An Introduction to Fancy Gem Cuts

Step 1: Introduction to Gemology

Lesson 24

The cut is humanity’s contribution to the beauty of gemstones. Color, clarity, and carat, the rest of the 4 Cs of gem grading, come mostly from Nature. What we call the cut not only determines how precisely a finished gem is fashioned but also its shape. Although rounds and other standard shapes have long dominated the market, fancy gem cuts offer many alternatives.
Reading time: 13 min 36 sec
fancy gem cuts - oval-cut green diamond
This 0.12-ct fancy intense blue green oval diamond by Leibish & Co has a rounder and squatter shape than most oval cuts, a type of fancy gem cut. This gem also has undefined heads on both ends. Photo by Fancy Diamonds, Leibish & Co. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

What are Standard Gem Shapes?

For faceted gems, standard shapes include rounds, squares, and rectangles. For cabbed gems, rounds and ovals are standard shapes.

Rounds have dominated the faceted gem market since the 1880s when Tiffany and Co. created the six-prong setting so often seen in solitaire rings now.

fancy gem cuts - diamond solitaire
A diamond solitaire set in yellow gold. Photo by Cs1791. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.

The development of the modern round brilliant cut has made rounds more dazzling than ever before. As a result, rounds have become more popular.

What are Fancy Gem Cuts?

Despite the dominance of rounds, fancy gem cuts still hold their own. Customers looking for something unique, symbolic, or vintage can turn to these different cuts.

For faceted gems, a fancy cut is any cut other than a round. This category includes ovals, pears, hearts, and other cuts, too.

Fancy cab shaped gems are anything other than a round or oval. They include rectangles, squares, crosses, tear drops, and freeform shapes.

fancy gem cuts - chart of diamond cuts
A variety of diamond fancy cuts with facet charts. Image by Open School of Diamond Gemology. Licensed under CC By 3.0.

The beauty of each shape is a matter of personal preference. However, in several respects, fancy gem cuts have advantages over rounds:

  • When compared to a round of the same carat size, fancy shapes will look larger face-up and have lower prices.
  • Rounds sell at premiums due to their popularity and the fact that faceters must discard more rough during the round cutting process.
  • Rounds don’t make ideal shapes for gems past three carats in size. Enormous circles aren’t attractive. Enormous hearts or pears, on the other hand, look perfectly beautiful.

Here is a breakdown of the most commonly seen fancy gem cuts in approximate order of popularity.

Cushion Cut

The cushion cut, also called the pillow cut, is essentially a square with rounded corners and sides, like the cushions of a couch.

fancy gem cuts - cushion-cut benitoites
This 1.13-ct. benitoite color suite features square cushion-cut gems, from deep violet to colorless. © thegemtrader. Used with permission.

The cushion cut has large facets. This means, despite being a brilliant cut, it returns less light than a round brilliant and has a blockier light return pattern. While this quality gives cushions a vintage feel, it also makes them unforgiving with flaws. Any inclusions will be clearly visible through these large facets, which act as windows into the stone. White diamonds will also show any color. One advantage of the cushion, however, is that it has more fire than other cuts, including the round.

While most cushions are squares, some are rectangular. The ideal ratio for rectangular cushions ranges from 1.15 to 1.20. A rectangular cushion should be long enough to be clearly distinguishable from a square but not too long and narrow.

Oval Cut

The elegant oval cut is particularly suitable for rings. The shape makes the wearer’s hand appear slimmer. Plus, since the cut contains no sharp corners, the stone runs less risk of chipping.

fancy gem cuts - oval-cut diamond
Oval-cut diamond solitaire. Photo by Dublin Diamond. Licensed under CC By-SA 4.0.

Modern ovals are cut in the brilliant style with 58 facets. Because they have more sparkle, ovals hide inclusions much better than cushions. This holds especially true around the “head” or “end” of the oval, where the facets gather more tightly.

fancy gem cuts - oval-cut pink diamond
The 24.78-ct oval “Pink Dream” diamond is the largest internally flawless pink diamond graded by the GIA. It sold for $83.2 million in 2013. Photo by Diamondhistorygirl. Licensed under CC By-SA 4.0.

