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A diamond's shape refers to its physical form, and if it has an unusual shape like a heart or a pear, that may be one of the most noticeable things about it. Shape is clearly not one of the four Cs (carat weight, color, clarity, and cut) of evaluating diamonds, but it is an additional factor to consider when choosing a diamond for yourself or as a gift.
The distinction between a diamond's shape and cut may be confusing at first. The shape refers to the appearance of the stone, and the cut to the diamond's ability to reflect light.
Most diamond shapes are round, square (cushion), rectangular (princess, Asscher, emerald, radiant), heart-shaped, pear-shaped, oval, or marquise (like a pear but pointed on both ends). The easiest way to distinguish the two is with pictures. The picture below shows the ten most common diamond shapes.
A diamond's cut refers to its facets and angles; their number, proportions, and symmetry, which affect how light reflects out of the stone. The grade for a diamond's cut ranges from excellent, reflecting as much light as possible, to poor, with much light lost out of the sides or bottom of the diamond. A skillfully cut diamond will reflect as much light as possible out of the table (top face) of the crystal and thus appear fiery and brilliant. This effect on brilliance has a direct effect on the value of a diamond, and is an important factor to consider when evaluating one for purchase. This illustration shows how diamonds with the same shape can have very different cuts which affect the light reflected out of the table.
The Gemological Institute of America has a tool which shows the effect the cut has on brilliance. Move the sliding bar to see a sketch of a diamond with different cut grades.
The round brilliant is the most popular diamond shape and cut, with many sources citing that three-fourths of the diamonds sold are of this type. This could be for several reasons. Most rough diamonds are shaped such that two round brilliant diamonds can be cut with the least amount of crystal lost. Also, the round brilliant and the princess shape (which is the next most popular) are common because they reflect light best and are thus the most brilliant for their size. Crystals that are not symmetrically formed or have awkwardly located inclusions are often cut into what is called a "fancy cut" or a cut other than a round brilliant.
There are dozens more diamond shapes than the ten most common, yet some of these are virtually unknown outside the industry. Many of these are patented and kept exclusive by their owners. For example, a Jupiter cut has five sides, a Hexagon or Half Dutch Rose cut has six, the Queen and the Baroness cut have eight sides, and the bead cut looks (seriously) like a disco ball. The Tulip, Bullet, Boat Shaped Rose, Genesistar, and Fan are all unusual shapes that are not often seen. The Diamond Guide HQ has illustrations of a hundred different shapes and cuts like these.
You should consider shape when buying a diamond ring because it will affect how the ring looks on your finger. Women with shorter fingers should try on elongated styles such as a pear, oval, or marquise, and avoid wide bands that give the illusion of even shorter fingers.
Square shapes such as radiant and princess are best for women with long fingers as they make them appear shorter.
Women with larger hands may want to avoid very slender, delicate ring settings and narrow diamond shapes like the emerald or the marquise, as they will not look proportional. Heart and round shapes are better for larger fingers, and likewise not flattering to thin fingers. It's important to try on a variety of styles for contrast, even if they aren't your first choice.
You may be told that diamond shapes can be matched to the type of woman you are. This is mostly entertainment or hopeful advice for men attempting to choose an engagement ring for a surprise proposal. Still, there is some truth to that statement. If the woman is very traditional, she will probably prefer a round brilliant diamond in a solitaire setting, or if she is sentimental and romantic, she will likely be charmed by a pink diamond in a heart shape. If she is fashion-forward and prefers to be unique, she may like an unusual shape, a colored diamond, and a modern setting.
Rather than trying to fit yourself into a category, choose the diamond you like best, in a setting that sets it off best, or choose the already complete ring that makes you swoon. If you are choosing a ring for someone else, you may find yourself shopping (with her) for a replacement, but it is not likely that your proposal will be turned down just because the ring isn't to her taste.
Some shapes are better suited to certain setting styles. If the setting is very important to you, that can drive the shape of the diamond you select. If you prefer a solitaire setting, you can choose any shape available and show the diamond off to its best potential.
Oval, round, princess, radiant, cushion or marquise shapes are well-suited to being the primary stone in a multi-stone ring. Asymmetrical shapes such as the pear, trilliant or heart are best displayed in solitaire settings. They are difficult to balance with other stones in a multi-stone ring, but trilliant shapes work well as accessory stones.
So what diamond shapes work best for you? Consider the hand that will wear it, the other parts of the ring, your taste and your lifestyle. These are the most important factors when choosing a ring that you will cherish for a lifetime.