A Guide to Cushion Cut Diamonds and Engagement Rings

Diamond cutting has evolved considerably in the last few hundred years. Because diamond is the hardest known natural substance, cutting diamonds has always been challenging, particularly in the time before motorized tools were developed. At that time only the most rudimentary facets could be placed on a rough diamond crystal to bring out a little of its incomparable luster. And the process was labor intensive and time consuming. As a result those facets would have to be placed on a few strategic places on the rough diamond crystal, using the natural crystal faces as the basis for the facet pattern. One of the earliest diamond cuts, the old mine cut, is the precursor of the modern cushion cut.
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What is a Cushion Cut Diamond?

The cushion cut features a square or slightly rectangular outline with rounded corners, and is so named because the diamond shape is reminiscent of a pillow. The specific shape can vary and so can the facet arrangement. These variations can have a profound impact on visual appearance giving cushion cut diamonds many different ‘flavors’. In this article we will look at some of these variations and describe what makes them look the way they do, in order to help you determine which style appeals most to you.
Facet Pattern Variation
Facet Pattern Variation of the Cushion Cut Diamond (image courtesy of AGSL)
As mentioned, the cushion cut derives from early faceting techniques that were limited by the tools and technologies of the time. Most gem quality diamond rough has a crystal shape of an octahedron – imagine two pyramids glued together at their bases. With the crude tools available originally, the cutter simply polished off one point to form a small table. Then a few facets were polished along the other point forming the pavilion. The corners were lightly rounded off forming an overall squarish outline from top view.
Old Mine Cut Cushion Diamond
Facet Diagram of an Old Mine Cut (image courtesy of GIA)
While modern technology has given us the ability to take the cushion cut in many interesting directions, the resurgence in popularity of this shape owes in part to its vintage appeal. With designer brands like Tacori and Verragio popularizing the ornate setting styles reminiscent of an earlier era, a cushion cut diamond can make the perfect center piece.

Cushion Brilliant or Modified Cushion Brilliant?

Modern cushion cut diamonds are square or slightly rectangular shapes with curved sides and either rounded or pointed corners. Typically, this cut will have pavilions consisting of four or eight main facets, the kite-shaped facets between the girdle and the culet. Sometimes the cut is modified to include extra facets on the crown or pavilion, in which case the cut is called “modified cushion cut brilliant.”
As you will see later in the article, different facet arrangements produce different patterns of virtual facets that result in a wide range of different visual appearances. No facet arrangement is necessarily better or worse than any other. It is more a matter of overall cut quality and personal aesthetic preference.
Styles of Cushion Cut Diamonds
Various Styles of Cushion Cut Diamonds

Lab Certification of Cushion Cut Diamonds

As more and more synthetic diamonds come on to the market, laboratory certification of any important diamond is now a must. The two top gemological laboratories are the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the American Gem Society Laboratories (AGSL). These two labs share some DNA having both sprung from the same founders. The GIA was created to develop diamond and gem education, identification, equipment, and quality analysis while the AGS was created to represent the most knowledgeable retail jewelers with the highest integrity. Consumer education and protection are still the core values of both.
The difference between the two labs derives from an emphasis and focus on the part of AGSL in the area of cut quality. AGSL has pioneered light performance cut grading and brings a whole new level of expertise to the practice with actual computerized modeling and ray tracing of a 3D scan of each diamond graded. And while GIA still does not have a system for assigning an overall cut grade to non-round diamonds, the AGSL system is able to grade princess cuts, ovals, emerald cuts, cushions and other proprietary shapes and facet arrangements, in addition to rounds.
A GIA report on a cushion cut will provide weight, color, clarity, measurements, proportions, and a stone plot showing the approximate facet arrangement, and information about the clarity characteristics. It will also provide info about fluorescence and other comments that are helpful to further understand the diamond. Cutting parameters are limited to facet meet point Symmetry and Polish. An AGSL report will contain all of this plus cut grading including overall cut grade, light performance, polish, and symmetry. A platinum cert will also have an ASET light map(s) to convey in a graphical way how the diamond is handling light.
Most cushion cut diamonds on the market will have a GIA report. But diamond manufacturers doing precision cutting will usually have the diamonds graded at AGSL for the greater prestige of a certificate of Triple Zero (AGS Ideal), such as the hearts and arrows cushion report below.
AGSL Cushion Diamond Cert Click to Enlarge
AGSL Platinum Report with Dual Light Maps

Hearts and Arrows Cushions

With the popularity of modern precision cut round brilliant diamonds, particularly those cut to extremely high levels of optical symmetry evidenced by hearts and arrows patterning, it was only a matter of time before a cushion cut would be developed which would have similar properties. The hearts and arrows cushion (such as the one in the AGSL report above) features a brilliant style pavilion producing light return comparable to a round brilliant, and when crafted with great precision also produces a hearts and arrows pattern.
This is a very different flavor than the traditional modified brilliant cushion cut which would feature either chunky facet structure or a crushed ice look. To some extent the hearts and arrows cushion has a less distinct look than older style cushions, while at the same time producing more brilliance than those earlier styles. A hearts and arrows cushion may at first glance be mistaken for a round brilliant, especially in certain setting styles. It therefore may be important to some buyers to choose a setting that accentuates the cushion shape to get the best of both worlds.

