“I’m on a quest for the best hearts and arrows diamond engagement ring that I can buy for $5K and comparing James Allen True Hearts vs Brian Gavin Signature round diamonds. I’ve been reading your blog, and a few others which seem to support your opinion that Brian Gavin Hearts and Arrows Diamonds are the best, however, the prices seem so much better for James Allen True Hearts diamonds of the same quality. I’ve attached a spreadsheet containing the data for the James Allen True Hearts and Brian Gavin Signature diamonds that I am considering, could you look over the details and tell me which diamond you would choose? I’m not really sure how to interpret the data provided.”
“For instance, I don’t know which diamond offers the best offset of crown and pavilion angle, nor how to interpret the ASET Scope, Ideal Scope images; nor how to know whether a “hearts and arrows pattern is crisp and complete” as you’re so fond of putting it. I’d love to know how you approach the decision-making process as to which diamonds you recommend. Is there a charge for your Diamond Concierge Service? It says that it’s free, but then I can’t figure out why you would give away this type of information for free. And do you know if anybody makes a four-prong version of the classic Tiffany style solitaire? My girlfriend really likes the prong structure of that ring, but doesn’t like the look of six prong rings.”
Throughout the 25+ years that I worked as a diamond buyer for Nice Ice which was formerly owned and operated by Treasures by R.J., my primary focus was on buying round brilliant ideal cut diamonds that delivered the highest volume of light return, with a virtual balance of brilliance (white sparkle) and dispersion (colored sparkle) that shows up from across the room because of the manner in which the diamond has been cut.
I would begin most days by sitting down with a cup of coffee and pouring over lists of GIA Excellent and AGS Ideal graded ideal cut diamonds which had been faxed over to me by the diamond cutters who we worked with, and trying to select the diamonds which would provide the highest volume of light return and sparkle factor; and once I had figured out which diamonds were the most likely candidates, I would call the diamond cutters and ask them to ship the diamonds to me for physical evaluation.
Of the ideal cut diamonds that I brought in for physical evaluation, the average rejection rate was around 40% and that means that I was wasting a lot of time opening up parcel papers and being disappointed by the visual performance of the ideal cut diamonds that I was evaluating… and the company was also wasting a lot of money on shipping and insurance.
I tend to by rather analytical by nature, so I set out to devise a system that would enable me to substantially increase the number of diamonds that would pass the physical evaluation process, and provide me with more time to devote to other endeavors… Naturally I spoke with my mentors in the diamond business, one of which who happens to be Brian Gavin of Brian Gavin Diamonds; and I also spoke with Peter Yantzer, Director of the American Gem Society Laboratory (AGSL) and within a rather short period of time, I was picking diamonds by the numbers, and their reflector scope images, with an extremely high rate of success.
My diamond selection process is not for the faint of heart, it is not easy to find diamonds that meet my selection criteria, and my use of it has earned me the nicknames Diamond Nazi, Diamond Snob, and Golden Child, within the diamond industry. I’ve been told that my selection criteria is too limited, too strict, and impossible to maintain with any degree of consistency, but I’m okay with that… because my diamond selection criteria is not intended to make it easier for diamond companies to sell diamonds, especially ideal cut diamonds which are little more than mediocre, it is intended to help you buy the most amazing diamonds possible, with an exceptional degree of consistency.
There are a wide variety of diamond proportions that have the potential to yield similar levels of light return, however the middle of the range designated by the AGS Laboratory for the zero ideal cut proportions rating has always been “the sweet spot” that seems to almost always provide the highest level of light return, and I outline the parameters of that spectrum in the article 15 Seconds to Diamond Buying Success, so there is no need to repeat it here… note that diamonds cut to this center range of proportions that is known as the sweet spot are often referred to as Super Ideal Cut Diamonds, however there is more to that classification than just the proportions.
