Sizing up Step Cut Diamonds: Basics, Tips, Pros & Cons, and More

Simple, sophisticated step cuts...

Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Paris Hilton, Eva Longoria, and Jennifer Lawrence: if you’re thinking of getting a step cut engagement ring, you’re in good company with these glam celebrities!🤘🏻 These stylish women all sport a step cut diamond ring, one of the more popular styles for engagement jewelry. Step cut diamonds offer a completely different take on that traditional diamond sparkle, focusing on glowing and reflecting rather than fractal light shows. The result is a refined gemstone with hints of sparkle near its corners, and step cuts are a great choice among modern and antique setting lovers alike. So what constitutes a step cut diamond, and how can you find a good one?

Let’s dive deeper into:

  • Step cut pros and cons
  • What is a step cut diamond?
  • Types of step cut stones
  • How step cuts compare to brilliant cuts
  • Tips for finding the perfect step cut
  • Best settings for step cut diamonds
Halo Style Emerald Cut Diamond Ring
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The short version: Pros and cons of step cut diamonds

Not enough time to read through our article? We get it, so here are the good and not-so-good things to consider when choosing a step cut diamond:🎸

Pros

  • Their sophisticated mirror-like shine sets them apart from the traditional sparkle of brilliant cut diamonds.😊
  • They’re usually more affordable than most brilliant cuts, especially the round brilliant.
  • Longer shapes like the emerald cut have a slimming effect on hands and fingers.😋
  • Great for both a modern, minimalist appeal or romantic, antique vibe.

Cons

  • Those long, uninterrupted facets we all love actually more readily show inclusions.
  • Color can pool in the corners of the stone or be visible under large facets.
  • While mirror-like shine is their main appeal and offers its own beauty, step cut stones do sparkle less than brilliant cut ones.

What is a step cut diamond?

So what does it mean when we call a diamond a “step cut”, and how did they come to be? Let’s look at a little history behind the step cut as well as what to expect from this particular style of diamond.

A brief history

The story of the step cut diamond actually starts in the 1500s with the creation of the emerald cut, but the step cut didn’t see much popularity until the Art Deco period of the 1920s and 1930s. With the introduction of the Asscher cut in 1902, these square stones alongside the emerald cut swiftly became a hot choice for geometric looks and a modern-yet-somehow-vintage aesthetic.👯‍♀️ The Art Deco period also saw the emergence of the baguette cut, an excellent side stone design that often accompanied other step cuts.

The popularity of step cuts has ebbed and flowed with time, but they definitely have a place among couples seeking both modern and antique engagement ring designs. Their versatile nature keeps them around in the wedding world, offering multiple looks depending on the style of your ring.

Anatomy of a step cut diamond

While no two step cut styles are exactly alike, they do have some similar features among them. One of their most obvious features is the long, parallel facets that make up the pavilion side of the diamond. A large table is also part of their design, giving you ample space to view the lines those unique facets create. Step cuts are square or rectangular, and each cut style can have both body shapes depending on their length-to-width ratio.

The facets of a step cut diamond almost look like concentric squares/rectangles or an ancient pyramid, giving the bottom of the diamond a unique appeal.💃🏻 Step cut shapes typically have cut corners, which means they have an eight-sided figure and enhanced durability. The strange arrangement of their facets also creates a “hall of mirrors” like shine rather than a traditional brilliant sparkle, and their large tables and wider design often mean these diamonds look larger than some brilliant cut silhouettes.

