While the bigger, bolder engagement rings tend to get the lion’s share of the attention, there’s a lot to love about the more understated designs out there. While they’re widely seen as the ultimate choice for any bride- or groom-to-be, it’s true that not every style will vibe with a standout center setting – not to mention the fact that not every budget will vibe with a large diamond.
But what really is a ‘small’ diamond? There’s no right or wrong answer here, and what anyone says will depend on their expectations, budget, and their own ideas of what makes an engagement ring impressive and beautiful.
Given that, within the US, the average carat weight for diamonds used within engagement rings is around 1, we tend to approach half carat diamonds (or thereabouts) as being the right choice of center stones for smaller, daintier engagement rings.
Buying a 0.5 carat diamond is a lot like being a 1 carat, 2 carat, or 10 carat diamond – and, as always, there’s a lot that first-time shoppers need to know…
Get your head straight on what ‘0.5 carats’ really means, and what 0.5 carats will look like on the finger, with our guide below.
A 0.5 carat diamond is 0.1 grams, or 100 milligrams. Carat refers to weight, not size, so the proportions of each diamond will differ depending on shape and cut quality.
It’s also not the case that a 0.5 carat diamond appears half the size of a 1 carat diamond, since a portion of that weight difference will be found in the pavilion (lower portion) of the diamond, and not all centered on the surface diameter of the diamond.
The exact size of any diamond depends on how closely it adheres to the cut’s ideal proportions (something you should always ensure is the case in any diamond you invest in). The following guide offers the typical measurements for each diamond shape, when cut to the correct proportions.
|Shape||0.5 Carats||1 Carat|
|Round Brilliant||5 mm (diameter)||6.5mm (diameter)|
|Princess||4.5 x 4.5 mm||5.5 x 5.5 mm|
|Oval||6 x 4 mm||7.7 x 5.7 mm|
|Cushion (square)||4.9 x 4.9 mm||5.5 x 5.5 mm|
|Pear||6 x 4 mm||7.7 x 5.7 mm|
|Marquise||8 x 4 mm||10 x 5 mm|
|Radiant||6 x 4 mm||7 x 5 mm|
|Heart||5 x 5 mm||6.5 x 6.5 mm|
|Emerald||6 x 4 mm||7 x 5 mm|
|Asscher||4.5 x 4.5 mm||5.5 x 5.5 mm|
As you can see, the difference in size between a 0.5 carat diamond and 1 carat diamond of the same shape is usually around 15 – 20%. It’s not as big of a difference as you might imagine, but it’s also substantial enough that you’ll probably know right off the bat whether or not you’re okay with sacrificing half a carat from your center stone.
If you’re finding it hard to picture, here is a side by side comparison of two diamonds – one 0.5 carats, and the other 1 carat.
If you like the look of the daintier, more understated engagement rings, then a 0.5 carat diamond is the ideal size for your center stone. It’s not so small that the ring will look ‘lost’, but small enough to make a statement all of its own.
If you’re looking for an engagement ring that lives up to the usual expectations, then 0.5 carats will fall significantly short. While you wouldn’t notice much difference with, say, a 0.9 or 0.95 carat in place of a 1 carat diamond, a diamond that is 15 – 20% smaller than the average will be noticeably smaller.
That’s not to say that your ring will look worse for it, however. For starters, half carat diamonds are very popular in the UK, where the average carat weight stands at a more modest 0.6.
Dainty engagement rings are very popular, and they are far better suited to wearers who prefer to keep their style a little more toned down. Plus, if they’re particularly active, a smaller diamond can simply prove easier to wear.
While it varies depending on the diamond’s shape and quality, shoppers will find plenty of beautiful 0.5 carat diamonds worthy of an engagement ring for less than $3,000.
Round Brilliant diamonds are the most expensive, while some of the more economical cuts include the Princess and the Emerald. Bringing down the cost of your 0.5 carat diamond is a case of paying attention to the rest of the Four Cs and understanding where you can afford to make sacrifices (and where you can’t) …
Quality is paramount, whatever carat weight you’re shopping at, and even 0.5 carat diamonds need to hit certain grades in order to be worthy of your investment.
