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Carats Demystified: A Weighty Explanation

Does your marriage amount to a small hill of beans? If there’s a diamond engagement ring in the picture, then technically speaking, yes. As many generations of suitors well know, a discussion of carats is a sure way to invoke anxiety, fear and possibly bankruptcy. While true love should negate the need to maximize the carat equation, the decision over the number of carats for an engagement diamond brings about as much stress as a 60 Minutes crew showing up at one’s door. So, what are carats? Why do we weigh diamonds in carats? And what’s this about a marriage amounting to a hill of beans? Read on; I promise we’ll bring it all together.

Carat Weight Math

A carat is just a unit of weight, like a pound or ton. But when using the word “carats,” we’re generally talking about gemstones, and it’s a rare event indeed to measure a blue diamond by the pound. The largest uncut diamond on record (the Cullinan Diamond) tipped the scale at 1.37 pounds, and that was before cutting. After being cut into multiple finished diamonds, the largest was just .117 pounds or 530.2 carats. For the rest of us, much smaller units of measure are in order.

A pound represents 2,267.96 carats, so a carat is not very heavy. To put that in perspective, the largest cut diamond is the Golden Jubilee, which weighs in at 545.67 carats. For reference, the Hope Diamond we gawk at in the Smithsonian weighs just 45.52 carats. That’s about one-one-hundredth of a pound or just under a third of an ounce.

If you wanna go metric, a single carat is a fifth of a gram. That’s about one-fifth the weight of a paper clip or roughly equivalent to 10 grains of rice before you add water.

If you’re in the gemstone-buying mode, there’s one more thing you ought to know. A carat is divided into 100 points, so a point is 1/100th of a carat. That covers all those engagement rings between 1 and 2 carats. Yes, jewelers use peculiar measurements.

Why Carats?

The whole concept of “carats” is a bit mysterious. Why not just use pounds, ounces, grams or maybe milligrams? I don’t know; it’s all Greek to me.

And that’s part of our answer. The word “carat” does originate from a Greek word—keration—translating to “carob seed.”

And here’s the kicker. Gemstones certainly aren’t new—people have been coveting them for centuries, as evidenced by all the ancient world museum exhibits and the whole idea of buried treasure. For centuries, people have been buying and selling them, so a reliable means of weight measurement was needed.

As it turns out, carob seeds are surprisingly consistent in weight, considering they’re part of a bean-like pod growing on … carob trees. Each seed weighs very close to—you guessed it—one carat or .2 grams. Sure, as a product of nature, the seeds can vary a bit, but nothing like, say, an apple or orange. They’re pretty consistent in weight, at least enough so to serve as a measurement standard before digital scales.

Pontifications

So, now, is your marriage worth a hill of beans? Let’s hope so, assuming you made the conversion from carob seeds to diamonds.

If you’re worried about presenting a “smallish” ring to a prospective life partner, consider describing it in points instead. “Honey, it’s a 20-point diamond!” Yes, that’s kind of like increasing the font size to make your English composition page count goal, but hey, desperate times call for desperate measures.

I can’t help but notice a one-carat diamond weighs about the same as the medication in a single headache-killing Advil tablet—200 milligrams. Coincidence? I’m pleading the Fifth on that one and withholding comment.

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