Deep within the depths of the Earth’s crust, over hundreds of millions of years, temperature and pressure compress carbon into what we know today as diamonds. Once these treasures reach the surface of the earth, it takes the human task of shaping and polishing these crystals to create the brilliant, sparkling gems that we know them for today.
Diamond cuts come in a variety of shapes and sizes. But determining the best diamond cut really comes down to you and your personal preference. When shopping for the perfect engagement ring, you will probably hear the terms ‘diamond cut’ and ‘diamond shape’ used synonymously. Diamond shape refers to the diamond’s outline when viewed face up, ie square, oval, round and more, while the diamond cut refers to to how the facets are arranged such as the brilliant cut with 57 or 58 facets to increase sparkle. The two predominant cutting styles are step and brilliant. Step-cut stones use a mix of rectangular facets that emphasize the clarity of the diamond while brilliant cuts use triangle and diamond-shaped facets that increase refracted light, allowing for more of the characteristic sparkle in the diamond.
To better understand the variety of diamond shapes available today, we will be exploring the history of diamond cuts, and follow the evolution of diamond cutting in pursuit of the most ideal cut diamond.
To know how we have gotten to the modern diamond shapes we see today, first, we must go back to look at the history of diamonds and diamond cutting. We do not know who discovered the first diamond. The word diamond comes from ‘adamas’ from the Greek for ‘unconquerable’ or ‘indestructible’, and is first mentioned in the historical record by Pliny the Elder in his tome Naturalis Historia. In it, he writes that diamonds are, “The substance that possesses the greatest value, not only among the precious stones but of all human possessions.”
In ancient times, most diamonds and gems were worn in their natural or un-cut form. Many believed that diamonds would lend supernatural power to their wearer, and protect them from harm, so the practice of cutting the gems was believed to diminish their power. Diamond testing was not the accurate science that we know today, so many clear gems were misidentified as diamonds (the same can be said for all of the major gemstones.) It is therefore notable that Pliny notes the hardness of diamonds and what appear to be allusions to the use of diamond dust, an advancement that would lead to diamond cutting as we know it today:
‘These stones are tested upon the anvil and will resist the blow to such an extent, as to make the iron rebound and the very anvil split asunder. Indeed its hardness is beyond all expression … When, by good fortune, this stone does happen to be broken, it divides into fragments so minute as to be almost imperceptible. These particles are held in great request by engravers, who enclose them in iron, and are enabled thereby, with the greatest facility, to cut the very hardest substances known.’
Diamond Cut Evolution
Rough, or natural diamonds, are not the sparkling gems that you see in engagement and wedding rings around the world. The natural shape of a diamond crystal is octahedral, or bipyramidal. Imagine two pyramids that have been joined at the base. In outline, natural diamonds look similar to the diamond shape a child might draw.
As mentioned previously, some of the first diamonds were worn uncut, but experiments by Indian and Islamic lapidaries between the 6th to 10th century revealed the polishing qualities that diamond dust possessed. The ‘point cut’ was the product of these experimentations and used diamond dust to polish the natural bipyramidal shape of the diamond.
By the 13th century, the first widely recognisable diamond cut reached Europe: the table cut. This style of cut retained the bottom half of the octahedral diamond crystal but removed the top point. This left the stone with a flat, square facet to the top of the diamond. This large facet would come to be known as the “table” facet and is where this cut derives its name.
Single cut diamonds
Building on the table cut, old single cut (also known as eight-cut) diamonds added additional facets to the corners of the gem, bringing the total number of facets to eight. These facets acted like a window and allowed for more light to enter the stone. This produced a brighter and livelier effect than previous diamond styles.
Diamond cutters of the 16th century continued to experiment with new cutting styles. Along with advancements in technology, lapidaries saw the optical potential of faceting diamonds. By adding additional facets to both the bottom, or pavilion, and top, or crown, of the diamond, the light was more easily able to refract within the stone, displaying a glittering sparkle. This experimentation resulted in a diamond with 24 facets with a shape that resembled a rosebud. The rose cut diamond was one of the leading diamond cuts from the 16th-19th century. This modest diamond cut would spark imagination and become the starting point for the modern brilliant cut diamond. The rose cut diamond is still a popular shape today. Admired for their unique style and their soft, diffused sparkle, compared to modern brilliant cuts, rose cut diamonds are often found in vintage or vintage-inspired rings and jewellery.
