Brilliant Cut Basics and Tips for Buying

Top-notch sparkle with a brilliant cut diamond...

With easily the most recognizable sparkle of all time, the brilliant-cut diamond is a classic choice for your engagement ring. This heavily faceted design includes many of the most popular diamond shapes, such as round, pear, oval, marquise, and more. Experts cut brilliant diamonds to bring the best features out of every stone, maximizing fire, brilliance, and scintillation for incredible sparkle every time. So what should you know about this insanely popular style of diamond cut?

Let’s take a look at:🧐

  • Brilliant cut basics
  • Types of brilliant cut diamonds
  • Comparing brilliant cuts with other popular styles
  • Tips for purchasing the perfect brilliant-cut diamond
  • Top settings
  • Pros and cons
Brilliant Cut Diamonds

Basics: What is a brilliant cut diamond?

A history of brilliance

Diamond cutting itself roughly started in the 15th century, and cuts were originally composed of a stone with just a few facets. The table cut, rose cut, old mine cut, and old European cut are predecessors of today’s brilliant diamond, paving the way to our understanding of “sparkle” and what it means to enhance this quality in diamonds. They were cut by hand under candlelight, offering a romantic gleam that isn’t quite the brilliant sparkle we expect from today’s diamonds.

Fast forward to 1919, when Marcel Tolkowsky took on the challenge of creating the “best” diamond cut he possibly could. His efforts resulted in the first round brilliant diamond: a stone with 58 facets and excellent fire, brilliance, and scintillation. As a gemologist AND a mathematician, Tolkowsky spent years toiling over the perfect proportions for a diamond that would produce the most sparkle. As such, he designed the brilliant cut to foster as much light play as possible, prioritizing light performance and precisely cut angles to create something mesmerizing.

What constitutes a brilliant cut diamond?

So what does a brilliant cut diamond look like today? Nowadays, diamond cutters no longer shape these gems by hand, but instead they cut diamonds using advanced machinery and software that make achieving the exact measurements necessary much easier. The diamond world still uses Tolkowsky’s precise measurements and facet counts, with 58 facets being the norm for round brilliant diamonds (57 if there’s no culet!). Of these facets, 33 constitute the crown—everything above the girdle—and 25 are part of the pavilion or below the girdle.

In addition to how many facets there are, the brilliant diamond cut must have specific proportions to be considered “ideal”. For more information on how experts grade a diamond’s cut, we recommend reading our diamond cut guide. In the meantime, here are some suggested proportions for an ideal round brilliant diamond, but keep in mind that what you like may differ slightly from these measurements:✍🏻

  • Depth Percentage: 59 - 62.6%
  • Table Percentage: 54 - 57%
  • Girdle Thickness: Thin to Slightly Thick
  • Culet: None to Pointed

In addition to the round brilliant, there are several other diamond shapes that sport their own version of the brilliant cut. We’ll discuss them shortly!

What does “modified” brilliant cut mean?

As you shop for your own diamond, you may come across the term “modified” brilliant cut. A modified cut is just as it sounds: it’s a diamond with a cut that has a majority of the features of a brilliant cut but is somehow modified. It could mean the cut has more facets or a slightly different faceting pattern, but it’s nothing to worry about if the diamond still has superior sparkle! Modified brilliant cuts are often used on different shaped diamonds to give that particular silhouette the same sparkly appearance as a round brilliant, so as long as the specs check out you’re good to go!

Types of brilliant cut diamonds

There are so many diamond shapes to choose from, so which ones are actually brilliant cuts? Brilliant cut diamonds make up many of the most popular shapes, with the round brilliant being the most classic. Here are 6 brilliant cut diamond shapes we’re sure you’ll love:

Round

👉🏻Iconic, enchanting, and easily the sparkliest diamond shape available, the round brilliant cut diamond is the quintessential version of this cut. As we mentioned above, a round brilliant diamond has 57 or 58 carefully cut facets that are literally designed to make it sparkle as much as possible. The intense light return of this shape provides ample fire, brilliance, and scintillation, and its round silhouette makes it a great neutral gem for simple solitaires as well as complex settings with multiple diamond shapes. It’s also ideal for accents, offering a subtle additional sparkle for any center stone. The round brilliant is also the most expensive diamond shape, maintaining strong popularity throughout its lifetime.📈

Fun fact: round brilliant diamonds make up about two-thirds of all diamonds sold across the globe!

