By Beth Bernstein
History of Heart Shaped Diamonds
When we think of heart shaped diamonds, we often think of the modern cut which has gone in and out of fashion like other fancy cuts throughout the 20th century. Like other famous diamond cuts, the heart shaped diamond has an interesting history. But the earliest mention that we know regarding the heart shaped diamond dates back to the 1400s when reports have it that the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza was speaking with his confidante Nicodemo and described the mythical quests of the wealthy and powerful Cosimo de Medici of the political dynasty in Florence as being similar to a heart shaped diamond. If we are to believe that this conversation took place, then it means that heart shaped diamonds were cut earlier that the 15th century and became known as a symbol of royalty.
Case in point, almost 100 years later in 1562, Mary Queen of Scots sent Queen Elizabeth I a heart shaped diamond ring set into gold. It was thought to be a gesture of friendship and goodwill. Although this was one of the most famous heart shaped diamonds recorded during this period, another much larger 20-carat heart shaped diamond ring was owned by French clergyman and statesman Cardinal de Richelieu. It was originally willed to the king by Alphonse Lopez who was a diamond merchant who settled in Paris in 1610. After that time, heart shaped diamonds became associated with romance, love, admiration and devotion. And were and still are the most expensive diamonds to cut.
Making the Cut: The Evolution of the Heart Shaped Diamond Ring
During the Renaissance and well into the 1700s, diamonds were cut by hand using the most basic device. This beginning developed over time to be the superior technique jewelers are working with today. The heart shape required even more care than other early diamonds due to the carving of the cleft in the center of the stone. It was a slow and complex task to get it right, especially with the shaping tools available back in the early diamond cutting days. Color retention and shape were the two aspects of the heart that cutters were after. Sparkle and light passing through the diamond would be in the heart diamond’s distant future. And like all other early diamond cuts, it was eventually mastered by the most skilled cutters and technological advances in the field, progressing and evolving into the heart diamonds and heart diamond rings that are on the market today.
Modern heart shaped diamonds should be cut to ensure that the stone reflects light at all angles. The symmetry of the two halves of the heart should be equal in size and shape and curves at the top should always be rounded while the cleft in the middle should of course, be distinct. It’s most important that the halves of the heart diamond to be identical in shape and size. When you are going for a heart shaped engagement ring, the wider the heart will create a stunning effect on your finger, particularly in a solitaire. Bear in mind that the heart, like the marquise diamond, depending on the cutter, can produce a bow tie effect which casts a shadow in the center of the diamond and watch for this. The best heart shape diamond rings are all about proportion and balance of the upper rounded corners and the cleft.
The Hearts Desire: The Famed and Legendary Heart Diamond Rings
We might not be going in order here but let’s talk about the Taj Mahal diamond first.
It is one of my favorite pieces that Richard Burton gifted Elizabeth Taylor and it is a rare part of Indian history. The couple celebrated Taylor’s fortieth birthday in Budapest and her gift from Burton was a heart shaped yellow diamond from Cartier. Burton purchased the diamond mounted as a pendant in a gold-braided tassel necklace. The table cut heart shaped diamond was first discovered in the 17th century and inscribed in the Persian language with Arabic characters. The inscription roughly translates “Nur Jahan, Lady of the Padshah; 23; 1037,” stating the original owner of the world-famous diamond which was originally a gift from the Shah Jahan in 1621 to his favorite wife, the queen who inspired the Taj Mahal. Thus, it was called the Taj Mahal diamond. Cartier replicated the look of the original chain with diamonds, rubies and gold braiding. Burton joked with Taylor that he intended to buy her the Taj Mahal, but it was too big to move to their home in Switzerland. He got her the jewel instead. After Elizabeth Taylor passed away, the diamond was sold at auction for $8 million dollars.
The Blue Heart Diamond is a 30.62 carat, first discovered in South Africa and was last owned by American heiress Marjorie M. Post. She gifted it to the Smithsonian Institute in 1964.
It was found in 1908 at the Premier Mine and weighted 100.5 carat in the rough. It was purchased by a diamond mining company and was faceted in 1910 by a French jeweler named, Atanik Eknayan. It was then set as centerpiece of a lily-of-the-valley ornament necklace (lily of the valley meaning return to happiness), before it was purchased by a family in Argentina. Then in 1953, Van Cleef & Arpels purchased the diamond and reset it into a pendant. It was sold a few times before Marjorie M. Post purchased it and eventually gifted it.
The heart shaped Cullinan Diamond V is one of nine diamond cuts that originated from the world-famous Cullinan Diamond – the largest gem-quality diamond ever to be discovered. The South African government gifted the Cullinan Diamond V to Queen Mary in 1910. Today, the diamond is worn by late Queen Mary’s granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II which weighs approximately 18.8-carats and set into a stunning brooch.
The Royal Purple Heart Diamond, which weighs 7.34-carats is one of the largest fancy vivid purple color diamonds in the word. The vibrant purple color of the stone is enhanced by the heart shape. Although where the diamond was discovered remains a mystery, experts speculate that this rarity originated in Russia.
Christie’s 56-Carat Heart Shaped Diamond was up for grabs at the Christie’s “Magnificent Jewels” Auction in 2011. The heart diamond broke all records with a hammer price of $12 million –which is the highest paid for a heart shaped diamond in history.
You’re In My Heart: The Celebrity Heart Shaped Engagement Rings
Contemporary celebrities began receiving fancy cut diamonds 5-10 years ago and even when the engagement or marriage broke up, the ring held its place in propelling heart shaped engagement rings back into the spotlight for modern brides. Music icons Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and Gwen Stefani all owned heart shaped engagement rings. Lady Gaga’s whopping white heart shaped diamond and Nicki Minai’s yellow heart shaped diamond with sparkling white halo were both designed by Lorraine Schwartz.
Avril Lavigne and Mod Sun got engaged in Paris in April 2022. It was a romantic setting on the Seine in a private boat. When Avril revealed her heart shaped engagement ring, she said it symbolized the couple’s love story. It is a custom design with personal inscriptions on the inside.
The heart is a motif that might have gone in and out of engagement styles but it has always been associated with various kinds of love and along with its royal roots, it is steeped in romance, desire, friendship. compassion, passion and a slew of other sentimental meanings that are sure to win your own heart.
*Featured image of Blue Heart Diamond courtesy of Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Beth Bernstein is a jewelry historian, collector of period and modern jewelry and a purveyor of all things sparkly. She has penned three books—'My Charmed Life,' a memoir; 'Jewelry's Shining Stars,' a modern jewelry design coffee table book; and 'If These Jewels Could Talk,' an in-depth look at celebrities and the stories behind their legendary jewels on the silver screen and in real life—with a fourth one in the works. She has written and continues to write for major print and online magazines on all subjects pertaining to jewelry and style.