) What kind of impact do inclusions have on an oval cut diamond’s brilliance?

The oval cut is very good at hiding inclusions — after all, it’s a brilliant cut with 58 facets and strong light reflection properties.

When it comes to brilliance, most inclusions don’t have much of an impact. While a large inclusion can distract from the beauty of a diamond, the cut quality of a diamond has much more of an impact on its brilliance than its clarity grade. 

For an oval cut diamond, it’s best to look for a diamond with inclusions on the sides, meaning they aren’t visible through the table. 

3) What factors should one look for?

Let’s get into this reader’s most interesting question, which is about the key factors you should look for to identify a well-cut, brilliant oval diamond. 

Cut quality is the most critical factor for determining a diamond’s brilliance (a term that refers to a diamond’s ability to reflect white light). A well cut oval diamond will reflect lots of light, giving it a dramatic appearance, while a poorly cut diamond will look dull and lifeless. 

Unfortunately, the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) doesn’t provide specific cut grades for oval cut diamonds, meaning we can’t just look for an “excellent” grade like we would for a round diamond. 

This means that judging an oval diamond’s cut quality and brilliance is a much more subjective process than it is for many other diamond shapes. You can do this, at least in part, by checking each oval cut diamond from multiple angles using James Allen’s or Blue Nile’s 360° image tool. 

If a diamond looks stunning under studio lighting, there’s a high likelihood that it will also have significant brilliance in person. 

For a more objective analysis, you can combine your assessment of a diamond’s appearance with a quick look at its certificate.

Our Recommendation

An oval cut diamond can look great, especially when it’s paired with a four or six prong setting that shows off the shape of the diamond. 

However, it’s generally not worth overpaying for a perfect color or clarity grade with an oval cut diamond. Since this diamond shape hides inclusions and color well, a color grade in the G to H range and an SI1 or SI2 clarity grade are more than good enough. 

Sticking to these ranges for color and clarity will help you save money that you can spend on a better cut or a larger diamond.

As always, you can contact us if you need expert help choosing the right diamond for your preferences and budget.

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.  Save 10% off select lab grown diamonds and 25% off ring settings during limited time sale!
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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
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