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Get in Shape: A Professional Jeweler's Uncensored Guide to Selecting the Best Shape for Your Diamond Ring

Updated on February 9, 2015

Diamond Shapes

Popular Diamond Shapes
Popular Diamond Shapes

Don't Confuse Shape and Cut

THINKING about getting a nice diamond ring? You probably already know about the FOUR C's (Cut, Color, Clarity and Carat Weight), and information about the FOUR C's is all over the Internet.

One thing that's not discussed too much is diamond shapes.

Diamond buyers often come into Big Sky Gold & Diamond with a shape already in mind. If a diamond buyer happens to be looking for a specific shape for a partner's wedding ring, don't even bother to read the rest of this post. Give her what she wants...of course, be sure it's well cut, regardless of the shape.

Yes, there are variants--special proprietary cuts, like the Lucida Cut or the Leo Cut, but this post isn't intended to deal with every single 'special cut'; I'm writing it to give buyers a little practical help when it comes to selecting a diamond shape.

KEEP THESE GENERAL TIPS IN MIND

I'm not going to dwell on the quality of cut. That's another post. All the comments below are based on decent examples of each shape, unless otherwise stated.

Any fancy shape that comes to a POINT is vulnerable to damage. Diamonds are hard, but they are not indestructible.

Try to look at look at loose diamonds instead of mounted diamonds. It's easier to judge the relative merits of diamonds when they are not set into rings. A prong can cover an imperfection, a nick or a chip.

IN ORDER OF VULNERABILITY TO DAMAGE FROM ROUGH WEAR OR POOR SETTING PRACTICES (OR BAD LUCK):

1. TRILLIANT (most likely to be damaged)

2. PRINCESS

3. MARQUISE

4. PEAR

5. All other shapes except:

6. ROUND (least likely to be damaged)

What Goes Around...comes in a ROUND BRILLIANT

The Advantages of Round Brilliants:

* Because about 80% of all diamonds are cut into Round Brilliants, there tends to be a better selection.

*Because they are optically more efficient, a well cut Round Brilliant will sparkle better than fancy shapes.

*They never go out of style.

*There are more settings available for Round Brilliants than for any other diamond shape, and Round Brilliants are less likely to be damaged during setting (unless they have very thin girdles).

*Because there aren't any corners to abrade or chip, they are more durable than fancy shapes.

*The standards of cutting have evolved to the point where we can measure light return, reflection and refraction, and within certain parameters, establish what some dealers call "ideal cuts". These do vary within very small tolerances, but when you closely examine a 'premium cut' or 'ideal cut' round brilliant next to an average diamond, you'll pick up the difference without a problem.

You may see a "hearts & arrows" cut diamond with superb symmetry, but proportions and symmetry are NOT the same thing. Roseanne Barr may be as symmetrical as Keira Knightley, but the proportions are not the same.

The Disadvantages of Round Brilliants

*They tend to cost more. Round Brilliants tend to cost about 20% more than fancy shapes.

*They are common (unless you are looking at big ones...then, let's talk).

A Princess for Your Princess

For the last fifteen years or so, the Princess Cut diamond has been very popular, especially for engagement ring centers. Yes, there are companies that will claim to have "ideal cut" princess cuts, but there's still some argument about what angles and relative proportions make the prettiest princess of them all.

The Advantages of a Princess Cut

*It's clean, modern and very tailored looking.

* A Princess tends to sell for a bit less than a Round Brilliant of an equivalent carat weight.

*When placed into a setting with other princess cuts, it tends to look like a 'sheet of diamonds'. Wow.

The Disadvantages of a Princess Cut

*A Princess Cut is going to look smaller than a Round Brilliant of an equivalent carat weight.

*A Princess Cut is more vulnerable to damage. Those tiny sharp corners can get scuffed or damaged. I've even seen a couple of Princess Cuts with corners that had completely sheared off. Yipes.

* A Princess Cut is tougher to set. I've seen goldsmiths botch princess cut settings quite often: because they are delicate, lesser goldsmiths get the willies and do everything from "the funky pinch" to the "don't touch my point" setting.

* Despite its consistent popularity for over a decade, the princess cut may have 'peaked'. More and more people are asking for a cousin to the princess cut, the softened square called a 'cushion cut'.

Rest Your Head on this Cushion

The Cushion Cut is a 'revival cut'. That means it's been around a long, long time. When humans first found diamonds, they didn't have the skill or understanding to drastically change their angles. After all, diamonds are HARD. As the skill evolved, a cushion became the standard cut. It utilizes a lot of the rough crystal--a poorly cut cushion cut often bears a very strong resemblance to a well formed, eight sided diamond crystal.

