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What’s the Best Diamond Cut for an Engagement Ring?

by David Weliver

To cut to the chase: The best diamond cut for an engagement ring is the Round Brilliant, followed closely by the princess cut, the cushion cut, and the oval cut. Almost everyone agrees that the Round Brilliant cut is the most stunning diamond shape.  

Twelve different diamond shapes (or cuts) that can be used for engagement rings.
Diamond shapes — sometimes referred to as “cuts”.

That’s my best answer in a nutshell. And I’ll back up my opinion with some clear information and some reasoning that will convince you, I believe. 

Having put my cards on the table I also want to state the obvious truth: 

The best diamond cut for an engagement ring is the one she likes best!

In this article, I’ll lay out a systematic way for you to choose the best diamond cut for your engagement ring — as a couple, or else you choosing alone, if the proposal is to be a surprise.

Your ring, your decision

What society thinks should not be given overwhelming weight. But it should be taken into account. Here’s why.   

You’ll notice two opposite ways of thinking about the question: “What’s the best diamond cut for an engagement ring?”

We’ve already stated them in the opening section.

1. The best diamond cut is the Round Brilliant, because most people agree on that, because it’s the shape with the most brilliance, fire, and sparkle. 

2. The best diamond cut is whatever you like as a couple. 

These aren’t necessarily in conflict. Let’s briefly explore the relation between them, so that you can make a choice that you and your spouse will be happy with for a lifetime.

1. The first way of deciding the question is to accept the consensus of experts and of the market. (The Round Brilliant Cut has the most fire and the most brilliance of any diamond cut, therefore it’s the best.) 

2. The second way of deciding the question is to allow your own personal preference to override whatever the experts and the market may say. You may choose a heart-shaped diamond “because we like it, and we don’t care what the others say.” And fair enough. Who would argue against that? 

But before you simply accept the verdict of the experts and the market, or before you simply insist on your own personal preference without listening to experts and the market, let’s notice some interesting facts: 

First, of course experts can’t dictate to you what you like as a couple. Of course you’ll have your likes, preferences, and dislikes. 

But on the other hand, marriage is a cultural institution. Getting engaged is not exactly a highly individualistic act. It’s expected. It has norms around it.  So it won’t hurt to listen to the input od experts and the market when choosing a diamond cut. 

Taking part in the beauty, value, comfort, discipline, and community of the institution of marriage is an act of sacrificing part of your individuality for the family. For the community. So that you’re more committed to your new family, and extended families And to the extended community. 

That’s one of the main reasons for getting married in the first place. (And it’s also why anarchists are rarely known for their beautiful weddings. Or any weddings at all.) 

I mean, you are choosing  to get married. (That’s listening to experts and the market.) 

And you are choosing to solemnize the engagement by purchasing a diamond ring. (That too is listening to the culture, and following its recommendations.) 

And so it only stands to reason that you’d consider the input of experts and of others’ massive preferences when you are choosing a diamond cut. 

Questions to ask before choosing a diamond cut

You can ask yourself these questions about each cut as you choose the best cut for your engagement ring: 

1. How am I, or my spouse, going to feel about this cut over the next possibly 7 decades of life? 

Choosing a cut which has stood the test of time (the Round Brilliant, the Princess Cut, the Cushion Cut, or the Oval Cut) can be a reassuring choice. 

2. How will my future spouse feel about this cut when presented with it? 

3. Will it inspire respect for the care with which I chose it? Is it formal enough? (The four cuts I’ve chosen as “the best” fit that bill.) Is it individual enough? (The need for individuality can often be satisfied by a more unique setting, or a ring inscription.)  

4. Is it risky? (For example, a Heart Cut can be perceived as too cute for an engagement ring, by some people. A black diamond also might not be the best choice, unless a lot of discussion precedes it.)