Types of step cut diamonds

We mentioned before that there are different types of step cut diamonds, and each one has its own unique appeal. Let’s look at some popular step cut styles that you may come across as you shop for your own engagement ring:

Emerald

Easily the most popular step cut diamond, the emerald cut traces back to the 1500s. Since then, The emerald step cut diamond has seen many rises and falls in its popularity, but it still stands firm as one of the traditional cuts for engagement rings. The emerald cut features 49-57 facets depending on who cut it, and it has shorter parallel facets on the top and bottom of the pavilion and longer facets along the sides of the pavilion to give it that signature rectangular shape. Emerald cuts are typically a bit shallow, and their large tables allow you to stare deep into the stone all the way to the keel or the bottom of the diamond. Its long facets also make fingers appear longer and slimmer! The emerald cut is a very neutral shape that fits any setting, but we love a classic emerald cut solitaire or the addition of baguette side stones for an extra touch of shine. If you love sparkle, add a brilliant cut halo for a glittering touch that doesn’t distract from your emerald cut center stone.

Baguette

Often relegated to the status of side stone, the baguette cut diamond is not just a side character when it comes to engagement rings. They have the fewest facets of any step cut, averaging about 14 facets for a muted yet elegant shine. However, it’s this subtle mirror-like shine that often elevates your center stone, allowing it to stand at the center of attention and glow even brighter! ⚠️Unlike other step cuts, baguettes don’t have truncated corners and instead have points. This shape also comes in two variations: the standard baguette which is often lined up within a band and a tapered baguette that fits perfectly along the sides of engagement rings. You can line up several baguette cut diamonds or gemstones for a sparkly engagement ring or a brilliant, diamond-encrusted wedding band!

Asscher

Created in 1902 in Holland, the Asscher cut is a unique take on the step cut style. It still has truncated corners and a square or slightly rectangular body, but the Asscher cut diamond features 74 beautiful facets for more sparkle than other step cut styles. 👏🏻One of the hallmarks of the Asscher cut is its “windmill” effect that runs in an X shape from each corner toward the middle of the stone, adding an extra element of sparkle to the overall design. We love to see Asscher cut diamonds paired with brilliant stones in a three stone or pavé arrangement, but they can certainly stand on their own in a solitaire as well.

Carre

A lesser-seen shape in the step cut world, the Carre cut has a more geometric appeal than the elegant, glam look that other step cuts provide. These square step cuts look more like a princess cut diamond in their general silhouette, but they still have the step cut style. A Carre cut has stair-like facets that wind down into the diamond, giving an M.C. Escher effect to its sparkle. Speaking of sparkle, you can typically expect more brilliance and fire from a Carre cut diamond, but many people choose a different step cut because they prefer the muted, sophisticated sparkle other shapes offer. Since a Carre cut has corners, a protective setting like a halo or bezel can go a long way in protecting your diamond. And don't forget to add some pavé or channel-set diamonds to the band to enhance the Carre cut’s effects!

Comparing step cut and brilliant cut diamonds

Brilliant and step cut diamonds make up a majority of the silhouettes used in engagement jewelry, so how do they compare? Whether you like one over the other or both, there are definitely some major ways these two diamond cut styles differ.

First, step and brilliant cuts vary in anatomy. While the standard count for brilliant cut facets is 57-58, some step cuts have fewer. For instance, an emerald cut may have anywhere from 49 to 57 facets, and the simplistic baguette may only have 14 facets. This heavily plays into the difference in sparkle between the two shapes. Step cut diamonds “shine” or have their “hall of mirrors” effect because their fewer facets are long and rectangular, creating a step-down visual effect within the stone (hence the name step cut!). In contrast, brilliant cut diamonds are cut with a fractal pattern that creates more sparkle. In short, step cuts offer dramatic flashes of light, whereas brilliant cut diamonds offer more brilliance.⚖️

This sparkle is what gives brilliant cut diamonds their ability to hide inclusions and color, and step cuts can sometimes struggle to do the same. That isn’t to say that all color and inclusions are visible in a step cut diamond, and you can still find eye clean stones with imperfections hidden under corners or angular facets. But, overall, the busy sparkle of brilliant cut stones makes them the better choice for buying lower-quality diamonds. Additionally, these stones vary widely in their silhouettes, with most step cut stones having square or rectangular bodies. On the other hand, brilliant cut styles are slimmer with some sporting rounded edges, think the round brilliant, marquise, oval, and pear. The closest brilliant cut to a step cut is the princess cut diamond, which has a square body similar to the step style.

