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What Makes a Diamond Sparkle? 5 Reasons to Make Diamond Cut a Priority

Look, no one here is going to be upset about your obsession with diamonds. In fact, we might even have that in common. After all, they’re sparkly, brilliant, beautiful. Hard to turn down, really. But they certainly don’t start out that way. In fact, in their raw form, diamonds are pretty dull. So how exactly did they come to be these cherished symbols of love, lust, royalty, and perfection (among a lot of other superlatives)? Well, some clever human decided to cut all the dull away and polish one up. It’s a little thing called diamond cut. And it’s the most important of the 4Cs. In fact, here’s our top 5 reasons why you should make diamond cut a priority in your engagement ring shopping quest.

Cut is the ONLY consideration if
sparkling is your top priority.

#1: Sparkle, duh

Ok, so there aren’t 5 reasons. There’s just one. 

Diamond cut is the number one reason why diamonds sparkle. To you, sparkle might just seem like a given. But to gemologists, sparkle is really a bunch of nerdy concepts about light interaction all rolled up into one visually stunning result. Here’s a quick glossary:

  • Brightness is all about light return. So the better a diamond reflects white light back to your eye (like a mirror), the higher its cut grade.
  • Fire is what we call those rainbow-colored flashes of light you see when you rock a diamond from side to side.
  • Scintillation is the sparkle, or the combination of sparkle and the pattern of facets, really

What is a facet? Well, all those tiny polished surfaces that make up your diamond, dear. And they’re super important. Not just how well polished they are (though that is definitely part of the equation), but how perfectly aligned they are and what pattern they are cut in. These things all go into determining how gorge your diamond will be. I.e., how noticeable it will be from across the room.

All this nonsense is, yes, industry nonsense. But it can really pay to, well, pay attention. How so? Well, diamonds are priced based on their grades and their beauty, so if you know what you’re looking for (and where you can cut corners), then you can reap some serious savings. 

That’s Brill

Like we said, diamond cuts should be your top priority when shopping for an engagement ring. But only round diamonds have cut grades. Did your brain just screech to a halt? Yeah, we get that. Look, round diamonds make up about 75% of the diamonds in the retail world. They’ve been studied for, like, ever. And perfected by a dude called Tolkowsky. You might have heard of him. Regardless, back in 1919 he basically came up with the “perfect” round brilliant cut diamond. It’s got 58 (or 57) facets all perfectly angled and sized to create the utmost brilliance. Light return. Sparkle. 

frank darling round solitaire diamond engagement ring with pave, half carat eternity band, caviar band and east west oval eternity band with sapphire detailing
Round brilliant diamonds are the most consistently cut shape which is why they receive more uniform cut grades.
Custom Frank Darling round three stone engagement ring
frank darling parker oval bezel platinum engagement ring and oval two tone engagement ring
Oval diamonds have a lot of variance in cut and the cut type/grade has a lot to do with the bowtie visual, so make sure to check your stone closely!

But What About the Others?

Fancy shapes (everything but round) like emeralds, asschers, ovals, cushions…well, they just have way too much variation to have their own cut grades (though GIA is supposedly working on changing this). And because they make up a much smaller portion of industry sales, there’s just no economic incentive to put all the work in. That’s right, cut grading takes a massive amount of work. And really, round diamonds build that into their price tag. In general, a round diamond is about 25% more expensive than any other shape. Starting to get why? With so much standardization, effort to meet those standards, and popularity, diamond wholesalers can charge a premium. Thus, retailers pass that cost on to you, the end customer.

Master of Diamond Cut Disguise

Ultimately, though, no matter what shape diamond you want, how well it’s cut is going to play a major role in how sparkly it is. And make up for a lot of other shortcomings. For instance, an excellent or ideal cut diamond can even look bigger than a slightly higher carat weight with a lower cut grade. Because sparkle is what the eye sees first. It’s a little trick that can save you some serious cash. If you are evaluating all the diamond’s qualities and have to scale back on something to meet your budget, a higher cut grade can help cover other things like size, color, and clarity (to a point, of course). It literally can disguise things. So #1 priority? You got it. Cut.

