Gorgeous halo set engagement ring
Photo: Shannon Moffit Photography; SMP

When you're ready to start shopping for the perfect engagement ring, you initially might go for whatever is biggest in your budget. After all, more sparkle is what she'll want—right? Hold on to that credit card for a little while longer because you'll want to learn the ins and outs about diamond carat before you dive into purchasing the ring. Here are the basics.

Bigger Isn't Always Better

Carat isn't the only thing impacting cost. This is one case in which bigger isn't always better. A ring with a large diamond carat might seem like a great idea, but if you're getting a bigger-than-expected diamond for your budget, you'll need to ask plenty of questions. Find out what the clarity of the diamond is, as larger diamonds can have blemishes and occlusions that lower the price and the overall sparkle of the diamond.

It's Not What You Think

Diamond carat isn't what you think it is. Most people believe (mistakenly) that carat refers to how large a diamond is in depth or circumference. Instead, diamond carat actually is a measure of how heavy the diamond is.

Which Diamond is Which?

Clarify if the carat size is for the center stone only or for all the stones on the ring. If you're looking at a "three carat" ring with a central stone and two side stones, you might actually be purchasing a one and a half carat main diamond and two side stones of .75 carats each. Always ask your jeweler what the carat size is referring to, as a full three carat center stone will cost significantly more than a shared carat weight.

Maximizing Your Budget

Maximize your budget with the right cut, not by upgrading to a larger carat size. Even if you purchased a large carat diamond, the brilliance of the stone is completely dependent on the proper cut. Ask your jeweler what cuts are best for making a smaller, more affordable stone look larger.

Round Down

Aim just below a half or full carat. Prices for stones increase at those two marks, so, if you want a three carat diamond, ask to see stones in the two and a half to two and three-quarters carat range. You'll get the impact of a three carat stone at a much lower price.

Looking for more details to help you purchase your engagement ring? Here's everything you need to know about engagement ring cut.