The oval cut does have a fatal flaw. It exhibits a type of extinction known as a bowtie, a dark band across the middle of the stone caused by poor light reflection and the viewer’s shadow. Each oval stone will have one. While barely perceptible in well-cut ovals, they appear ruinously in poorly cut stones.

The ideal proportion for ovals ranges from 1.30 to 1.50. In addition, make sure the shoulders on an oval are neither too “high” and bulging nor too flat. Both make for an unattractive stone, and bulging shoulders hide weight.

fancy gem cuts - oval-cut blue diamond
This 0.50-ct oval fancy intense blue diamond (SI2 clarity) is an example of a longer, thinner oval than typically seen. It also has a flat shoulder, most likely cut to save weight. Photo by Fancy Diamonds, Leibish & Co. Licensed under CC By 2.0.
fancy gem cuts - oval-cut iolite
Oval-cut iolite, Madagascar, 3.46 cts. © All That Glitters. Used with permission.

Princess Cut

Invented in the 1960s, the princess cut is essentially the square version of the round brilliant. It enjoyed popularity for decades due to its brilliance and modern look. Its sharp edges mean that faceters can retain more rough during the cutting process. As a result, princess cuts are much more affordable than rounds.

fancy gem cuts - princess-cut diamond
2.65-ct princess-cut diamond solitaire ring. Photo by TVZ. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

The princess cut does have a drawback. Its corners make it prone to chipping. Jewelers must make sure to protect the corners.

fancy gem cuts - close-up princess-cut diamond
A close-up of a princess-cut diamond solitaire ring. Photo by Stephen Durham. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Princess cuts can have different numbers of chevron facets on the pavilion. While there is no perfect number, too many can break up the reflections, giving the stone a crushed ice look. Too few reflections can make the stone look blocky.

fancy gem cuts - loose princess-cut diamond
Loose princess cut diamond with chevron pattern clearly visible through the table. Photo by Mark Johnson, Serendipity Diamonds. Licensed under CC By-ND 2.0.
fancy gem cuts - princess cut facet chart
Facet charts comparing princess cuts with 3 chevrons (top) and 4 chevrons (bottom). Image by Anniewill. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.

Emerald Cut

Although named after the emerald and often used on those gems, emerald cuts are applied to many gemstone species.

fancy gem cuts - emerald-cut diamond
Precision set emerald-cut diamond ring. Photo by Woodysjewels. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Known for its “hall of mirrors” effect, the emerald cut creates this dramatic pattern by alternating lines of light and dark. This effect is caused by step cuts, straight cuts parallel to the stone’s girdle, which are clearly visible through the stone’s large table.

fancy gem cuts - loose emerald-cut diamond
Natural loose emerald-cut diamond showing extinction. Photo by Petra Gems. Licensed under CC By-SA 4.0.

The emerald cut isn’t as fiery or sparkling as most other cuts. Instead, it reflects light in sheets, creating a clean, elegant look. However, since it has the largest table of all fancy gem cuts, it’s also the least forgiving of inclusions. Any flaw will be clearly visible, and white diamonds will also show any color.

fancy gem cuts - emerald-cut tourmaline
Emerald-cut green tourmaline, 3.92 cts. © All That Glitters. Used with permission.

Emerald cuts feature beveled corners. Ideally, faceters should make the bevels wide enough for setting prongs to fit securely but not so wide that they detract from the rectangular appearance of the stone.

An emerald cut’s pavilion should also be angular and tapered rather than curved. Narrow bevels as well as bulging pavilions increase the carat weight without increasing size. Bulging pavilions also decrease the brilliance of the stone. The ideal proportion for an emerald cut ranges from 1.40 to 1.50.

fancy gem cuts - emerald-cut emerald
A ring with an emerald-cut emerald flanked by emerald-cut diamonds. Public domain.
Baguette Cut

Related to the emerald cut, a baguette cut is a rectangular or trapezoidal step cut but with fewer facets and no bevels.

fancy gem cuts - baguette-cut sapphire
Sapphire, fancy radiant cushion baguette cut, 3.26 cts. © Dan Stair Custom Gemstones. Used with permission.

