Doping of carbon nanoparticles with impurity atoms is central to their application. However, doping has proven elusive for very small carbon nanoparticles because of their limited availability and a lack of fundamental understanding of impurity stability in such nanostructures. Here, we show that isolated diamond nanoparticles as small as 1.6 nm, comprising only ∼400 carbon atoms, are capable of housing stable photoluminescent colour centres, namely the silicon vacancy (SiV). Surprisingly, fluorescence from SiVs is stable over time, and few or only single colour centres are found per nanocrystal. We also observe size-dependent SiV emission supported by quantum-chemical simulation of SiV energy levels in small nanodiamonds. Our work opens the way to investigating the physics and chemistry of molecular-sized cubic carbon clusters and promises the application of ultrasmall non-perturbative fluorescent nanoparticles as markers in microscopy and sensing.