The princess cut engagement ring is so popular and seen so often, you’d think it’s been around for hundreds of years. In reality, the princess cut as we know it today was only created in the 1970s. But the stone’s dazzling elegance and sparkling brilliance quickly made it the second-most popular diamond engagement ring for brides worldwide. Only the round brilliant cut diamond is purchased more often.
Those two shapes are valued so highly because they are cut specifically to show off a diamond’s most recognizable and important characteristic: the way it reflects light, to sparkle and shine. Princess cut diamond engagement rings, however, have a number of advantages which even beautiful round stones can’t match. We’ll explain some of them once we’ve examined these gorgeous fancy diamonds in a bit more detail.
The Princess Cut Diamond: What Is It?
First of all, princess cut diamonds may be the stones you picture when you think of engagement rings. In simple terms, when you look at a princess cut the stone is square (or rectangular) on the top, and tapers down to the bottom (which is called the pavilion) in the shape of a pyramid with beveled sides. Of course, there’s a lot more to this wonderful gemstone than that.
The name “princess cut” was first used in 1961 to describe a completely different diamond, now known as the “profile cut”. The name’s popular use dates to the late ’70s when a group of Israeli designers took a cue from the much earlier “French cut”, added a group of chevrons in the pavilion, and came up what we now call the princess cut diamond. (It is sometimes called a square modified brilliant diamond, particularly in lab reports.) It was a stark counterpoint to the round brilliant cut, because it had virtually the same amount of brilliance but a much more distinctive look with completely different faceting. The princess cut diamond had a fascinating reflection when viewed through the table, appearing to be cross-shaped, and it immediately became a hit. As mentioned, it’s now the second-most purchased stone for engagement rings (and diamond earrings), and the most popular fancy diamond.
Getting back to the way the princess cut is fashioned, the square crown of the ring has a varying number of facets dependent on the cut. You will sometimes see rectangular princess cut stones which can cost 10% less than square ones, but will not perform as well in terms of sparkle. When cut properly, those facets on the crown play a huge role in the brilliance of princess cut diamond engagement rings; the cut is crucial because a princess cut stone has more facets than round ones, and the diamond cutter has to work with difficult angles and less symmetry in the diamond. It’s much easier to ruin the cut of a princess than a round brilliant. However, there are many more alternatives to the types of French and bezel cuts which can be made on the crown side, each with their own special reflective properties.
Of even more importance, though, is the number of facets on the pavilion – because they are largely responsible for the outstanding fire of a princess cut diamond. There can be anywhere between 24 and 48 facets on the bottom, depending on whether there are two, three or four chevrons. Many believe that three chevrons is the sweet spot, providing a good balance between bold and pin-fire flares of fire seen from the diamond.
One major drawback of these types of engagement rings (princess cut) is that the corners are usually pointed, as you would expect at the corners of a pyramid. Some cutters will put flat, small facets (known as chamfers) on each of the diamond’s corners and others will round off the corners completely. Any princess cut stone with exposed, pointed corners must be put into a setting with prongs covering them; once that’s done, the stone won’t chip and will be as durable as any other diamond set into a ring.
The good news is that when there’s a drawback to something, there are usually upsides to compensate. For starters, princess cut diamond engagement rings look larger when viewed from the side because of their cut, and the optical illusion is even greater when they are worn on slender fingers. In reality, princess cut stones are slightly smaller in diameter than equal weight round brilliant diamonds – but that can only be seen when looking directly at their faces.
The second, even better piece of good news is that in most cases, princess cut diamonds are less expensive than their round brilliant cousins. The reason has to do with yield; when a cutter is working with a rough stone, he will lose about 60% of the stone when producing a round brilliant diamond, but will only lose about 20% when turning the rough into one (or often two) princess cuts. That savings is passed along in the retail price of the diamond. The exception is for the finest, ideal-graded stones; there’s a much lower yield when cutting them, so their price is quite a bit higher.
A Few Words about Princess Cut Diamonds Grading
If you’ve shopped for diamonds before, you may have relied on diamond grades from GIA (Gemological Institute of America), which most believe to be the most reputable independent laboratory that grades and certifies diamonds. However, a GIA report won’t be of much help when you’re buying a princess cut diamond ring; the lab won’t issue the same type of overall grade for cut that it does for most other stones, only telling you the depth and table percentages along with the symmetry and polish grades. This tells you nothing about the diamond’s light performance, perhaps the most important consideration when purchasing a princess cut diamond ring. They have a valid reason: princess cut stones are dependent on the shape of the rough stone. This means cutters don’t follow a “standard” process in creating princess cut diamonds, instead finishing and polishing each stone by different methods to ensure the best light performance. And in many cases, poor rough stone or poor cutting (or both) results in princess cut diamonds with large tables and shallow crowns, which means poor light performance. Since they’re all cut differently, GIA believes princess cuts can’t be judged by the same standards.
