The cushion-cut diamond, much like the recently discovered reptile that outgrew wings and then had second thoughts about them, is both a relic of evolution and a defiance of it. Maybe that is why the market is bi-polar in its attitudes toward this more than 300-year-old fancy shape. To some dealers, the cushion cut is a sprightly anachronism benefiting from a temporary nostalgia for antiquarian diamonds. To others, it is an enduring neo-classical style that is mindful of the past yet adapted to the present.
With such a wide spectrum of opinion, trying to forge standards for the cushion cut is rough going. Indeed, there isn't even a basic definition for the term. And the lack of a common understanding is beginning to pose problems—now that it is suddenly among the hottest fancy shapes in the world. A very recent case in point:
Last fall, Horowitz & Atlass, New York specialists in private label diamonds, introduced a 12-sided hearts and arrows fancy shape with the curved pillow-like outline normally associated with a cushion cut. They even named their creation the Regent Cut after the world’s most famous cushion-shaped diamond, a 140 carat glory, crafted between 1704 and 1706, now on exhibit in the Louvre. Granted, the new Regent is a geometric, highly modernized mutation of the cushion cut. But it has got the sloping sides, if not the rounded corners, of the cushion cut. So, naturally, its inventors hoped it would earn the cut designation of its distinguished predecessor. Instead, the GIA called it a "modified square."
Doesn’t that description fit all cushion cuts? And if so, shouldn’t the newcomer be entitled to inclusion in the cut category for which it was intended? Not surprisingly, two cut experts to whom I often turn for advice squared off against each other when I asked them this question. "If you look carefully, it’s got cut corners like a radiant and 12 straight-edged segments. GIA was right because it’s more a square than anything else," says Paul Mashinsky of TMW Diamonds in New York.
"But," counters Michael Cowing, a technologist who is helping the American Gem Society develop revolutionary cut-grading equipment, "the overall shape of the Regent has still got the outward curved sides you identify with a cushion cut. Therefore, it deserves to be called such."
How could two knowledgeable people look at the same diamond and reach diametrically opposed conclusions about its identity as a cushion cut? Welcome to the no man’s land of antique cutting styles where nothing is absolute because cutting is all art and no science.
Variations on a Vestige
When the cushion cut was developed in the 17th century, the dominant style of diamond faceting was known as step-cutting. The word step refers to rows of horizontal facets that run the entire length of a diamond’s crown and pavilion placed one on top of the other like steps. Because these facets acted more as windows than mirrors, they were mostly ornamental, contributing more of a sculptural than a kinetic beauty to a diamond.