Whether your diamond is 0.5 carats or 50 carats, it would be a big mistake to assume that you can enjoy much flexibility when it comes to cut quality. Every diamond shape features a unique facet pattern, and those patterns are the reason that each shape sparkles the way it does.
Even relatively small errors interrupt those intricate patterns, and the diamond’s brilliance, fire, scintillation and appearance will all take a hit as a result.
While the GIA’s grades for Cut (applicable for Round Brilliant diamonds) is represented by the grades Excellent and Very Good through Good, Fair, and Poor, we only ever recommend you buy diamonds with an Excellent or Very Good grade – even if that diamond is considerably smaller than the average.
The same goes for the Polish and Symmetry grades for all shapes. Plus, you’ll want to compare any diamond you look at against the ideal proportions for its shape.
If you’re shopping for a white diamond (as opposed to a fancy color diamond in a shade of green, blue, yellow, grey, brown, or any other color) then winding up with a stone with a noticeable yellow tint to it – even slight – will be a major disappointment.
The GIA’s color scale is divided into four separate sections – the top grades fall within the Colorless and Near Colorless groups (D, E, and F, followed by G, H, I, and J respectively), while diamonds featuring more noticeable color fall under Faint (K, L, and M), Very Light (N, O, P, Q, and R) and Light (S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z).
For diamonds around 1 carat or more, we often recommend that readers shop from the Near Colorless range. It offers the best value for money, since many diamonds in this range appear colorless, without costing anywhere near as much as a D, E, or F color diamond.
Obviously, shoppers looking at particularly large diamonds will have to aim higher in order to avoid visible color tainting their diamond’s appearance – and, as you have probably guessed, those shopping for smaller diamonds will find color to be much less of a concern.
We still wouldn’t recommend you go any lower on the scale than a J color diamond, but focusing your attention on these lower Near Colorless grades is a great way to save money without missing out on beauty.
This is something you can only judge in person, so don’t put your faith in online listings when judging how noticeable a diamond’s color is.
Diamond clarity is a similar story to color. For the best value for your investment, you’ll want to find a diamond that looks clear of any inclusions, but graded way down the clarity scale, where prices are significantly lower.
It’s a balancing act but, once again, it’s something that is a lot easier to get right if your diamond is on the smaller side. Inclusions that would prove noticeable in a much larger diamond will be easily obscured within a smaller diamond, and only detectable through a jeweler’s loupe. In other words, the diamonds would be eye clean.
The color scale runs from FL and IF diamonds (totally free from inclusions), through VVS1 and VVS2, VS1 and VS2, SI1 and SI2, and I1 and I2. In 0.5 carat diamonds – and even diamonds twice as heavy – the VVS grades represent a major waste of money. SI1 and SI2, and even some I1 diamonds, are eye clean, particularly in smaller diamonds.
As with color, you can only judge whether or not a diamond is eye clean in person (unless, of course, it has been graded FL or IF). Don’t leave this up to chance.
Diamond fluorescence is not as widely discussed as the Four Cs, but shoppers should always be aware of the phenomenon – and how to avoid it.
We’ve written a comprehensive guide to the subject here, which sheds a lot more light on the issue (and what causes it), but the most important takeaway is that, unless you feel inexplicably drawn to fluorescence in your diamond, you should stick to the None, Faint, and Medium grades.
Whether you want to find ways to make your diamond appear as big as possible, or create something suitably dainty and intricate, here are some of our favorite ideas for 0.5 carat engagement rings.
The most iconic engagement ring setting ever made is, without a doubt, the solitaire. Whether you go head-first into tradition with a Round Brilliant solitaire, or reinterpret this style with a more modern diamond shape like the Princess or Heart, the simple-but-powerful ring design is a crowd favorite at any carat weight.
