Generally speaking, the ultimate goal when selecting a diamond engagement ring is to get maximum brilliance and size at the most reasonable price. If we could all afford flawless 10 carat diamonds, we wouldn’t be having this conversation; but since most of us are working within a budget, it helps to know the best strategies for maximizing that budget. Here are our top diamond engagement ring budget tips for getting the most out of yours:

Shop online vs. in-person
You will typically save between 10-40% on your diamond and ring when you buy online versus in a retail store. Why? Because retail stores have expensive leases, lots of overhead, inventory, payroll and big sales commissions to pay for. When you factor all that in, the best engagement rings for the price will be online.

Choose gold over platinum
Platinum is both beautiful and durable but is the most expensive precious metal option for an engagement ring. Although gold and platinum prices fluctuate regularly, platinum is significantly more dense. Therefore a platinum ring will weigh more than a gold ring of the same design. It is also more difficult to work with than gold, which results in added labor costs.

Make the setting sparkle and appear bigger with a halo
Choosing a ring design with a halo (a row of small accent diamonds bordering the center stone) gives the illusion that the center stone is larger than it really is. Additionally, it is a very beautiful design element that adds a sparkle any wearer will love.

Never Sacrifice on Cut
Remembering that our ultimate goal is to get maximum brilliance and size at the most reasonable price, we need to know which of the 4 C’s we can sacrifice on a little. For starters, we never recommend sacrificing on Cut. Cut refers to the diamond’s proportion and facets. Experts say the cut is the most important buying criteria, because it determines the diamond’s sparkle and brilliance, and recommend buying the best possible cut that you can afford. A diamond with a low-quality cut will appear more dull than a well-cut diamond because it determines how the light reflects and refracts once entering the diamond.

Choose Color over Clarity
One area that we do recommend moving down the scale a bit on, within reason and only if necessary, is Clarity. Clarity refers to how many internal flaws (inclusions) and surface imperfections a diamond has and how visible they are under magnification or with the naked eye. The top clarity grade, FL (Flawless), is assigned to diamonds that have no visible inclusions even when looked at with a 10x loupe. The lower a stone’s clarity grade, the more likely you are to see imperfections such as black spots or lines within the diamond.

Diamond Color refers to its grading on a scale of D to Z - D being the highest rated and completely colorless. The lower a diamond’s color grade, the more tinted the stone looks. Diamonds whose color is graded K or lower have a slight yellow coloring, which becomes more noticeable the lower you go down the color scale.

We recommend choosing Color over Clarity because of the effect that both have on the brilliance of the diamond. Visible Clarity imperfections can make a diamond look a bit dirty, but such flaws do not change significantly the way the stone reflects light so as to affect its brilliance, whereas setting a diamond with slight yellowish tints in white gold or platinum will stand out even more against the white backdrop, and the diamond will look darker than its setting.

Ideal Clarity Range
Depending on its size, we recommend choosing a diamond in the Clarity range of VS2 or SI1 - VS stands for “Very Slightly Included” and SI stands for “Slightly Included” - In this range most diamonds are “eye-clean” meaning that their imperfections are not visible to the naked eye, but require a 10X loupe to see. Therefore it is unlikely that the overall brilliance of the diamond will be affected by these clarity imperfections. Anything below this range may have visible imperfections that affect the brilliance of the diamond. On the other hand, anything above this Clarity grade will incur significant price increases, but will not be justified by significant improvement in appearance, since VS2 and SI1 diamonds are Eye-Clean.

*Exceptions: There are some exceptions to this rule. To be safe, all diamonds should be looked at by a diamond professional in person to confirm the quality and brilliance. Never rely solely on the diamond grading report. Also, the larger a diamond is, the more clarity grades affect its appearance. Think of it as a larger “canvas” where the imperfections are more apparent. See our Diamond Shapes Guide for detailed information regarding each diamond shape and size.

Select a diamond underneath the “magic” carat weights
Choosing a diamond just below standard carat weight cutoffs, such as purchasing a 0.95 carat diamond instead of a 1 carat diamond can save you money without a noticeable loss in size. It is very hard to distinguish between a 0.95 carat diamond and a 1 carat diamond, or a 1.43 carat diamond and a 1.50 carat diamond, just by looking at it. But you’ll pay less per carat for the weight just below these “magic” numbers due to lower demand.