Stick to the “super ideal cut diamond proportions” that I’ve designated when shopping for diamonds online, and you will dramatically increase the odds of selecting a diamond that exhibits the highest volume of light return, and which exhibits a virtual balance of brilliance and dispersion.[separator]
Note that a variance of a tenth of a degree on something like the crown angle is not likely to have a significant effect upon the overall look of the diamond, which is why this 0.735 carat, E-color, VS-2 clarity, Brian Gavin Signature round diamond, which has a crown angle of 34.2 degrees, still meet my selection criteria even though my preferred range suggests that the crown angle of the diamond be kept between 34.3 – 34.9 degrees; for the same reason, a crown angle of 35.0 degrees would also be acceptable; however it all depends on the pavilion angle offset, and the combination of crown height and pavilion depth measurements because the light return of a diamond is affected by how all the pieces of the puzzle are brought together by the diamond cutter.
If you happen to prefer diamonds that exhibit sparkle which is larger in size, bright, and bold in appearance, then focus on round brilliant cut diamonds that have the center range proportions that I specify in the article 15 Seconds to Diamond Buying Success, and which have lower girdle facet lengths between 75 – 78%.
If you prefer round brilliant cut diamonds that exhibit sparkle that is smaller in size, and which looks a lot like the pin-fire type sparkle that is reflected off of the tiny mirrors that are glued on to the surface of a disco ball, then focus on diamonds with proportions in that “sweet spot” but which have lower girdle facets that measure between 80 – 82% but be aware that our eyes can experience difficulty dispersing smaller flashes of white light into color, and thus these types of diamonds are likely to look more brilliant than fiery or exhibit a virtual balance of brilliance and dispersion due to the limitations of our human eyes.
You might have noticed that I happened to omit 79% from the two ranges of lower girdle facet length outlined above, and that is because it seems to be the point of transition where the type of sparkle can go either direction, which is why it is helpful to work with vendors like Brian Gavin and James Allen, who both take the time to physically examine the diamonds which they offer for sale, and thus they can help you with determining the type of sparkle being exhibited by the diamonds listed in their inventory.
Reflector scope images, such as those provided of diamonds that are photographed while unmounted through an ASET Scope, Ideal Scope, and Hearts & Arrows Scope, enabled trained diamond graders to judge the optical symmetry of the facet structure of a diamond. People tend to assume that each scope shows pretty much the same thing, but in different colors, based upon the different colors used within the construction of each device; however each scope is actually designed for a specific purpose, and each scope is used to judge a different factor of light performance and visual performance, which are directly affected by the degree optical symmetry exhibited by the diamond.
It is important to realize that “optical symmetry” is not the same as “meet point symmetry” which is the basis of the “Symmetry Grade” that appears on diamond grading reports issued by the GIA, AGSL, HRD, EGL, IGI, and practically every other gemological laboratory.
Optical symmetry is based upon the consistency of facet shape and size per section; and the relationship of all of the facets on the diamond, as they are aligned with each other from the perspective of 360 degrees; and the precision of the indexing of the facets as they are polished on to the surface of the diamond; the best device for judging the optical symmetry of a diamond is a Hearts & Arrows Scope, and the degree of consistency exhibited by the hearts and arrows pattern of a round brilliant cut diamond is the primary indication as to how well the diamond cutter structured the facets of the diamond… and all of this is important because it has a direct effect upon the number of virtual facets that the diamond will exhibit; along with the intensity of the sparkle; and dictates the degree to which the diamond will exhibit static contrast, and how well it will perform in low light or no light situations; and largely determines the extent to which the diamond will be noticed from across the room.
The AGS Laboratory developed Angular Spectrum Evaluation Technology (ASET) to provide insight into where in the room a diamond was gathering light from, but also whether it was proportioned to gather light from the brightest type of light that is available within the room, and it also provides some insight into how evenly distributed that light is reflecting about within the diamond… I’ve covered this in the article What Do The Different Colors of an ASET Mean, so there is no need to repeat that here.
An Ideal Scope is primarily designed to show us where a diamond is “leaking light” and the degree to which the diamond is leaking light, which is largely due to the combination of proportions that the diamond has been cut to, but also the precision of facet shape and alignment (optical symmetry). And if you really know what you’re looking for, an Ideal Scope and ASET Scope image will also let you know the degree to which the diamond cutter may have cheated the stone when he transitioned the crown and pavilion facets into the girdle edge of the diamond, but that is a really lengthy tutorial on its own… suffice to say that this is something that I take into consideration when I look at diamonds on behalf of clients who take me up on my free Diamond Concierge Service (and I’ll explain how that works below).