Tips for finding the perfect step cut diamond

Finding the perfect step cut diamond for you may just be as easy as picking the one you like best, but if you’re on the hunt for a quality gemstone we recommend following a few tips and tricks for easier inspection. Here are a few ways you can ensure you find a high-quality (or at least eye-clean!) step cut diamond:

Clarity and Cut

We mentioned before that step cut diamonds tend to show imperfections more easily, so it’s important to stick to diamonds that have high-quality clarity and cut grades. Those large tables act as open windows to the very heart of a step cut gem, meaning you’ll see everything, and sometimes that’s not great! As such, stick to “Excellent” cut grades—with “Excellent” polish and symmetry—and try to stay within the VS category or higher when it comes to clarity. You can find eye-clean step cut stones at many clarity levels, but this will ensure you’re not spending your time painstakingly examining each diamond with a jeweler’s loupe. Speaking of a jeweler’s loupe, using one along with high-resolution images and videos online can be helpful for finding your ideal diamond. And don’t forget to seek advice from your trusted jeweler if you’re not sure!

Size

The larger the diamond, the larger the table, the easier it’ll be to see inclusions and color! Step cut diamonds appear larger than other shapes to begin with, so just make sure you find a diamond that fits your hand properly and check for eye-clean status. Larger diamonds are also much easier to hit against hard surfaces, causing extensive damage over time. If you want to avoid this but still want to size up, try a protective setting like a bezel or halo.

Length-to-width ratio

The length-to-width ratio of longer silhouettes like the emerald cut is important for getting the ideal shape. Most emerald cuts sit in the 1.3 to 1.6 range, but 1.5 is considered the “ideal” proportions for an emerald cut stone. Similarly, most people expect a square Asscher cut, but if you’re not careful you may end up with one that has slightly longer proportions that can sometimes throw off its shine. Again, the right diamond for you is the one you like best, but it’s just something to keep in mind as you start trying on different stones!

Setting

Step cut diamonds can fit both vintage and modern settings😻, but the accents you add to your ring can really change up the look! For example, a vintage bezel with milgrain can create antique appeal, whereas a simple, thin platinum band with an emerald cut solitaire has a very streamline, modern aesthetic. Be sure to play with the design of your ring to match your personal taste! Common setting features include filigree, milgrain, engraving, etching, twisted bands, nature-inspired designs, colored gemstones, and other accent stones.

Center or accent stones

While we’re on the topic of accent stones, maybe you’re not entirely sold on the idea of a step cut center diamond. That’s perfectly ok! If you’re still interested in the allure of step cut stones but don’t want them to be the main attraction, consider using them as side stones instead. Step cuts are perfect for adding a smidge of extra shine without stealing the spotlight from your center diamond. Some step cuts are even designed to be side or accent stones, such as baguettes which can be tapered to fit a band comfortably.

Best settings for step cut diamonds

Which settings best suit the allure of step cut diamonds? While these glam stones can suit any setting, there are a few styles that help them stand out among the crowd. Here are some recommended settings styles for step cut diamonds:

Solitaire

The solitaire setting is as classic as the step cut itself, giving the diamond extra light and plenty of room to shine as much as possible. Emerald and Asscher cuts look particularly beautiful when set alone on a simple metal band, and you can spice your design with milgrain or filigree for a more antique touch or plain metal for a very modern appeal. Since step cuts don’t have as much of that traditional sparkle, a solitaire is a great choice for putting that mirror-like shine on display. Plus, you can really make a solitaire your own by choosing a different colored metal like rose gold or adding engraving within the band.

