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The Diamond Cuts Guide

Understanding the most important of the diamonds 4 Cs

By Mike Fried,

Cut is one of the diamond’s four primary quality markers, known as the 4Cs. It relates to the diamond’s proportions and technical details, influencing its brilliance. A superior cut offers enhanced fire and sparkle.

Diamond cuts are graded from ‘Excellent’ (or ‘Ideal’) at the top to ‘Poor’ at the bottom. Typically, trustworthy online sellers avoid diamonds below ‘Good’ cut quality. Among the 4Cs, cut stands out as the most crucial, significantly impacting the diamond’s beauty and radiance.

Pro Tip: You will often see diamond cut and diamond shape used interchangeably, but they are two very distinct meanings. Diamond cut refers to the quality whereas diamond shape refers to the pattern/arrangement of the diamond. If you are interested in different diamond shapes, read our article on diamond shape.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:
What is a diamond cut chart?
What is a GIA cut grade?
How to choose a diamond cut?
What are the prices for different diamond cuts?
What are the factors that affect a diamond’s cut?
What proportions of the diamond cut are important?
What is the best diamond cut?
Is there a difference between diamond cut and diamond shape?
Bottom line recommendations when looking at diamond cut
FAQs about diamond cut

Cut is possibly the most important of the 4Cs. If you ignore it, you can make an enormous mistake. For example, this diamond from James Allen seems like a great find, as it is 21% cheaper than this diamond from James Allen. In reality, the diamond will have no brilliance and is very poor value.

To help you with the diamond buying process we lean on our expertise and experience. The author of this article, our CEO, Mike Fried has over 20 years of experience in the diamond industry. Mike started from the bottom, sorting and evaluating hundreds of thousands of diamonds to learn every facet (pun intended) of diamond quality and value. Mike followed that up by spending years buying and selling diamonds on the wholesale market as well as selling tens of millions of dollars worth of diamonds to diamond retailers.

Diamond Cut Grade Chart

A professional gemologist at the GIA reviews each diamond under magnification to determine the Cut grade. Here are the GIA cut grades for round diamonds:

Excellent Excellent cut diamonds provide the highest level of fire and brilliance. Because almost all of the incoming light is reflected through the table, the diamond radiates with magnificent sparkle.
Very GoodVery Good cut diamonds offer exceptional brilliance and fire. A large majority of the entering light reflects through the diamond’s table. To the naked eye, Very Good cut diamonds provide similar sparkle to those of Excellent grade.
GoodGood cut diamonds showcase brilliance and sparkle, with much of the light reflecting through the table to the viewer’s eye. These diamonds provide beauty at a lower price point.
FairFair cut diamonds offer little brilliance, as light easily exits through the bottom and sides of the diamond. Diamonds of a Fair cut may be a satisfactory choice for smaller carats and those acting as side stones.
PoorPoor cut diamonds yield nearly no sparkle, brilliance or fire. Entering light escapes from the sides and bottom of the diamond.

The AGS cut grade chart also includes an Ideal grade. Cut quality is graded by the AGS as Ideal, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair or Poor. When looking at AGS diamonds, we recommend only considering Ideal cut diamonds for the best quality.

Diamond Cut Grades

What are GIA Cut Grades?

In August 2005 the GIA announced the introduction of a new “cut grade” to its grading reports. According to JCK Online Magazine “The addition of a cut grade to the GIA Diamond Grading Report and GIA Diamond Dossier for round brilliant diamonds is the result of more than 15 years of research and testing, including sophisticated computer modeling and ray tracing of more than 38.5 million proportion sets.”

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GIA diamond cutting grades for a round brilliant cut diamond will range from Excellent to Poor. Diamond cut grade is based on a number of factors including symmetry, polish, brilliance and fire. For the most brilliance and beauty, only consider round brilliant cut diamonds with an Excellent cut. Ensure the symmetry and polish of the diamond are either Excellent or Very Good.

The reality is that 55% of all round cut diamonds receive an excellent cut grade from the GIA. About 25-30% of these “excellent” cut diamonds are not recommended. Our consultants review thousands of Excellent cut diamonds and find bad specs (depth, table, and angles).

That’s why it’s important to look at the cut grade of a diamond on the GIA certificate, but to also review the diamond closely yourself or ask an expert. You don’t want to end up paying for an Excellent cut diamond that’s only mediocre.

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How to Choose the Best Diamond Cuts

With most of the 4 C’s of diamonds (the others being clarity, color and carat weight), there’s a sweet spot where beauty and value meet up.

