What Are Diamond Hearts & Arrows - Is It Worth It?
The hearts & arrows (h&a) pattern (often marketed under brand names such as 'Hearts on Fire') refers to a symmetrical light pattern visible using a specialized viewer in diamonds cut within certain narrow specifications.
The hearts & arrows pattern was first viewed using a Firescope; a tool developed by Kazumi Okuda in the 1970s. Firescopes and their modern equivalents (such as the H&A Viewer, Idealscope and ASET Scope - Angular Spectrum Evaluation Technology) use colored reflectors to display a pattern showing the direction and intensity of light emitted from a diamond. These colorful patterns can be evaluated to determine how much light is exiting the diamond at proper angles, and whether the diamond is optically symmetrical (indicated by a uniform pattern).
Idealscope & ASET Scope
Diamond Hearts & Arrows Idealscope & ASET Scope.
Hearts & Arrows Viewer
Diamond Hearts & Arrows Viewer.
Idealscope & ASET Scope
Diamond Hearts & Arrows Idealscope & ASET Scope.
Hearts & Arrows Viewer
Diamond Hearts & Arrows Viewer.
Diamond Modern & Portable, Hearts & Arrows Devices.
In the example below, red represents light being emitted from the diamond in a direction and intensity that will be perceived by the viewer as brightness. Pink areas represent areas of less brightness. Dark areas indicate areas where light is blocked by the viewers head (these areas are perceived as dark flashes, or scintillation, when the viewer or the diamond moves). Finally, white areas indicate where light is traveling through the diamond, and 'leaking' out of the bottom (perceived as dull or dark areas in the diamond). Different types of viewers will use different color schemes, but all produce similar patterns.
An Idealscope image displaying symmetry.
One possible pattern is what is today marketed as "hearts & arrows". The "arrows" are visible when the diamond is viewed from the top. The "hearts" are visible when the diamond is flipped over and viewed from the bottom.
Diamond Hearts & Arrows.
The hearts & arrows pattern was initially noticed by accident; the name first coined by Kinsaku Yamashita, and eventually trademarked in 1988, the birth of the hearts & arrows marketing campaign. The hearts & arrows phenomenon quickly spread from Japan to the U.S in the early 1990s. The hearts & arrows pattern is now so popular that many diamond manufactures cut to a specification that will yield this particular pattern, even at the expense of overall cut quality.
The intrinsic appeal of the hearts & arrows pattern, with its association to Cupid, is obvious; even if the heart pattern is invisible once the diamond is set. Often the presence of the hearts & arrows pattern is taken as confirmation that the diamond is well cut. This is not necessarily true. In a round diamond, a clearly defined set of 8 hearts and 8 arrows is a sign of excellent optical symmetry, an important component of cut. As such, its appearance is a very likely a sign of superior cut, but not a guarantee.
Consumers are often misled regarding the quality of a hearts & arrows pattern. While a diamond may display what appears to be a pronounced hearts & arrows effect, several subtle details in the shape, spacing, and positioning of the pattern can have a significant impact on desirability and therefore value. These variations are often not detectable by any except experienced graders or jewellers.
Even so, the marketing impact of the hearts & arrows campaign has been profound. Because well cut diamonds are rare to begin with, and diamonds with the particular hearts and arrow pattern rarer still, H&A diamonds carry a premium price. This is due not only to effective marketing, but because all well cut diamonds (including H&A) require more time to cut, and generate about 15% more waste than lower quality cuts.
For consumers, the greatest benefit of the popularity of hearts & arrows is actually the increased attention brought to the grading of cut. In the late 90s, major labs (including GIA) quickly perceived the demand for a cut grade by customers newly educated to the importance of cut and symmetry in the overall appearance of a diamond. Today, independent laboratory cut grades are the single biggest factor in helping customers to distinguish quality (beyond color and clarity) in diamonds.
Due to the extreme level of cutting precision required for symmetrical patterning, Hearts & Arrows diamonds are sometimes called "super ideals". In the modern jewellery market, the term "super ideal" is used to define a diamond with superior light performance, material quality and precise optical symmetry.
Hearts & Arrows On Excellent Or Ideal Cut Ratings
Not all diamonds with an ideal cut rating (AGS) or excellent cut rating (GIA) will automatically qualify it as a hearts & arrows diamond. Technically speaking, the formation of a precise H&A patterning is due to extreme care that is taken when polishing each facet to exact angles and proportions.
This level of precision goes way beyond the criteria needed to achieve an "excellent" or "ideal" symmetry rating.
Below are images of a diamond with poor optical symmetry and you could clearly see that the "hearts" aren't well defined. This is what a typical GIA triple excellent (3Ex) round diamond looks like under a viewer:
H&A With Poor Optical Symmetry.