Reading ASET Signatures of Cushion Cuts

ASET images of round brilliant diamonds are much easier to read in terms of determining light performance characteristics and faults. Fancy cut diamonds tend to require much more experience in translating to real world performance. Below are examples of three distinct styles of cushion cut; crushed ice, chunky, and hearts and arrows. You will notice that all three ASET images are very different. In particular, the crushed ice cushion has an ASET that would not inspire confidence if it were a round. It has a relatively small amount of high angle light return (red) and has scattered leakage (black) throughout the facet pattern. However, the diamond is actually quite pretty as the magnified photo would indicate. The curious thing about the crushed ice style is that the small scintillation events that give it the characteristic twinkle can actually be enhanced by small areas of leakage. If limited enough and dispersed evenly throughout the pattern, this type of leakage produces some dynamic contrast that can accentuate the subtle beauty of the crushed ice style.
Crushed Ice
Crushed Ice Cushion Image
Chunky
Chunky Cushion Image
Hearts and Arrows
Hearts and Arrows Cushion Image
Crushed Ice
Crushed Ice Cushion ASET
Chunky
Chunky Cushion ASET
Hearts and Arrows
Hearts and Arrows Cushion ASET
Crushed Ice plot
Crushed Ice Cushion Facets
Chunky plot
Chunky Cushion Facets
Hearts and Arrows plot
Hearts and Arrows Cushion Facets
The larger facets in the chunky cushion can be seen well in the ASET image. In addition to the ample brightness as indicated by a relatively high amount of red, the larger virtual facets are responsible for driving high amounts of fire in well-cut cushions of this style.
The ASET signature of the Hearts and Arrows cushion can be read just like a round. It has edge to edge brightness with predominantly high intensity light (red), with very symmetrically distributed contrast (blue). In fact, these stones do look like precision cut rounds in a slightly squarish shape.

The Role of Virtual Facets on the Appearance of Cushion Cut Diamonds

The scintillation effects of brilliancy, and the white and colored sparkles (fire), comprise the basic light performance of a diamond. Because actual facets can reflect light rays from multiple directions a diamond appears to have many more facets than the actual number in the facet pattern. The size, number and location of this array of ‘virtual’ facets is what we see when we observe a diamond. Therefore it is the virtual facet pattern that actually determines the appearance of the diamond.
Below are images of the actual facet arrangement (crown and pavilion views) and the pattern of virtual facets for each design.
Chunky facets
Chunky Cushion Pavilion Facets
Chunky facets
Chunky Cushion Crown Facets
Chunky facets
Chunky Cushion Virtual Facets
Cushion Brilliant facets
Cushion Brilliant Pavilion Facets
Cushion Brilliant facets
Cushion Brilliant Crown Facets
Cushion Brilliant facets
Cushion Brilliant Virtual Facets
Crushed Ice Cushion facets
Crushed Ice Cushion Pavilion Facets
Crushed Ice Cushion facets
Crushed Ice Cushion Crown Facets
Crushed Ice Cushion facets
Crushed Ice Cushion Virtual Facets
*Special thanks to AGSL for providing the Virtual Facet line drawings
You will notice that the chunky cushion has a number of very large virtual facets. The cushion brilliant has a large number of evenly distributed medium size virtual facets, and the crushed ice cushion has a great number of very small virtual facets.
As you might expect, the difference in virtual facet patterns produced by these different cut styles results in very different optics. The chunky cushion with its large flashy facets will produce fewer but bolder sparkles, the cushion brilliant will produce many medium and some small sparkles, and the crushed ice will produce myriad tiny sparkles, resulting in its characteristic ‘twinkling’ appearance.
Determining which style appeals to you is a highly personal choice. Like choosing between different flavors of ice cream, there are no wrong choices!

How to Choose a Cushion Cut Diamond

As we have seen the variety of cushion cut facet arrangements and visual looks is far-ranging. First determine the style or ‘flavor’ that appeals most to your personal aesthetic; fiery antique style ‘chunky’, high brightness brilliant or modified brilliant style, or very modern hearts and arrows style. Then find a size, color and clarity combination that fits your budget. And most importantly, deal with a company that can provide the guidance and expert analysis needed to sort through many potential candidates to find the ones with best light performance.
Cushion Cut Diamond Glamour Image

Cushion Cut vs Princess Cut

Many shoppers considering cushion cut diamonds are also considering princess cut, another diamond cut featuring a square shape. And some styles of cushion bear a striking resemblance to princess. But the princess cut features a brilliant style pavilion facet pattern, giving rise to a look unlike either the chunky cushion or the crushed ice cushion.
An ideal cut princess will rival most round brilliant cuts and combines the optical properties of rounds with a sharp angular shape. This combination is of course perfect in a modern architectural setting, but is just as beautiful in many of the vintage styles so popular for cushion cuts.

