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The John Atencio Jewelry Glossary The John Atencio Jewelry Glossary
Glossary › What Is a Carat? Definition & Origin

What Is a Carat? Definition & Origin

As you explore the world of diamonds, you will quickly encounter the term “carat.” But what exactly does this refer to? And why does it play such a big role in determining diamond value?



In short, a carat is a unit of measurement used to weigh gemstones. The weight of a diamond or gemstone is one factor that contributes to its value, with larger stones usually costing more per carat than smaller ones of the same quality. 

While a one-carat diamond contains 0.2 grams of material, carat weight does not directly correlate to physical size. Two diamonds can weigh exactly one carat each, yet appear different sizes based on how the stone was cut and its dimensions. Overall, carat simply refers to the mass of a gemstone, with larger carats signifying a more valuable stone in many cases.

Historical Origin of Carat

The term carat has an interesting origin story tracing back to ancient times. In the Middle East, ancient traders would use carob seeds to counterbalance scales when weighing precious stones and metals. Since the seeds were fairly uniform in weight, they became an early standardized unit of measure. In fact, the word carat actually comes from the Greek word "kerátion" meaning carob seed. 

Nutrient-dense carob seeds were valued for their consistent mass. And their use by ancient jewelers and gem traders eventually led to the carat being adopted as a standardized unit of weight in the modern gemstone industry.

Understanding the Definition of Carat

As previously mentioned, carat weight refers only to the measurement of a gem’s mass. For example, a 0.5 carat diamond has a carat weight of 0.5 based on the standardized carat scale. 

Determining a diamond's carat weight involves precise weighing to calculate its total mass in carats. But it’s not necessarily the most important trait of a diamond gemstone. In fact, carat weight is only one of the all-important 4Cs used to determine diamond value.

The Meaning of Carat in Relation to Diamonds

A diamond's carat weight has a major impact on its monetary value, with larger stones commanding higher prices. However, two diamonds of equal carat weight can appear differently sized based on the quality of cut and proportions. An exquisite 1-carat diamond may cost more than a poor quality 2-carat stone. Ultimately, finding the optimal balance between carat weight, cut, clarity and color is essential for maximizing a diamond's overall beauty and value.

Exploring Rare Carats

As you should be starting to realize, a diamond's rarity is dependent on much more than its sheer size and weight. The quality traits of cut, clarity and color must also be exceptionally high to produce a truly rare stone. Specifically, diamonds over 1 carat with a top-tier color grading of D-F, a flawless or internally flawless clarity grade, and an excellent cut may be considered extraordinarily rare. These strict criteria mean far less than 1% of diamonds can achieve this elite combination.

While any diamond over 1 carat has an element of rarity, certain sizes stand apart for their exceptional scarcity. A diamond achieving over 10 carats with top ratings for cut, clarity and color embodies true rarity due to limited global supply. For example, only a handful of 20-plus carat, D color, and flawless diamonds are discovered worldwide each year. This elite convergence of carat weight and quality merits the description of a truly rare diamond find.

Famous Diamonds and Their Carats

Over the centuries, certain diamond gemstones have gained notoriety for their rare size and beauty. Passed down through generations of royalty, the Hope Diamond stands out for its rare deep blue color and 45.52 carat weight. Discovered in India in the 1600s, the legendary pear-shaped diamond was originally over 100 carats before being recut to enhance its dazzling brilliance.

Despite its storied past, the Hope Diamond was eventually donated to the Smithsonian Museum, where it has become one of the most viewed gems worldwide. Its exceptional hue, carat size and history cement the gem’s status as the most famous diamond.

Another celebrated diamond is the 530-carat Cullinan discovered in South Africa in 1905, the largest gem-quality diamond ever found. Weighing over 1/4 pound, the Cullinan yielded 9 major diamonds and 96 smaller stones when cut and polished. Most notably, the two biggest gems became part of the British Crown Jewels, set into royal scepters and the Imperial State Crown. 

Ethical Considerations

In certain situations, diamond mines can disturb wildlife habitats and contaminate the environment. With this in mind, a growing number of consumers are becoming interested in lab diamonds. Chemically and optically identical to natural diamonds, lab-grown diamonds offer a sustainable way to create diamonds in any carat size.

At the same time, you can also get eco-friendly natural diamonds if you know where to shop. John Atencio has spent decades cultivating relationships with mining enterprises and gemstone suppliers to ensure that all of his diamonds are responsibly sourced. When it comes to sustainability, John beautifully balances premium quality with social responsibility.

Carat and Investment

Larger diamond carat weights tend to carry greater investment value based on scarcity and high demand. A rare 3-carat diamond of outstanding quality may appreciate over decades, accruing value beyond its original price. However, resale value relies on more than carat weight alone, also accounting for developments in cut, clarity and even style trends. An expert appraisal thoroughly examining all facets of a diamond is required to estimate its investment ROI.

Diamond jewelry typically carries sentimental value, but larger center stones bring an added dimension of financial value. A substantial diamond solitaire engagement ring is more likely to appreciate over time than a petite pavé band. However, resale also depends on the overall workmanship and current market demand for the setting style. While carat counts for a lot, an exquisite design showcasing the stone also boosts long-term value for potential resale.

Differentiating Carat vs Karat

Though the words are similar, carat and karat have distinct meanings. Karat specifically refers to the purity level of gold, indicating the ratio of gold to other metals in an alloy. For example, 18 karat gold contains 18 parts gold and 6 parts another metal like silver or copper. As previously mentioned, the term “carat” is used as a unit of measurement for gemstone weight and has nothing to do with gold or any other precious metal.

Carat and Technological Advancements

These days, modern advancements have enhanced the precision of assessing diamond carat weights. Digital scales enable highly accurate measurements down to the hundredth of a carat. Advanced imaging technology like computer tomography scanners also help analyze a diamond's internal flaws invisible to the eye. These innovations allow gemologists to determine exact carat weights while gathering more comprehensive data on overall quality.

The Significance of Carat in the Jewelry of John Atencio

Selecting a diamond is a deeply personal decision requiring careful consideration of the 4Cs. Cut, clarity, color and carat each contribute to a diamond's splendor, but finding the optimal balance depends on your preferences. While size impresses, a large diamond with poor cut or clarity will not dazzle like a smaller, higher quality one.

John Atencio has decades of expertise in selecting the world's finest gems. His trusted relationships with ethical suppliers ensure that every diamond meets the highest standards for quality and ethics. 

At the same time, our diamond experts thoughtfully guide each customer to the ideal diamond accentuating their ring style. Rather than focusing on carat weight alone, we help you balance the 4Cs to meet your unique vision. Our diamond specialists take the time to understand your priorities, whether you prefer a statement-making center gem or an exquisite diamond accentuating a custom setting. With personalized guidance, we simplify the process of finding a diamond that captures the essence of your love.

Ultimately, choosing a diamond should feel meaningful, not intimidating. Our individualized approach shows you how to pick the perfect diamond. Visit us to experience the difference exceptional personal service makes in designing distinctive jewelry showcasing diamonds you'll treasure forever.