For princess cut diamonds, it’s better to rely on AGS (American Gem Society) grades. It’s widely assumed that GIA is superior to AGS, with many claiming that AGS’s quality standards are a bit looser. That may be somewhat true, but they’re also the only lab which grades princess cuts with Idealscope and ASET and offers Platinum Light Reports which can summarize light performance in the same manner as is done for round brilliants. With an AGS report, you can be more comfortable knowing what you’re buying. The only issues are that many diamond cutters don’t conform to AGS standards for ideal princess cuts, and when you find stones which do receive the AGS ideal grade, they’re generally more expensive than “normal” princess cut diamonds. They’re stunning, though.
Buying A Ring
Since “the four C’s” (carats, color, clarity, cut) are always the objective way that the value of diamonds is measured, here’s a quick look at what you should consider when purchasing a princess cut engagement ring:
- Color: Princess cut stones are known for retaining color more than a comparable round diamond. If you can afford it, moving from an H to a G, or from an I to an H, is advisable. As with all stones, the difference between G and F (or above) is extremely difficult to tell with the naked eye.
- Clarity: This “C” isn’t as crucial as it with stones like cushion cuts, because the brilliance of the princess cut diamond makes it difficult to see inclusions. Additionally, SI2 or below princess cuts are relatively rare. You should be fine with a VS2 or SI1 as long as the inclusions aren’t serious and aren’t in the corners of the stone (which are most susceptible to developing chips).
- Carats: As we’ve mentioned, these diamonds tend to look bigger on the hand than similarly-sized round stones, so if you want to compromise a bit on size in order to save on price you just can tell yourself that it will look larger than it really is. On the other hand, princess cut stones are actually a little smaller than round diamonds of the same weight (which you can tell by looking down at the stones), so it can never hurt, except on the credit card, to go a little bigger. As with most diamonds, you’ll pay proportionately more for larger stones (over one carat) because they’re rarer.
- Cut: We’ve already discussed the difficulty in assessing the cut of a princess cut diamond when it comes to light performance, and “experts” disagree on optimal percentages for other measures of cut. Generally speaking, however, total depth should be 65-75%, table percentage should be in the 60-70% range, crown height should be somewhere between 8-15%, and girdle thickness should be very thin to slightly thick. Most important, of course, is how the stone’s brilliance, sparkle and beauty look to you.
Styles To Choose From
Because it’s fashioned into such a beautiful shape with abundant brilliance, a princess cut diamond can work in almost any type of setting or style of ring. Here are some of the most popular choices for brides-to-be:
- Princess cut solitaire engagement rings – Simple yet gorgeous, a classic solitaire is still the ring of choice for many women. A yellow gold ring can provide a wonderful, striking contrast with a sparkling princess cut diamond, and you can choose more modern ring styles if a simple setting looks a little too old-fashioned for your tastes. For a truly contemporary solitaire look, nothing can match platinum or white gold princess cut engagement rings; whether you choose one with a minimalist look or prefer a fancier bypass or twist setting, the stone will still be a breathtaking centerpiece. Remember that if at all possible, four-prong settings should be used for princess cut solitaire engagement rings in order to maximize the light which can enter the diamond and be reflected.
- Princess cut halo engagement rings – For many, an engagement ring should be a statement, and there are few more eye-catching statements than a halo ring – or if you’re feeling particularly showy, a double halo. Most princess cut halo settings have pave set diamonds encircling the center stone as well as the band; a look that’s less common but absolutely amazing is a floating princess cut halo engagement ring which has a small space (on all four sides) between the center diamond and the halo, giving the appearance that the large stone is floating on air.
- 3 stone princess cut engagement rings – The three-stone ring has become enormously popular in recent years, and while a ring with three princess cut diamonds (the larger one in the middle, smaller ones on either side) may seem a bit ostentatious to some, the brilliance and fire produced by this ring is unmatched. Some 3 stone princess cut engagement rings even feature pavé or milgrain settings for an extremely impressive antique look.
- Other choices – To truly make your princess cut stone stand out, there are several other choices you can consider. For example, vintage princess cut engagement rings can certainly be found on the previously-owned market, although the cut has only been used since the late 1970s, so we’re only talking about rings which are about 25-35 years old. However, many companies offer wide selections of new “vintage princess cut engagement rings” (OK, they’re really “vintage-style”) which feature older yet classic art deco or Victorian designs. Another possibility which will certainly attract attention are princess cut black diamond engagement rings. It doesn’t matter if the black stone stands alone in a solitaire setting or is surrounded by side stones (either black to enhance the look, or sparkling to present an amazing contrast), you can be certain you’ll be the only one in the room with a show-stopper like this. (Princess cut black diamond engagement rings are usually less expensive as well.)
Now that you understand why princess cut engagement rings have become the second most-popular style among brides, it should be as clear as your ideal diamond why you should at least take one of these beauties for a test drive before making a final decision on your own “forever” ring.