The phrase “less is more” isn’t one often associated with engagement ring shopping. But times are changing, and smaller engagement rings are gaining popularity, with cost, practicality, and stone quality all factoring in this shift towards more petite picks. “There’s a movement toward purchasing higher quality, essential designs that stand the test of time rather than jewelry that’s fashionable and fun, but eventually feels trendy and outdated,” explains Vanessa Stofenmacher, founder and creative director of jewelry brand Vrai & Oro. For some, knowing how to make your engagement ring look bigger is part of the choice to downsize.
This may mean a little extra work and education before starting the search for your potential ring, but in the end it will save money and deliver a more personal (yet wow-worthy) design — if that's desired. Moreover, for soon-to-be brides who want to opt out of the giant single-stone mentality, jewelry designers have taken creative approaches to ensure that more modest or non-traditional engagement rings still deliver the most bang for your betrothed buck.
Considering the key factors in ring shopping that extend a bit beyond the 4Cs (carat, cut, clarity, and color) is essential when selecting a ring that fits both your style and budget. Ahead, both ring designers and diamond experts weigh in on all the unexpected ways to enhance a smaller stone for full bling potential.
A Cut Above The Rest
According to Stofenmacher, round, brilliant cut diamonds (like the ones you often see in traditional solitaire styles) are the most expensive stones to buy per carat due to the amount of detail in the cut itself (with an astounding 58 facets) and the overall popularity of the shape. The larger a stone is, the rarer it is to find au naturale, which translates to a heftier price tag for the buyer. Instead, gems with more elongated shapes can maximize the visual impact for a more dramatic effect without the same sticker shock. “Shallow and elongated shapes like the pear and marquis hold most of their carat weight on the surface so they tend to look larger than the round or square shaped stones,” offers Stofenmacher. Also, keep in mind that longer stones command more space on your digits, explains Jeff Brenner, co-founder of Couple, a company that specializes in custom jewelry using lab-grown diamonds. “An oval shape diamond is an excellent choice to maximize the size appearance,” Brenner notes. “They have a bigger ‘spread’, so more of the stone’s weight is at the surface.”
Combine For Shine
Another simple way to make your ring look more substantial is to add a greater number of smaller diamonds. Strategic placement of stones and complementary combinations can up the wow factor of even the most discreet diamonds. Experts point to the increase in interest in halo settings for this very reason. “The halo setting will give a smaller stone a larger and more vibrant appearance, as the diamond is surrounded by a ring of smaller pavé diamonds,” says Stofenmacher. The “halo effect” can also be appreciated from many angles, according to Mike Fried, the CEO of The Diamond Pro. “When someone looks at your ring, they will look at it from the top. Putting a ring of smaller diamonds around the center diamond will give you the illusion of a larger ‘face’ of the ring.” In addition to halo designs, a simple and understated alternative is the bezel setting, where a thin gold border surrounds a stone to subtly increase the surface area.
But coupling stones can also add an unconventional appeal to your design, and this is of particular interest to Katherine Kane, a Harry Winston alum who founded her line of bespoke jewelry, K Kane in 2008. “By using multiple smaller diamonds, you can create something beautiful that still has high impact for less money than a single diamond with the same overall millimeter size would cost,” Kane explains. “Carefully combining two 1 carat diamonds can give you the overall size look of one 3 carat diamond for one third of the cost.” Kane developed a number of signature ring styles that use creative coupling to modernize the look, style, and feel of a multi-stone ring. By grouping three similarly sized diamonds in a seamless, vertical setting so your eye can’t detect where one stone ends and the other begins, Kane offers brides-to-be a ring with the impact of a much larger, singular stone.
A stone’s orientation plays a big part in how it appears on your finger, whether it’s worn solo or paired with other stones. An engagement ring with non-traditional orientation can affect the appearance of its size. “Go with an elongated diamond such as an oval, radiant or cushion cut, orient the diamond north-south,” advises Fried. “Then put trillions or baguettes on the sides. This will give you a much larger looking ring for your buck.” Though both Fried and Stofenmacher suggest a north-south orientation to give the illusion of a larger stone, Kane suggests an alternative design. “While traditional three stone rings feature a horizontal row of diamonds set in their normal north to south orientations, my design does the opposite, turning stones on their sides and stacking them vertically to maximize finger real estate.” She notes that this works especially well with longer cuts like an emerald, oval, or marquise.
Though often overlooked, smaller details like prong and wedding band choice can also affect a stone’s appearance, elevating a smaller stone or highlighting a larger one. Chunky bands and thick prongs can overwhelm more petite styles and diminish larger ones. “Choosing a thinner band can help emphasize the appearance of a smaller stone,” notes Brenner. He adds that though some suggest a six prong setting to make a stone appear bigger, he explains, “there’s a risk for smaller stones, that more prongs around it will actually overwhelm the stone.” In the end, the search for the right ring for you or your boo, regardless of its size, should result in the best display of your investment (both financial and emotional). The most imperative point is to celebrate your preference and wear it with pride.