Updated January 12, 2017 7:39 PM PT

Diamond Prices: Beginner's Guide to Best Value

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Get the maximum bling for your money. Small compromises can make a big impact on diamond prices. Learn how to get the best value on your engagement ring.

You've got the girl, you're in love, you want to spend the rest of your life with her.

Now it's time to get the ring.

Don't Get Ripped Off. Learn About Diamonds Before You Shop

© CreditDonkey

Unless you're loaded, you've probably got a set budget for the engagement ring And your goal is to get the best, biggest, shiniest diamond on that budget.

Here's the little short-list now:

  • A 0.5 carat diamond price is $1,500
  • A 1.0 carat diamond is $4,500 - $6,000
  • A 2.0 carat diamond is $18,000 - $21,000

Of course, the actual range is much wider, but at these pricing points is where you get the best value. You get the best balance of price, quality, and beauty of the diamond. And that's what we're going to show you in this guide.

We will go over every factor that affects diamond pricing. You'll get our expert tips on how to get the best value so you don't get ripped off. We'll show you with real examples from online diamond retailers James Allen, Blue Nile, and Whiteflash.

Think of this as "diamonds for dummies."

This guide takes just 15 minutes to read. By the end, you'll be armed with expert knowledge that'll allow you to save up to 30%. Or, you're welcomed to jump straight to our bottom line recommendations.

In this guide:

How Much is a 1 Carat Diamond

So just how much can you expect to pay for a 1-carat diamond? Here is a general price guide:

While diamond prices are priced per carat, keep in mind that prices increase exponentially as you hit certain carat sizes. For instance, a .25 carat round diamond starts at around $300 and a 1/2 carat round diamond starts at around $650. But a 1 carat round diamond jumps up to $2,000+.

The 4 C's

You've probably heard of the 4 C's: carat, cut, color, and clarity. This is a good place to start learning about diamond basics.

Yes, these 4 C's determine the overall beauty and price of a diamond. But there is still a hierarchy order here.

Don't waste your money. Some C's are not as important AND can cause a huge jump in price. If you don't understand the basics, you could be spending a ton of money on features you can't even appreciate.

Some of the most common mistakes people make include:

  • Purchasing a diamond too high in color and clarity because they think it means the diamond will be shinier;
  • Assuming that all diamonds are cut the same and therefore they just need to choose a better color and clarity;
  • Placing too large of a priority on carat size so that they must then sacrifice in other areas in order to stay within budget. This in turn, causes them to buy a dull, poor quality diamond.

Don't make these mistakes too.

Watch Out: Some retailers might try to overwhelm you with diamond price charts to show how much of a "deal" you are getting. It's true, wholesalers and traders do use Rapaport, RapNet and IDEX within the industry trade. But for folks buying a single diamond once in their lifetime, our recommendation is to narrow down the 4 C's and then compare inventory at Blue Nile, James Allen and Whiteflash. That'll help give you a more realistic baseline toward finding the perfect engagement ring.

Our goal is to inform you so that you make the best choice within your budget. After reading this guide, you'll know what to look for in a diamond, what to prioritize, and what you can afford to "go cheap" on.

For the best price, buy a diamond online. Our latest study reveals the difference between the 3 top online diamond sellers.

Carat - Is This the Most Important?

In our opinion, this is not the most important, but let's be honest here - most people prioritize carat over the other C's. That's why it's first on this list.

It's also first because this is the most visible factor. And this is probably the one area you have the least control over. You probably already have a goal or "requirement" and can't stray too far from it.

So what is carat exactly? Carat refers to the weight of the diamond. A carat is equal to about 0.2 grams, which is roughly the weight of a paperclip. The larger the carat weight, the larger the diamond.

Fun fact: Carat comes from "carob," which is a seed from the carob tree in the Mediterranean area. These seeds have a very uniform weight, so in the ancient days (in Europe and Middle East), they were used as a weight reference for traders - especially for gemstones to determine very slight differences in weight. A diamond carat is the same weight as a carob seed.

Carat has the largest impact on price. Let's look at how carat affects price. These diamonds all have a color of H, clarity of VS2, and an excellent cut. The only difference is the carat size.

Screenshot from www.jamesallen.com

You can see that a 0.5 carat diamond is almost twice the price as a 0.4 carat. It's about double the price again to go to 0.75 carat, and double again to go to 1 carat. The price increase is exponential. This is because it becomes more and more rare to find raw material good enough to be made into larger sized diamonds.

Tip: The largest price jumps are at those desirable half-carat and whole-carat points. To get a better value, look for a diamond just slightly under the whole number.

