Is Better Better Than Bigger?
April 27, 2010 7:22 AM   Subscribe

I want to buy my wife diamond earrings. You are not my wife, of course, but assuming you were, would you value the size or the quality of the diamonds more?

For a given amount of money (around $1,000 in my case), there's a tradeoff between the size of the diamond and its quality. I could get, for example, a .71 karat set for about the same money as a .86 karat set in a somewhat lower quality. I've looked at them both and the difference is barely perceptible to the naked eye, so I expect nobody aside from me would get close enough to see it either.

I'm not sure which she'd like more, and since asking her would ruin the surprise, I'm appealing to the women of MeFi to guide me.
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (52 answers total)
i am not a woman but i had this problem with my fiances engadgement ring. As long as the earings look nice it won't matter what size the diamonds are .I ended up getting m yfiance a half carrat engadgement ring because the 1 carrot diamonds looked gigantic on her fingers. So I would go more with how they look instead of actual size.
posted by majortom1981 at 7:25 AM on April 27, 2010

Majortom1981 is right; you should take into account the proportions of your wife. If she's particularly petite, go with the smaller ones. Also go smaller if she has a preference for delicate, demure jewelry, or if her ears are small. If she has dangly earlobes, long hair that she prefers to wear down, or a taste for "statement" jewelry, go with the bigger ones.
posted by Mizu at 7:29 AM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nobody will get close enough to your wife's ears to see the flaws under ordinary circumstances, unless they're particularly bad. Size, though, makes them more visible from a distance. I'd go with size.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 7:30 AM on April 27, 2010

My #1 concern (which your wife might not share, but I'll throw it out there anyway) would be avoiding conflict diamonds. There are a number of diamond vendors that advertise themselves using the terms "ethical" or "conflict-free;" no matter the size or quality, I'd prefer that my diamonds were bought either pre-owned or from one of these vendors.

After that, I'd care more about the quality. I think that diamonds are best thought of as heirloom pieces, and I'd want something that I could pass on, still in perfect shape, to my children and grandchildren.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:32 AM on April 27, 2010 [12 favorites]

I'd prefer size. A larger diamond looks more expensive and luxurious, and nobody is going to be looking at your wife's earlobes with a loupe. Few flaws are noticeable to the naked eye unless you are really looking for them.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:33 AM on April 27, 2010

It might be useful to sneak a peek at her jewelry and pay particular attention to her favored pieces, brought out for special occasions, but most especially to the ones she picked out or purchased herself. If she loves Grandma Flora's ring because it was Grandma's, that won't help, but those for which she worked hard and agonized over the selection would be the most indicative of her taste. What are the stones like in those?
posted by adipocere at 7:36 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're comparing diamonds in approximately the same size range (e.g. medium-sized vs. medium-sized, not tiny vs. huge), then I'd say to go with the quality because it makes for a better story. "Honey, when I saw how these sparkled I knew they belonged on you" sounds much more romantic than "Honey, I bought you the biggest ones I could get for the money".
posted by Bardolph at 7:38 AM on April 27, 2010

Size. Always size. No one comes up to your diamonds, be it in a ring or earrings, with a magnifying glass.
posted by meerkatty at 7:39 AM on April 27, 2010

To me, the cut was more important than the size or quality. I do not like round, marquise, or pear shaped diamonds, so I told my husband I wanted princess-cut diamonds. I don't know how you would magically know this without asking, unless she has other gemstones.
posted by desjardins at 7:40 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

For diamonds the size you're talking about for jewelry someone is going to wear, "quality" doesn't really matter, because, like you point out, you can't really tell. Go with size.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:40 AM on April 27, 2010

It really depends on what she thinks about jewelry. I'd err on the side of higher quality if having diamonds matters to her--like, if she's said, "I'd love a nice pair of diamond earrings" I think I'd go for the best quality, whereas if she just likes sparkly jewelry and you've decided to surprise her with diamond earrings, I'd go with the larger size.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:40 AM on April 27, 2010

If they're cut well, then they'll sparkle like crazy because they're able to perfectly reflect light. I compared my 0.6 diamond to my aunt's 1 carat... mine's an immaculate cut, hers isn't... she was sullen when she stated that hers never sparkled like that. The inclusions and color are more flexible, #1 priority in my books is cut because it's more eye-catching. So go for the smaller ones if they're cut better.
posted by lizbunny at 7:41 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

It completely depends on your wife, and since you probably know your wife better than anyone here, go with your gut.

