Learn how to make the most of your budget when buying a one-carat diamond engagement ring. [Reading time: 9 min]
Step 1: Find the Right Style for Your Engagement Ring
Before finding the diamond center stone, it’s best to have an idea of what you want the final ring to look like. This way, you can subtract the cost of the ring from your total budget to get your budget for the stone.
For a one-carat diamond ring, any style will look great. At this size, a solitaire diamond will still look large. If you’d like to make the solitaire appear larger, consider a thin band.
If you’d like more sparkle, consider a halo setting. Surrounded by smaller diamonds, the center stone will look larger.
Three-stone settings are another great way to add sparkle. Smaller side stones will make the center diamond appear larger.
Consider Different Diamond Shapes
If your heart’s not set on a round-shape diamond, check out other diamond shapes. At the one-carat mark, average prices of fancy shape diamonds are up to 43% less than round. That’s a lot of savings.
Whichever shape you choose, be sure to read about the cut quality for that shape, since laboratories don’t grade cuts for fancy shapes.
Jewelry Metal Considerations
Different gold colors have little impact on price, but if you need a platinum setting because of a metal allergy, this can add to the cost of the ring.
Step 2: Limit Your Options to Diamonds with the Best Cut
There are literally hundreds of thousands of diamonds available for purchase. The right one for you is out there, but you’ll need to limit your options. Before anything else, limit yourself to a well-cut diamond.
Even though there are Four Cs for gem grading, cut is by far the most important factor to a diamond’s beauty. A fantastic cut will help hide color in a lower color grade diamond and imperfections in a diamond with a low clarity grade. Better yet, the intense sparkle of a well-cut diamond will make it appear larger.
So, if you find your budget tight, you can compromise on color, clarity, and even carat, but compromising on cut will leave you with an unimpressive ring. Compare the performance of these diamonds. Moving them side to side, it’s clear which is the better choice!
For Round Brilliant Diamonds
To find the diamonds with the best cut, limit your options to GIA “Excellent” and AGS “Ideal” cut grades.
For Fancy Cut Diamonds
These diamonds have their own cut criteria. Read our guides for the best way to find a well-cut one-carat diamond in a fancy shape.
Step 3: Find the Best Color Grade
Color grade can have a big impact on price. To get the most for your money, it’s best to get the lowest color grade that will still appear white in the jewelry setting you’ve chosen.
For halo and three-stone rings, stick to the same color grade as the other diamonds in the ring. If you opt for a lower color grade, it may appear off-color in the setting. For these styles, stick to H color diamonds. However, if you need to stretch your budget, an I or even J color diamond could work, if you look for the whitest ones.
For solitaire rings, including those with pavé or channel-set diamonds in the band, the best diamond color depends on the ring metal. If you’ve chosen a setting online, check the color of the prongs. Some settings mix metals, putting white gold prongs on a yellow gold ring, for example.
For platinum and white gold prongs, I and J color diamonds will still appear white and give you an attractive discount.
Yellow gold is more forgiving and makes the diamond appear whiter. K and L color diamonds will work well in a yellow gold ring.
Rose gold hides color even better, making L and M color diamonds the perfect choice.
Keep in mind that each color grade is just a tiny bit different from its neighbors, and it’s likely you won’t know the difference. Don’t believe it? Try sorting these diamonds by color.
Step 4: Consider Lower Clarity Grades
For a one-carat diamond, you don’t need a flawless stone. In fact, we recommend against the highest clarity grades because they add to the cost without adding any value.
If you still have many choices after narrowing down the cut and color, we recommend going for a VS2 clarity diamond. These diamonds will be eye-clean at a good price.
If a VS2 is out of your price range, don’t fret. At one carat, most SI1 clarity diamonds are eye-clean, and so are many SI2 and even I1 diamonds. Avoid large, black inclusions near the center of the stone, as these are the most noticeable.
For diamonds with low clarity grades, it helps to zoom out from the highly magnified view. Can you still see that dark spot when the diamond is smaller?
If you’re looking at diamonds in the SI2-I1 clarity range, it’s best to consult an expert. James Allen has diamond experts on hand to review your diamond choices with you.
Step 5: Narrowing or Expanding Your Choices
You may find that you’re left with a ton of choices — or very few.
If you have plenty of choices, you probably have a large budget. Instead of going for a higher color or clarity grade (since you’ll never know the difference), why not choose a higher carat? Gradually increase the carat weight in your searches until you have 50-100 diamonds to choose from.
With a smaller budget, things get more difficult. Loosen your color and clarity grade criteria to get more options. If your diamond budget is under $3,000, you’ll have trouble finding a well-cut one-carat diamond. Still, there are some nice finds in this range, like this 1.01-ct J color, I1 clarity diamond.
It may look a little beat up, but the imperfections will disappear once you zoom out. It’s also fluorescent, giving it a discount with no noticeable impact to its appearance.
If loosening your color and clarity criteria still doesn’t leave you with good options, you’ll have to choose between dropping to a 0.9-ct diamond or choosing a sub-par cut. We recommend dropping to a lower carat diamond. Even with the loss of weight, a well-cut 0.9-ct diamond may look larger than a poorly-cut 1.0-ct.
Step 6: Find the Sparkliest One-Carat Diamond
When you look at the closeup video of your diamond, you’ll want to find the one with the best sparkle. Find one that has a good mix of brilliance (white flashes) and fire (colored flashes). The sparkle in the crown of the diamond (the outer portion of the top) may be distracting, but look straight into the center and make sure this area also has good sparkle.
Compare a few different diamonds before determining your top choice. If you’re buying from James Allen, take advantage of their diamond experts to review your selections.
What About the Other Factors?
You may be tempted to limit your search results to diamonds with “Excellent” polish and symmetry. In reality, you won’t be able to see any difference between “Good” and “Excellent.”
Similarly, you might have heard that fluorescent diamonds are a bad choice. However, as long as you avoid “Very Strong” fluorescent diamonds, you won’t notice any difference.
Finally, you may have heard that a Hearts and Arrows cut is the best choice. This actually makes little difference to the diamond’s performance. It’s more closely related to symmetry than to cut quality. Unless you have a strong preference for this cut, you’ll save some money by choosing a different diamond. Compare this True Hearts™ cut diamond to this excellent cut diamond. There’s little difference in performance, but the True Hearts™ cut costs $1,000 more!
Where is the Best Place to Buy a One-Carat Diamond Ring?
The best place to shop for a one-carat diamond ring is in your living room. While brick-and-mortar stores make it a little easier to see the diamond’s performance, they have limited inventories compared to online retailers. These stores also have additional operating expenses that their online competitors don’t. This means that online vendors can offer their diamonds for less and give you a greater selection.
Both James Allen and Blue Nile offer magnified, 360° videos of their diamonds. However, James Allen also has experts who can review the diamond with you. Furthermore, they have a larger selection of ring styles — essential for choosing the perfect engagement ring.
If you’re still not confident that you’re getting a good deal, or just can’t seem to find the ring that fits your personality, consider working with the experts at CustomMade. Their experienced jewelers will help you create the perfect engagement ring with a diamond you’ll cherish.Money-Saving Tip: 25% Off at the James Allen Summer Sale until July 13See Sale Items →