"Hearts & Arrows" is a very loosely used term that many jewellers utilize to market their inventory and this is something you need to beware of. Any jeweller who is claiming to sell you "super ideal" diamonds should provide you with all the necessary data (ASET, Idealscope, H&A images) to back up their claims. If they don't, you can be sure that it is a sham and just a marketing ploy they use to prey on uneducated consumers.
Don't be fooled. Many sub-standard stones such as the example below are frequently passed off as the real deal. While we would consider the diamond to be pretty well-cut, it hasn't achieved the pinnacle of cut precision:
H&A - Pretty Well Cut.
So, if you are going to be charged an additional premium for hearts & arrows diamonds, it had better be the cream of the crop. This diamond doesn't make the cut and like the majority of diamonds in the market, it is polished to mediocre standards.
H&A Benefits. Generic GIA 3Ex (left), Super ideal cut hearts & arrows (right).
Apart from the symbolic meaning of love and romance, there are 2 visual benefits of buying a hearts & arrows diamond. As mentioned earlier, the hearts & arrows patterning is a by-product of facets that are aligned with extreme precision.
First of all, a diamond will display better contrast patterning when it is cut to super ideal standards and this creates a more appealing appearance that captures the viewer's attention.
Virtual facets add a multi-dimensional interplay of light within the diamond.
Secondly, the brilliance and sparkle factor of a diamond is directly affected by the virtual facets it displays. Basically, you can think of virtual facets like mirrors that reflect mirrors. Having an optimized and better alignment of polished facets will result in bigger virtual facets.
And having bigger virtual facets will result in more reflection of light and better scintillation. This is why a super ideal cut hearts & arrows diamond will look livelier and brighter than a generic GIA excellent cut diamond.
If you want a truly well cut hearts & arrows diamond, you need to shop at reputable jewellers, as there are only a few that specialize in them. The fact is, most jewellers would try to say the diamonds they sell are hearts & arrows when they are actually not. When shopping for hearts & arrows diamonds, you need to work with a reputable jeweller that has transparent business practices that offer tangible data to back up their claims.
Laser inscription of diamonds is a relatively new feature. It is a handy tool for quickly identifying a diamond. Most commonly the diamond is inscribed with a lab report number. Other numbers and symbols are also sometimes inscribed including logos and even "H&A". But anything inscribed on a diamond needs verification.
It is important to understand that inscriptions are often done by the manufacturer or by third parties at the behest of a diamond merchant. Therefore a designation of H&A amounts to a claim, but is not conclusive until independently verified.
H&A Inscribed on the Girdle of a Round Diamond.
You may see "H&A" mentioned on either an AGS or GIA report under the 'Comments' section. This is not a verification that the diamond is indeed true hearts & arrows. It is simply a statement that diamond had those letters inscribed on it when it was submitted to the lab.
Neither AGS nor GIA currently grade hearts & arrows, therefore assessment of the level of H&A requires either inspecting the diamond with a hearts & arrows viewer or analyzing images captured with an H&A device.
Idealscope, ASET And Hearts & Arrows Images
Idealscope and ASET can help you evaluate the light performance of a diamond.
Hearts images viewed through a hearts & arrows viewer, on the other hand, will help you evaluate symmetry. They are often provided for hearts and arrows diamonds which are well known for being super symmetrical.
Firescope (left) and Idealscope (right).
The Idealscope is an invention by Gary Holloway who is a legend in the diamond industry. He is also the inventor of the Holloway Cut Advisor - a very useful tool in weeding out low-performing diamonds based on their proportions.
The Idealscope is a hand-held version of the Firescope that was invented in the 1980s by Mr. Kazumi Okuda in Japan. While the ASET Scope was invented in 2005 by AGS (American Gem Society) which is among the two most reputable grading labs in the world. AGS even uses ASET results to determine the cut grade of a diamond.
Evaluating A Diamond's Cut With Idealscope
How do you determine whether a diamond is well cut (brilliant) or whether it had been cut to less than acceptable standards? This problem is further compounded when diamonds are viewed under strong lighting in a jewellery stop. Every jewellery stop's lighting system is carefully designed to make their products look amazing and sell better. Unfortunately, this happens to be one of the most common pitfalls that unwary consumers fall into. Under such conditions, even diamonds with the worst cut quality can be made to sparkle. And to the untrained eye, it is very difficult to differentiate between the truly well cut diamonds from the poorly cut ones.
This is the reason why a diamond ring can suddenly lose its sparkle once it leaves the jewellery stop. If you intend to buy diamonds from a physical stop, we recommend that you purchase an idealscope and use it to view the stones on-site. This is the easiest and most portable method for you to critically select or reject diamonds based on its optical performance. Compared to the costs of buying a diamond, the idealscope is only a tiny investment (around $50) that will help you make objective decisions.