The evolution of diamond cuts
Old mine cut diamonds
Prior to the 1800’s India was the world’s only source for diamonds. The discovery of diamonds in Brazil in 1729 and then South Africa in 1867 led to a diamond rush. Because of the influx of diamonds pouring in, diamond cutting underwent rapid industrialisation. New equipment such as the bruting machine allowed for diamonds to be cut and polished easier and with more accuracy than ever before.
Out of this modernisation came the old mine cut diamond. The old mine cut progressed on the cuts that came before it. With soft curved edges, they rarely have a uniform shape. Examples with round, oval, rounded square or cushion outlines can all be found. Old mine cut diamonds feature a small table facet atop a high crown, and large culet, giving it a sharp, architectural look. An old mine cut diamond ring offers an eclectic charm seldom seen today.
European cut diamonds
The old European cut diamond is the predecessor to the modern round brilliant cut diamond. The European cut diamond consisted of a round, symmetrical outline fashioned with 58 brilliant facets on the crown and pavilion. European cuts were the predominant cutting style of the 1870s -1930s and tend to have a rounder and more uniform shape than old mine cut diamonds.
Today old mine and European cut diamond rings are an ever rarer commodity. While the shape remains popular with vintage enthusiasts, many have been recut to modern specifications.
The candle-lit decadence and enlightened ideals of the 17th century saw the development of new diamond cutting styles. The rose-cut diamonds had sparked an interest in the optical qualities of diamonds as well as a demand for gems with increasing brilliance and sparkle. To achieve this, brilliant cut diamonds utilised triangle and diamond-shaped facets on both the top and bottom of the stone. Still rudimentary compared to modern brilliant cuts, the 17th and 18th centuries saw the emergence of some of the cuts and shapes we recognise today.
Round brilliant cut
The round diamond engagement ring is by far the most popular in the world. According to the Knot, over 53% of all engagement rings sold have a round brilliant diamond centre stone. Round cut diamonds can be found in everything from solitaire diamond rings to eternity rings, and are routinely used as accent stones to accentuate a larger central diamond. Round brilliant cut diamonds are an industry staple and the ideal shape for maximising the optical qualities of the diamond. Round brilliant cuts have been seen since the 1700s, but the bright sparkling round diamond cut we think of today was first suggested in the 1860s by Henry Morse. Morse theorised cutting the 58 brilliant facets at precise angles to maximise the brilliance and scintillation of the diamond. Brilliance refers to the patterned black and white flashes of light in a diamond, and scintillation describes the flashes of spectral colour within the stone. This theory was enhanced by Marcel Tolkowsky in 1919, and the modern round brilliant cut was born. While all brilliant cut stones increase the sparkling qualities of a diamond, none do it better than a round brilliant.
Hearts & Arrows
The heart and arrow diamond cut was introduced in the 20th century with the advent of computerised diamond cutting. Like its forefather, the round brilliant cut, hearts & arrows diamonds are cut at extremely precise angles with perfect symmetry to create a distinctive pattern of reflected light in the stone.
When a diamond is viewed with a specialised tool, a pattern of hearts is seem from the pavilion or bottom of the stone. A pattern of arrows is seem from the crown or top of the diamond.
Some exceptional cut stones may have the heart pattern visible without the aid of the tool, but it is important to note that in all examples, the distinctive hearts and arrows cut is difficult to capture, particularly when set in jewellery. If you’re looking for an H&A diamond there are a variety of choices, including a hearts and arrows cushion cut. This cut combines two classic shapes to create hearts arrows and a whole lot of sparkle.