Radiant Cut

Just like the emerald cut, the radiant cut is a rectangular cut with beveled corners. It differs only in consisting of brilliant-cut as well as step-cut facets. This makes it more brilliant than emerald cuts and better at hiding inclusions.

fancy gem cuts - loose radiant-cut diamond
Loose radiant-cut diamond showing bowtie. Photo by Paul Gian. Licensed under CC By 3.0.

In terms of its proportion ratio and corner bezel factors, it’s also similar to the emerald cut. Like most step cuts, radiants concentrate color very well. This makes them ideal for colored gemstones but less so for normal color scale diamonds with low color grades.

fancy gem cuts - loose radiant-cut sapphire
Untreated 1.15-ct radiant-cut sapphire from Sri Lanka. Photo by Wiener Edelstein Zentrum. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.

Pear Cut

The modern pear cut is a brilliant cut with 58 facets.

fancy gem cuts - pear-cut Thompson diamonds
Twenty carats of pear-shaped colorless diamonds accentuate the fancy brown (cognac) pear-cut diamonds in these earrings and brooch. Known as the Thompson diamonds, this set was made by Harry Winston in the 1950s and is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The brown pear cut diamond in the brooch is quite a bit longer in shape than those in the earrings. Photo by Cliff. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Despite its brilliance, a pear will show inclusions more readily than other fancy shapes. The tip of the stone is also particularly prone to showing color in white diamonds. On the other hand, the tip hides inclusions well. Ideally, faceters should protect the tip with a V-shaped prong to protect against chipping.

fancy gem cuts - loose pear-cut diamond
This 0.08-ct fancy intense greenish blue pear-shaped diamond (VS1) has bulging shoulders and slightly flat wings. Photo by Fancy Diamonds, Leibish & Co. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Like ovals, pears make the wearer’s hand appear slimmer but are susceptible to bow ties. When buying a pear-cut gem, make sure the head, shoulders, and wings aren’t too flat or too bulging. Flat curves make the stone look malnourished, while bulging curves hide weight and make the stone look chunky. The ideal proportion for a pear ranges from 1.40 to 1.75.

fancy gem cuts - the Zoe diamond
This 9.75-ct fancy vivid blue diamond, named the Zoe diamond, is a much longer pear shape than is typically seen. Photo by Diamondhistorygirl. Licensed under CC By-SA 4.0.
fancy gem cuts - pear-cut sapphire
Sapphire, oval end pear cut, 1.45 cts. © Dan Stair Custom Gemstones. Used with permission.

Asscher Cut

Essentially a square emerald cut, an Asscher cut has a smaller table, larger step facets, and a higher crown.

fancy gem cuts - Asscher-cut diamond
1-ct Asscher-cut diamond flanked by baguette-cut diamonds set in an Art Deco style ring. Photo by Lorraine Hughes, Dot The Jewellers. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Like the emerald cut, it displays the “hall of mirrors” effect and will more likely show inclusions than other fancy gem cuts. It will also likely show color in white diamonds. Its beveled corners can make the stone appear octagonal when unmounted. Once set in jewelry, however, the stone will appear square.

The Asscher cut, usually considered a vintage cut, has seen a resurgence in recent years.

fancy gem cuts - Asscher-cut diamond in Tiffany setting
0.50-ct D VS1 Asscher-cut diamond surrounded by a halo of 16 round brilliant diamonds on a platinum band of 16 round brilliants, Tiffany Legacy setting. “The Ring” by Nick Webb. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Marquise Cut

The marquise or navette cut has the greatest crown surface area of any fancy cut. Thus, it makes stones appear larger than any other cut for the same carat size.

fancy gem cuts - marquise-cut yellow sapphire
This heat-treated 6.87-ct marquise-cut yellow sapphire shows a bowtie. Photo by Wiener Edelstein Zentrum. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.

