Understanding Diamond Cuts

Understanding Diamond Cuts

When you’re in the market for diamonds, be it wedding sets or earrings, few things are as important as the various diamond cuts. Since the cut of the gem plays a critical role in its brilliance and fire, it’s imperative to know what to look for when choosing the right piece.

Many people assume that a diamond’s cut refers to the overall shape of the diamond. While this is partially true, there is a lot more behind the diamond cut than simply the shape. In fact, the most important aspect of the different diamond cuts lies with how the cut allows the gem to respond to light.

A Brief History of Diamond Cuts

Faceted diamond cutting is widely accepted as beginning in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was around this time that artisans began to experiment with tools and techniques for fashioning jewels out of the unpolished stones.

The first cut is credited as being the table cut (the largest area, or “face” of the gem) and soon gave way to more dramatic cuts with increasing facets. By the 16th century, tools were being commissioned to allow for more precise cuts and polishing techniques.

Some of the earliest diamond cuts began with 24 facets in what is known as a rose cut diamond. Over time, tools became more fine-tuned and able to create pieces resembling the 58 facet brilliant diamonds we see today.

At the end of the 19th century, a tool known as a bruting machine was invented that allowed for extremely precise cuts and gave way to the most brilliant cut known today – the brilliant round. It wasn’t until 1919, however, that the paragon of all cuts was perfected.

The Brilliant Cut

In 1919, a man by the name of Marcel Tolkowsky, perfected the fieriest diamond cut of all: the round brilliant cut. A mathematician with a background in gem-cutting, Tolkowsky famously penned his PhD thesis around the perfected cut that is now known as the American Ideal Cut.

Tolkowsky’s brilliant cut is based on a 58 facet round cut diamond that uses specific dimensions and angles to optimize the way a diamond interacts with light. While the cut is only one of the four measures used to grade diamonds, those cut by Tolkowsky’s method are among the highest graded gems in the world.

The 4 C’s of Diamonds

To understand how diamonds are graded, you must first understand the factors that determine the grade. A diamond’s cut is widely known as one of the 4 C’s of diamonds. The 4 C’s are:

  • Carat (or weight of the diamond)
  • Color (or “fire” seen in the light)
  • Clarity (free from imperfections)
  • Cut (the precision facets created)

These 4 factors determine what is known as the diamond’s “grade,” or how valuable the gem is. Though each aspect plays a part in the diamond’s overall worth, few are as important as the cut.

The Importance of Diamond Cuts

Of all the C’s used to grade the value of diamonds, the cut is arguably the most influential. The cut is what creates the dimensional facets that reflect and interact with light, giving it the brilliance and fire you expect.

“Precise artistry and workmanship are required to fashion a stone so its proportion, symmetry and polish deliver the magnificent return of light only possible in a diamond,” explains the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).

Grading Diamond Cuts

Diamonds are graded based on specific values and attributes observed through their particular 4 C’s. While there are several organizations offering grading certificates for diamonds, two are considered the standard accepted certifiers: The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and The American Gem Society (AGS).

By looking at the standard parameters of each finished diamond, professional graders are able to rate individual pieces on their overall level of brilliance and perfection. Though graders use different scales and techniques to rate diamonds, the aspects used to determine their worth are the same.

All graders will take into account the quality of the cuts, the overall design, the durability (determined by the girdle), and the weight (or carat) among other attributes. Using the 4 C’s, diamonds are then graded on how well they rate on each aspect.

Each diamond grade certifier uses their own method of recording grades. The GIA uses a system that gives each diamond cut grades based on a scale of five different levels. These range from the best grade, Excellent, to the lowest grade, Poor. The AGS uses a similar system, however their grades use a number scale with 0 being the best (or ideal) and 10 being the worst (or poor).

Choosing a Diamond Cut

Once you have a good understanding of how diamond cuts are created and graded, you can begin to look at the various cuts to determine which style is right for you. When you’re considering various styles, make note of which attributes are most important to you.

Many people choose cuts based solely on aesthetic purposes – meaning, which shape is the most pleasing to them. While that’s certainly important, there are many other factors to consider before choosing the diamond for you.

