The Silhouette of Sparkle –
Diamond Cuts and Shapes
When it comes to diamonds, most consumers tend to use the words 'cut' and 'shape' interchangeably. However, for diamond professionals, there is a big difference. Diamond 'shape' refers to the outline of the stone – which can be round, oval, princess, etc. Diamond's 'cut' refers to the arrangement of a stone's facets. With this in mind, a diamond's 'shapes' can be faceted or 'cut' in a variety of ways.
The most common facet arrangement, known as the brilliant cut, is applied to many shapes. It consists of 57 or 58 facets, depending on if a culet facet is included. In a brilliant cut, there will be one octagonal table (or top flat surface) of the diamond, 16 kite‐shaped facets and 40 triangular shaped facets. An optional small octagonal facet at the culet is the 58th cut.
Diamonds can be purchased in a wide variety of shapes and cuts. While there are plenty of interesting shapes to be found, diamonds are frequently purchased in the ten most popular cut shapes:
The round shaped diamond is the most popular, and is often used as a solitaire in engagement rings, earrings, or pendants. According to The Knot, an engagement and wedding planning website, roughly 53% of engagement ring center stones are round. The cut style known as the round brilliant has been around since the 1700s, but has been modified over the years. The angles seen in today's modern round brilliant were designed to enhance the diamond's fire and brilliance, and were first suggested by Henry Morse of Boston in the 1860's. These cuts were further enhanced by Marcel Tolkowsky in 1919, and finally, in 2005, a scientific way to help cutters plan and predict the cut quality of round brilliant cut diamonds was introduced by the GIA.
The princess-cut diamond cut was created in the 1980's by Betzalel Ambar and Israel Itzkowitz. It is currently a very fashionable cut for engagement rings. It is the most popular 'fancy-cut' diamond because its sophisticated square shape creates the illusion of a larger diamond. Like round diamonds, princess-cut diamonds work in almost any style of ring. A princess-cut diamond should always be set with prongs that protect the four corners, as those are prone to chipping.
The oval shape has probably the longest known history, with the first mention of an oval shaped diamond occurring in 1304. The famous Koh-I-Noor, which now resides in the Tower of London, is a spectacular oval-shaped diamond. One of the most notable oval brilliant cut diamonds is the 184 carat Victoria, which was cut in 1887. The oval brilliant was popularized and modernized in the 1960's. Containing fire and brilliance, the oval is suggestive of the round shape but is more unique. This shape also creates an illusion that the finger is longer and slimmer. The oval can be set on either the narrow or wide side, depending on personal preference.
The marquise shape was named in 1745 for the Marquise de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV of France. The long and narrow football-shaped cut is said to resemble the shape of the Marquise's mouth. A modified brilliant cut, the marquise shape creates an illusion that the diamond is larger than it actually may be. Carat for carat, the marquise-cut diamond has one of the largest surface areas of any diamond shape, making it a good choice when trying to maximize perceived size. Symmetry is quite important with this shape, as even the slightest difference can create and uneven, imbalanced look.
The modified brilliant-cut pear-shaped diamond is a combination of a round and a marquise shape, with a tapered point on one end. The pear shapes trace their history to the 1400s, with the brilliant style being added in the 1700s. Pear-shaped diamonds have graceful rounded shoulders and wings, and offer an appealing outline. Ideally, a pear-shaped diamond should possess excellent or very good symmetry with the point lining up with the apex of the rounded end. As for wearing a pear-shaped diamond, tradition says that the point should always be directed out toward the fingers of the wearer.
An octagonal shape, the emerald cut was designed to highlight the qualities of emeralds. However, this cut transfers beautifully to diamonds. The unique look of the emerald cut diamond is due to the step cuts of its pavilion and its large, open table. Instead of the sparkle of a brilliant-cut, emerald cut diamonds produce a unique hall-of-mirrors effect, with the interplay of light and dark planes. This cut is highly coveted due to its rectangle table-top and step-cut side facets. The emerald cut's smoothly beveled corners add visual appeal and provide a secure setting area for the prongs. This cut results in a more mirror-like look and requires a stone of very high quality.
Developed in Holland in 1902 and named after its creator, Joseph Asscher, the Asscher-cut diamond was a popular cut for Art Deco jewelry. It is similar to the emerald cut, though its facets are larger, tend to be square rather than rectangular and feature a higher crown and a smaller table. This combination often produces more brilliance than the emerald cut. In the early 2000s, this cut became popular again as modifications were made that gave the shape more brilliance than earlier Asscher cut diamonds.
The cushion-cut diamond (also referred to as old mine cut diamond) has been around since the mid-1700s. In fact it was the most common cut of diamond until the early 20th century. Designed to retain as much diamond weight as possible, the cushion-cut diamond features a square cut with rounded corners, and resembles a pillow -hence the name. A good number of antique dealers and jewelry enthusiasts are always on the lookout for the older version of these diamonds, as their light patterns tend to be stronger and more distinctive than modern cushion-cut diamonds.
A relatively newer cut, the radiant cut diamond became popular in the 1980s. It is the first square cut to have a complete brilliant-cut facet pattern on both the crown and pavilion, and is designed to create a vibrant and lively diamond. This cut features trimmed corners similar to the Asscher cut stone. Due to the design of the radiant cut, it requires more diamond mass in order to achieve the brilliance associated with it, so this cut requires a stone of high quality.
The brilliant-cut heart-shaped diamond is a thoughtful and beautiful symbol of love and romance. Heart shaped diamonds are very popular in solitaire pendants as well as in engagement and promise rings – and are particularly sought after around Valentine's Day. It takes a very skilled cutter to create the heart shape, always keeping an eye on the heart's balance and symmetry. When choosing a heart-shaped diamond, symmetry is a very important characteristic. It is imperative that the two halves of the heart are identical or the heart will look off. The cleft should be sharp and distinct, and the wings should have a very slightly rounded shape. Heart-shaped diamonds are generally not found in less than ½ ct. sizes, due to the difficulty creating this fancy cut.
Whatever diamond shape you choose for your engagement ring or other piece, always buy the best diamond you can afford. You can find tips on how to purchase a diamond in our Diamond Buying Guide.