Buying a Cushion Cut Diamond: Everything You Should Know

The Cushion Cut shape of diamond was the most popular shape of diamonds in the 18th Century and through the 19th Century until the first part of the 20th Century.

A Cushion Cut Diamond is a square or softly rectangular diamond, with the corners softened, much like a pillow. Even to the untrained eye, a Cushion Cut diamond ring is easily distinguished from a Princess Cut by its softened, pillow-like corners. (The Princess cut has sharp corners.)

The Cushion Cut is also easily distinguishable from the most popular diamond for all engagement rings, the Round Brilliant Cut, by its larger, squarer, elegant 18th Century shape.

Why Is the Cushion Cut Diamond (Once Again) Gaining Popularity?

cushion cut diamond

Today the Cushion Cut diamond is experiencing something of a renaissance for diamond engagement rings because of its Old World style and elegance, and because of a “lost” quality of diamonds which was forgotten until recently, which I’ll describe below.

But before we get to that “lost” quality which is becoming newly appreciated again, note that even by today’s standards — which are almost exclusively fire and brilliance — the Cushion Cut competes respectably.

Before the Round Brilliant Cut took off in the early 1900’s, the Cushion Cut was the most brilliant, most sparkling, and most full of fire.

The Cushion cut is often still the cut with the most fire, although the Round Brilliant Cut exceeds it in brilliance.

  • What is fire? Fire is the amount of refracted “rainbow” light pouring out of the diamond.
  • What is brilliance? Brilliance is the amount of any light pouring upward through the “table” (the top of the diamond).

The Lost Quality of Cushion Cut Diamonds, Rediscovered

Differences in taste and sensitivity changed after the early 1900s brought science to bear on the art of cutting diamonds. What was once valued was soon forgotten. Here’s how it happened.

Throughout the 1800s, diamonds were admired for our ability to see through them clear to the culet. (“Culet” = the bottom of the diamond.)

That changed in 1919, when people began to fall in love with the amount of brilliance a Round Brilliant Cut diamond could generate.

Brilliance obscures what is below the table of a diamond, in a similar way to how sunlight glinting off of the surface of stream obscures the stream bed, no matter how clear the stream may be. (“Table” = the top facet of a diamond.)

In 1919, Marcel Tolkowsky published “Diamond Design: A Study of the Reflection and Refraction of Light in Diamonds.” Tolkowsky laid out specific ways in which brilliance could be maximized in a diamond — and the best Cut for doing that was a new cut, the Round Brilliant Cut.

Based on the physics of light and diamond structure, nothing can compete with the geometries of the Round Brilliant Cut for maximizing brilliance.

It was scientific. And it worked exceedingly well to maximize brilliance.

  1. Science revealed the way to maximize brilliance. (The pouring of most of the light upward through the top of a diamond, not flowing more equally through the sides and top.)
  2. People did love brilliance in diamonds. They clamored for the best Round Brilliant Cuts they could find. Could not get enough.
  3. So a kind of virtuous cycle was created, for maximizing brilliance. Round Brilliant Cut diamonds became the massive favorite over time, due to science, to promotion, and to people’s understandable fascination with maximizing the brilliance in engagement rings.
  4. Another quality of diamonds, in which Cushion Cut excelled, was forgotten by the 1940s.
  5. Recently that lost quality is being rediscovered — you could call it pellucidity, or transparency. The whole point of admiring a Cushion Cut was to see through the table (top) down to the culet (bottom) and the pavilion (the facets rising upward from the culet).

What is being reclaimed now in the slight resurgence of the Cushion Cut diamond, in engagement rings especially, is a 19th Century aesthetic which values the view of the diamond itself over the light pouring out of the diamond.

In the 1800s when the Cushion Cut was Queen, people valued being able to see through the diamond, to the bottom of it, admiring the culet and pavilion facets.

Two Styles of Cushion Cut Are Sought After:

  • Chunky — large pavilion facets
  • Crushed ice — more, and smaller pavilion facets.

It’s not that 18th Century (or today’s) admirers of Cushion Cut diamonds didn’t enjoy brilliance. But they might allow that something else is also beautiful, and can be preferable to certain tastes — a less flashy diamond, warmer, with the ability to show itself from “table” (the top of a diamond) all the way down to “pavilion” (sides) and “culet” (the bottom of a diamond).

Just as sometimes we like to see the sun flashing on the surface of a mountain stream, we also sometimes like to see through the glare and reflections in order to admire the whole depth of the stream in a quieter, warmer way.

Rediscovering the Classic Charm and Warmth of Cushion Cut Diamonds

As more and more people of our modern era encounter Cushion Cut diamonds, we make contact with and understand some wisdom from a bygone era.

These encounters with Cushion Cut diamonds occur with the engagement rings of our friends, in images of celebrities, or in the exceptional imaging technology of online vendor such as James Allen or a Blue Nile.

