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Buying a Cushion Cut Diamond Ring?
Bottom Line Recommendation:
- Color: H Color or better. Cushion cuts are one of the worst shapes when it comes to retaining color (or one of the best, if you’re a manufacturer of fancy color diamonds). This is why you find that Cushions and Radiants are the two most common shapes in the fancy color diamond market. For this reason, I recommend my readers stick with H or better when buying a cushion cut, unless it will be set in yellow gold (in which case, you can go down to J or K)
- Clarity: Stick to SI2 clarity or SI1 clarity for the best value. Since cushion cuts have a large open table, it might be difficult to find a nice eye clean SI2. So you might have to compromise and end up paying a bit extra for a higher clarity stone. Don’t trust a site listing virtual inventory at their word regarding checks for eye-cleanliness (see my Blue Nile Review for why that is). Inspect the photos and only trust a vendor’s eye cleanliness check if they’re checking it themselves (as does James Allen).
- Cut Parameters for Cushion Cut Diamonds:
- Depth: Under 70%
- Table: Under 70%
- Polish/Symmetry: Good, Very Good, or Excellent
- Length/Width Ratio: Whatever you like!
- As you can see, these parameters are very loose. It’s important to remember that with Cushion cuts (as is the case with many other soft-sided fancy shapes), you can’t really evaluate a stone’s cut quality by its numbers alone. You need to see the stone and see with your own eyes how it looks.
The Cushion Cut – As Popular as it is Misunderstood
After Rounds and Princess Cuts, the shape I hear about most lately is the Cushion Cut. I think there are two primary reasons why this is so. Firstly, and most obviously, Cushion cuts are simply more popular now than they have ever been before. But almost as important is the fact that Cushion cuts are simply a very confusing cut. There are a whole host of terms specific to cushion cuts that need understanding. Terms such as modified cushions, classic cushions, chunky cushions, broken glass, crushed ice, no culets, large culets, old minders, square cushions, and rectangular cushions.
Standard vs. Modified Cushion Brilliants
Modern Cushion cuts can be classified into one of two main categories: standard or modified. You can view the differences between the two in the two collections of plot diagrams shown on this page. Above, you can see the collection of standard cushion cut facet plots and to the right, the collection of modified cushion cut facet plots. Likewise, I have posted to the right and to the left sample GIA certificates correlating to the two cushion cut styles.
As you can see, the differences between Standard and Modified Cushions are rather minute and technical in nature. Their effect on a stone’s appearance is likewise fairly minimal. The only thing that really differentiates between the two is history. The Standard Cushions are the cutting styles that have been around longer while the Modified Cushions are simply modern variations on the original cushion cut facet patterns.
The single greatest mistake people make regarding cushion cuts is that it actually makes a significant difference to the stone’s appearance whether it’s a standard cushion or a modified cushion. In fact, if you’ve reached this page after doing research elsewhere, I’m sure you’ve already heard that line several times before. People will tell you that you need to buy a standard cushion if you want a “chunky cushion” (see below) and you need to buy a modified cushion if you want a “crushed ice” cushion (also below). This is completely inaccurate. The truth about cushion cuts is that it rarely makes any kind of noticeable difference in a cushion cut’s appearance whether it’s standard or modified.
“Chunky” vs. “Crushed-Ice” Cushion Brilliants
Just as there are two distinct categories of cut classifications of cushions, so too are there two distinct categories of “looks” that a cushion cut diamond can display. Before we discuss these two categories, however, it’s worth stressing again that there is absolutely no correlation between the two groups of cut configurations and the two types of exhibited “looks.”
“Chunky” cushions are those that have clearly defined facet patterns when looking down into the table of a face-up oriented stone. These tend to resemble the way in which round diamonds present themselves. These are often called “antique” cushion cuts. This is actually technically not true since the cushion brilliant cut is relatively modern. The Old Miner is the antique antecedent to the modern cushion cut. Although, it’s clear this look is referred to as an “antique” cushion because this is how Old Miner cuts always present themselves.