The marquise’s elongated and thin shape flatters the wearer’s hand but also makes the stone prone to chipping. Being a brilliant cut, the marquise’s two points on either end hide inclusions well. However, the points tend to appear darker in stones larger than one carat. Therefore, go up in color when buying a large marquise-cut white diamond.

fancy gem cuts - marquise-cut diamond in a Cartier ring
Marquise-cut diamond set in a Cartier ring. On display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Photo by Cliff. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Symmetry plays a particularly important role in a marquise, since any variation in such a slender shape become glaringly obvious. The points of the marquise must align, and the stone’s shoulders should curve smoothly (not fall in or bulge out) and match on either side. The ideal ratio for a marquise ranges from 1.75 to 2.15.

fancy gem cuts - marquise-cut tanzanite
This navette or marquise-cut tanzanite is longer and thinner in shape than most marquise cuts. The points also don’t seem to align. Photo by Wiener Edelstein Zentrum. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.
fancy gem cuts - marquise-cut tourmaline
Marquise-cut tourmaline, 7.36 cts, Mozambique. © All That Glitters. Used with permission.

Heart Cut

Although not as popular in recent years, the heart cut has a long history and beautiful symbolism. The modern heart is a brilliant cut that is as long as it’s wide.

fancy gem cuts - heart-cut green diamond
This green diamond by Leibish and Co has an undefined point. Photo by Fancy Diamonds, Leibish & Co. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

As with the marquise cut, symmetry plays a very important role. The two halves of the heart should be identical, with the lobes round but not bulging. The center cleft should be deep enough to make the heart shape distinct.

fancy gem cuts - the Heart of Eternity
This 27.64-ct blue diamond heart, known as “The Heart of Eternity,” has extremely flat lobes. Photo by Diamondhistorygirl. Licensed under CC By-SA 4.0.

Heart cuts look better in larger sizes (half carat or above). In small sizes, the shape won’t stand out. The setting style and prong positioning will also either enhance or diminish the heart’s outline. Ideally, the prongs should sit at the tip and the lobes of the diamond, not in the cleft. Hearts may tend to show bowties, although not nearly as much as oval, radiant, marquise, or pear cuts.

fancy gem cuts - "Heart of the Ocean" replica
Like the prop in Titanic, this replica of the “Heart of the Ocean” necklace has a shallow, undefined cleft. Photo by Josh Vergara. Licensed under CC By-SA 4.0.

Shield Cut

Shields have symmetry from side to side, but not top to bottom. They come in a variety of proportions with different numbers of sides.

fancy gem cuts - shield-cut garnet
Merelani mint garnet, fancy shield shape, Tanzania, 1.54 cts. © Dan Stair Custom Gemstones. Used with permission.

Other Fancy Gem Cuts

Other fancy shapes include, rhomboids, parallelograms, triangles, hexagons, and octagons.

Pros and Cons of Fancy Gem Cuts

Different fancy gem cuts enhance different qualities of a gemstone, such as sparkle, fire, color or clarity. Fancy cuts have looser proportion standards than round brilliant stones. However, when shopping for fancy shapes, keep these points in mind:

  • Avoid extinction (dark patches such as bowties) and windows (large, see-through areas).
  • Remember that unnecessary bulges add weight (and cost) without beauty.

Beyond that, fancy gem cuts as a group offer so much variety that surely anyone can find beauty to behold.

fancy gem cuts - diamonds
A variety of fancy diamond shapes. From left to right, top row: princess-cut diamond, round brilliant-cut diamond, pear-shaped diamond, baguette-cut diamond. Lower row: marquise cut, oval brilliant cut, trilliant cut, emerald cut, and finally heart-shaped diamond. Photo by Mark Johnson, Serendipity Diamonds. Licensed under CC By-ND 2.0.

About the author
Phoebe Shang, GG
A gem lover and writer, Phoebe holds a graduate gemologist degree from the Gemological Institute of America and masters in writing from Columbia University. She got her start in gemology translating and editing Colored Stone and Mineral Highlights for a professor based in Shanghai. Whether in LA, Taipei, or New York, Phoebe spends her time searching for gems to design and being lost in good books.
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