I've seen cushions I could rest my head on for years... and I've seen quite a few that I just won't sell.

The Advantages of Cushion Cuts

*They are generally less expensive than princess cuts.

*They are less vulnerable to damage during setting or rough wear.

The Disadvantages of Cushion Cuts

*They are still a fancy shape, and though they have been around a long time, expect the cushion cut to wax and wane in popularity.

*Like the princess cut, because it tends to be deeper than a round brilliant, the cushion will tend to look smaller than a round brilliant.

*Finding a setting for a cushion cut can be a challenge. Sometimes a round setting will work, and sometimes a princess or radiant setting will do, but BE CAREFUL. I've seen a few cushions that were jimmied into the wrong style of setting, and if jostled in one of these "make do" settings, the cushion can rotate and pop out.

*Cushion cuts can be very nicely or very poorly cut.

Radiant Radiants

The Advantages of Radiant Cuts:

*This proprietary cut is about forty years old now, and the original cutter of the 'octagonal modified brilliant cut' claimed it was as brilliant, or MORE brilliant than a well cut Round Brilliant. A well cut Radiant is indeed very lively.

*Unlike Princesses, Radiant Cuts can be particularly pretty as rectangular brilliants. Look for proportions similar to an Emerald Cut, or look for a nice square. Tiffany & Co.'s Lucida cut is a variant of the Radiant Cut.

Disadvantages of the Radiant Cut

*There are knockoffs, and generally any square or rectangular brilliant cut with the corners lopped off is called a 'Radiant' cut. Technically, it's a copyrighted cut.

*The Radiant Cut will also look smaller than a round.

*Though there are more and more settings to accommodate Radiant and Cushion shape diamonds, the selection of pre-made settings is still limited.

Just Say AAaaaaHHH to Ovals

The Advantages of Oval Diamonds

*An oval diamond tends to look bigger than a round of equivalent carat weight.

*Ovals sell at a discount to rounds.

*A well-cut oval is a very flattering shape on a hand that's not nineteen years old...There's something very attractive about mimicking the shape of the nail bed. I love big ovals on women who are self conscious about their hands.

The Disadvantages of Oval Diamonds

*Like most fancy shapes, there are areas in ovals that don't reflect light as well. In an oval, marquise and sometimes a pear shape, there is likely to be a visible area that sucks in light in the center of the gemstone. Diamond experts call this a 'bow tie'. All fancies have them, but some ovals look like they are dressed in a tuxedo!

*There are fewer stock settings for ovals; sometimes we adapt a color gemstone setting to fit an oval diamond...and there's always the choice to make a custom ring.

Take a Stab at a Marquise

The Advantages of the Marquise Diamond

*Because they are not popular in smaller sizes, mid-range marquises can be quite reasonably priced.

*If you set a marquise on its SIDE, like an ellipse, it becomes ultramodern and supercool.

*If you have long fingers or a large hand, a marquise is very flattering.

The Disadvantages of the Marquise Diamond

*Marquises were super hot in 1967. Today, not so much. If you set a marquise in a traditional ring, you are really dating yourself (or at the cusp of a new retro trend!).

*The two points of a marquise do make them a tad more vulnerable to damage.

Is a Trilliant Brilliant?

That depends.

The Advantages of Triangular Brilliants (Trilliants/Trillions)

*A big look. A trilliant is going to have a shallow depth and a big face.

*A lower price, especially as a 'stand alone' stone. As part of a matched pair, they can be pricey.

The Disadvantages of Triangular Brilliants

* It can be very tough to find a nice setting that flatters and protects the trilliant as a center diamond.

*Keep it clean. If you don't keep this relatively flattish crystal spotless, it will look like a piece of dirty windshield glass.

*Of all the fancy shapes, because of the thin crystal and sharp points, a trilliant is most likely to be damaged.

The Emerald Cut: The Audrey Hepburn of Diamonds

Until this point, I've talked about brilliant cuts. In brilliant cut diamonds, the facets are shaped like triangles or trapezoids. Their bases (culets) come to a point, like a star in the heavens. In a 'step cut' like an Emerald Cut or Asscher Cut, the facets are like a hall of mirrors...bigger, but unless the light hits a clean emerald cut directly on that facet, it has a sedate elegance. And instead of coming to a point, an Emerald Cut has a 'keel line' at the bottom.