To use diamond clarity as an example, there is a point (generally around VS1-VS2) where any increase in grade is not going to offer a noticeable increase in beauty. To the naked eye, a VS1 or VS2 diamond will likely appear clean and flawless.

Diamond cut, however, is different. It’s the one grade you don’t want to compromise on. While middling grades in clarity or color can be concealed, and low-carat diamonds can still have a radiant and beautiful appearance, a low cut grade is likely to result in a diamond that doesn’t dazzle like it is supposed to.

We recommend you restrict your search to only Excellent or Ideal cut grades, as there is no hiding a below-average cut. Even if your budget forces you to sacrifice in other areas, a well-cut diamond should still have the potential to stand out.

different diamond shapes set in custom-made rings by Abe Mor
Yellow and white diamond shapes set in spectacular custom-made rings by Abe Mor

Prices for Different Diamond Cuts

As with all areas in which diamonds are graded, the price can rise and fall a lot depending on your choice of cut grade.

Their prices are based on the precision and quality of the cut—primarily its proportions and symmetry. For example, this diamond from Blue Nile is about as perfect a cut as you can get. The depth, table and all other proportions are as exact as can be. Because of that, you are paying a higher price for the diamond, even compared to a typical excellent cut diamond.

If the diamond’s facets (the glossy flat surfaces of a diamond) are proportional, for instance, they refract and reflect light back to the eye in tremendous fashion. Diamonds that aren’t as precisely cut have facets and pavilions that do not refract and reflect light as spectacularly.

The amount of light return and brilliance found in an exceptionally cut diamond is worth the extra price. Without brilliance and fire, a diamond is less than radiant—no matter the carat weight or table size.

In other words, a diamond’s cut is the quality that most significantly impacts its beauty. That’s why the cost of diamonds with higher cut grades are worth every penny—and it’s better to spend more on cut than on diamond color or clarity.

If you’re working within a budget, we recommend forgoing a GIA grade in color and clarity to ensure you’re selecting an ideal cut diamond. And which one is more important you ask? You can find out in our guide to diamond color vs clarity.

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Factors that Affect a Diamond’s Cut

The most important factor in a diamond’s value and price is its cut quality. Many elements are involved in cut quality including its proportions, facets, finishing details and ability to reflect light. The better these characteristics are as a whole, the higher the quality of the diamond, and in return, the higher the price. While color and clarity play a role in a diamond’s beauty, cut is the most critical of the 4Cs.

Here are the main factors that affect the price of a diamond:

  • Proportions (table, width, depth)
  • Symmetrical diamond’s facets (the mirrors, windows and steps of a diamond)
  • Brilliance (brightness of white light reflection)
  • Fire (dispersion of colored light)
  • Scintillation (the flashes of sparkle when light moves)
  • Finishing details (permanent treatment and polishing)

Diamond Cut Proportions

To further understand the factors impacting diamond cut quality, let’s examine a diamond’s proportions, primarily its table, width and depth. These elements are universally measured and are excellent indicators of a diamond’s cut quality.

Diamond cuts and how light reflects through a diamond

Diamond cut proportions directly affect a diamond’s ability to reflect light and provide brilliance. Proportions are based on the ratios between size, angle and shape of each diamond facet. Various combinations of these elements impact how the diamond will interact with light, which determines its overall beauty and lasting appeal (as well as its GIA grading). Don’t forget that different diamond shapes have different proportions.

Diamond Table

Diamond table % is determined by dividing the width of the table (top surface area) by the width (diameter) of the diamond. For example, if the table facet is 3.5mm wide, and the diamond is 5mm wide, the table % is 70%.

Diamond Table

If the table percentage is too large, the light won’t reflect off of the diamond’s crown angles and facets. Vibrant reflections of color won’t be seen as the light will escape from the top of the diamond instead of reaching the eye.

If the table percentage is too low, the light will remain trapped inside the diamond and be emitted through other parts of the diamond instead of to the eye.

The ideal table % depends heavily on the diamond shape. If you’re unsure of an excellent table % for your diamond, please contact us and we will walk you through the options and factors.

Diamond Width

A diamond’s width is determined by measuring from one end of its girdle (the diameter at its widest point) to the other end of the girdle.

Diamond Width

The width is most important when it comes to determining length to width ratio, which signifies how proportionate the diamond is along with its intended shape (i.e. square vs. rectangular).

Length to width ratio is measured by dividing the length of the diamond by the width. For example, if a diamond has a length of 5mm and a width of 3mm, the length to width ratio is 1.67.

Diamond Depth

Depth % refers to the height of the diamond, from the culet to the top of the table. Depth is measured in millimeters and percentages. By dividing the depth by the width, the depth % is achieved.