It is such a simple and wonderful tool, yet so obscure in Stops. In fact, the majority of the sales assistants are totally clueless when it comes to judging a diamond's cut (reading a cut grading off a report is what they can do at best). Most big-name jewellery stop don't provide IdealScope data as well. Likewise, the phenomenon of poorly trained sales staff is very common worldwide. You are very much dependent on yourself to make informed and educated decisions when selecting a diamond.
Both diamonds have GIA triple excellent ratings.
Under the Idealscope, the characteristics of the diamond's cut will become clear and objective. Not surprisingly, most jewellers do not have this tool available for their clients even if they know what it is. The truth is, once you view their inventory under the Idealscope, you would most probably not want to make a purchase. Did you know that most diamonds in the market today aren't cut for optimal light return? Instead, they are cut to retain weight at the expense of optics so that jewellers can sell the stones for more and maximize their profits.
Idealscope Image Reference Comparison Chart
Idealscope Image Reference Comparison Chart.
Stationary ASET (left) and Hand-Held ASET Scope (right).
Fancy Shape Diamonds
If you are in the market for fancy shape diamond, then this guide will help in your selection process. There are 2 main reasons why fancies are harder to choose:
1. Unlike the popular round diamonds which can be found in almost every jewellery shop, fancy cuts aren't high in demand. This means that stores typically don't hold a wide selection of fancy cut stones where you can simply and easily find a diamond that matches your requirement.
2. There is a lack of objective cut information presented in grading reports. Most gemological labs do not assign any cut grades to the fancy shapes (with the exception of AGS for top-of-the line princess and cushion cuts) and this makes it extremely difficult for consumers to determine cut quality.
In a GIA report for a fancy shaped diamond you will notice the absence of a cut grade in the report for a fancy shaped diamond. You will also see that that the measurements for crown and pavilion angles are also missing.
Using only the limited data on cut proportions, physical dimension measurements and carat weight, it is impossible to tell how a fancy cut diamond would look like in real life based on its grading report.
However, as a general guideline to help you narrow down your initial selections, you can use the tables of recommended proportions for the various shapes as a reference. These tables can be found in the corresponding sections we have written for each individual shape.
For online shoppers, having a magnified image or video to help you visualize the stone's appearance is a must. The same goes for people who intend to make a purchase in a local shop. Make sure you perform an inspection with a loupe and pay attention to the outline of the diamond.
Once you are done filtering down your selections, the next most important step is to obtain an ASET image. This will help you determine the optical characteristics and performance of the diamond.
Evaluating A Diamond's Cut With ASET
The ASET (Angular Spectrum Evaluation Technology) tool was developed by the American Gem Society (AGS) and works in a similar fashion as the idealscope. It is used to demonstrate how a diamond handles and returns light to the observer by using colored bands of red, green, and blue.
The main difference between an ASET and Idealscope lies in how light performance data is being presented. In terms of practical usage, the ASET is predominantly used to determine optical performances for fancy shaped diamonds whereas the Idealscope is utilized for round brilliants.
Most local shops do not provide any ASET data or possess an in-house setup that customers can use.
The truth is, the majority of fancy shapes are cut to optimize carat weight instead of brilliance. For this reason, we advise you to work with jewellers (either online or offline) who can provide you with the required ASET data and impartial analysis for their inventory. Unless you have a trained eye and know what kind of brilliance and patterns to look out for, shopping without any light performance data is risky.
The handheld version of the ASET scope is a simple and portable device you can carry around. However, the limitations of the device lie in getting a consistent source of lighting when examining diamonds. Having said that, you don't have to worry about learning how to use the ASET tool if you don't want to, if you want to buy online.
Most reputable jewellers online all have professional ASET setups in-house. If need be, you could easily make a request for the jeweller to capture an ASET image of the diamond on your behalf.
ASET Reference Charts
In an effort to help you better understand what to look out for in an ASET image, we have compiled some images of diamonds with various levels of optical performances. Feel free to make comparisons of your diamond's ASET against those listed below and you'll quickly find out how well it returns light:
Below is an explanation of what the different colors represent:
Red - intense light return - red is generally what you want to see.
Blue - contrast - important for contrast and scintillation. Blue areas should be as symmetrical as possible.
Green - less intense light return - keep green areas minimal.
Black/White - light leakage - keep black/white areas minimal.
ASET Reference Charts For Diamond Shapes
Select Diamond Shape
Round Radiant Pear Emerald Marquise Heart Oval Princess Cushion Asscher