What You, Too, May Discover About Cushion Cut Diamonds

  • Not as much blinding light pours through the top, so a Cushion Cut diamond itself is more visible to the admirer.
  • Cushion Cut diamond engagement rings often have more fire than even Round Brilliant Cut. Cushion Cut lovers experience the best of both of their aesthetic interests — maximum amount of fire as they rotate the diamond to vary the angle of light, and maximum amount of visibility through the diamond when they turn the gemstone out of the angles which generate the fire.
  • Color requirements can be less stringent, more relaxed in Cushion Cut diamonds, as many in the 1800s (and today) find a slight warmth to the color of a Cushion Cut to be preferable to transparency. Colors of G, H, and even I can be found quite beautiful.
  • A Round Brilliant Cut diamond was created to maximize brilliance, and minimize color. But a Cushion Cut diamond is more natural. It wasn’t created with the aid of physics and science. It relied upon merely individual human preferences. These include the very real human preference, among some individuals, for a slightly more relaxed attitudes. If a Round Brilliant Cut were a tuxedo, then a Cushion cut would be a well-cut, hipster three-piece suit — on a picnic by the River Seine, perhaps.
  • Because connoisseurs of Cushion Cut diamonds are a quiet minority, they shop far from the madding crowds. Not as many people are shopping for Cushion Cuts, so the prices of these beautiful gemstones are generally lower than Round Brilliant Cut diamonds or Princess Cut diamonds.
  • Cushion Cut diamonds can hide their inclusions (flaws) quite well, especially when mounted on an engagement ring. But there are limits. The large table, and the transparency natural to the Cushion Cut, make it harder to find an eye clean SI2. An SI1 or better Clarity grade is recommended, if you’re searching for eye clean Cushion Cut diamond for an engagement ring.

Three Kinds of Cushion Cut Diamonds for Engagement Rings

There are three basic kinds of this traditional but trending cut of diamond for engagement rings.

  1. The “Old Mine” Cushion Cut. It’s rare. It’s the original, traditional cut, vintage 18th Century and 19th Century. It has a smaller table (“table” = top of the diamond), a steeper crown (“crown” = the sloping top facets coming off of the table), and a bigger culet (“culet” = the bottom of the diamond, opposite the table). This cut is not easy to find.
  2. The Cushion Brilliant. The Cushion Brilliant Cut is named similarly to the Round Brilliant Cut. If you think there’s a connection, you’re right. This cut incorporates Tolkowsky’s principles in order to maximize brilliance in a Cushion Cut.
  3. The Modified Cushion Brilliant Cut. This cut has extra facets in the pavilion, compared to the Cushion Brilliant. (The “pavilion” = the facets sloping up from the culet. In other words, the facets which are opposite of the crown facets.) These extra facets give the Modified Cushion Brilliant Cut its famous “crushed ice” appearance when viewed from the top. It’s a favorite among many for diamond engagement rings.

Fancy Color Cushion Cut Diamonds

If there are hipster diamond engagement rings, they might include Fancy Color Cushion Cut Diamonds.

They’re no less diamonds, of course. They too were formed at least 1 billion years ago. They too are hand crafted by diamond cutters to display beauty, permanence, and love.

Fancy color diamonds are not as sought after as more traditional colorless diamonds, also called “white” diamonds. As a consequence, they’re less expensive.

But remember, price in a market is never an indication of intrinsic value, but of relative supply and demand in a marketplace.

Chosen with taste, mounted on a setting appropriate to its individual color, and accented with diamonds or other gemstones aesthetically appropriate, fancy color Cushion Cut diamonds can make stunning, memorable, eye-catching diamond engagement rings.

For Some People, Fancy Color Diamonds Have Two Enormous Advantages

  1. Once they begin to explore the world of fancy color Cushion Cut diamonds, they fall in love.
  2. Even though they would gladly pay thousands of dollars, just as for a white diamond, they find that these fancy color Cushion Cut loose diamonds cost mere hundreds of dollars.

When Are Fancy Color Diamond Appropriate?

Fancy color diamond should really only be considered if all of the following conditions are met:

  1. The proposal is no secret from your beloved.
  2. You and your beloved have had consistent, lengthy, informed interest in a fancy color diamond engagement ring.
  3. Having explored both white diamonds and fancy color diamonds in some depth, for at least a few weeks, you both are interested in going against the grain, because you’ve fallen in love with the beauty of a fancy color diamond.

Fancy Color Diamond Are Also Great for Situations Other Than Engagements

Here are a few other situations in which a fancy color diamond may be a great choice:

  • A birthday or Valentine’s day gift
  • A gift for no reason
  • To mark a special vacation, concert, or dinner
  • A signet ring for a man, even yourself