Oval cut diamonds
Examples of oval cut diamonds can be seen throughout history, as the oval shape lends itself well to the natural shape of the diamond crystal. One of the oldest recorded oval cut diamonds is the legendary Koh-i-Noor diamond, now in the Crown Jewels. Over the centuries and cutting evolutions, the oval cut has changed as well. The oval cut diamond was modernised in the 1960s by Lazare Kaplan, standardising the cut by giving it 58 brilliant cut facets to maximize brilliance and scintillation. If you’re looking for an oval diamond ring, make sure to pay attention to symmetry, as the shape of stones may vary. Oval engagement rings make a fantastic choice for someone that wants to make a statement. Because of their shape, oval diamond engagement rings make a stunning choice on their own or accented with a halo of glittering diamonds. Oval cut engagement rings have graced the fingers of royalty and celebrities alike, including Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, Sophie, Countess of Wessex and Angelina Jolie.
Pear cut diamonds
The pear shaped diamond has an old cut that can be dated back to the Flemish diamond polisher, Lodewyk van Bercken in 1458. Van Bercken was the inventor of the scaif polishing wheel. With this technology, lapidaries were now able to achieve new shapes and polish accurate facets. This led to greater experimentation as well as new and alluring diamond shapes. Van Bercken’s pear-cut diamond featured 58 facets placed on both the top and bottom of a pear or teardrop shaped diamond.
The modern pear cut, sometimes referred to as pendeloque, remains mostly the same today, featuring 58 facets but with some variation in facet size and arrangement to optimise brilliance. The pear shaped ring remains a favourite of royalty and celebrities alike. In 1853 Napoleon III gifted Empress Eugenie a pair of 14.25 and 20.34-carat pear shaped diamond earrings previously owned by Marie Antoinette. Elizabeth Taylor was famously gifted the 69-carat ‘Taylor-Burton’ diamond. The magnificent pear shaped diamond ring was later converted to a necklace often worn by the actress. If you are looking for a teardrop cut diamond with timeless elegance, a pear shaped engagement ring offers a graceful shape that combines asymmetry with brilliance.
Marquise cut diamonds
The marquise cut diamond was first introduced in France in the 1740s. This slender shaped diamond utilised the new brilliant style of faceting on both its crown and pavilion to produce a unique cut with brilliant sparkle. Popular legend states that King Louis XV named the new diamond cut after the gentle curve of his lover’s lips, the Marquise de Pompadour. A marquise diamond has rounded, elongated sides that meet at sharp points. Because of its streamlined, boat-like shape, the marquise cut is also known by the name navette, French for ‘little boat’. Marquise engagement rings offer a subtle style and elongate the finger of the wearer. One benefit of this diamond shape is that it creates the illusion of being larger than it is. This, along with its flattering shape, has made the marquise diamond ring a favoured choice.
Cushion cut diamonds
The modern cushion cut can trace its origins to the 1700s. Similar in many ways to old mine cut diamonds, the cushion cut was designed to retain as much diamond weight as possible by combining a square and round cut. The result is a brilliant cut stone with a rounded shaped outline that resembles a cushion. Like many cuts, the cushion was updated in the 20th century to maximize brilliance and scintillation. Many vintage enthusiasts prefer the distinct chunky pattern displayed in antique cushion cut diamonds, compared to the brilliance in modern cushion cut engagement rings. Due to their shape, it is good to note that cushion cut diamonds can vary with some examples more square or rectangular than others. If you’re looking for an elongated cushion cut diamond ring, make sure to look at the dimensions of the stone. While sizes may vary, an elongated cushion cut diamond will usually have an approximately 2:1 length to width ratio.
The evolution of the step cut can be seen in some of the earliest cutting styles, like the point and table cut. Step cut stones, such as Asscher, baguette and emerald, use rectangular-shaped facets, creating a mirror-like effect in high-quality stones. Because of the shape of the facets, light does not refract as much in step cut diamonds as brilliant cuts. Instead, they accentuate the clarity of the diamond, acting as a window into the stone.