“Crushed-Ice” cushions are those that have no discernable faceting when you look through their table. All you can see is what looks like broken glass or crushed-ice (hence the name) – a disorganized space of sparkling bling. This is typically what a radiant cut looks like. You also find this effect in corners of pear shapes and marquise shape stones.
If you’d like to see the difference between these two looks – the easiest way to understand it is by looking at the two shapes that most exemplify each “look”: Radiants for “Crushed Ice” and Rounds for the clean cut look of the “chunky” cushions. To the left is a typically crushed ice radiant. Notice in the picture of the round stone to the right how clearly defined and symmetrical each of the facets are and how different that is from the Radiant to the left.
Now just to drive the point home, I didn’t choose those two pictures of cushion cuts above at random. It happens to be that the “antique/chunky” cushion in the picture above and to the left is a GIA certified Cushion Modified Brilliant. It also happens to be that the “crushed-ice” cushion in the picture above and to the right is a standard “Cushion Brilliant.” Feel free to click on each picture to be brought the each stone’s page on James Allen. You can view each stone’s certificate there as well.
Buying the Best Diamond for a Cushion Cut Engagement Ring
Now that you’re more familiar with the basics of the cushion cut, lets deal with the details of the four Cs.
When it comes to the diamond color of a cushion cut, one needs to be very careful. Cushions and radiants retain their color stronger than any other shape. These shapes are on the opposite end of the spectrum from rounds, which are the best at masking their color. This, by the way, is the reason why the fancy color diamond market is loaded with cushions and radiants and why round fancy color diamonds are extremely rare. Because of this, I recommend people looking to buy cushion cuts who plan on setting them in white gold or platinum stick to H color or higher.
Regarding Diamond Clarity, a cushion cut can be a bit tricky. Firstly, it’s important to note whether you’re looking to buy a crushed-ice cushion or an “antique” cushion. The reason is simply that the crushed-ice look, in any shape diamond, is generally a very good hider of inclusions. This is why, if you’re looking to buy a marquise or pear shape diamond, it’s always best if the inclusions are in the corners as they’ll be very heavily masked by the crushed-ice that’s typically found in the corners of these shapes. Of course, you’ll only know what kind of cushion look you’ll be buying if you can see a picture of the diamond in question – so it’s already a given that you’d be able to inspect the diamond’s clarity as well. Therefore, like always, shoot for the lowest clarity you can find that’s still eye clean.
As with the other soft-sided fancy shapes, there aren’t any real hard and fast rules when it comes to the stone’s parameters. Nothing on a certificate will tell you whether or not the stone is an “antique” style cushion or a “crushed-ice” style cushion. Nothing on the certificate will tell you how rounded the corners are: some cushions are nearly round, and some are nearly square. Therefore, if you are looking to buy a cushion cut diamond it is imperative that you limit yourself to vendors who offer clear magnified pictures of their inventory. If you try and buy a cushion cut blindly, with only a certificate to go by, it’ll be like picking candies out of a box of chocolates – “you never know what you’re gonna get!”
Just a very general guideline, try to stick to cushions with a depth under 70% and a table under 70%. People will tell you that lower is better, but I’ve seen plenty of very beautiful cushion cuts with depths at 70% and tables at 70%. People will also tell you to avoid “extremely thick” girdles, but on cushions, this is much less of an issue. Cushion cut girdles are almost always chunky, so there isn’t much you can do about it. Obviously, if you have two seemingly equivalent stones, and one has a medium girdle, and the other has an extremely thick girdle, you should buy the one with the medium girdle. But this rarely happens. You should first look to find a nice looking cushion that is an H color or higher with as low of a clarity grade as possible that’s still eye clean in as large of a diamond as possible that fits your budget. Only after you accomplish that should you focus on girdle thickness.
If you have any questions, please post them in the comments below. I will usually respond within 24 hours.