Budget is usually a major factor when purchasing a diamond. As such, different cuts can help get you your ideal piece with a friendlier price tag if you know what to look for. Since the cut can give a diamond the appearance of being larger or give a smaller diamond unparalleled brilliance, it’s important to know what to look for.

By understanding the pros and cons of each cut, you can make a more educated decision on which is best for you. Here is a look at each of the most common cuts you’ll find today:

The Round Cut

Also known as the round brilliant cut, the round cut diamond is, by far, the most popular diamond cut available. And for good reason. The round cut is the gold standard of gems and has been since Tolkowsky perfected the cutting process in 1919.

Due to its perfected symmetry of the 58 facet design, the round cut diamond gives way to the highest grades of brilliance and fire available of all diamond cuts. It is possible for some rounds to have only 57 facets, if the culet, or bottom facet, is non-existent due to perfectly symmetrical sides meeting in a point rather than a culet. Both are equally valuable.

The Princess Cut

Outside of the round cut, other diamond cuts are known as fancy cuts. Of these, the princess (square) cut is the most popular. Created fairly recently in the 1960s, the princess cut has quickly grown in popularity.

Also using the standard 58 facet design, the princess cut lends to some fantastic brilliance and fire gradings as well. As an added bonus, the design allows gem cutters to utilize 80 percent of the raw gem, meaning there is less waste than many other cuts. Because of this, the princess cut tends to have a much more appealing price tag than other cuts.

The Marquise Cut

Another fancy cut, the marquise cut, has a long history of royalty and aristocracy. Originally designed by order of King Louis XV of France in honor of the shape of the lips of his mistress, the cut soon became synonymous with wealth and power.

Though the marquise cut isn’t as popular as princess cuts or round cuts, they are still a favorite. They boast the same 58 facet cut style, but many prefer the longer face shape believing they help elongate the look of the fingers of the wearer.

The Emerald Cut

Named for the gem which most prominently uses the cut, the emerald cut is seen most often in colored gems. The cut was designed specifically with a larger face and greater depth to draw out and intensify the color and fire of the gem.

While the cut is loaded with brilliance, it’s also prone to highlighting imperfections. The longer cuts used on emerald cuts do not allow gem cutters to hide the imperfections well, so you’ll want to ensure you find a diamond with a high clarity grade to get the best piece.

The Asscher Cut

Similar to the emerald cut, the Asscher cut diamond was created in 1902 by Joseph Asscher of the Royal Asscher Diamond Company. Gaining popularity in the 1920s, today the diamond cut is viewed largely as a vintage option.

The Asscher cut diamond is a modified version of the emerald cut, with a taller crown but a smaller table facet. Because of this, the Asscher tends to have a higher carat weight than its counterparts, and consequently, a slightly larger price tag.

The Oval Cut

If you like the brilliance of the round cut, but the elongated aesthetics of the marquise cut, you may be in the market for an oval cut. Oval cuts come the closest to the unprecedented fire and brilliance of the industry leading round cuts over all other fancy cuts.

Similar to the marquise cuts, many people believe the elongated shape of the oval cut is more flattering to wearers by making their fingers appear longer. As another bonus, since the oval shape is oblong, it also appears to be a larger diamond than a round cut of the same carat.

The Pear Cut

Designed as a cross between the round cut diamond and the marquise cut diamond, the pear cut is one of the few asymmetrical diamond cuts. It’s also considered the teardrop shape by many in the industry, due to its unique design.

Though it’s more difficult to find a properly done pear cut diamond than other cuts, there are some beautiful pieces with mesmerizing colors that no other cut can compare to. Look for a piece with a higher color level and you’ll be sure to find a very unique and rare investment.

The Heart Cut

Known as one of the more uncommon cuts, heart cut diamonds are another cut with roots in royalty. Royals across Europe fashioned heart cut gems as symbols of status and were given as gifts to others as a show of goodwill.

Today these diamond cuts are among the priciest due to their difficult cutting process. It’s highly difficult to maintain symmetry on the halves and generally requires a larger carat to achieve the noticeable heart shape.

Overall, the diamond cut you choose can be as important (or more) than the carat, color or clarity of the diamond. Be sure to take note of which aspects are most important to you (budget, style, etc.) and choose the cut that’s best for you.