Branded Special Cut Diamonds
Readers already familiar with Truth About Diamonds know that in general, I am not a fan of branded diamonds. The vast majority of branded diamonds are non-standard cuts. Usually this means a few extra facets are added to the stone in a unique way (unique enough to make the new design patentable). The actual new cut is, of course, is the small part of the creation of a branded diamond. The big part is the marketing blitz that escorts the new “special cut.”. The more intelligently crafted campaigns will include something that appeals to both the right brain and left brain. There will be an emotional component (the diamond shines as bright as your love for her, blah blah blah) and a rational component (this diamond provides more sparkle per dollar than any other diamond on earth – here’s a certificate to prove it!).
The diamond companies want you to believe that their new and amazing super cut was created because of an endless desire and passion for creating brilliant diamonds. They want you to believe that a mad scientist locked himself in his lab for a month with no food or water or sleep until he finally emerged barely alive with his secret formula for maximum brilliance! All joking aside, the point is clear – they want you to believe that their motivation was to create a better diamond.
But this isn’t true. As is the case with every single branded diamond, the singular motivation to create a “special cut” stone is be able to sell diamonds at a higher profit margin. Diamonds are almost a commodity. True wholesale prices for similar goods really don’t vary that much from vendor to vendor. While every diamond is an individual, a group of diamonds with the same qualities will pretty much be almost exactly the same as a group of diamonds with the same qualities from another vendor taken as a whole. This means that competition will always bring down prices to the bare minimum at the wholesale level.
Diamond manufacturers can sell at these bare minimum prices and barely eek out a sustainable profit, or they can decide to do something special with their diamonds that would warrant a higher profit margin. This is how branded diamonds got their start.
From personal experience, most of the branded special cut diamonds out there are, in reality, much less nice than regular ideal cut candidates from the same basic shape from which the special cut is based. This is especially true of branded diamonds that are sold at the low-end national chain stores – they are almost exclusively substandard poorly cut diamonds with a few facets added.
But What About Hearts on Fire?
Hearts on Fire, arguably the most well known and perhaps the most successful branded diamond to date, is unique in this case. The Hearts on Fire diamond is simply a very well cut round stone – no extra facets, nothing unique. The trademarked tagline is “The World’s Most Perfectly Cut Diamond.” The company also has a square stone that is basically a uniquely faceted radiant, but they’re really famous for their round stone – so this is what we will focus on in this article.
You might be wondering – if it’s just a regular round diamond, what’s so special about it? Well, to be fair, the cut really is as good as a round diamond can get. You see, even within the subset of diamonds that gets an “Excellent” cut grade from GIA, there is still a range of cut qualities. There is a better end of Excellent and a lower end of Excellent. For most people, the different between these two is barely noticeable at all. But many people claim to be able to see the difference easily and immediately. How sensitive you are to these things is varies from person to person. Hearts on Fire diamonds are only the best of the best in terms of cut.
During a recent trip to New York, I decided to see for myself what the Hearts on Fire experience was like. In New York City, Michael C Fina is the exclusive authorized dealer of Hearts on Fire. I entered the store on southeast corner at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 47th Street in Manhattan as if I were a guy about to propose to his girlfriend.
My goal was to buy a one carat Hearts on Fire diamond in the most simple setting I could find and compare that with the best I could find online that would not be a compromise at all in terms of quality.
As this is a review of the Hearts on Fire product, I don’t want to dwell too much on the buying experience at Michael C Fina. I will just say that it was pretty much as would be expected buying an engagement ring at a higher-end guild independent jewelry store. In fact, I will even say that I was impressed with the salesperson’s knowledge when she said that since Hearts on Fire were cut so “perfectly” that I didn’t need to go overboard on the diamond’s color and clarity. This is something that I fundamentally agree with – and not just with super-ideal cut diamonds. She could have just as easily pushed me to a more expensive diamond.
Now on to the diamond. I ended up purchasing a 1.02ct “G/H VS/SI” mounted in a platinum band without any side stones for $15,990 before sales tax. The total was over $17,200 including sales tax. If you’re thinking that it’s strange that I paid over $17,000 for a diamond, and they don’t even know its color or clarity, you’re in good company. These kinds of “split grades” are the type of things you find on IGI certificates of mounted goods at low-end national chain retailers. Not the sort of thing you expect to find on a premium product.
They’re charging a rather hefty premium (more on that later) for a pretty standard product. I find it rather surprising that their diamonds aren’t even certified by any 3rd party objective source, like GIA or AGS. Tiffany & Co uses an in-house certificate, but it seems to me that they take it much more seriously. Their grading is exact – no split grades. And their grading was very conservative - right on target in my opinion. You might be thinking, “What difference does it make?” The answer is simple – the difference in price between a G VS1 and an H SI2 is enormous (looking on James Allen right now, a 1ct round G VS1 is about $10,000 while a 1ct round H SI2 is about $6000).
The actual diamond that I purchased was beautiful and extremely brilliant. I got what I expected. But I don’t think this was ever the issue. The issue is value.
Worth the premium?
To be fair to Hearts on Fire, we can’t just find a regular GIA Excellent cut grade (or AGS Ideal cut grade equivalent) to compare prices. That wouldn’t be fair, because as I mentioned earlier, the super-ideal Hearts & Arrows cut of the Hearts on Fire is a small subset of these cut qualities. So to accomplish what I felt was a fair comparison, I purchased a 1.02ct H SI1 AGS certified Triple Zero (various diamond images like the idealscope views can bee seen at the diamond’s original page on BGD) from Brian Gavin Diamonds (See a full Review of Brian Gavin Diamonds here). I chose this diamond because I felt that an H SI1 was the closest approximation of the color and clarity of the Hearts on Fire diamond. This diamond was part of their Signature Hearts & Arrows collection, hand-selected by Brian himself. Brian is a family-trained 5th generation diamond cutter whose expertise in diamond cut quality is sought after all over the world.
I took both the Hearts on Fire ring and the loose diamond from BGD to the same photographer once I had both in my possession. I quickly realized that I erred not having the diamond from BGD placed in a setting, so I improvised and placed the loose stone in a temporary spring-loaded setting. This is why the prongs look more like claws in the picture above and to the right.
The two diamonds were basically identical. If the HOF diamond wasn’t set in a ring, the two diamonds would have been a perfect match for one another. Both were equally brilliant
The loose diamond from BGD cost $8,446 by credit card, or $8,193 if paid by wire transfer. Lets be generous and assume the platinum setting accompanying the Hearts on Fire diamond cost $2000. That leaves $13,990 for just the diamond before tax, about $15,100 after tax. You might think it isn’t fair to compare the after-tax price of the Hearts on Fire stone to the no-tax price of the BG H&A diamond, but I think it’s completely fair. Hearts on Fire is not available online – you have to buy it from a participating certified HOF dealer. That means that no matter where you buy it, you will definitely be paying sales tax. Until the law is changed, you will only pay sales tax on a purchase from Brian Gavin if you live in Texas.
It’s very clear to me after this exercise that you gain nothing paying the premium for a Hearts on Fire diamond over and above other super-ideal Hearts & Arrows cut diamonds (like the Signature cut from BGD). The difference in price is rather significant – $15,100 from Hearts on Fire vs. $8,446 from BGD – almost double. The product, however, is identical.
Reviewed By Michael Fried