If you find yourself with a rough gemstone and don’t know what cut to go with, this guide is here to explain the ins and outs of the two main cut types – brilliant and step cut. There are distinct differences, and there are versions that blend a bit of both styles. Some gemstones work better with a step cut, some work better with a brilliant cut, and diamonds seem to work just as well with both.
In truth, as a buyer, the cut style (step or brilliant) you choose for your gemstone depends largely on aesthetic and what you want the final piece to look like. The quality of the gem you’re dealing with also matters, though a bit less than the final feature.
Brilliant cut vs step cut
Brilliant cuts emphasize a diamond’s sparkle and fire, while step cuts emphasize a diamond clarity and offer a sleek, geometric look. If dealing with a gemstone with inclusions a brilliant cut may mask it more than a step cut. Brilliant cuts are often more expensive since they have more facets that bounce the light within the gemstone, leading to more sparkle than a step cut.
In short, step cuts are simpler cuts than brilliant and offer a sleek, elegant look compared to the brilliant cut’s flashy, dazzling fire. Depending on what you need the gemstone for, how it’s going to be worn, and by whom, you may find yourself opting for a different cut than you first thought.
Keep in mind that these cut styles and names are also used for other gemstones aside from diamonds. Diamonds are the most common gemstone you’ll hear with this cut or that cut, but other gemstones like sapphire or peridot or tanzanite are also cut into these shapes.
What is brilliant cut ?
A brilliant cut is an old way of cutting gemstones and it was developed to maximize a gemstone’s refractive index. That is how well a gemstone can break light into the rainbow colors and reflect it back to your eyes. Moissanite and diamond have the highest refractive indexes.
The gemstones do this by bouncing the light from one face to another, and the finally back through the top of the stone to your eyes. A well cut stone is not too deep, or too shallow. A deep one will appear too dark, and won’t reflect much back to you. A shallow one will appear clear and blanc, and will reflect the rainbow towards the sides, like onto the wall instead of your eyes.
You’re likely very well acquainted with brilliant cuts already, perhaps without knowing which is which. All of these are incredibly flashy, and provide a lot of sparkle. Below are some of the most common brilliant cuts you’ll find on the market.
Read also: Moonstone VS Opal
This is the most common diamond cut, and for good reason. This is the classic diamond shape, and it looks completely round from above. It has a multitude of facets and they were developed specifically for a diamond’s refractive index. This is most likely the cut you’ll find solitaire engagement rings in.
A princess cut has a perfectly square shape, and it has a little less sparkle than a brilliant. It’s derived from a very old cut style called the French cut, which had less facets and was not as brilliant as the current princess cut.
A cushion cut is a cross between a round brilliant and a princess cut, resembling a rounded square. The points are not just cut off, they are rounded and the entire diamond resembles a sofa cushion when viewed from above.
The radiant cut is a rectangular shape, with cut corners, resembling an emerald cut but with much more facets, as it is a brilliant cut. The length of the rectangle varies from diamond to diamond, though most are rectangular instead of square.
The oval cut is exactly as the name suggests, an oval when viewed from above. These cuts are usually applied to larger gemstones, as smaller ones are harder to deal with, in this shape.
A pear cut is also called a tear or drop cut, as it has a large rounded end and pointed end, resembling a drop of water. These cuts are very beautiful and just like an oval, they are usually larger diamonds.
The marquise cut is a very striking and impressive diamond cut, and this, too is a rather large one. It resembles an oval cut, but with two very pointed ends. You may also find this listed as a navette cut ( French for “little ship”)
The trillion cut is also known as trilliant, or trielle. It is always a triangle shape, and the sides may be perfectly straight or they may be curved outwards to offer the stone more strength (especially if used as a solitaire stone).
What is step cut ?
Step cuts differ from brilliant cuts by having less facets, and the facets they do have are oriented differently and are larger. A step cut is called so because when you look into the stone it looks like an endless staircase leading into the center of the stone, or an endless mirror effect.
These cuts emphasize a gemstone’s color, clarity, and high polish. These cuts don’t offer nearly as much sparkle as a brilliant cut, but instead offer a polished, sleek look. Some would consider the step cut to be a very elegant look due to its simplicity.
Step cuts sued to be very popular in the early 20th century, and how are usually at a lower price than brilliant cuts.
The emerald cut is one of the most famous step cuts, and it’s called so because it was initially applied to emeralds, due to the shape they naturally grow in.
An emerald cut is a rectangular shape with truncated edges, forming an elongated octagon. The facets on the sides (top and bottom) of the emerald cut are simple, clean, long lines and only the corners are cut vaguely similar to a brilliant cut.
A baguette cut is much like an emerald cut, but its points are not truncated, they are sharp 90 degree angles. The baguette offers the least amount of sparkle, but instead draws the eye into the perfect geometry of the stone and it will always appear very bright.
These were especially popular in the early 1900s, during the Art Deco period as they fit very, very well with the aesthetic. Nowadays you’re likely to see baguettes as accent stones for a brilliant centerpiece, or used in eternity rings.
The asscher cut resembles an emerald cut, but in a square shape, and the corners are cut. Because of this, they’re also known as square emerald cuts.
The carre cut is a very different looking cut, even if it looks like a simple square from above. When you look directly into it, you get the impression of endless squares leading into the center of the stone.
Tips on choosing a diamond cut
When choosing your diamond cut, you have to understand that what you want may not be possible due to the diamond’s limitations. If your diamond’s rough, you’re likely not seeing the inclusions within it, and if it’s already vaguely triangle shaped, you’d lose a lot of material if you asked for a round brilliant.
Here’s a rough guideline on what works best for what.
Art deco styles work best with step cuts
Because step cuts are so perfectly geometric, it makes sense to include these in an art deco style. If you’re in love with that art style, you know how important lines and angles are. So opt for baguette and carre, as these are the most extreme of the step cuts.
Brilliant cuts make diamonds appear larger
If you’ve got a small diamond you’ll want a round brilliant cut. Because of the way it sparkles it will appear slightly larger, and you can further trick the eye into thinking the diamond is larger by using the right gem setting.
Step cuts are a bit more affordable
Step cuts have not been fashionable since decades ago, so their price will be lower than brilliant. Not cheap, mind you, but definitely more affordable than a brilliant cut.
The current trend is for diamonds to display their sparkle, and this always calls for a brilliant cut. A step cut offers a different look, so it’s less popular.
An included diamond works best with a brilliant cut
If you’re working with a diamond that’s less than perfect you’ll want to go for a brilliant cut. Because of the way light will bounce through the diamond, the inclusions won’t be as visible to the naked eye.
A step cut on the other hand (especially baguette) is going to show a diamond’s flaws very, very clearly. And if you have a perfectly clear, beautiful diamond then a step cut is going to showcase that amazingly well.
I’m the main author for jewelrymaterialguide.com. I started this site after we did tons of research before our wedding and noticed that there is information about rings, jewelry, and so on that is really hard to find on the internet.