5. Is it too idiosyncratic? 

A Pineapple Cut diamond in Fancy Yellow, with green emerald accents, may seem like you were really shopping around, trying to be individualistic, and to give her something special. (She loves pineapples, after all.) But … it can also just seem … inappropriate, like wearing a colorful tie to a black tie party. 

6. How will this shape be seen by others who are, and will be, important to us … over the years?

Who are the people you must impress over the next decades, to get ahead professionally or socially? Their opinions shouldn’t count for more than your own preferences, but it’s wise to take them into account. Can you find a ring that you both love, and that doesn’t cause consternation in your social and professional world? 

What kind of diamond sparkles most?

Round Brilliant cut diamonds have the best light performance — fire, sparkle, and brilliance. 

A round brilliant diamond showing its fire and sparkle. Round brilliant is the best cut of diamond for an engagement ring.
A Round Brilliant diamond showing its brilliance against a black background.

Light performance (or sparkle) is the main thing people love about diamonds. Not just their expense. Not just the meanings a diamond carries as the world’s most indestructible substance, and as a symbol of eternal love. 

Many people new to shopping for diamonds (and that includes the vast majority of people shopping for an engagement ring) are surprised to find that cut shape is one of the most important factors in light performance of a diamond. 

And in fact, this is the main reason the Round Brilliant Cut has consistently been the most popular choice through the decades, even when others trend upward for a time. 

What is this fire and brilliance, in simple physics? 

Simply put, it’s the amount of light pouring upward through the top of the diamond. 

Because of the way it is shaped, the Round Brilliant Cut captures more light from its sides, then directs a greater percentage of that light out through the top. (Obviously, a diamond on a ring is meant to be viewed from the top. So, cuts that refract and reflect light internally to direct it through the top of the diamond are more appealing.)

Some shapes come close to the Round Brilliant Cut’s light performance. 

For example the Cushion Cut. And the Princess Cut. And the Oval Cut. 

But no cut does light better than the Round Brilliant. This question has been affirmatively settled by long experience of experts, and by scientific studies of how light behaves in certain shapes of diamond. 

Some diamond cuts make no attempt to maximize fire, sparkle, and brilliance. 

These include the Emerald Cut, and the Asscher Cut. They aim for a more understated beauty — a beauty of internal transparence. 

The difference between diamond ‘cut’ and ‘shape’

Technically speaking, a diamond’s cut is a measure of the gem’s cut quality — it’s one of the “4 Cs” that determine a diamond’s value. But a diamond’s “cut” can also refer to the stone’s shape, as we’re discussing in this article.

As a measure of diamond quality, cut means the quality of the job the jewel cutter did when cutting the rough stone. 

The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has the most authoritative and recognized cut scale of Poor Cut Quality, Fair Cut Quality, Good Cut Quality, Very Good Cut Quality, and Excellent Cut Quality. 

In looking at cut quality, we ask questions such as these: 

Did the cutter make the cuts symmetrical? Proportional? Cleanly? Did they avoid chipping the diamond? And most important, does it all result in maximum brilliance, fire, and sparkle? 

Many people don’t realize it, but diamonds don’t split automatically along perfect lines when cut. In fact the jewel cutter’s skill, and also luck, play huge roles in the cut quality of a diamond. 

Cut quality is the most important variable in how beautiful a diamond is, and in its light performance, and in its value. It can be even more important than the shape. For example, an Oval Cut diamond with a GIA Cut Quality of Excellent will perform better than a Round Brilliant Cut diamond with a GIA Cut Quality of Poor.

Of course, cut quality and diamond cut (shape) work together in determining light performance of a diamond. 

An Asscher Cut or a Emerald Cut, while beautiful for their transparency, can never hope to compete with a Round Brilliant Cut or Princess Cut when it comes to light performance. It doesn’t matter if they are the most perfect cut Asscher or Emerald cuts in the world. The dimensions won’t allow them to perform better than a decently cut Round Brilliant.  

How to choose the best cut for you as a couple

(If you want a reliable system for choosing the best cut as a surprise, see below.) 