For example, here are some price comparisons of 1 carat stones and 0.9 carat stones:

Screenshot from www.jamesallen.com

You can see how a 0.92 carat diamond is priced as much as $1,000 lower than a 1.0 carat diamond, simply because it's no longer a whole 1 carat. But really, will anyone be able to tell the difference? Unlikely.

Diamonds on the market are priced on a per-carat basis. And diamond cutters have a lot of pressure to cut stones that hit a nice whole number. Sadly, this means that a lot of diamonds are cut in a way so that they hit that desirable round number instead of for maximum brilliance - which is why we recommend that you don't become too attached to a certain carat target and prioritize the next "C" instead.

Why You Should Pay Attention to Cut

We're saying this now and we'll probably say it a lot more before the end of this article. Diamond cut is the MOST important factor, and you should NEVER skimp on it.

In fact, put whatever money you save on other areas into cut.

Since cut is the most important, we're going to spend a bit more time on it. Please bear with us.

Cut refers to proportion, symmetry, and polish - NOT shape (which we will get into later as well). A rough diamond has no shine. Instead, a diamond sparkles so much because of how it's cut and how light bounces off each angle and facet. A poorly cut diamond will leak light and therefore seem dull.

A well-cut diamond will have the most ideal proportions and excellent symmetry and polish. This in turn means that the diamond will give off the most brilliance, fire, and scintillation. The proportions and each facet are cut precisely to allow the maximum amount of light return.

Diamond Cut Scale
Diamond Cut Scale © CreditDonkey

In simpler words, cut is what makes the diamond shiny and sparkly. And it can literally make the diamond so sparkly that it hides inclusions and masks slight color.

Let's look at examples of differences in cut (images from Whiteflash diamonds):

Screenshot from www.whiteflash.com

Here you are looking at Idealscope images of 3 randomly chosen diamonds that have (from left to right) a good cut, excellent cut, and super ideal cut. These images show the amount of light return, which is shown in red. You can see that the center of the first diamond has a lot of white, which means light leakage. The super ideal cut diamond, on the other hand, is all red, which means that all light is returned to the viewer (i.e., super sparkly).

This is why it's so important to get the best cut you can. Not only do you get a diamond that sparkles, you can also afford to down a bit in the other C's.

And yes, an ideal cut can make the diamond appear larger.

Let's look at this example:

Screenshot from www.jamesallen.com

  • The diamond on the left is 1.00 carat and has a "good" cut. The surface area is 6.23x6.26mm.
  • The diamond on the right weighs in at 0.92 carats and has an "excellent" cut. The surface area is 6.23x6.2mm.

In other words, the two diamonds have the same surface area. Face up, they are both the exact same size. But because the poorer cut of the first one, about 10% of the carat weight is wasted on the deep cut (just to hit the 1 carat mark). And it's not going to appear as brilliant as the diamond.

For about $500 less, I would much rather purchase the smaller diamond on the right. It may not hit that coveted 1 carat mark, but it literally looks just as large and I know for a fact that it's going to be more sparkly.

Price wise, here's an example of what the differences between cut grades look like:

Screenshot from www.jamesallen.com

It is quite a jump to the "excellent" cut (and even more to super ideal - what James Allen calls "TrueHearts"), but in our opinion, this is an area where that extra money is well worth it, as the difference in quality is very visible. If your budget doesn't allow for an excellent cut, go down grades in the other areas before you go down in cut.

Don't worry, now we'll show you some areas you can save money on.

Tip: Are you convinced that a well-cut diamond is the way to go? Our favorite diamond retailer for high-quality cut is Whiteflash, which has one of the largest inventory of ideal cut diamonds in the world. They are especially known for their signature A CUT ABOVEĀ® super-ideal cut diamonds. We love Whiteflash for the fact that each diamond comes with light performance imagery, so you can be confident in your purchase.

Similarly, you can also browse for super ideal cut diamonds in Blue Nile's Signature Line. Blue Nile offers a huge selection of competitively priced diamonds. But the downside is that you won't receive light performance data or even an actual photo in some cases.

Color - Does It Matter?

A lot of people mistakenly think that color and clarity (which is next) affect how brilliant the diamond is. In fact, they have nothing to do with it.

Let's look at color first. Color is next on our list because it does still make an impact on the overall beauty of the ring.

Color refers to a slight yellow tint that's present in colorless diamonds. The color range goes from D (completely colorless) to Z (obvious yellow/brown tint), though diamond retailers typically don't sell anything less than a K.

Diamond Color Scale
Diamond Color Scale © CreditDonkey

True colorless diamonds are extremely rare and thus priced at a premium. Most diamonds will have a slight yellow tint, but most of the time, it's undetectable to the human eye.