Be a little shallow
You are buying a diamond for its looks after all... Here we are referring to the depth percentage of a diamond. This is the ratio of the total depth of the diamond (from table to culet) as compared with the total diameter, or girdle diameter. For instance, if the total diameter of a round diamond is 6.00 mm and the total depth is 4.00 mm, then the depth percentage is 66.7%.

The depth percentage is determined by the cutter and can drastically affect the brilliance of the diamond. If a diamond is cut too deep it will look less lively and have lower brightness compared with more proportional diamonds. The deeper the cut of the stone, the duller it looks. Additionally, when deep cut diamonds are set in a mounting, they look smaller than ideal-cut diamonds of the same carat weight because much of their weight is below the surface. When a diamond is cut too shallow the light will not reflect correctly and the result will be lost brilliance. Diamonds are sometimes cut shallow to make them appear larger, but most often it is at the expense of brilliance and sparkle.

So why did we say “be a little shallow?” Because every shape of diamond has a range of optimum cut proportions. The ideal round brilliant cut diamond has an optimum depth percentage range of 59-62.5%. We suggest selecting a diamond towards the bottom of this range in order to get a diamond that appears slightly larger.

Tame the 4 C’s
Excluding Carat, because it is subjective, Cut is the most important of the 4 C’s because it has the biggest impact on the beauty and brilliance or your diamond. Next is Color, followed by Clarity. Therefore, when sticking to a specific Carat weight and trying to whittle down the attributes to fit in your budget, you would start by lowering the Clarity Grade.

We suggest following this protocol to find the best diamond in your budget: First, choose your shape and preferred diamond carat weight. If the price of the diamonds available to you with optimum characteristics are over your budget, then begin lowering the Clarity grading as low as SI1. If you reach SI1 and you still have not fallen within your budget, start lowering the diamond’s Color as low as H. The last resort is slightly lowering the diamond’s Cut, as this will begin affecting the overall brilliance of the stone. Start by searching for diamonds with Very Good symmetry, and your absolute final effort will be selecting a diamond with an overall Very Good Cut grading. Once you have exhausted these efforts and there are no diamonds available within your budget at the SI1 Clarity, H Color, and Very Good Symmetry and Cut ratings, then we suggest alternative solutions, such as purchasing a diamond that has a little Fluorescence or is a bit shallow. If that doesn’t work, you may have to settle for a smaller diamond, my friend.

Buy with some fluorescence
As mentioned before, fluorescence is the visible light some diamonds emit when they are exposed to invisible ultraviolet (UV) rays. On a GIA diamond grading report, fluorescence refers to the strength or intensity of the diamond’s reaction to long-wave UV, which is an essential component of daylight.

Although the visible effects of faint to medium fluorescence are perceptible only to a gemologist using a special UV light source, any amount of notable fluorescence in a diamond is perceived as a defection. For this reason, diamonds that exhibit some of this attribute can be up to 10-20% cheaper than those that do not, due to market forces and demand - making this a great hack for stretching your budget. Just make sure to steer clear of those with ‘strong’ or ‘very strong’ grading and always have it reviewed in person by either yourself or a diamond expert.

Choose a fancy diamond shape
Round brilliant diamonds are the most expensive shape because of their demand and low yield from the rough which they are cut. Generally 15-30% more expensive than other ‘fancy’ shapes, depending on current market conditions and demand, you may want to consider alternatives to make your budget go further. Princess or Oval cut diamonds both offer similar amounts of brilliance, fire, and scintillation, but will allow you to purchase a larger diamond for the same price as a round brilliant, or increase the budget for the ring.

“Very Good” polish is good enough
A diamond's polish refers to the smoothness of the exterior surface of the stone. When it comes to diamond's polish, a "very good" grade is sufficient and will not affect the appearance of the diamond to the naked eye. The very good grading will decrease the price of the diamond compared to its more expensive alternative “excellent” polish. In some cases, such as when purchasing a diamond smaller than 0.50 carats, a “good” polish grading may be acceptable. But make sure that your diamond is inspected in person by a diamond expert before making the final purchase on your engagement ring.