Oval

With much of the same fire and brilliance as the round cut, the brilliant cut oval diamond looks like a gem cutter took the top and bottom of a round brilliant and stretched it until it became roughly twice the length! This elongated silhouette makes fingers seem longer and slimmer, offering a flattering effect on any hand. The oval cut still has 58 facets, and it’s a shape that must be checked for a bow-tie before purchasing. The bow-tie runs across the center of the stone, but it’s much more visible in some diamonds than others. The oval is a versatile shape that looks great in all settings, but we’re suckers for a classic oval solitaire, pavé setting, or even a three-stone or side-stone design with delicate smaller gems surrounding the center stone. Ovals are also ideal for hidden halos, as they allow just a glimpse of those extra diamonds under the basket of the ring.

Princess

Only second in popularity to the round brilliant, the princess cut is a square take on that classic brilliant cut. While there are rectangular versions out there, the square princess cut is the most common and looks like an inverted pyramid. Princess cuts can have 50-58 facets, so stones may vary in overall appeal. However, they all have enhanced fire and brilliance that makes them perfect for solitaire settings where the stone is allowed to shine on its own. Since gem cutters are able to maintain more rough from this shape, they’re also much cheaper than round brilliant diamonds!

Marquise

If you took an oval diamond, stretched it a little further, and pinched the ends into points, you’d have a marquise diamond!😃 The marquise diamond has an elongated body with soft, rounded sides and two points—one at either end of the stone. The result is a striking shape with 58 facets, although some variations of the marquise style can have as many at 71 facets. The marquise diamond has a long history, tracing back all the way to King Louis XIV, who commissioned the shape to mimic the curve of his wife’s lips. Today, the marquise is prized for its elongating effects on all hands and fingers, and it’s a popular side stone shape as well because it can be used to create enticing clusters and fill in any gaps. We love the look of a marquise solitaire, but this stone often looks its best when set with a custom wedding band or ring enhancer that makes the stone look like it has a halo or collar of diamonds!

Pear

A shape that offers the best of both worlds, the pear cut features a rounded bottom with a single point similar to a teardrop. It has 58 facets that create a fractal display of sparkle, and symmetry is an important part of getting that ideal pear shape. If the point is off-center or the rounded edge is uneven, it can seriously detract from the overall appeal of the pear! Pear-shaped diamonds are timeless, and they’re a popular choice right now among engaged couples.😘 When worn, the point of the pear should face upward to avoid snagging or damage, and a protected setting like a bezel or halo is a great way to secure that point. Otherwise, pears look wonderful with petite pavé settings and on lesser-seen settings like rose gold or nature-inspired pieces.

👉🏻Just make sure you inspect each pear-shaped diamond you’re interested in, as this shape often falls victim to the bow-tie effect we mentioned earlier!

Cushion

If you combined a round cut and a square cut, it would probably look something like the brilliant cushion cut diamond. With 58 impeccable facets, the shape somewhat looks like a pillow or cushion—hence the name—with a square or rectangular body and soft, rounded corners. The cushion cut also puts out intense fire thanks to the way light bends and disperses throughout the stone, so you get a slightly colorful sparkle in the process. This hybrid shape also has the benefit of fitting any setting style, from antique to modern. It looks amazing in a simple three-stone or pavé setting, but it can also look stunning in a piece with filigree or intricate beadwork.

Comparing brilliant cut diamonds with other popular cuts

So how do brilliant cut diamonds compare to other cuts, like the popular step cut or the lesser-seen mixed cut? Let’s break down the similarities and differences of these very different cuts:⚖️

Step cuts

The step cut category features some incredibly glam shapes, such as the emerald, baguette, and Asscher cuts. Unlike the 58 facets of the brilliant cut, step cut diamonds typically have fewer facets for a more subdued sparkle. Their facets don’t have a fractal pattern like the brilliant cut, but instead they run parallel to each other in long lines that create that square or rectangular shape. These facets almost seem to reflect upon themselves, providing a mirror-like shine that rivals the unending sparkle of the brilliant cut.

However, due to their very open design, step cuts can’t mask color and inclusions as well as brilliant cut diamonds. Their broad facets often easily reveal imperfections or discoloration, meaning you’ll need higher color and clarity grades to achieve the same look as a mid-grade brilliant cut stone. That being said, step cut diamonds tend to appear larger on your finger and have a slimming effect due to their length-to-width ratio, which can’t be said for every brilliant cut style. And, while they may not be as sparkly as brilliant cut diamonds, step cut stones offer their own luxe appeal that’s ideal for clean, streamlined settings.