Fancy shapes may not have specific cut grades, but that does mean that they are all cut the same.
frank darling princess cut diamond engagement ring in mason half bezel setting
Princess cut, like cushions, have different types of cut patterns that affect the way the light bounces off the stone. There’s no right way to pick a pattern, just go with what you love!

Ship Shape

Now, when it comes to all those other shapes, cut is still totes important. You just have to be a bit more savvy. Like, able to evaluate a diamond’s pattern and proportions to determine if it is, indeed, cut well. This is definitely where images and video come in way handy. Even handier? A diamond concierge! Yep, it’s a thing we do. After all, the last thing you want is to spend serious sums on something sight unseen and have it show up at your door looking like meh. A diamond concierge can work with you on priorities, budget, ring design, and locating the perfect diamond to fit your dream ring, whether that’s a long, narrow oval or a chunky cushion or anything in between.

Hearts and Arrows

Maybe you’ve been told you need to find a diamond with “hearts and arrows” and maybe you’re super confused. Not surprised. This is actually a trademarked term, but in general it references a particular pattern of faceting that you can see reflected in a diamond’s light return with a special scope. That’s right. You won’t see it with your naked eye, so please stop straining. Today, just about every diamond retailer has their own special “super sparkly” branded cut that is supposedly way sparklier than all the others. But once you get to the excellent/ideal cut grade range, we’re really talking 1% of the top 1% so unless this is really important to you, cut grade alone is enough. Besides, those branded cuts…they’ll cost you. And we’re all in favor of not paying for something you can’t really see. Think about it this way. If it takes multiple trained gemologists to determine between two different but both excellent cut graded diamonds…you’re certainly not going to see it.

frank darling harper solitaire round diamond cut engagement ring with knife edge band
If your round brilliant is a high cut grade, it most likely exhibits hearts and arrows characteristics, so don’t get hung up on this too much!

Diamond Cut Testing, Testing

Now, there are certain special tools and tests that can be helpful when you’re shopping for fancy cuts (remember, they don’t have cut grades). For instance, and ASET (Angular Spectrum Evaluation Tool). This is a pretty cool little tool that can help determine the presence of a dark bow tie in oval diamonds. Or if you want to check out fluorescence, that’s a thing you can do. But that will also be listed on any reputable diamond grading lab’s certification.

Asscher three stone with trapezoid sidestones set in yellow gold
Asschers are known more for their clean facets over sparkle, so just keep this in mind if this is your dream cut.

Just Steps Away

One other great thing to be aware of when it comes to sparkle is that different shapes will each have their own sparkling personality. Pun very much intended. Big picture, there are two main cutting styles: brilliant (where angular facets radiate out from a center point) and step cut (which have long, rectangular facets arranged in a square or rectangular fashion. Emeralds and Asschers are step cut, for example, while rounds, ovals, marquises…are brilliant cut. Probably not to anyone’s surprise, brilliant cut diamonds will be more sparkly than step cuts, whereas step cuts have a subtle, sophisticated flash instead. Now, to make it more complicated, there are mixed cuts too. Cushions and radiants often have much more variation. Cushion cut diamonds, for instance, even have a cutting style that results in a sort of “crushed ice” effect. 

Final Answer

In the end, choosing your dream (very sparkly) diamond is your call. Some folks like a super white, super brilliant look while others love a subtle, fiery flash. But ultimately, cut grade (and the proportions that go into it) will be a major player in determining the look of any diamond—and the price. Want to see for yourself? Check out our diamond collection where you can view 360-degree images of more than 10,000 diamonds and compare diamond clarity grades, or book a virtual or offline appointment at our New York salon to view certified lab-grown and natural diamonds in person.

Not finding what you’re looking for? Email us with what you’re looking for at We’ll curate a list of 5-7 exclusive stones that are just right for you.

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