Cushion Cut vs Round

There is really no comparison in overall appearance between the round brilliant and most cushion cuts, with the exception of the hearts and arrows cushion. The hearts and arrows cushion actually bears a striking resemblance to a precision cut round brilliant. The rounded corners of the cushion with the edge to edge brightness of a precision cut round, is so similar that in certain mounting styles it is difficult to tell the difference without close examination. For shoppers looking for that old world look that many cushions provide, the hearts and arrows style is probably not the choice.
But another consideration is spread. Most cushion cuts will be smaller dimensionally that rounds of the same carat weight. A counterbalancing factor is that cushions tend to be less expensive than rounds of the same overall quality. This potentially enables you to get a cushion in a larger carat weight for the same budget.

Why Whiteflash for Cushion Cut Diamonds?

Whether you decide the modern precision cut brilliant style cushion is right for you, or whether you prefer the chunky facets and fire of the antique style, or the twinkling scintillation of the crushed ice style cushions, you need to deal with a company with deep expertise in diamond light performance. Whiteflash provides more information, analytics, and advanced light performance imaging on all the diamonds we sell than any other company in the industry. And with ISO 9000 certification for quality management and an international reputation for both quality and customer care, Whiteflash is the best place to shop not only super ideal cut rounds like the A CUT ABOVE® super ideal, but the best in cushion cuts and other fancy diamond shapes as well.

The Finest Designer brands

In addition to finding the cushion cut diamond that is right for you, Whiteflash is the ideal choice to help you select the perfect setting style to showcase your cushion. With the full catalogues of all the finest designer brands at your fingertips, you will be able to select from ornate vintage styling of Verragio or Tacori to the sleek modern styling of Simon G, Vatche, Danhov, or Ritani. Or pair your antique cushion with a style from venerable A. Jaffe, a brand that itself has a history dating back well over a hundred years!
Simon G MR2459 Passion Diamond Engagement Ring
Simon G MR2459 Passion Diamond Engagement Ring
Tacori 57-2CU Sculpted Crescent Diamond Engagement Ring
Tacori 57-2CU Sculpted Crescent Diamond Engagement Ring
Danhov CL138 Classico Single Shank Engagement Ring
Danhov CL138 Classico Single Shank Engagement Ring

Cushion Cut Diamond Engagement Rings

As noted earlier, cushion cut diamonds have experienced a major market renaissance in the past several years. By many estimates, cushion cuts are now beginning to eclipse the popularity of the princess cut, which is second only to the classic round brilliant in sales volume.
One of the reasons for this is the renewed interest in vintage styling, and in particular the impressive success of bridal designer brands such as Tacori and Verragio. These and other innovative designers have managed to capture the essence of an earlier era with creations that remind us of the allure and majesty of antique diamonds and jewelry. Naturally, a diamond cut like the diamonds of that era is a perfect complement that completes the picture.
While many versions of the classic solitaire can be very effective in showcasing a cushion cut diamond and bringing back the nostalgia of the gilded age, many more elaborate designs accentuate the shape while at the same time creating additional finger coverage for a head turning statement. Chief among them is the cushion cut halo engagement ring. Framed with one or more rows of small accent diamonds surrounding the center stone and conforming to the shape, halos come in many exciting styles.

Pros and Cons of Cushion Cut Diamonds

Pros
  • Many distinct flavors to choose from
  • Somewhat less expensive than similar size and quality rounds
  • Excellent choice to create a vintage style ring or pendant
Cons
  • More complicated selection process
  • Fewer jewelers have the knowledge to provide expert guidance
  • Tend to be smaller looking than rounds of the same carat weight
  • Might need a more expensive halo style ring to fully accentuate the shape
  • Most cushions come with GIA reports which do not contain an overall cut grade

Summary

Cushion cut diamonds are experiencing a revival in the market as vintage styling has become increasingly popular in the last decade. With a squarish shape and rounded corners, the cushion cut has its origins among the earliest diamond cuts. They are now available in wide variety of facet arrangements creating several very distinctive looks. None of these ‘flavors’ is inherently better or worse than another – it’s purely a matter of personal preference.
Most cushion cut diamonds come with GIA reports that do not provide an overall cut grade, requiring expert guidance in the selection process. However, precision cut cushions such as the hearts and arrows cushion are available that have light performance based cut grading by the American Gem Society Laboratories.
With an ever-increasing number of excellent setting options for cushion cuts from the top designers, such as the very popular cushion halo, it is easier than ever to put together an awesome throwback vintage piece or a modern piece with very distinctive eye appeal.

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