Asscher cut diamonds
The Asscher cut, invented by Joseph Asscher of the Royal Asscher Diamond Company in 1902, was the world’s first patented diamond cut. Asscher had risen to notoriety as the man to cut the famous Cullinan diamond, now part of the Crown Jewels. Seeing the opportunity to use more of the rough diamond crystal, the Asscher cut retained more weight than other cutting styles. The geometric shape of Asscher diamonds made it a popular choice for Art Deco enthusiasts of the 1920s. Its square diamond shape made it an excellent centrepiece set amongst diamond baguettes or coloured stone accents.
The Asscher shaped diamond is a square cut diamond with bevelled or cut corners. Arranged with 58 step-cut facets, the Asscher shape diamond is an elegant shape that is a stunning choice with an intriguing history. For those looking for a square cut diamond ring, the Asscher cut diamond offers a sophisticated choice that is sure to captivate your gaze.
The exquisite geometry of an Asscher cut diamond.
Iterations of the emerald cut can be seen in early table cut stones. Like other step cut stones, emerald cut diamonds have a rectangular outline with bevelled, or cut corners, giving the stone an octagonal shape. Like the Asscher cut, emerald cut diamond rings became wildly popular in the 1930s. Their rectangular shape easily lent itself to Art Deco’s bold geometric designs. Today, emerald cut diamond engagement rings remain the preferred choice for those who prefer understated elegance. Wear it on its own as a solitaire or accentuate the mirror-like qualities of the stone with glittering accents to create a baguette emerald cut diamond ring.
Baguette cut diamonds
The baguette cut diamond can trace its history back to the 16th century. Previously known as a hogback, Cartier reintroduced the baguette cut in 1912 and used for its streamlined geometric shape Art Deco baguette cut diamond rings. The basic shape of the baguette cut remains virtually the same today. Baguette shape diamonds utilise step cut facets on a rectangular or tapered outline. Originally used for lettering or monograms, most baguette cut stones are relatively small and used primarily as accent stones. Baguette cut diamond engagement rings can be found in a plethora of styles, from classic chic to bold and brilliant.
Modern Fancy Cuts
Fancy cuts refer to any shape other than a round brilliant cut diamond. From pears to emerald cuts and everything in between. The 20th century has seen the popularity of several new diamond cuts including the princess, radiant and trillion among others.
A diamond in the process of being cut
Triangular shaped diamonds have been used in jewellery since the 1500s. Usually relegated for use as accent stones, the triangle diamond was modernised in the 1960s to create the trillion cut diamond. With slightly bowed edges that meet at sharp points, trillion diamonds are arranged with brilliant cut facets to achieve the characteristic brilliance. Trillion cut diamond engagement rings make a stunning and provocative choice. The eye-catching angles of a trillion cut diamond ring make it a shape you are sure to remember.
The radiant cut diamond integrates geometry with brilliance to create a wholly new diamond cut. Introduced in 1977, the radiant cut combines a rectangular, octagonal shape with a brilliant faceting style. Similar to an emerald cut, radiant cut diamonds have more sparkle due to their faceting style and can easily hide minor imperfections. Radiant cut engagement rings are a dazzling choice with a distinguished pattern of brilliance that makes them an ideal choice for a diamond engagement ring.
Princess cut diamond
If a symmetrical, square shaped diamond is what you have been searching for, look no further than the princess cut diamond; a square shaped stone that is fashioned with brilliant facets. Introduced in the 1980s princess cut diamond rings quickly gained popularity for their brilliant sparkle and modern square shape. Those looking for a square diamond engagement ring no longer needed to sacrifice any of the sparkle of a brilliant cut diamond if they wanted a ring with a square shape. Along with its optical qualities, a princess cut ring also has the benefit of making the diamond appear larger than it is. With their sharp corners and angular patterns of brilliance, princess cut engagement rings are the ideal diamond for someone who likes to blend classic style with a modern twist.
HeartHeart shaped diamonds are the ultimate symbol of love. Heart diamonds have been recorded since the 16th century when Mary Queen of Scots gifted a heart cut diamond to Queen Elizabeth I. Today, heart diamonds use the modern brilliant faceting style to give them their unique sparkle.