Some people care about quality. They admire workmanship. They are not impressed with an all you can eat buffet. They would rather have the small but carefully crafted portions of a more expensive restaurant.

Other people could care less about the fine print. They simply want to be noticed, love attention. The fact that their small, subtle diamond earrings are flawless doesn't make up for the fact few people notice them.

You can get huge diamond earrings of low quality at walmart or smaller high quality diamond earrings someplace else. I don't think it has to do with which one is better, but more the type of woman you're married to (and I don't mean that in any judgmental way).
posted by justgary at 7:42 AM on April 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Speaking as a woman who really covets diamond earrings, most definitely quality. Lower quality diamonds aren't nearly as sparkly, and that's really what matters. I have a friend who just got diamond earrings for a birthday, and while they're a decent size and all they don't have the inner fire that high quality stones have. One of the most impressive diamond rings I ever saw was really quite tiny, but it was outrageously sparkly. Really grabbed the eye. Cut is also important here, but the quality of the stones is the true deciding factor.

Might I also recommend conflict-free diamonds? Canadian ones are nice.
posted by Go Banana at 7:47 AM on April 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Nthing that cut is actually the most important unless she's really into the 'status' of diamonds (as justgary outlines). I care far less about the quality of the stone or the size than I do about the way it looks and the way it catches the light.
posted by scrute at 7:52 AM on April 27, 2010

Average it out. I mean, size matters, especially for earrings. But for me, so does quality. But only to a point. So to me it really depends on the comparison between two particular diamonds. Go to a site like and take a look at the diamonds you can buy for $450 dollars. They range in size from .23 carats to .4 carats. The quality is all over the map. I'd rather have an ideal cut, clear stone somewhere in the middle size, with some inclusions, than the biggest diamond with only a "good" cut and more color. But I think cut and color are what makes sparkles (assuming you're not talking about huge visible inclusions, I guess).

For me, I thought it was neat that my husband took the time to learn about diamonds, and one out himself. He wanted non-conflict diamonds, and decided that the color/clarity was the most important thing as long as he couldn't visibly see the inclusions. The jeweler also help him set the ring to hide the inclusion.

But yeah, it depends on your wife. But really, she'll love the diamonds because they're from you!
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:53 AM on April 27, 2010

I'm not into flashy jewelry, so I say quality. I agree with the people above who say that it depends on what your wife likes. Could you ask her but frame the question like you are asking for a friend? "Honey, a guy at work is looking for an engagement ring for his girlfriend and has the choice between a smaller high quality diamond or a larger one with some flaws, which should he get?" Then ask her why she answered that way. Maybe she'll give you the answer you're looking for.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:02 AM on April 27, 2010

I'm not your wife, and in fact, am myself a husband. But, I'd like to echo Mizu: size is important, but not in the sense that bigger is always better.

I bought my wife diamond earrings a few years back, and when I did, my main concern was not that they be big, but that they be the right size for her particular ears and the type of jewelry she wears. She absolutely loves them because they are the perfect size for her, and they look great with her other jewelry and with how she prefers to dress without being garish/too large for her ears (and on the flip side, don't look tiny like something you'd get as your child's first earrings).

