Cushion Cut: A Modern Look With A Long History

Soon-to-be brides can spend hours, days or weeks deciding on the perfect size and setting for their engagement ring. The shape of the diamond, though, is the aspect they choose fairly quickly – because that’s what really stands out when you look at rings side-by-side. The brilliance, luminescence and aesthetic look of a stone’s cut grabs the eye almost immediately, leading women to focus on a specific diamond and say “That’s the one!”.

Cushion cut engagement rings are rapidly growing in popularity due to their distinctive and romantic look, which highlights luster over some of the brilliance the stone could potentially produce (although the addition of a floating halo setting to a cushion cut can add a lot more shine to the stone). They’re nowhere near the top three cuts ranked by sales (those would be round, princess cut and oval), but the cushion cut is moving up on that list fairly quickly.

For that reason, many people believe that this stone represents the most modern of styles. Nothing could be further from the truth; this elegant cut has a long and distinguished history. Here’s the background on what a cushion cut diamond engagement ring is, how long it has been around, and what to look for when considering engagement rings that are cushion cut.

Cushion-Cut Aquamarine and Diamond Engagement Ring in 10K White Gold

Cushion-Cut Aquamarine and Diamond Engagement Ring in 10K White Gold / Zales.com

What Is A Cushion Cut Diamond?

The best way to describe a cushion cut diamond is that it is a hybrid between the traditional “old mine cut” and a modern oval cut.

The old mine cut was a square or rectangular diamond with rounded edges. It was one of the original shapes into which diamonds were crafted in much of the 18th century, because the modern tools and techniques now used to highlight a stone’s brilliance in more modern ways weren’t yet available. It had large facets, 33 crown and 25 pavilion, a small table and a high crown. Because it is a throwback to periods when diamond rings first became commonly worn, it carries a vintage or antique feel.

You’re probably familiar with the oval cut, a modern fancy diamond which is a “modified brilliant”, meaning the shape is created from a brilliant round diamond to highlight its appearance. The cut was first introduced into the diamond market in the 1960s.

Combine the appearance of the two and you basically have what looks like today’s cushion cut diamond. Although the oval cut is a newer entrant into the market, though, the cushion cut is not. In its earlier forms it wasn’t as bright because it couldn’t utilize the characteristics of today’s brilliant stones and cutting techniques, but the shape was pretty much the same then as it is now.

In fact, the cushion cut was one of the most commonly-seen diamonds after the era of the old mine cut passed, used extensively during the 19th century (and almost exclusively during much of that time) before it faded in popularity. Electricity hadn’t been invented yet, of course, and these diamonds looked particularly beautiful in candlelight so early cushion cut diamonds were often referred to as “candlelight diamonds”. They’re also known as “pillow cut diamonds” because of their appearance.

You may think you’ve never seen any of these beautiful cushion cut rings, but think again; you’ve definitely seen pictures of them, and possibly seen them in museums. Some of the world most famous stones, including the Tiffany Diamond, the Regent Diamond and the Hope Diamond are all cushion cut, as is the largest blue sapphire in the world, the Logan Sapphire (all 423 carats of it) which is displayed at the Smithsonian Museum. Tiffany has brought the style back in a big way in the 21st century, introducing its cushion cut Legacy Collection as one of five “iconic” styles for engagement rings. You may also have seen your favorite star wearing cushion cut solitaire engagement rings; Jennifer Garner, Ivanka Trump, Giuliana Rancic and Molly Sims are among those who sport them regularly in public.

The stones in these modern engagement rings (cushion cut ones, that is) are still either rectangular or square with rounded corners, and have open culets and 64 facets which are cut in order to give the stone added depth when you look at it. That gives the diamond less brilliance, but often more fire and a classic look while still showing brilliance much more impressive than their old mine cut predecessors. The natural drawbacks to the cushion cut have been somewhat compensated for by modern techniques, increasing brilliance to a degree with a larger table, better cutting angles and shrinking or opening the culet. The cut also highlights the stone’s clarity, making exquisite stones look even more exquisite. These modern stones are usually known as “cushion brilliant” diamonds because the faceting is similar to that of brilliant cut round stones, extending from the center out toward the girdle, rather than in “steps”.

One very modern twist on the cushion cut engagement ring is that the facets are often cut into different and interesting shapes, both for a unique look and to highlight reflection or shine. Facets which are Portuguese cut (a fancy cut which puts an extra row of facets on the stone’s crown to increase brilliance, also known as “modified cushion brilliant”), checkerboard cut (showing a full series of diamond-shaped facets on the face or crown to increase surface sparkle) or concave (three-dimensional pavilion facets to better refract and reflect light in unusual patterns) are some you may find when looking for a ring which will truly stand out.

Many purchasers of diamond engagement rings with a cushion cut prefer a halo setting for them; halos are seen on a large number of diamond rings these days, but they’re particularly well-suited for cushion cut stones. The elevation of the large stone, surrounded by a number of smaller pave diamonds in the setting, makes the center stone stand out even more by appearing larger while showing more shine, always welcome for these diamonds. Halo cushion cut engagement rings make up the majority of pillow cut rings you’ll see on display or online.

