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Hearts and Arrows

The diamond industry even refers to it as the “Cupid Effect”. But while many people have probably heard of the term “hearts and arrows” before, most don’t know what the term really means. Hearts and arrows has become one of the most misused terms in the industry with everyone having their own definition of what a hearts and arrows diamond is.

For example, a tricky vendor may tell you that all excellent or ideal-cut graded diamonds exhibit the hearts and arrows effect, a statement that is at best open to interpretation.

Mythbusting the H&A

The fact is that top labs such as GIA or AGS do not grade hearts and arrows in diamonds.

There are some labs out there that do grade Hearts and arrows like IGI and HRD but those diamonds that are certified as hearts and arrows by these labs are no guarantee that they are what I will call “true” hearts and arrows diamonds.

So what is a true hearts and arrows diamond?

Well, first off no one actually invented H&A, it was an accidental discovery by the Japanese. The term “Hearts and Arrows” was trademarked in 1988 by Kinsaku Yamashita who also received a patent for the invention of the hearts and arrows viewer in 1990.

The pattern that you see is a visual effect that is made up of the reflections of the diamond’s facets. Hearts and arrows is actually a natural phenomenon that occurs when a 57 facet modern brilliant cut diamond is cut with perfect optical symmetry.

The term optical symmetry is to differentiate it from physical symmetry, which is what is graded on the GIA diamond certificate. 

For now it’s enough to know that excellent physical symmetry does not equal excellent optical symmetry. Also, optical symmetry and light performance are two separate issues and a perfect hearts and arrows diamond does not guarantee excellent light performance.

So although it is true that a hearts and arrows diamond is proof that it was manufactured to the highest quality, don’t be fooled to believe that it has anything to do with branding because that’s just marketing hype.

Hearts and Arrows Definition

Although there is no official definition of what hearts and arrows is, the best understood method of assessing hearts and arrows was put forward by Brian Gavin at the first international cut conference in 2004.

The method of assessing hearts and arrows is an on-going debate but the method of assessment suggested by Brian Gavin is what most believe is the best method of assessment.

The way most see it is that a diamond is either a hearts and arrows or it isn’t and an hearts and arrows diamond with ideal light performance can be said to be a super ideal-cut diamond. 

The above image is the view you see from a Hearts & Arrows viewer, which is the only proper way to assess hearts and arrows in a diamond. A hearts and arrows image should only be used to determine optical symmetry so it is not important what color the hearts or the arrows are.

If you have used a hearts and arrows viewer in real life, you will know how difficult it is to discern the subtleties of the hearts. One can only rely on high quality, reproducible photography setups from reputable vendors in order to truly confirm perfect H&A.

Although this starting point is taken by many experts, most will still agree that a hearts and arrows diamond does not necessarily have to be absolutely perfect in order to be sold as super-ideal cut. At this point, some may consider it to be splitting hairs. Most find some defects to be less important than others and you can form your own opinion.

The point is that even at the very top tier of super-ideal cut diamonds, one can still differentiate between the top 10% of super-ideal diamonds from the rest. Now some of you analytical types out there will be looking for that perfectly cut diamond. Just remember that no one cuts a perfect diamond by mistake.

Cutting a hearts and arrows diamond is indeed an art and lots of planning goes into cutting each one. The point is that you’re not going to find an H&A hidden in the standard inventory by accident. Just like it is no accident that a diamond doesn’t end up going to GIA or doesn’t have an AGS platinum light report.

The bottom line is that if you want a top-of-the-line hearts and arrows diamond, you will have to purchase from vendors that sell super-ideal cut diamonds. Unfortunately most hearts and arrows diamonds are branded and comes with an associated premium. 

Assessing H&A, “it’s all in the hearts”

It was once said, it’s all about the hearts image. Basically everything you need to know about a diamond can be discerned from the hearts image. Take a look at the following graphic.

For diamond consumers, we want our near-H&As to have a hearts image that is much closer to the ‘true’ than the ‘near’ in the graphic above. Assessing hearts and arrows in a diamond is a visual exercise and the basic criteria are as follows:

  • 8 equally symmetric hearts and V’s that are the same size
  • There should not be a clef between the hearts
  • There should be a slight gap between the V’s and the hearts
  • The tops of the hearts should be flattened off
  • There should be no shift/offset/distortion of the V’s and hearts

The last defect is perhaps the most common defect and is due to yaw. Minor yaw that doesn’t cause obvious distortion is considered the most minor defect and are the only defects that are acceptable in a true H&A. Although it is sufficient to look at the hearts to determine H&A, it is easier to weed out non-H&As by looking at the arrows, the arrows should be straight and perfectly aligned at the arrow head.


The difference between a near-H&A and a super ideal-cut hearts and arrows cut is like the difference between an IF and VVS1 clarity. Because there are sometimes no visible differences, what you’re paying a premium for when you buy a true H&A is extraordinary craftsmanship. This has created a market for near-H&A diamonds, which are those that narrowly miss being a super-ideal-cut diamond.

If you’re looking for a well-cut diamond, it is very important that you aim for at least a near-H&A. The reason, from a consumer’s point of view, is that a good looking hearts image is confirmation that the proportions on the diamond certificate are representative of all 8 sides of your diamond. If a diamond is slightly out of round, then what is crucial is to make sure opposite sides of its hearts image are symmetrical.

Now that you know what to look for in terms of optical symmetry and hearts and arrows, you’re one step closer to becoming a diamond consumer. In the next tutorial, I will tell you what to look for in terms of the light performance or a diamond. Remember that a super ideal-cut diamond requires both excellent light performance and H&A optical symmetry.

If you’re looking for a near-H&A, bear in mind that some defects are preferable than others. 



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