As an example, if a diamond is 4mm in depth and 4.5 mm in width, the depth percentage is 88.8%.

Diamond Depth

In most cases, a lower depth % of two equal carat diamonds will appear larger due to the increased width. On the other hand, a depth % that is too low can create a darker appearance as it will not reflect light as powerfully.

Shallow Diamond Cut

When a diamond is cut too shallow, light hits the pavilion at a low angle. The light travels through the diamond and exits through the sides, instead of reflecting through the table and to your eyes.

While shallow cut diamonds may seem largely based on their table size (they are also called spready diamonds), the escape of light at the bottom significantly reduces the diamond’s brilliance, sparkle and fire.

Deep Diamond Cut

When a diamond is cut too deep, light hits the pavilion at a sharper angle, causing it to immediately reflect to another pavilion. The light is forced to retract and pass through the bottom of the diamond. As this happens, light is dulled and the diamond becomes less vibrant and radiant.

A deeply cut diamond also tends to look smaller than those of an ideal cut.

What is the best Diamond Cut?

Simply put, a well-cut diamond maximizes the light that strikes each pavilion. Instead of escaping through other parts of the diamond, light reflects back through the crown and table. For our readers that are focused on cut, they have had the most success with James Allen’s True Hearts and Blue Nile’s Astor Cut diamonds.

When it comes to determining the highest grade possible, GIA uses the term “excellent” while AGS uses the word “ideal.” These cuts are well-proportioned with optimal facet angles, allowing the brilliance and fire to pass through the table for all to see.

For these reasons, excellent cuts are more valuable and more luminous. When buyers have a budget, we often advise choosing a smaller, well-cut diamond as opposed to a larger carat that is poorly cut to get the most sparkly diamond.

If you’re unsure of an ideal cut for your diamond, speak to an expert to walk you through the process.

Princess Cut Diamond Ring

Symmetrical facets

The facets of a diamond are the tiny mirrors that reflect light back to your eyes. Facets surround the diamond’s table. There are facets above the girdle and below the girdle. The pavilion (the part of the diamond below the girdle that reaches to the culet) is also made up of facets. Round brilliant cut diamonds have 58 facets in total.

The size, placement and symmetry of the facets impact how well the diamond refracts and reflects light. A diamond with unproportioned facets, too many facets or fewer facets, can cause a less than ideal diamond. 

Brilliance

A diamond’s brilliance is the brightness of the white light reflection. When looking at a diamond face-up under light, it should reflect an abundance of white light. A diamond that’s not symmetrical, is cut too deep or too shallow, for example, looks dull instead of brilliant.  

Fire

A diamond’s fire is the amount of colored light that reflects off of the table and facets. Well-cut diamonds not only have brilliance but fire too. When looking at the diamond face-up under light—especially daylight—you should see colored light bouncing off of the diamond. If the diamond doesn’t exhibit colored light reflection, the diamond has a low amount of fire.

Scintillation

Scintillation of a diamond refers to the flashes of sparkle when light moves on the diamond’s table and facets. The scattering of light resembles a sparkle and is caused by the light and dark areas on the diamond’s surface.  A diamond with a large amount of scintillation is more desirable. A diamond without much scintillation can appear dull. 

Finishing details

The finishing details are the craftsmanship of the diamond and include its permanent treatment and polishing. The polish of a diamond refers to the condition and quality of the facet surfaces. A diamond that is polished well creates a clear mirror for light to reflect off of. A diamond with a poor polish job looks dull because the facets don’t reflect light as vividly. 

Factors for Determining Diamond Cut Quality

Because diamond cut is an enormous element in determining the beauty and brilliance of any diamond, there are some complexities. Many factors play a role in how a diamond’s cut quality is determined.

The main factors impacting diamond cut quality are:

  • Proportions: the ratios and sizes of the diamond’s depth, width and table
  • Symmetry: precision of the facets, mirrors, windows and steps
  • Polish: the shine and glow of the diamond surface

When you’re looking to see how well-cut diamonds are, take note of how their facets and angles reflect light. Specifically, note how bright and sparkly the light return is when placed under a normal lamp.

You’ll want to gauge diamonds’ fire (the rainbow light of reflection) and brilliance (colorless light and sparkle of the diamond). Be sure to also watch for any dark spots within the piece.

When a diamond is poorly cut (even if it has a high color or clarity grade), light will not reflect as well back to your eyes, making it a duller, more lifeless diamond.

Be sure to review the GIA cut grade on a diamond’s report, which will include ratings of Poor, Good, Very Good or Excellent.