If your wife has existing earrings, you should consider what size they are, how they look on her, and whether she would enjoy something really showy, or if she wants something reserved and refined. Personally, when I see a woman with enormous diamond earrings, I don't think "wow, nice earrings!". I think, "wow, those earrings are inappropriately sized for her!". My wife is the same way, so consider whether your wife is too.
posted by tocts at 8:02 AM on April 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think lizbunny has it exactly. It's not just size, and it's not just "quality" if it's quality that only shows up on paper. Judge diamonds with your eyes, and compare them under the same light--not just the magical pinpoint halogens of the jewelry store. If they all look the same to you, maybe bring along someone else who does see the differences. Get the ones that are most beautiful, not biggest or most expensive.
posted by tula at 8:03 AM on April 27, 2010

if you've ever sat down with a jeweler you'll see the cut and color matter A LOT more than clarity. You'll also see that what looks best to you may not correlate with price. Also on color there are tremendous diminshing returns once you get above a certain level. Nthing those who said smaller but higher quality will look better than bigger/lower quality. When I bought my fiancees engagement ring I was totally in the "Decent/mediocre quality, big size" camp but once I actually started looking at things in settings and in sunlight I realized there was a difference.

My advice is to find a reputable diamond guy and just go and look at stones. figure out what you think looks best, cross check his prices against blue nile, and as long as he isn't screwing you buy it. If his prices are much higher than blue nile then walk away and buy from them - but its essentially a commodity so he shouldn't be that off.
posted by JPD at 8:15 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

tocts has it - size matters, but bigger isn't necessarily better. Go with the size earrings she likes to wear and that look proportionate on her ears.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:16 AM on April 27, 2010

I'm a woman and whatever you do don't tell your lucky wife that you asked that question here if you've been married longer than a very few years. Mehtinks an attentive DH should just know the answer to that by now.

At the bakery does your DW ask for a few, lovely croissant or a dozen of whatever is on special?

At the farmer's market does she reach for the pint of fresh berries or a large bag of whatever is most abundant that week?

If you have a large family these comparisons may not be accurate but you should be able to tell which she prefers "quality or quantity" in some other venues and this should translate to her diamond preference. Unless you have a VERY large family in which case I suggest the Timex watch with glow in-the-dark hands.
posted by Pamelayne at 8:16 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everyone here has already mentioned what I think: make sure they sparkle, and consider your wife's proportions. My engagement ring is .75 carats, not as big as some I've seen, but it sparkles like crazy, looks proportional on my skinny fingers, and I LOVE it. My fiance bought it from Brilliant Earth (and they sell earrings, too!) so we have the paperwork certifying it as a conflict-free Canadian Diamond. He also tells me that the customer service was outstanding. Good luck, I'm sure she'll love them whatever you decide!
posted by hungrybruno at 8:16 AM on April 27, 2010

My personal preferences would be, in this order:

1. Definitely not conflict diamonds
2. A style/cut I like (like desjardins, I dislike pear-shaped diamonds)
3. Size, in the sense of "not so heavy that they would be uncomfortable or stretch out my ears"

Once those criteria are met, the question of size vs. quality is a little more flexible for me. I think I'd go with whichever is more noticeable to the naked and untrained eye: if you're comparing two diamonds that both look quite sparkly, I'd go with size; if you're comparing two diamonds with a .10 carat variation in weight, but one is noticeably more brilliant, definitely quality.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:27 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

My wife is a dedicated sparkly aficionado. She'd go for a high quality diamond with an impeccable cut, in a flawless setting over size most days.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:45 AM on April 27, 2010

"Quality" means two different things: color and clarity. I think good color's more important than size, personally -- a really clear white diamond sparkles more and just looks prettier -- while clarity is less important (within reason; flaws that you need a loupe to see are no big deal, but anything with an I clarity rating I'd avoid.)

But I'm the sort of person who thinks large gems are tacky, so of course I'd prefer a smaller, better gem over a bigger, junkier one. Your wife's taste is more important than mine in this instance.

Make sure you look at different jewelry stores. When I was shopping around for my wife's engagement ring, it was clear that different stores specialize in different types of stone: some places had mostly high-quality stones, and others had nothing but these huge, yellowed and visibly cracked things. To really get familiar with what the full range is you have to shop around, and learn the clarity and color scales so you know what you're looking at.