Here’s a simple way to choose the best cut together, as a couple. This assumes that the proposal is not a surprise. 

1. Go to Blue Nile or James Allen, both of which have fantastic 3D imaging. 

Here’s how it looks at James Allen.

Round diamonds are considered the best diamond shape for engagement rings.
Round diamonds at James Allen.

Click through each of the shapes offered in the sliders. (See the green arrow in the image.) When you click on the next one, the first one is deselected. So when you click on the icon for Princess Cut, you’ll automatically deselect the Round Brilliant filter, and be presented with only Princess Cut diamonds. 

2. Make a list of the shapes that appeal to you. 

3. Try to rule out at least one or two. 

4. Ask yourself how important a diamond’s brilliance is. (It’s honestly far and away the most important quality for most people. Those flashes of fire are visible from across the room, so far away that a shape is not even discernible.) 

If fire and brilliance are as important to you as they are to most people, then you may likely want to focus on the first tier (or possibly the second tier) below. 

First tier of diamond cuts ranked in brilliance

A. Round Brilliant Cut — Always the champion. Physics and decades of experience prove that no diamond cut can beat the Round Brilliant for light performance. 

B. Princess Cut

C. Radiant Cut

D. Cushion Cut

A second-tier, still quite brilliant 

A. Oval Cut

B. Pear Cut

C. Heart Cut (But it’s often seen as too “cute” for an engagement ring, which most people agree should be more formal.)

5. If fire and brilliance are not the most important quality of a diamond for you, then simply page through the shapes looking for shapes that you both like. 

6. One consideration for longer, more elegant fingers:  Fingers that are long and elegant can benefit from a Marquise cut which emphasizes them.  

7. Keep a live list together for a few days, in a document you both can share. Jot down your thoughts separately and together, whenever an idea or a feeling hits you. 

8. Within a few days, you both will have settled on a shape. Congratulations! You took the time to do it right, with a system, and with thought. You’re sure to be happy with it for decades to come. 

How to choose the best cut if the proposal is a secret

If choosing the diamond cut shape is all up to you, because the proposal is a secret, then you have a huge responsibility. But you can meet that responsibility systematically, and make the right choice. 

Here’s what you do: Go through all the steps in the section just above this one, imagining her responses. Imaginatively get into her head. And because you know her, you can have confidence that you’ll make the right choice. 

“Listen” to her in your imagination, as you imagine talking with her about it. 

Should you ask her friends? Her mother? Her aunt? Anyone? 

That’s open to your judgement. My opinion is that you should not. This is a decision by you, for you both. You can’t really take the pressure off of yourself by getting input from her friends and family. It’s good to be decisive, and independent, especially in an important decision like this. Take your time, think it through imaginatively with her, and then decide. 

Remember: the gift of an engagement ring is not just about the ring itself. It’s about the whole cultural ceremony of making the decision and buying the gift. It’s about you as much as it is about the ring. 

So, of course there’s no real right and wrong way to go about these things. Every couple is unique. But at the same time, I believe making the choice on your own, using the 8-step systematic decision making process above, is a great choice. 

Conclusion

The best diamond cut for an engagement ring is, ultimately, what you like best. 

But most people best like a diamond that fits into the whole family, community, and cultural institution of marriage. A diamond that everyone will also like, and approve, and congratulate you on. In that light,  how the ring will be perceived should also be taken into account. 

We marry, in part, to give up some of our individuality. Some of our universal natural tendency toward self-centeredness. It’s in order to have closer relationships with each other, with family and with community. It’s only reasonable to take our families’ and communities’ norms into account. 

Most people prefer the Round Brilliant Cut, because most people prefer a diamond to have maximum fire, brilliance, and sparkle. 

But in the end, it’s you two together. Not the rest of society. Not your families. Not your communities. And also, everyone respects individual choice — or should.  

Having taken all these things into account,  you’re fully equipped to choose the diamond cut which you love best. 

More: Everything you need to know about buying a diamond

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