The difference in price as you go up and down color grades is truly staggering. Here's an idea of how wildly it swings. All these diamonds from James Allen are 1 carat (as the benchmark), clarity of VS2, and an excellent cut. The only difference is the color.

Screenshot from www.jamesallen.com

But here's the thing: most people cannot tell the difference between colorless and near-colorless diamonds. So there is really no point in splurging on something that has no visible difference.

To get the best value for your money, we recommend H. H is commonly thought of as the tipping point between colorless diamonds and diamonds with a slightly noticeable tint. Most people can hardly see the difference. Can you?

Screenshot from www.jamesallen.com

The three diamonds above - from left to right - represent an F diamond (bottom of colorless range), an H diamond (middle of near-colorless range), and a J diamond (bottom of near-colorless range). Looking at them face up, can you really spot a difference?

But the color of the setting makes a huge impact too. H is a safe bet if you're going with a platinum or white gold band. But if you're going for a yellow gold or rose gold band, then even H may be overkill. This is because a diamond will naturally pick up the color of the band, so even the iciest of diamonds will take on a warmer tint with a yellow gold band. In this case, you can safely go down to a J or even K.

So what if H is still out of your budget? Easy - go down in color even more. Personally, I would rather have a J-colored diamond that has an excellent cut than an H diamond that's a fair cut.

Clarity - Not As Important As You Think

Clarity refers to the flaws on a diamond. There are two types: 1) inclusions, or internal flaws, and 2) blemishes, or flaws on the surface.

Really, it doesn't matter very much if your diamond contains flaws (most do anyway). All you have to do is get a diamond whose flaws you cannot see (called eye-clean). But a big mistake people make is that they assume they need a diamond graded high in clarity for it to appear eye-clean.

Clarity is last of the 4C's on our list for the simple reason that you cannot see most flaws with the naked eye. Most of them are only spotted under 10x magnification (and nobody is going to examine the diamond that closely). A flaw would have to be pretty major to be visible to the casual observer.

Diamond Clarity Scale
Diamond Clarity Scale © CreditDonkey

We recommend VS2 as the most bang for your buck. The VS clarity grading refers to diamonds that have more noticeable flaws under magnification, but most likely can't be seen with the naked eye.

Here are examples of eye-clean VS2 diamonds.

Screenshot from www.jamesallen.com

Diamond 1 / Diamond 2 / Diamond 3

Even though it's possible to find eye-clean diamonds lower than VS2 in clarity, it becomes very hit-and-miss. But with VS2, it's generally a safe bet. So means that if you're purchasing from a site without photos, you will most likely receive a diamond whose flaws you can't see with the naked eye.

Let's take a look at the price difference as we move up and down in clarity. All these diamonds are around 1 carat, have an excellent cut, and a color of H.

Screenshot from www.jamesallen.com

Internally flawless diamonds are priced so high because of how rare they are. But again, just like with color, you will not be able to appreciate this because this isn't a visible difference. So don't pay $1,500 more just to have "flawless" on a piece of paper.

Tip: Don't forget that with a well-cut diamond, the brilliance of the stone can hide inclusions and mask color. So we'll say it again: cut is the most important. Don't skimp on it and instead, go down in color and clarity. If you're shopping on a site like James Allen, where you can see HD videos of the diamonds, you can pick a diamond even lower in clarity that appears eye-clean.

Read: VS2: The Best Diamond Clarity for your Money

What if VS2 is still out of your range? SI1 and SI2 diamonds provide even better value. In fact, it's not even impossible to find an eye-clean i1 diamond if your budget is truly limited. Clarity is the best area to go down on before going down on the other C's. But just make sure that you are able to examine the diamonds in person, or at least see magnified photos/videos, to make sure it is eye-clean.

The Shape of the Diamond Makes a Difference Too

Either you already know what shape your girl prefers, or you have no clue.

If it's the latter, you may have some flexibility budget-wise here too.

Round diamonds are the most expensive. Not only are they the most traditional, their popularity is due to the fact that round diamonds exhibit incredible brilliance. But if you think your girl could appreciate a unique shape, then consider an alternate diamond shape because they are all cheaper than round.

  • Princess cut diamonds are the second most popular shape because they are just as sparkly as round diamonds. Princess cut diamonds are edgy and contemporary, yet still feminine and delicate.

  • An oval diamond is a modern, elegant twist on the classic round. It is for the girl who appreciates tradition, but likes to express individuality. Oval diamonds are in the family of brilliant cuts, so they are close to round in terms of brilliance.

  • Other fancy cuts, such as pear and marquise, scream for attention. A woman who's drawn to these likes to stand out in a crowd. These shapes are also great because they often look larger than a round diamond of the same carat weight.