All right, now that I’ve provided a bit of insight into my diamond selection process, and why it is critical to focus upon the proportions of the diamond, as well as the importance of reflector scope images, such as ASET Scope, Ideal Scope, and Hearts & Arrows Scope images, it’s time to take a look at the James Allen True Hearts and Brian Gavin Signature diamonds that you asked me to review.
I’m going to list the diamonds in order of carat weight, because I always used to start the diamond selection process by putting the diamond grading reports in order of carat weight:
You’ll also notice that the diamonds presented above are further sorted in order of color and clarity; since all of the diamonds are VS-2 and VS-1 clarity, they are going to be eye clean and face-up the same to the naked eye in terms of visible clarity, I’ve ordered them by color, because that is a difference which might be visible under the right lighting conditions.
All right, let’s get down to it… I’m just going to pretend that we’re sitting together at my desk, flipping through a bunch of diamonds that were shipped over to me for physical evaluation by Brian Gavin and James Allen; we’ll look at the proportions provided on the diamond grading reports, and then look at the reflector scope images provided by each vendor, which is pretty much the same as it would be if the diamonds were sitting in front of me and I could toss them under a scope for us to look at.
The Diamond Quality Document (DQD) issued by the American Gem Society Laboratory (AGSL) for the 0.701 carat, E-color, VS-2 clarity, James Allen True Hearts round diamond indicates that it has a total depth of 62.9% and the reality is that I would drop that diamond grading report through the shredder based upon that measurement alone, and not give this diamond a second glance; however that won’t teach you anything, so let’s look a little closer at the proportions of this diamond. The pavilion angle of 40.7 degrees is great, it’s going to provide a high volume of light return; and the crown angle of 35.0 degrees is within tolerance of my preferred range, so at first glance this diamond appears to have what it takes to meet my selection criteria, except for the total depth of 62.9% which is more than one percent deeper than I prefer; but does that little bit of extra total depth really matter?[separator]
The answer of course depends on where that little bit of extra depth is located within the structure of the diamond, and in this particular instance it lies within the crown height and girdle thickness. The crown height of the diamond is stated as being 16% which is a crown height which I feel would be better suited for a crown angle of around 36 degrees; and I feel that this is likely to make the diamond exhibit more dispersion (colored sparkle / fire) than brilliance (white sparkle) but most likely only under specific lighting scenarios, such as candlelight; and we don’t spend the majority of our time under candlelight these days.
Since you asked about how to judge the consistency of hearts and arrows patterns, and for insight on what I consider to be a “crisp and complete pattern of hearts and arrows” we might as well take a look at the hearts pattern exhibited by this 0.701 carat, E-color, VS-2 clarity, James Allen True Hearts round diamond since it provides a learning opportunity. See how the heart located in the relative six o’clock position is just a bit smaller than the rest of the hearts? And how the gap located between the tip of that heart and the arrowhead located directly above it is significantly larger than the gaps between the other hearts and arrow reflections? This diamond is not H&A by my personal anal retentive standards.[separator]
The diamond industry has yet to adopt an official grading standards for the formation of Hearts and Arrows patterns, each diamond dealer is more or less free to refer to any diamond which exhibits any sort of pattern of hearts and arrows as a “Hearts and Arrows diamond” and go by whatever selection standards they deem to be appropriate. Mine happen to run parallel to the original grading standards of the Zenhokyo and Central Gemological Laboratory (CGL) of Japan; as well as the grading standards recently suggested by the HRD Gemological Laboratory of Belgium; and of course the standards taught to me by my mentor Brian Gavin, who has attempted on several occasions to get the diamond industry to adopt strict standards for the grading of hearts and arrows diamonds.
If you’d like to read some really in-depth tutorials on hearts and arrows grading, as well as learn more about how hearts and arrows patterns are created within diamonds, you might want to check out the Hearts and Arrows Grading site that Brian built as a reference for the diamond industry. One of my other mentors in the diamond industry, Gary Wright built Hearts and Arrows dot com, which provides similar tutorials and information, I think you’ll find that my opinion of what constitutes a hearts and arrows diamond runs parallel to their opinion, but I suppose that’s not all that surprising since they took me under their wing when I was a young pup and taught me (almost) everything I know.