Diamond prices have dropped a lot since I got engaged, I'm noticing.
posted by ook at 8:47 AM on April 27, 2010

Total jewelry girl here. Quality, quality, quality. That makes a huge difference to the look. And that includes conflict free.
posted by bearwife at 9:03 AM on April 27, 2010

Assuming your wife wants 1. jewelry, 2. earrings in particular, 3. diamonds (I'm a wife and I'm not a big fan of any of those things, period):


But not just diamond clarity, etc. Super sturdy posts, good clasps. They have ones that pop on but have to be screwed off so that you don't lose a back or worse, an earring.

Good prongs, solid hardware. Make sure you get the type of gold or metal she prefers (yellow or white gold are usually available).
posted by peep at 9:40 AM on April 27, 2010

Quality if they are dangly ones, size if not.
posted by meepmeow at 9:46 AM on April 27, 2010

My sister has diamond earrings, emerald cut. This cut has relatively few facets, so it's not very sparkly compared to others. You end up 'needing' a bigger one to get a pretty appearance.

To get the most sparkle for your buck:

Look at the diamonds in natural light. The lights in jewelry stores make any stone look great.

The stones in earrings don't get much light behind them. You might have noticed that diamond rings are often given very high setting, which lets more light in and allows for more sparkle. Don't get a setting that holds the stone too close to the earlobe.

Don't just look at the earrings on the velvet pad. To get a better idea of how they'll look on the ear, pick one up and hold it between thumb and forefinger so you can see what it looks like when it's right up against a skin-tone background.

Avoid heartbreak: get screw posts, and the earring backs will come off only when she wants them to.
posted by wryly at 10:01 AM on April 27, 2010

As someone's wife, I'd rather get quality than size, a thousand times!Well made, nicely designed overall and seeming to be able to last enough for me to pass them on to grand daughters.

Preferably (white) good quality gold, etc.
posted by Tarumba at 10:02 AM on April 27, 2010

Oh, and if possible: conflict free
posted by Tarumba at 10:04 AM on April 27, 2010

[A couple comments removed. Please let's not turn this into an argument about conflict diamonds and whether or not the asker should by a diamond at all ever and so on.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:15 AM on April 27, 2010

Quality! I absolutely love firey diamonds with lots of color when you turn them in the light.
By all means, go sit down with a reputable jeweler to look at stones yourself. For size alone a person can get some pretty good looking CZs with good clarity, but they just won't have that color and sparkle that you want if you're going to pay for a diamond.
posted by Iggley at 10:27 AM on April 27, 2010

Style is also important. For example, I find stud earrings uncomfortable. If the diamonds are large and the setting heavy, they may hang down/forward in the earlobe. I prefer Euro Wire earrings, which are very comfortable and display the stone to its best effect, allowing a little movement so the stones catch the light, yet not being too dangly at the same time.
posted by essexjan at 10:29 AM on April 27, 2010

I've never owned any diamond, and the primary concern for me - after the conflict issue already raised - would be 'how pretty does it look'? Does your wife take a real interest in jewellry and care about the stones in terms of them being a valuable potential heirloom, or does she just want a good quality piece that will look nice and be valuable to her grandchildren as the earrings they always saw Nana wear?

Honestly? I'm female, and I don't know anythign about cut, colour or quality. I'd just want something I liked - something on silver or white gold rather than gold, or studs rather than drops. The main thing for me would be that the giver had thought about what I actually liked rather than essentially said 'look! I spent £30000 on some stones for you - enjoy them!". I think really it depends on your wife's tastes, both in style and in sentiment.
posted by mippy at 10:35 AM on April 27, 2010

(I like jewellery, but mainly the quirky - I have costume pieces that cost more than my friend's chunky gold rings - or uber-personal. Your wife might have very definite ideas on what she likes)
posted by mippy at 10:38 AM on April 27, 2010

[seriously folks -- feel free, welcome even to take the conflict-free debate to MeTa but it doesn't belong here]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:44 AM on April 27, 2010