While cushion cut engagement rings are definitely more popular than they’ve been in a long time, that doesn’t mean they’re easy to find. Many jewelers say that cushion cut diamonds make up less than 5% of their inventory. That means not only is the stone’s popularity growing, but also its cost.

Cushion-Cut Diamond Frame Engagement Ring in Platinum

Cushion-Cut Diamond Frame Engagement Ring in Platinum / Zales.com

Buying A Ring With Cushion Cut Diamond

The “4 C’s” of choosing a diamond – carats, cut, clarity and color – are always important considerations when selecting a stone for what may be the most important ring you’ll ever wear. However, there are some important “rules” for cushion cut engagement rings, because of the way the stones are cut and the way they display.

  • Carats: When it comes to size, beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder. However, larger cushion cut diamond engagement rings are better able to overcome the inherent difficulties the pillow cut has in displaying brilliance equal to more common cuts.
  • Color: Another “drawback” to cushion cut diamonds (certainly balanced out by the positives, in many purchasers’ eyes) is that they don’t retain and display color as well as many other cuts. It’s best to stick with H color or higher unless you’re using a yellow gold setting, when slightly lower colors will work just fine. If you’re buying a large stone, always opt on the F-G side if you can.
  • Clarity: This is particularly important for cushion cut solitaire engagement rings (because there are no other stones to draw attention away from the large stone), but still essential to consider no matter what type of setting you choose. The large open table of cushion cut diamonds, with their larger facets and rounded corners, draws attention to the diamond’s clarity and makes inclusions or flaws much more obvious than with other cuts. You’re better off choosing an SI1 clarity diamond (or possibly an SI2 if you can be certain that it’s eye clean) and compromising a bit in other areas, if you need to balance the 4 C’s for cost reasons. And if you’re purchasing online, insist on seeing photos of the stone, to make sure their evaluation of the stone’s clarity is accurate. If there are inclusions, try to make sure they’re near the very edges of the stone.
  • Cut: It’s not as crucial as with size, but the perfect cut of a cushion cut diamond is also very much in the eye of the beholder. The “classic” cut is square, meaning that its length to width ratio will be 1.00. However, many feel a rectangular shape is ideal for their cushion cut diamond engagement ring, with the most common choice somewhere between 1.10 and 1.20 (with a ratio a bit higher than that carrying the look of original, antique cushion cut rings). A length to width ratio lower than 1.09 or higher than 1.31 is considered either fair or poor quality. As for other parameters, the table and depth should each be under 70%, and of course the polish and symmetry should be either excellent, very good or good. One other note: the girdle shouldn’t really be a consideration, since most cushion cut stones are almost always somewhat “chunky”.

OK, what about pricing? The good news is that a quality cushion cut diamond is usually less expensive than a comparable round brilliant cut; as you get lower in quality, they’re fairly similar in cost. Naturally, quality is everything, so you probably don’t want to settle for fair or poor stones. In that case, you could pay anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000 for good to very good quality, one carat cushion cut diamonds, while similar qualities of round cuts would be priced more in the $6,000 to $10,000 range. Supply and demand is also an issue with some jewelers, since they don’t stock very many cushion cut rings. One thing to watch out for: many cushion cut diamonds are fashioned from lower quality stones, so it’s crucial to carefully inspect every diamond (or have it appraised professionally) before you purchase.

A few final notes on the cushion cut engagement rings you may see while shopping: first, most of the “special terminology” you may see used to describe the pieces isn’t all that important. We’ve already briefly talked about “cushion brilliant” and “modified cushion brilliant” cuts, and there’s even a “hybrid cushion brilliant”, with even more additional facets in between the extra facets cut into modified cushion brilliant stones. As we’ve explained, there is a difference between those cuts when it comes to how much brilliance you can see from a cushion cut diamond – but only if they’re done exceptionally well. The fact that a stone is simply labeled as “modified cushion brilliant” doesn’t mean it’s going to look better in sunlight than a different one which is only “cushion brilliant” but was cut more expertly. Let your eyes be your guide.

You’ll also often hear about “chunky cushions” and “crushed ice cushions”, and many supposed experts will tell you that one is definitely better than the other. In reality, deciding which one is “better” is once again in the eye of the beholder. When you look directly into the diamond’s table and you can clearly see the patterns of the facets as you would with a round diamond, that’s a chunky cushion. If you see what looks like broken glass, that’s a crushed ice cushion (named for the obvious reason). Which do you think looks better? That’s the one that’s better.

Finally, a few words about settings. We’ve already mentioned the tremendous appeal and advantage to halo cushion cut engagement rings, which is why they’re among the top choices for shoppers. For cushion cut solitaire engagement rings be sure that whichever setting you choose, it has just four prongs if possible (if your stone is huge, that might not be possible); six prong, double claw prongs, and particularly bezel settings are going to prevent some light from entering the stone – and with the lower brilliance level of a cushion cut stone, that’s not the way to get the most sparkle from your prized bauble.

A cushion cut diamond engagement ring can be one of the most distinctive choices you can make, combining its somewhat vintage look with the higher brilliance made possible by modern cutting techniques. Just be prepared to do a lot of looking first – because they’re not in high supply.