By the way, the reason that I don’t promote or market the Hearts and Arrows Diamonds marketed by Gary Wright is because he opposes the sale of diamonds online, and as such will only sell diamonds to retail jewelry stores who usually mark them up far more than their internet-based counterparts who are competing globally and not just on a local basis; and since I’m one of the original pioneers of online diamond sales, Gary Wright and I agree to disagree about whether people should be able to buy diamonds via the internet.
However I’m confident that if you emailed Gary Wright a picture of the hearts pattern exhibited by the 0.701 carat, E-color, VS-2 clarity, James Allen True Hearts round diamond referenced above, without any reference as to whether it was a James Allen True Hearts diamond, that he’d take note of the smaller heart located in the six o’clock position and indicate that the diamond does not meet his personal standards for hearts and arrows diamonds; so would Brian Gavin, and so would Paul Slegers of Crafted by Infinity, who is another one of my favorite producers of hearts and arrows diamonds.
Crafted by Infinity distributes their production through High Performance Diamonds by the way, they don’t have anything in this weight classification at the moment, or I’d throw one or two of them out there as alternatives for you to consider because I think that they produce an exceptional hearts and arrows quality diamond.
Understand that I’m not bagging on the precision of James Allen True Hearts Diamonds as a whole, I’m merely explaining why the hearts pattern exhibited by this particular 0.701 carat, E-color, VS-2 clarity, James Allen True Hearts round diamond, does not meet my personal grading standards for Hearts and Arrows Diamonds.
If the diamond were part of my inventory (which it never would be because of the total depth) I would simply market it as an AGS Ideal-0 cut diamond, and I’d probably post a picture of the hearts and arrows pattern simply to show that it’s pretty good, but that’s me and this is them, to each their own and all that.
The proportions of this 0.71 carat, E-color, VS-2 clarity, James Allen True Hearts round diamond are definitely better than the last one we looked at; the diamond has a total depth of 61.0% and a table diameter of 59% (!) wait a second… what? Do you not recall that my preferred range of table diameter as stated within the article 15 Seconds to Diamond Buying Success is between 53 – 58 percent? Why are we even considering this diamond? Perhaps you picked it because the crown angle of 35.0 degrees is a pretty good offset for the pavilion angle of 40.6 degrees; and the hearts pattern actually looks pretty good, although that heart in the six o’clock position still appears to be a little smaller than the rest.[separator]
The good news is that the heart located in the six o’clock position is not significantly smaller than the other seven hearts, it’s just a fraction smaller, which probably is the result of a slight difference in the size and length of the lower girdle facets, or perhaps the indexing of the facets is off just a little bit, but probably not enough for our human eyes to pick up on it… So this is a decent option if you happen to like diamonds with slightly larger table facets; which I don’t, but maybe you do… this is where it becomes helpful if you’ve looked at a few diamonds in-person to get an idea of what your personal preference happens to be with how a diamond is supposed to look.
I also like the fact that this diamond has 75% lower girdle facets, because they are going to give it those bright, broad, larger flashes of light that I happen to prefer, the type of sparkle that is going to show up from across the room, so while I wouldn’t have purchased this 0.71 carat, E-color, VS-2 clarity, James Allen True Hearts round diamond for inventory when I was the diamond buyer for Nice Ice, I can see why James Allen chose it for their inventory which seems to be targeting a broader range of the market than I focus upon.
I like everything about this 0.714 carat, F-color, VS-1 clarity, Brian Gavin Signature round diamond, the proportions are right in the middle of the range designated as “the sweet spot” for diamond proportions; and as such the diamond should exhibit a high volume of light return with a virtual balance of brilliance and dispersion. The total depth of the diamond is 61.7% and the table diameter is 56.8% with a crown angle of 34.9 degrees that is balanced by a crown height of 15.1% and offset by a pavilion angle of 40.8 degrees, which is perfectly balanced by a pavilion depth of 43 percent; this is dead-center, zero ideal cut, perfectly balanced, perfectly proportioned by my standards, textbook ideal cut and all that. The ASET image provided on the DQD indicates that the diamond is gathering light primarily from the brightest light source in the room (red) and exhibiting just the right of the green.[separator]
The color green represents light which is being gathered by the diamond from the second brightest light source in the room, that light which strikes the diamond from the vantage point of 45 degrees out to the horizon; while the color red represents light that strikes the diamond perpendicular to the table facet out to forty five degrees; and the distribution of color is nice and evenly balanced throughout the diamond, indicating to me that it is going to be wonderfully bright and lively!