What’s the difference between Diamond Cut and Diamond Shape?

The terms diamond cut and diamond shapes have distinct meanings.

Diamond shape describes the outline or figure of the diamond. For example, pear, oval and round brilliant refer to the shape appearance of the diamond.

Cut refers to the facets, symmetry, dimensions and reflective qualities of the diamond. Pear-shaped diamonds, for instance, may be cut shallow or deep, dull or brilliant. The heart shape remains, while the cut may differ significantly. The finer the cut, the greater the brilliance and fire of the diamond.

Bottom Line Recommendation:

The difference between a well cut diamond and a poorly cut diamond is enormous. You can have something like this ridiculously brilliant diamond from James Allen that runs circles around a poor cut like this one from James Allen.

To come away with a beautiful, brilliant diamond, cut quality has to be a priority. Read on to learn all you need to know about the perfect diamond cut.

What to Look for
What to Avoid
For the most brilliance and beauty look for a round diamond
Don’t sacrifice on diamond cut in order to save money as you might end up with an underwhelming diamond.
For a Round Brilliant diamond, consider only GIA Excellent cut grades.
Don’t consider buying a diamond that doesn’t carry a certificate from a reputable entity like the GIA.
For fancy shaped diamonds, it’s essential that you see a high quality image of the diamond before you buy.
Stay away from diamonds that are too deep or too shallow. They won't refract the light properly.
Focus on diamonds that display symmetry, even proportions, and have few dark spots.
Having trouble navigating the diamond buying minefield? We are happy to help. CONTACT US

FAQs About Diamond Cut

Is an Ideal cut diamond better then Excellent?

The highest cut grade assigned to a diamond depends on the lab issuing the certificate.
For round brilliant diamonds the GIA assigns a rating of Excellent as it’s highest cut grade and AGS uses the term Ideal. Most online retailers have adopted the use Ideal when referring to a diamond that meet either the highest level GIA or AGS standard.

What cut is best for diamonds?

For round brilliant diamonds the Ideal cut is considered the highest rating. Only 3% of diamonds are given the GIA Ideal rating. So called Super Ideal diamonds are cut to a higher standard than either GIA or AGS highest cut ratings.

Is diamond clarity more important then cut?

A diamond’s cut is ultimately more important than its clarity or color, particularly when it comes to brilliance. Before looking at color or clarity, limit your search to excellent or ideal cut diamonds only.

More Questions on Buying the Right Diamond Cuts? Contact Us

When it comes to selecting an ideal diamond for engagement rings, we recommend a quality diamond cut over anything else. For GIA certified diamonds, we recommend choosing an Excellent cut grade. When we search for a diamond, we filter more heavily on cut. You can see our parameters by looking at a James Allen diamond search.

For maximum brilliance: consider a Brian Gavin Signature cut. Brian is a leading industry expert in the field of cut optimization. His Signature cuts are on par with the famed Hearts on Fire brand—only far cheaper.

For round brilliant cut diamonds, don’t give any credence to an online vendor’s cut grade. Only focus on the GIA cut grade on the certificate.

In addition to reviewing a GIA or other grading report, be sure to look at the diamond yourself or have an expert assist you. Most importantly, ensure the diamond is appealing to you and your personal style and desires.

Our primary focus is making sure your diamond search is easy, simple and accurate. We want you to find the highest quality diamond while staying within your budget.

If you’d like assistance with finding and selecting a diamond, we’ll be happy to filter through the cuts and make recommendations for you.

James Allen James Allen is the leader in online diamond sales. Their imaging technology is the same as inspecting a diamond with a jeweler's loupe. They have the largest exclusive loose diamond inventory online and fantastic prices. They also have the nicest collection of lab-created diamonds online.
What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. James Allen will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free International Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisals
  • One free resizing within 60 days of purchase
  • Free ring inscriptions
  • Best-in-class high quality imagery of all diamonds in stock
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • Best-in-class packaging
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Blue Nile Blue Nile is the largest and most well-known internet jewelry seller. They have a very large exclusive online inventory. Their high-quality images are catching up to James Allens' and their prices are amazing. 
What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. Blue Nile will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisal
  • One free resizing within the first year of purchase
  • High quality images of about half of their diamonds
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • 100% credit towards future upgrades (must be at least double in value)
  • Best in class fulfillment
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About the author

Mike Fried Mike Fried Mike Fried has over 25 years experience in the diamond industry working with Leo Schachter Diamonds, Moshe Namdar Diamonds, and joining The Diamond Pro in 2007. He is recognized as an industry expert and has been quoted in publications such as Us, People, Page Six, The Next Web and more.

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