Pavé

Similar to the solitaire style, a pavé setting takes a simple band with a single step cut stone and adds a row or two of pavé diamonds around the shank. These stones are typically round brilliants, which means they add a little more of that signature diamond sparkle to your otherwise subtle step cut stone.🤗 This additional sparkle can also bring out the delicate brilliance in the corners of shapes like the emerald cut. Pavé designs are also a fun way to add some detail without having a custom or intricate band, as the diamonds do all the work! We’re personally partial to white gold or platinum pavé settings as they have a very “engagement ring” aesthetic, but yellow and rose gold are just as romantic. Just be wary that pavé settings can lose their small stones over time, but they’re relatively affordable to replace.

Three stone

Since step cut diamonds don’t have the same flashy sparkle as brilliant cut stones, you can add more of them to your setting without appearing gaudy. The three stone setting was practically made for the “hall of mirrors” effect you get from step cut stones, and lining three stones up next to each other only enhances the illusion. Whether you opt for an emerald cut center stone and similarly sized emerald or Asscher side stones or go for an emerald cut diamond with smaller baguette side stones, your three stone ring is sure to glow with bridal radiance! You can also add colored gemstones or mix and match step and brilliant cut diamonds for an entirely unique look.👏🏻

Halo

A halo of brilliant cut diamonds can go a long way in making your step cut center stone sparkle. By adding a square or rectangular halo, you really up the glam for this understated cut and bring an extra dash of elegance to the overall design. What’s more, a halo can distract from some visible color or small inclusions, meaning you can save a little money on your center stone! Plus, a halo makes your diamond look even bigger, and the added protection is a nice touch too. We love this Asscher cut diamond halo engagement ring as well as this emerald halo engagement ring!

Bezel

Want to protect those elongated silhouettes and cut corners? Opt for a bezel setting for your step cut diamond! Bezel settings encase the edges of your stone in a ring of metal, securing any vulnerable areas for a lifetime of daily wear. Normally, bezels tend to inhibit the sparkle of brilliant cut diamonds, but this is less of a problem with step cut stones since they tend to shine instead of sparkle! A yellow gold bezel setting can also hide any warm color in your diamond, while a white gold or platinum design can actually bring out that white color in higher-quality stones.

Step cut or brilliant cut: Which is right for you?

It’s a tough question to ask yourself, especially if you’re torn between classic brilliant cuts and intriguing step cuts.🔬 A good place to start is variety: are you looking for a cut that comes in several different shapes like a brilliant cut? Or, are you completely satisfied with the square or rectangular variations of a step cut? If you’re not sold on a cornered silhouette, you may be better off checking our brilliant cut stones instead.

Step Cut vs. Brilliant Cut Diamonds

Another question to ask yourself is how you want the diamond to look on your hand. For smaller hands or wider fingers, a diamond with a longer silhouette can actually have a slimming effect! This means an emerald cut as well as brilliant cuts like marquise, oval, and pear would look amazing on your hand. Similarly, what does your dream engagement ring look like? Both brilliant and step cuts look amazing in solitaire settings, but they can vary widely in appeal when it comes to more complex styles like halo, three stone, pavé, etc. Be sure to think about the setting style you like best, then try to envision each type of diamond you’re considering within that setting. You can also use tools like James Allen’s Ring Studio to help you visualize the final product.

All of this is to say that diamond shape is a very personal choice, and there’s no right answer. If you love that mirror-like shine offered by step cut stones, then get the glam diamond of your dreams. If you need a bit more sparkle, then opt for a dazzling brilliant cut style instead!

Summing up: Step cut diamonds

If you want something a little different for your center stone while still making it clear that it's an engagement ring, step cut diamonds are an excellent choice. While they may not have the simmering sparkle of a brilliant cut diamond, they offer their own classy appeal and understated beauty that works well with most looks. Just remember that you may have to spend a bit more cash to find an equally eye-clean step cut diamond, as their tables tend to act as mirrors and readily reveal any imperfections or poor color. If you’re still not set on a step up, consider reading our brilliant cut guide as well as our guide to antique diamond cuts.

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