Mixed cuts

Also known as a hybrid cut, mixed cut diamonds typically have a cut that combines the brilliant and step styles. A radiant diamond is a good example of a mixed cut, which has a longer silhouette like a step cut with a “crushed ice” sparkle similar to a brilliant cut for a more lively appearance. By combining these cuts, gem cutters can create something entirely new that best suits the rough they’re working with, and many couples love the unique appeal of hybrid cut diamonds.

Tips for purchasing the perfect brilliant cut diamond

Making sure you purchase a quality brilliant cut diamond can seem like a daunting task, but don’t worry! We’ve gathered some easy tips to help you on your journey. Here are 4 helpful tips for choosing the perfect brilliant cut diamond:

Excellent symmetry and polish

Symmetry and polish are the finishing touches of a well cut diamond, and we recommend finding a stone with “Excellent” grades in both categories. Symmetry measures how proportional and exact any angles, facets, and edges are relative to one another. Additionally, polish accounts for the precision of the cut, taking note of any slight flaws caused during the cutting process. Both of these grades are incredibly important to a diamond’s overall appeal, so be sure to look for high grades in both and use those suggested proportions from earlier to assist you!

Another way to look at a diamond’s symmetry is by studying its hearts and arrows. Hearts and arrows are a pattern formed by the facet placement of some brilliant cut diamonds, and a stone with good symmetry should have symmetrical hearts and arrows visible. While hearts and arrows aren’t always a guarantee, they can be a helpful guide to get you started, and a jeweler can help you assess each diamond’s patterns.

Color in corners and points

With points and corners comes concentrated color, so it’s important to inspect each diamond for any areas of color pooling. While this typically isn’t an issue for diamonds with high color grades, any in the mid to low areas of the grading scale may experience light yellow color pooling near corners or points. That’s because these areas of the diamond carry more concentrated color due to their facets and narrow design, so be on the lookout for any discoloration in these areas or opt for a high color grade to avoid it.

Shapes with brilliant cuts that may experience color pooling include princess, marquise, pear, and oval.

Shape considerations

When choosing a diamond, be sure to visually inspect all sides and verify that the silhouette is symmetrical. Some shapes, like pear, oval, and marquise, feature multiple anatomical parts that should be like mirror images of one another, such as wings, shoulders, and more. To ensure you have a symmetrical diamond that won’t look lopsided or uneven, take a look at the diamond proportions in your diamond grading report and inspect each stone with a jeweler to verify symmetry.

Size, clarity, color, and price

Many couples want the biggest diamond they can afford, but oftentimes sizing up impacts other pricey areas of diamond grading. Sizing up your diamond is expensive enough, but doing so means the table of your stone will be bigger, giving color and clarity imperfections more space to make themselves known. As such, as you increase the size of your diamond, you may have to increase color and clarity grades as well to maintain that eye-clean look.💡

This can really raise the price as well, so sometimes it’s better to find a smaller diamond with excellent grades in your budget than opt for a larger diamond with less impressive specs!

Top settings for brilliant cut diamonds

So now that you’ve chosen your ideal brilliant cut diamond, which setting is right for you? Setting style really boils down to personal taste and which one is best for your chosen diamond shape, as some look better in certain settings than others. What’s more, shapes with points and corners—like pear, marquise, and princess—often do better in a protected setting that can secure their weaker corners. Here are 5 excellent setting choices for brilliant cut diamonds:

Solitaire and cathedral

To go with the iconic sparkle of a brilliant cut diamond, many couples opt for a classic solitaire setting. This style elevates the diamond away from the band, making it look larger and allowing plenty of light to enter and exit from all directions for even more sparkle! What’s more, a solitaire looks great in any setting and suits any brilliant diamond shape, but the round brilliant is, of course, the most well-known center stone for solitaires. What’s more, you can completely change the look of your solitaire by changing the color of your band! Compare this white gold solitaire with this yellow gold ring: the two offer completely different takes on an engagement ring. Or, opt for something a little detailed like a braided band for more intrigue.

If you’re not interested in a plain band and want something a little more daring, a cathedral setting is a style of solitaire that lifts the diamond even further away from the setting and places it on sweeping arches that add just a hint of flair to your design. Round brilliant is also an excellent choice for cathedral settings, but oval, cushion, and princess cuts look incredible in this style as well.

Halo

Anyone seeking a more protected setting and a bit more sparkle will fall in love with the halo design. By encircling the center stone in a ring of smaller diamonds, the halo setting offers additional protection from dings and scrapes while amplifying the sparkle of both your center stone and the setting overall. Halos come in all shapes and sizes, so you can find one that suits your ideal brilliant cut diamond shape. For instance, this classic round halo looks nothing like the romantic design of this oval cut diamond ring!