  • Step cuts, such as asscher and emerald, were once highly popular during the art deco period. These are for the sophisticated lady with vintage tastes.

  • Other square/rectangular cuts, such as radiant or cushion, will appeal to those who like the princess cut, but want something a little less mainstream.

Pricewise, here's how they compare, using the benchmark of 1 carat, H color, and VS1 clarity.

Screenshot from www.jamesallen.com

You can save as much as 20%-40% by going with an alternate shape. You can then either use that money towards a larger stone, a fancier setting, or higher color/clarity grade.

A word about fancy shapes: Fancy shaped diamonds are not given a cut grade by GIA, so they are challenging to buy right. If you're considering one of these alternate shapes, make sure you do the research and talk to a trustworthy jeweler who can tell you if the diamond is cut well or not. Or if you're purchasing online, make sure you purchase from a website that shows you actual magnified photos of the stone (such as James Allen).

Certification: The Fifth C

Just a quick word about certification - often thought of as the 5th C.

There are several diamond grading labs around the world - GIA, AGS, EGL, IGI (just to name a few). These labs all have their own grading criteria and standards.

We recommend that you buy diamonds certified by GIA or AGS. These two labs are the world's most respected and have the most consistent and highest grading standards. For example, another lab may grade a diamond as VS2 clarity, when really it would be SI2 as graded by GIA. Other labs may inflate their quality by as much as whole 2 grades. So you'd be paying for an inferior product that just looks good on paper.

Diamonds certified by GIA and AGS are pricier (as much as 10-30%), because it is more expensive to receive a certification from these two labs. But this is an area that you absolutely should not compromise on.

Diamond Fluorescence Can Work In Your Favor

There is one last characteristic you need to know about - diamond fluorescence.

Fluorescence is when a diamond shows a soft glow under ultraviolet light (usually blue). This is caused by certain minerals in the diamond. This effect is totally natural, appearing in a third of all diamonds.

Usually, fluorescence causes no negative visible effects on the appearance of a diamond. But the good news for you is that since fluorescence is generally seen as a "bad" thing, a diamond with this characteristic can have a price reduction of 2-15%.

Fluorescence can actually be a great thing! In diamonds with lower color grades (I and lower), the blue can counteract the slight yellow tint and improve the face-up color, usually one whole color grade higher. Because this is an improvement, in these cases, the price can even be marked up 2-3%. But the GREAT news for you is that you can buy a diamond with fluorescence in a lower color grade (which is a significant discount) and have it appear whiter.

We said that usually there is no negative effect. But you should know that for diamonds with a very high color grade (D-F), a strong-very strong fluorescence could cause a hazy appearance. But we wouldn't recommend that you purchase a diamond in the colorless range anyway!

For an in-depth guide at diamond fluorescence, please read this article.

So how to use all this information for a 1-carat diamond?

Now that you understand a bit about diamond characteristics and the best value points, let's look at it in practice.

Here is a price chart we put together for a 1-carat diamond. This is for an ideal cut round diamond.


The highlighted boxes show our recommendations for best value. Color H and clarity of VS2 will get you a white-looking diamond that appears eye-clean. If you can find an eye-clean diamond at the SI1 clarity level that's even better. And remember, for yellow gold or rose gold bands, you can go down in color to J and save even more.

Read our more detailed articles about buying a 1-carat diamond, 2-carat diamond, and 3-carat diamond.

Bottom Line

To sum it up, here is what you've learned (this is kind of like a quick "cheat sheet" for diamond buying):

  • Go just slightly below the 1 carat mark (or half carats) for a big drop in price.

  • Color and clarity do not affect the brilliance of the stone. Cut is the factor that determines how sparkly it is, so don't try to go cheap here. Put whatever money you have into this area.

  • You can safely go down to an H in color for a white gold/platinum band, and a J or K for a yellow gold or rose gold band.

  • A clarity of VS2 offers the most value for the money because most people won't be able to see the small inclusions.

  • Round diamonds are the priciest, but also the shiniest. Consider a fancy shape for a more unique, yet budget friendly, engagement ring.

  • Look for a diamond lower in color grade with medium-strong fluorescence for a significant price drop, but a whiter appearance at the same time.

  • Only buy a diamond graded by GIA and AGS, in order to receive the quality advertised.

Are you ready to shop for a diamond now? Picking a diamond is part emotion and part science. It's about hitting that balance of all 4 C's so that you get a stone that satisfies all your preferences while still staying within your budget. We hope this guide has given you a good starting point to understand diamonds and what to look for. Please read our more detailed articles for more information.

Good luck!

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are those of the author's alone. Please support CreditDonkey on our mission to help you make savvy financial decisions. Our free online service is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content.

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