As you can see by the picture provided to the left, the 0.714 carat, F-color, VS-1 clarity, Brian Gavin Signature round diamond exhibits a hearts pattern that is crisp and complete; the hearts are consistent in size and shape, and evenly spaced. This is the type of consistency that I deem worthy of the “hearts and arrows diamond” classification, and this is definitely a diamond that I would have purchased for inventory when I was the diamond buyer for Nice Ice. In fact I did buy thousands and thousands of diamonds cut just like this from Brian Gavin, and it is because I found the consistency of his brand to be extremely consistent; each diamond is designed to deliver maximum light return.[separator]
It should be noted that I also used to purchase diamonds from the parent company that backs James Allen, but not in the same volume because of variances like those exhibited by the two James Allen True Hearts diamonds which I reviewed previously; I would basically cherry pick their inventory and choose the best options that they had available, and then leave everything else on the table for other less precise dealers to buy; heck, that’s kind of like what I’m helping you do right now.
The 35.5 degree crown angle of this 0.71 carat, F-color, VS-2 clarity, James Allen True Hearts round diamond is well beyond my preferred range of 34.3 – 34.9 degrees, and therefore it would not be a top pick in my opinion, because it is likely to cause the diamond to exhibit a bit more dispersion/fire (colored sparkle) than brilliance (white sparkle) and as I’ve already stated, I prefer a virtual balance of the two sparkle factors. Note that I also consider the 15% crown height to be a bit shallow for the 35.5 degree crown angle, and the 43% pavilion depth to be a bit steep for the 40.6 degree pavilion angle, but this is more of a minor technical preference and not something which I would get too caught up in.[separator]
The hearts pattern also looks pretty good, probably the best of the James Allen True Hearts diamonds that we’ve reviewed thus far, so I think that this stone is a contender…. Wait.
Did you hear that sound? It sounded like Jim Shultz of James Allen hitting the floor… he must have fainted. In all seriousness, he knows that I’m a bit of a fanatic when it comes to how I expect diamonds to be cut, and the limited range of proportions that I deem to be acceptable for round brilliant cut diamonds; it makes for interesting conversation when we meet up at trade shows… Hardly a day goes by where I don’t receive an email from at least one of my preferred vendors suggesting that I loosen up my selection parameters, maybe just a little bit, but I just can’t do it, even though doing so would probably enable me to earn a lot more money in affiliate sales… I feel that I’d be doing my clients a disservice by expanding the range of my selection criteria beyond the range that I would rely upon if selecting a diamond for myself. Sorry boys, old habits die hard.
Last but not least, we have this 0.735 carat, E-color, VS-2 clarity, Brian Gavin Signature round diamond, which exhibits a gorgeous pattern of hearts and arrows. This is definitely a hearts and arrows diamond that I could wrap my mind around, the proportions are spot-on in the middle of the range designated for the zero ideal cut rating, and the degree of optical symmetry is obviously top-notch! The ASET image provided on the diamond grading report looks great, so does the Ideal Scope image. What are you waiting for? Buy it. This diamond is definitely my pick of the litter because the combination of E-color and VS-2 clarity provides a better balance to me than F-color, VS-1 clarity.[separator]
To be clear, what I’m saying is that I consider the overall diamond cut quality and degree of optical symmetry of the 0.714 carat, F-color, VS-1 clarity, Brian Gavin Signature round diamond and this 0.735 carat, E-color, VS-2 clarity, Brian Gavin Signature round diamond to be equal, and thus I believe that the volume of light return and the sparkle factor will be the same; but between the two diamonds I would buy the 0.735 carat, E-color, VS-2 clarity, Brian Gavin Signature round diamond because I think that the combination of E-color, and VS-2 clarity makes more sense than F-color, and VS-1 clarity; because both diamonds are going to look the same to the naked eye in terms of the inclusions (eye clean) but I happen to be color sensitive and might be able to pick up on the difference between E-color and F-color with just my eyes, and thus the E-color diamond is apt to appear just a hint brighter and whiter to me… but I’m a trained diamond grader, the odds are that the average person wouldn’t see a difference, and thus it is more of a “mind clean” type of thing, and perhaps what provides you with that “mind clean” feeling is the higher clarity provided by the 0.714 carat, F-color, VS-1 clarity, Brian Gavin Signature round diamond, which is just fine since both diamonds are going to exhibit the same high volume of light return and sparkle factor.