Another popular style for couples who like halos but don’t need the extra protection is a hidden halo. These halos actually sit below the center stone, offering a glimpse of sparkle from the top and a whole heap of extra brilliance when viewed in profile. Hidden halos are an excellent choice for oval, pear, and marquise stones, as the slim silhouettes of these shapes look lovely with just a hint of extra sparkle around their edges.❤️They’re almost like a sweet secret between you and your partner, and you can have two styles—a solitaire and a halo—for the price of one setting!

Side stone settings

What enhances the sparkle and fire of a brilliant cut diamond? MORE brilliant cut diamonds, of course! Side stone settings are great for couples who want more sparkle and can’t quite decide on just one brilliant cut shape.😆 You can mix and match shapes—round and marquise, pear and oval, or even three to five shapes at a time—to create something entirely your own, really amping up the personalization of your ring. Side stones may be slightly smaller than the center stone or much smaller and plentiful to fill in more of the band. Take a look at this larger side-stone setting and compare it to this cluster style side stone design. They offer completely different looks that suit the wearer’s personal taste!

Colored gemstone settings

The gentle, endless sparkle of a brilliant cut diamond looks amazing when paired with color, so don’t be afraid to add some colored gemstones to your setting as well! Whether you want a colored center stone or colored accents, adding gemstones like sapphire, ruby, emerald, morganite, amethyst, citrine, alexandrite, and more can bring a splash of hue to your ring. Plus, you can choose colored gemstones that mean something to you and your fiancee for a personal touch, such as birthstones, anniversary stones, the birthstones of your children, etc.

There’s no one brilliant cut diamond shape that looks amazing with colored gemstones (they all do!), so feel empowered to mix and match shapes and sizes to come up with a design that’s entirely your own.

Bezel

To protect your diamond as thoroughly as possible, you can’t go wrong with a bezel setting. Ideal for couples who don't even want to risk a single scratch or nick, bezel settings encase all sides and edges of your diamond in a ring of metal that typically matches the setting. This extra ring safeguards the more vulnerable points and corners of your stone from damage, allowing you to wear your stone without worry. This setting is ideal for longer silhouettes and any with plenty of corners, such as a princess, pear, or marquise cut diamond.

The one drawback we do want to call out when it comes to bezel settings is the slightly subdued sparkle. The extra ring of metal around your diamond means less light can enter and exit the stone, which in turn means less overall sparkle. However, brilliant cut diamonds are designed to shine, so we wouldn’t worry too much about a dull diamond set in a bezel since the changes would likely be insignificant.

Summing up: The pros and cons of brilliant cut diamonds

Are you feeling like a pro when it comes to brilliant cut diamonds after reading our guide? If not, we’ve summed up some of the important points to take away so you can make an informed decision regarding which diamond is right for you. Here are the pros and cons of choosing a brilliant cut diamond:

Pros

  • They offer top-notch sparkle that really can’t be beat, so lovers of classic diamond brilliance won’t find better.🌟✅
  • The brilliant cut is iconic and easily recognizable, especially the round brilliant. No one will question that your round brilliant solitaire is a lovely engagement ring and not just a statement piece!
  • The fractal, high energy sparkle of brilliant cut diamonds masks inclusions better than other cuts. This means you can choose a diamond with a slightly lower clarity grade and it will still be eye clean.
  • Similar to clarity, the busy sparkle of brilliant cuts can mask poor color as well. You can choose a lower color grade without seeing any major yellow discoloration.

Cons

  • Brilliant cuts are more expensive than other styles and produce the most waste. As such, you may need to size down and reset expectations to make certain shapes fit your budget (round, pear, oval, etc.)
  • Although brilliant cut diamonds can mask color, this same discoloration can also pool in their many points and corners. A round brilliant is typically safe from this effect, but pointier shapes like marquise, pear, and princess aren’t so lucky.
  • If not properly taken care of, the points and corners of your brilliant cut diamond may be susceptible to breakage or cracking. Be sure to choose a protected setting if you’re concerned about damage over time.

Is a brilliant cut diamond right for you?

Many couples opt for a brilliant cut diamond because they feel it offers the best value for the cost. And while these diamonds certainly are sparkly beyond all reason, this sentiment is only true if you love that traditional diamond brilliance. In fact, many couples prefer the refined allure of a step cut stone instead, providing an elegant, mirror-like shine rather than that icy, fractal look. Or, maybe you’re into mixed cuts or even older style cuts with fewer facets that offer a warmer take on classic sparkle. Whatever your tastes, we have a guide for them all to help you make the right decision for your engagement ring! Take a look at our step cut, mixed cut, and antique cut diamond guides.

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