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The History of Heart Shaped Diamonds

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Hearts and diamonds are a match made in romantic heaven. Hearts display the tenderest of human emotions while the diamond symbolizes permanence and durability — the traits we want to experience in true love. When we think of popular diamond shapes, the heart is a stand out cut that is both au courant and sentimental. But, is it really so ‘courant’ or are we reading into things simply because we’re inundated with its romantic imagery?

0.51 Carat heart diamond James Allen
A very feminine pink heart shaped diamond conveys a timeless message of love. © James Allen

The Historic Heart Shaped Diamond

Digging deep into the annals of diamond history, we find an eye-opening trail leading us way back to the mid-15th century. The heart shape is an ancient cut with royal roots. In 1463, an early heart-shaped diamond cut made its debut during private exchanges between the Duke of Milan, named Galeazzo Maria Sforza, and the Duke’s confidante Nicodemo, where a heart-shaped diamond was discussed. While describing the literary quests of the affluent and powerful Cosimo de Medici, Sforza wrote “He commands a Titus Livy (meaning the works of Roman historian Livy) just as you might a heart-shaped diamond.” So, we find that heart shaped diamonds already existed by the mid-1400s. It didn’t take long before the royal preference for heart shaped stones became sought after by every aristocratic soul who could afford such an extravagance.

2.01 Carat heart diamond James Allen
With their distinctly modern vibe, it’s hard to imagine that heart shaped diamonds have an ancient pedigree © James Allen

We encounter the heart shaped diamond again mentioned in royal courts by 1562. It seems that Mary Queen of Scots sent England’s Queen Elizabeth I a heart-shaped diamond ring. This gesture has gone down in history as one of the most ardent symbols of friendship and goodwill between royals ever recorded. Since this is the most famous early diamond heart reference recorded, historians believe that during this period, the diamond heart became associated with symbols of love and admiration. Around that same time, French clergyman and statesman Cardinal de Richelieu was said to own a gargantuan 20-carat heart-shaped diamond given to his holiness by a well-heeled diamond merchant.

Cutting A Heart Shaped Diamond

Considering how difficult and laborious it was for polishing a diamond into any shape during the Renaissance, we wonder how any crystals really ever ended up in this delicate heart profile. All polishing work was a tedious time-consuming effort by hand using rudimentary man-powered polishing devices. The heart shape required exquisite care to carve that cleft in the center of the stone. One bad slip and the stone was lost. It was quite difficult, especially with the shaping tools used in those days, and collectors understood that. So, you can understand why these diamonds were cherished over other gems of that age.

In those early days, cutters were not going for the ultimate sparkle, of course. Little did they know about light return and how a diamond could handle light when it was well formed. They were more concerned with weight retention and color retention or color improvement. It was an extravagant gesture to submit a diamond crystal to the wheel in attempts to turn it into a heart.

CustomMade.com pulls heartstrings with a gorgeous token of lasting love in this ruby heart claddagh ring.

Modern heart shaped diamonds and colored stones have a distinct advantage of being created by knowledgeable polishers who know how to optimize the stone’s brilliance. Modern cutters understand how to balance weight retention from the rough, keeping the color as high as possible—all while still maximizing its scintillation. And this is essential: they can position its facets so the diamond heart is beautifully shaped and sparkles plenty.

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How To Identify a Good Heart Shaped Diamond

Today, we consider an ideal heart diamond should be cut at a 1:1 ratio, or as tall as it is wide. And while the 1 to 1 is the cutter’s goal, in reality it’s often more of an ideal than possible with each crystal. But there are hard rules that should be aimed for. It’s vital that the cut should be symmetrical on both sides. It often begins as a pear shape—a rather squat pear that will eventually morph into its ultimate shape. When a skillful cutter examines his stone, he will usually orient the rough so that the areas of greatest natural inclusions will be in the rounded area of that stone and be cut away by the artful placement of the cleft and its facets.

A casual viewer may not know why they prefer one heart over the other, but symmetry has a lot to do with visual appeal and a sense of beauty.  The modern heart has 59 expertly sculpted facets. It is often one of the most popular ways for a cutter to transform a diamond crystal with small inclusions into a flawless sparkling jewel. One shouldn’t think that a heart-shaped diamond is anything less than perfection when executed properly, even if it started as an imperfect diamond rough. Most diamonds have had their natural inclusions taken into consideration for the shape they will eventually display. The talent of expert cutters always lies in their vision and execution. Hearts are, in fact, one of the most sought-after diamond shapes, even though they present the most challenges to the cutter. Only a very skilled cutter can create a flawless heart-shaped diamond. The slightest error could spell ruin to its profile and reduce its carat weight significantly even if the stone can be repaired.

Heart-Shaped Diamond Halo Pendant in 14k White Gold (1/4 ct. tw.) Blue Nile
Find this Pendant at Blue NileYou’ll be pleased to wear your heart for the world to see when it’s a sparkling diamond. © Blue Nile

If heart shaped diamonds have caught your eye, you should learn all about the parts of its profile. Train your eye to look for the outstanding stones. Each part of its face-on profile has a name. The center V-shape cut at the top of the stone is called the Cleft. This is where the expert polisher shows his cutting prowess. Next, let’s look at the upper rounded areas on either side of the cleft. These are called the Lobes. The widest part of the heart profile is called the Belly. This begins to narrow down to continue the heart outline—in the area called the Wing. Finally, your heart shaped stone reaches its very bottom tip—or the Point.

Heart shaped solitaire ring from Blue Nile
Find this Ring at Blue NileThe heart-shaped diamond in this ring from Blue Nile truly conveys its intent.

Now ask yourself: does the heart stone look as wide as it is tall? Is there perfect (or close to it) symmetry? Meaning, does the cleft reside exactly in the center of this stone? Here’s where we should point out a bit of artistic license used by the cutter. In reality, you’ll notice variations in how deep the cleft is cut into a diamond. The cutter makes a judgement call on how deep that cleft should be. He can make a weight retention choice, or have other considerations that only he understands from cutting into the rough.

A striking example of a more delicate cleft is seen in the legendary Blue Heart Diamond, a 30.62 carat South African blue diamond owned by American heiress Marjorie M. Post who gifted it to the Smithsonian Institute in 1964. It was faceted in 1910 by a French jeweler starting with a 100.5 carat rough. Perhaps he was acutely aware of how much the stone was reduced in creating his heart and was unwilling to make it any smaller. We’ll never know. But we are still amazed when looking at this natural wonder which lost 2/3 of its weight in the process of being cut into a heart.

Famous blue heart diamond. © https://geogallery.si.edu

Are the lobes nicely shaped, and do they mirror the opposite side in their curvature? Is the belly not too pudgy? Do the wings curve gracefully (not a straight downward slant) downward toward its point? And finally, does the point finish the shape well, not too sharp, but in proportion with the rest of the stone’s curvatures? Is the point directly under the V of the cleft at the top of the stone?

1.110 VS2 Fancy color Heart Brian Gavin
What’s better than a heart shaped diamond? How about a pair of fancy colors to boot? © Brian Gavin

Commanding Prices Not For the Faint of Heart

Diamond connoisseurs have a soft spot for the famed Moussaieff 2.09 carat heart shaped fancy red diamond that went to an Asian investor from a Christie’s auction in 2015. The final hammer price was $5,095,872, making it a jaw dropping $2.44 million per carat. The list goes on. But you can clearly see there has never been waning interest in heart diamonds—and our love for them will likely stay strong. In a less-is-more way, heart cut diamonds hold their own in solitaire settings of any kind. Overall, we can’t imagine a more story-telling diamond shape—with a message that is simply lovable.