Walk into any Argos, or hop to any TV shopping channel, and very likely you’ll be offered the chance to buy a incredibly huge diamond ring at an incredibly low price. One and a half carats for less than £300? Yes please!
But before you swoop in to snatch up that amazing deal, ask yourself this: am I buying a 1.5ct diamond or diamonds that weigh 1.5ct?
There’s a big difference.
Typically, high carat weight diamond rings should cost you an arm and a leg. So if it only costs a finger, something’s not quite right. Larger diamonds cost a lot because they’re rare: you have to first find and mine a rough diamond without breaking it, then you have to cut and polish it without losing too much off the size. Try it yourself… Not easy, is it?
Cluster rings, on the other hand, are made using dozens of tiny diamonds all clustered together. They’re cheaper, because they’re much much easier to make than solitaires. Those tiny diamonds are known as “smalls” in the industry, and they’re often made from the leftovers of bigger diamonds.
Carat Weight vs Total Carat Weight
With a solitaire ring, the carat weight refers to the weight of a single stones. In a cluster ring, the carat weight refers to the combined weight of all stones. The carat weight of a cluster ring is usually referred to as the Total Carat Weight (or sometimes Guaranteed Carat Weight, which is even more misleading). In shops and on websites, you’ll often see this abbreviated to TCW.
Total Carat Weight is used as a marketing tool. It’s much more impressive to say “2-carat diamond ring” than it is to say “diamond ring”. But, when you think about it, what does TCW really mean?
Knowing the total carat weight of a cluster ring is only useful for comparing it with other cluster rings. It should never be used to compare like-for-like with the carat weight of a diamond solitaire. They’re simply not the same thing.
There’s also a massive difference visually between solitaire diamonds and diamond clusters, thanks to an important thing known as light performance.
Cluster rings can look very pretty, with each tiny diamond catching the light as the ring moves to create a twinkling effect. But the stones are too small to do much with the light. They simply reflect it.
The bigger surface area of solitaire diamonds, on the other hand, allows them reflect, refract and disperse light. Solitaires don’t just ‘twinkle’; they don’t even simply sparkle. They scintillate with fire and brilliance. A well-cut diamond appears to possess its own light and then throws it all around for good measure. In a sparkle-off between a solitaire and a cluster ring, the cluster ring wouldn't stand a chance.
A Question of Quality
When you buy a diamond, you should know what you’re getting - for example, an Excellent cut, G colour, VS1, GIA certified princess cut. How else can you tell if you’re paying the right price for it?
Often when you buy a diamond cluster ring, you have no idea what sort of diamonds you’re getting. Some retailers will tell you, but not all. What colour grade are the diamonds? What clarity? What cut grade?
The reason you don’t know, in truth, is that it doesn't really matter that much. Cut, colour and clarity are vitally important in determining how beautiful a diamond is, but as the diamonds in cluster settings are too small for those things to make much difference.
In addition, “smalls” aren't certified. So even if the retailer tells you they’re G colour, you can’t know that for sure.
You Get What You Pay For
Diamond cluster rings are almost always sold pre-set, meaning you can’t buy the diamonds without buying the whole ring. Because of this, you don’t know how much of the price is the setting and how much of it is the cost of the diamonds. Combine this with the massive variety of designs and metal types used and it’s hard to tell whether the ring you’re buying is good value.
In fact, when you start to consider the price - bearing in mind you’re essentially buying smalls - that cluster ring may seem less of a steal, and more of a scam.
When you buy your diamonds separately from the setting, you get to decide how much you spend on the metal, and how much you spend on the stone. Most people use this freedom of choice to buy the very best quality diamond they can. After all, the diamond should be the star of the piece.
So, in answer to the question, ‘Are Cluster Rings Good or Bad?’, we say they’re good - if you only want a sparkly bit of mass manufactured costume jewellery. But if you want a beautiful piece of diamond jewellery, diamond cluster rings are a bad buy. You’re always better off opting for single gems that have been certified, and buying from a jeweller who will help you choose the best stone for you, at the best price.