The Advantages of the Emerald Cut

*This is a classic cut. It's also a 'classy cut'. It also sells for less than a round.

*When a clean, well cut Emerald Cut catches the light, it will be a beacon.

The Disadvantages of the Emerald Cut

*Because the facets are larger, and there's less to distract the eye from the quality of the crystal, imperfections are more easily seen in an Emerald Cut. Often my minimum clarity grade for an sizable Emerald Cut is much higher than it is for a round.

*If you don't ante up for a good size Emerald Cut, it sometimes looks like a baguette (an accent diamond). For a modest budget, it's not my first choice.

*Also because they are deeper than Rounds, Emerald Cuts can look smaller.

*Like any other cut, there are poorly cut Emerald Cuts.

*If you don't keep an Emerald Cut clean, it will look dead on your hand. That means if you have a job where you are always in bread dough or hand lotion or hair product, your Emerald Cut will look like it's in shadow even when it's in full light.

*Symmetry issues are more obvious in Emerald Cuts, too.

Check Your Asscher

I really mean it.

If you own an Asscher Cut, check your appraisal and/or your certificate. Most of the diamonds that are sold as Asscher Cuts are really Square Emerald Cuts, NOT certified Royal Asschers. Though they can be very pretty, they are not cut to the exacting specifications of the famous Belgian cutter. Royal Asschers are much more expensive than square emerald cuts.

A true Asscher has a higher crown, a smaller table and other factors that distinguish it from an ordinary square emerald cut.

A true Royal Asscher is one of those proprietary "signature" cuts where a buyer is CERTAIN to pay much more, but a seller may not get a justifiable bump on the other side of the equation. This is a polite way of saying you pay a 'vig' going in, and due to the elite nature of the diamond, don't expect anyone to gasp with delight when you try to sell a Royal Asscher.

The Advantages of an Asscher Cut

*Even a knock-off Asscher, a square step cut diamond, generally has more brilliance than an Emerald Cut. Don't ask me why (I'm not an optics expert), but the step cut faceting of a nice square brilliant usually outshines an Emerald cut. I can often go one clarity grade lower and still maintain an eye-clean diamond for a buyer on a budget.

*True Royal Asschers tend to have a better 'spread' than most Princesses or Radiants. They look bigger (but they're still smaller looking than a round).

The Disadvantages of an Asscher

*Settings can be an issue, though often a princess or cushion mounting can be adapted to fit an Asscher.

*If you're not a clean queen, consider another shape. Like an emerald cut, an Asscher shows best when it's scrupulously clean. If you are in an occupation where your hands get dirty or soapy, or you just like to put a lot of lotion on during the day, your Asscher will not look its best.

*True Asschers are rare and pricey.

Pick a Pear

The poor Pear...it's the second-worst seller in my studio, and it's lagging across the country. Princess cut buyers beware: someday your little square diamond may also be 'out of vogue'.

The Advantages of a Pear Shape Diamond

*It's ripe for the picking. If you like a Pear shape, you can get a great deal on one these days.

*Generally a well cut Pear looks bigger than an equivalent Round Brilliant.

*It's feminine and shapely, and makes an unusual solitaire (or two-stone pear 'bypass' ring).

The Disadvantages of a Pear Shape Diamond

*It's not all rage. When you put your hand out to show your friends, it might not generate the excitement of a princess cut...but then again, if you put the princess budget on the pear tree, you'll blow 'em away.

*Setting can be problematic, though with two triangular brilliants (one on each side) you have a classic ring.

Have a Heart

...or don't.

I have noticed that by the time a woman is old enough to buy a heart shaped diamond ring, she has the maturity to prefer another cut. In the jewelry business, the only good time to own a heart shape is the two weeks before Valentine's Day.

Not that hearts can't be pretty, but a heart shape diamond ring is bit of a cliché. A pendant, however, is another matter.

The Advantages of Heart Shape Diamonds

*They are going to sell at a discount.

*They are unusual.

A heart pendant can be lovely, in a custom bezel in the hollow of the throat...but on a finger, a white diamond heart is not the best choice. It sort of screams "QVC".

The Disadvantages of Heart Shape Diamonds

*They are often poorly cut (broken pears are sometimes recut into long hearts, as are broken marquises. A thin heart is very often a recut diamond. THE RATIO of LENGTH to WIDTH for a HEART SHAPE should be 1:1.

*They can be hard to distinguish from trilliants at any distance.

*They aren't appreciated and their resale value can be abysmal.

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