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Diamond Engagement Rings: What's The Difference Between Fire, Sparkle And Brilliance?

Diamond Engagement Rings: What's The Difference Between Fire, Sparkle And Brilliance?

Everyone has heard the terms fire, sparkle and brilliance used regularly by jewellers and in the marketing of diamond engagement rings and other jewellery featuring diamonds. But they are more than just nice sounding adjectives – they do refer specifically to three different characteristics. So, what exactly do these descriptors mean? Diamond Exchange provides the definitions you need to know, below.


Fire in a diamond refers to the flashes of colour which a diamond shoots out intermittently, like littles. These colours comprise the spectrum, which actually forms light itself: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Depending on the light conditions, you may witness one or a number of these colours shining out of a diamond, and this occurrence can tend to have a fiery look about it, hence the term fire. It is usually more noticeable in situations where there’s more ‘mood’ lighting going on, rather than outside in the bright sunshine. Diamonds which display the most fire are those which have been cut with acute angles to the crown and a smaller table area. The table is the top surface of the stone and the crown is the angle or facet around that. Many vintage and antique diamonds display lots of fire, as they were often cut in this manner.


A diamond’s sparkle is also sometimes called scintillation, and this is the twinkle – or sparkle – which you see when the stone moves, for instance when someone shows you their diamond engagement ring and tilts their hand from side to side a little; or you might notice a beautiful diamond sparkling softly on a lady’s finger as she walks across a room. The sparkle is essentially flashes of dark light and bright light, happening very quickly. Sparkle can also be understood as a result of the combination of brilliance and fire. A diamond sparkling is like the light dancing between the facets. 


Brilliance is the term used to describe the amount of light which radiates from a diamond overall, and particularly from the top, or table of a stone. Brilliance is white light, so it’s all the colours of the spectrum in concert, and it is the steady light which emits from the gemstone, rather than the flickering light. You can think of a diamond’s brilliance as akin to its aura. If a diamond has been cut too shallow or too deep, the brilliance can ‘leak’ out the back instead of reflecting onwards and upwards. Stones which have larger tables and shallower crowns will typically have more brilliance.


In general, the most admired diamonds have excellent levels of fire, sparkle and brilliance. The most popular shapes, such as round brilliant diamonds, are cut to exhibit equal amounts of all three characteristics. Creating these diamonds to feature as the centre stone on beautiful diamond engagement rings is all about getting the proportions right. If a stone is cut with the intention of exhibiting lots and lots of fire, it is probably not going to glow with as much brilliance. Some shapes will be bursting with brilliance but won’t appear as fiery. When you are selecting a diamond, you need to understand these subtle differences between the shapes. If one of these characteristics is more important to you, you might decide to go for shape which really showcases that particular element. We can advise you in this matter. As industry expert, US jeweller Tanya Parikh, owner and co-founder of Janvier Diamond Concierge, explains, “If the proportions are correct, the light – even in the most dimly lit room – will play inside the stone and come back to the eye in the form of sparkle. That sparkle and fire are what makes it very attractive.”

Also, a well cut diamond needs to have contrasting areas. This is the relationship between light and shadow. A top tier stone should be balanced in this regard. There should be tonal symmetry. The facets of a high quality diamond should be, metaphorically, like a chessboard, where the white squares will stand out against the black ones, bringing vibrancy, whereas without the dark foils you would just a have a flat white space which would appear comparatively bland.


When describing a diamond, do the terms fire, sparkle and brilliance have specific meanings?

Yes they do, although some people use the terms slightly differently and in a blended fashion.

Are the terms fire, sparkle and brilliance used in reference to all gemstones?

These terms are used frequently when describing clear diamonds, but not as often when discussing coloured stones.

Which is more important in a diamond: fire, sparkle or brilliance?

None are more important than the other, although many people may argue that sparkle is the most desirable trait. Some people may prioritise one of these characteristics over the others, and that’s totally fine.

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