Something to keep in mind, however, is that smaller diamonds can look even smaller when they’re mounted within their ring. The four or six prongs holding them in place, combined with the shank running beneath them, will all alter your diamond’s impact a little.
This is where the skinny band can prove very useful for anyone looking at smaller diamonds. As the name suggests, this is a very thin, fine band of metal that takes up a lot less space on the finger and, as a result, creates far less of a contrast with the diamond.
Opting for a skinny shank makes the entire ring look smaller, rather than just the diamond, meaning that the lower carat weight of your stone isn’t the first thing onlookers notice when the ring catches their eye.
Besides, the overall effect is a lot daintier, which is a great benefit for petite hands and fingers – or more low-key styles.
As we mentioned above, a part of what makes a diamond look smaller is the setting itself. Using more prongs than is strictly necessary, or overwhelming the center stone with a bulky halo, means concealing more of the diamond from view and, as a result, making it appear smaller.
While even the most skilled jeweler can’t literally float your diamond above the shank, there are ways of leaving as much of the diamond exposed to the light as possible – and creating the illusion that it’s barely being held down at all.
Not only will this mean that you get as much surface area from your diamond as possible, but it will also mean that the diamond is able to draw in more light and, as a result, create even more sparkle. Brighter diamonds naturally look larger than dull or lifeless diamonds, so floating your diamond with a half-bezel or tension is a great trick for maximizing impact.
You can read our guide to floating diamond engagement rings here.
With a smaller diamond, you will miss out on some of the sparkle that larger diamonds naturally bring to a ring. A 0.5 carat ring will still offer a beautiful light performance but, compare it with a 1 carat ring, and you’ll probably spot the difference pretty easily.
If you want to get a little extra brilliance and fire into your ring, then paring your diamond with a pavé shank of Round Brilliant melee diamonds will give the entire ring a boost of sparkle, without pushing you over budget.
If you’re still keen to make your diamond look as big as possible, then a micro pavé setting will create more of a contrast between the center stone and the other diamonds.
Vintage engagement rings can vary from the simple to the ornate, but they don’t have to be bulky or cumbersome, and can be perfect for accentuating the beauty of smaller diamonds.
A 0.5 carat Emerald cut diamond, for instance, will be complemented beautifully by a vintage Art Deco style setting. This style is characterized by minimal embellishment, geometry and symmetry, and a level of elegance that is clear even without any intricate metalwork to frame the center stone.
But, at the same time, intricate metalwork may be right up your alley. A skilled jeweler will be able to design a vintage setting that incorporates features like filigree (the delicate, vine-like metalwork you see on more ornate rings) and beading that create the perfect vibe, without drowning your diamond in metal and extra detailing.
Halos are widely celebrated for their ability to make a diamond look bigger than it really is, by adding weight and sparkle to the center setting. They are very effective – not to mention beautiful – but, if your diamond is on the small side, there is a risk that it will look swamped, rather than given more prominence by the halo.
While you could create a very fine halo, a great way to add sparkle without overshadowing your half carat diamond is to combine a Round Brilliant with a square halo, positioned just a little lower than the diamond. The contrast between the two will help to keep the diamond from being overwhelmed by the setting, while still adding the brilliance and fire your ring might be in need of when its center stone is on the smaller side.
It would be a major mistake to feel like you had to stretch your budget – and go against your partner’s sense of style – to accommodate a larger diamond ‘just because’. Sure, 1 carat diamonds are the average in this country, but that average is the product of plenty of people buying significantly larger diamonds, and plenty of people buying significantly smaller diamonds.
Besides, it doesn’t matter what other people are proposing with unless you tell yourself it matters. While half a carat isn’t a high weight for a center diamond, stones of this weight have been used time and time again to create some of the most beautiful, dainty, feminine and striking engagement rings we have seen.
Shopping for diamonds around 0.5 carats is a great way to save money but, beyond that, it’s also a great way to create something totally unique, and perfectly suited to your partner’s tastes.