Size... it matters :)
posted by bunny hugger at 11:46 AM on April 27, 2010

My mother's wedding ring had a smallish flawless diamond with a good cut. I remember being just a toddler, and the sun coming into the car as she was turning the steering wheel, and the whole car lighting up with a disco mirror-ball effect. That was more impressive to me then than any particular size.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:09 PM on April 27, 2010

I'd value the thought behind the purchase more, personally, but to answer your question: I would probably go for size over quality (as long as there are no glaringly obvious defects).
posted by 1000monkeys at 12:18 PM on April 27, 2010

"You may also want to consider white sapphires instead. We used them on an engagement ring instead of diamonds." posted by odinsdream

I have done this myself. However, white sapphires just do not have the fire of a good cut diamond!

Seconding screw backs for post earrings. I worked in a jewelry store for some time (and put a jeweler through college) - If I had a dollar for every woman who came in crying about her lost diamond, I would have made more money at that job than my actual wages.

As another has said, color is an important aspect of quality. Beware of "fashion" colors... these are usually low quality diamonds given a snappy name to seem as if they are designer ("snow diamonds" was the fad when I was in the industry). If you can see the flaw with your naked eyes, then you will want to pass on that particular diamond. However, ask to see other sets in the same range - you may find a set without obvious flaws.

Along with most of the above posters, size vs. quality really has to do with your wife.
posted by _paegan_ at 1:02 PM on April 27, 2010

Back in the early 80's, I used to work for a fine jewelry manufacturer in the diamond district in New York City. We sold to everyone from J. C. Penney's and Service Merchandise, to Zales, to Saks and Bloomingdales. We sold the exact same items to all of them, but we had 5 different price books. Yep, we sold the same thing to Saks as to JCP, but we charged Saks a lot more. So shop around, whichever way you decide to go.
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:54 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Size is definitely the way to go for earrings. You can get away with a significantly lower clarity (and a couple of grades of color) in a stud earring than you can in, say, an engagement ring.
posted by EarBucket at 6:13 PM on April 27, 2010

Diamonds in the raw, un cut, bigger and better
posted by hortense at 9:43 PM on April 27, 2010

Given the choice between a bigger diamond and a clearer diamond, I think it's generally better to choose the bigger diamond, unless there are visible occlusions.

BTW, on the conflict-free diamond question: this is extremely difficult to achieve and the Kimberley Process does not adequately screen diamond sources (link link link.) One alternative is cultured diamonds, especially for earrings.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:06 AM on April 28, 2010

The diamond is not the only important thing, you also should consider the rest of the piece of jewelry. I would rather have a small, high quality diamond in a fragile, elegant setting than a big clunker.
So can you take a long look at the rest of her jewelry and extrapolate from that?
posted by Omnomnom at 5:04 AM on April 28, 2010

If buying diamonds, you need to check out pricescope which is like askmefi for gems.
posted by polyglot at 5:04 AM on April 28, 2010

Me, I'd rather have a really interesting gold or platinum handworked earring. With all the really great looking manufactured diamonds, diamond earrings just seem...meh... Especially since even some jewelers cannot tell the lab diamonds from the real ones. But a one of a kind, artist piece of fine jewelry? Ooooh, that's the good stuff.
posted by dejah420 at 6:47 AM on April 28, 2010

posted by jessamyn at 11:50 AM on April 28, 2010

My 'druthers in order:

- Canadian diamond
- Cut (preferably Princess)
- Style (white gold Euro wire)
- Quality
- Size

Should I direct the mister to this thread? Decisions... decisions...
posted by deborah at 1:33 PM on April 28, 2010

You should definitely take both aspects into consideration. The size of the diamonds may be important to your wife, but the clarity is also an issue to put some weight on. Diamonds that are huge and obviously cut poorly or have visible imperfections are no match to a set of earrings with beautiful clarity and a careful cut.
posted by HStern at 4:45 AM on July 15, 2010

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