As far as the diamonds from James Allen go, obviously the 0.701 carat, E-color, VS-2 clarity, James Allen True Hearts round diamond isn’t really my cup of tea, but it will appeal to people who prefer diamonds that exhibit more dispersion than brilliance, as will the 0.71 carat, F-color, VS-2 clarity, James Allen True Hearts round diamond because of the steeper crown angle and crown height.
I don’t have any discount codes or coupons for James Allen, they denied my request for an exclusive coupon code that my clients could use; but I do have one from Brian Gavin that will save you some money on a setting ordered in conjunction with any Brian Gavin Signature or Brian Gavin Blue diamond, I’ll send you the Brian Gavin coupon code via email.
If you happen to be reading this blog post, and would like help picking the best diamond available within your preferred range of characteristics (diamond carat weight, color, and clarity) and price range, feel free to take advantage of my free Diamond Concierge Service; which reminds me, I promised to explain why I provide this type of detailed diamond buying advice for free.
After spending 25+ years as a diamond buyer by profession, life tossed me one of those curveballs that came on with such velocity that I was more or less forced to sit back and re-evaluate my position in the industry; eventually I decided that I wanted to expand my horizons and be free to move about the world, travel and explore new places; so I converted Nice Ice from a site which sold diamonds to the public, to one which provides people with diamond buying advice, and I established affiliate relationships with several of my former suppliers and former competitors, whereby I am compensated when people buy diamonds from them, via the links which I provide, and I do so with full disclosure of our material connection, it is even disclosed at the bottom of every email message that I send out in response to your inquiry.
It is important to note that your purchase price is not affected by clicking on any of the links that I provide, your price is going to be the same regardless of whether you click on the link provided or not; each vendor pays me out of their annual advertising budget. The vendors who I work with are willing to share some of their profits with me, in exchange for the service that I provide their customers, the reality is that affiliate partners such as myself probably save them a lot of time by answering questions about their diamonds, that would otherwise have to be addressed by their customer service representatives, sometimes those email strings are as much as 60 – 70 messages long.
But what if you’re interested in a diamond from a vendor who I don’t have an affiliate agreement with? Honestly, I don’t care who you’re buying from, the reality is that I feel that there is more than enough business to go around, and I operate from the perspective that if I help enough people get what they want, I’ll get what I want out of life in the process… So there are days when I help people buy diamonds from web sites like Whiteflash, or Good Old Gold, or Solomon Brothers, and many other outlets such as Tiffany & Co., Jared’s Jewelers, etc., and I’m happy to do so, because hopefully, it means that you end up buying the diamond which is right for your needs and preferences, and with a better understanding of what it is that you’re buying; and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be happy enough with the service that I provide, that you’ll refer your friends, family, and co-workers to me.
So feel free to take full advantage of my free Diamond Concierge Service, either to help you find the diamond of your dreams, or to simply gain some professional insight about a diamond which you might already be considering, either from one of my preferred diamond vendors, or from another online diamond vendor, or jewelry store, who I’m not working with.
Todd Gray is a professional diamond buyer with 30+ years of trade experience. He loves to teach people how to buy diamonds that exhibit incredible light performance! In addition to writing for Nice Ice, Todd "ghost writes" blogs and educational content for other diamond sites. When Todd isn't chained to a desk, or consulting for the trade, he enjoys Freediving! (that's like scuba diving, but without air tanks)
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