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GIA AGS Triple Zero Excellent Ideal Cut Confusion

It’s a wonder that anyone can understand Cut at all.

The Cut of a Diamond can vary drastically from stone to stone.

Not only can the Proportions, Percentages, and Angles be all over the board, but even the definitions and terms used to describe these Cuts can be highly confusing.

For Example:

The term ‘Ideal” means different things to different stores and Certification companies. What’s “Ideal” for one company, is totally different for another.

The same is said for the word “Excellent“. You may think that you’re buying a top-of-the-line Diamond, but you better think again. Your “Triple Zero” Stone may just be a Big Fat Zero.. “Hey, what’s that huge Black Spot in my Diamond?

Not to mention stores just saying that a Diamond is “Excellent” because it’s very good quality. “Ideally“, one has to watch how things are worded… in an Ideal world. It can get pretty tricky!

Hence, the purpose of this post!

So let’s dig in…

The top two Certification companies in the world are GIA and AGS. But they don’t use the same Grading System. GIA wrote the book on the 4C’s and devised the whole system (Cut, Color, Clarity and Carat Weight), but AGS has tweaked it, modified it, and even altered some of the Grades and Ranges.

Compare the two leading Cut Grading Charts below…

GIA AGS Cut Grading Charts!

You see, they are almost alike except for some slight Range differences and some further splitting for numbers 0-10 (AGS assigns both a number and a name to Cut). One significant difference you’ll notice is at the top of the Cut Chart. You’ll see that AGS has split the “Excellent” Grade into two Grades and called the higher Grade “Ideal” (0).

So as far as AGS is concerned, “Excellent” is the second best Cut you can get, and “Ideal” is the BEST. An AGS Ideal Cut Diamond makes up only the top 1% of all the Diamonds Cut on the market today. Where Excellent makes up the top 3%.

So if you’re looking for an Excellent Cut Diamond, meaning you want the best, then it really depends on which Diamond Report you’re looking at.

Excellent could be the best, or it may not be!

What’s Ideal?

Now let’s look closer at this highly miss-understood term: IDEAL.

The Ideal Standards for a Round Brilliant Cut Diamond was set back in 1919 by a man named Marcel Tolkowski. He set the ranges for the Table and Depth of a Diamond, along with other Mathematical Proportions like Crown Height and Pavilion Angles to maximize the Light Performance in a stone; hence to get the most Brilliance and Fire possible.

Check out the Ideal Cut Diamond Standards here…

Ideal Cut Diamond Standards!

These Ideal Standards though are not exactly the same as AGS Ideal Proportions.

To qualify as “Ideal“, AGS uses this criteria:

  • Crown Angle: 33.7-35.8°
  • Table: 52.4-57.5°
  • Girdle: Thin, Medium, Slightly Thick
  • Culet: Pointed (none), Very Small, Small, Medium
  • Polish and Symmetry: Ideal
  • Pavilion Depth: 42.2-43.8%

So even calling a Diamond "Ideal" is confusing!

Especially when seller’s websites classify “Ideal” differently. Many sites use their own guidelines to determine and prioritize Diamonds. For example, James Allen shows the “Ideal” Cut as being the second best Cut. Which is funny because Ideal is not even a true GIA Grade at all. Their top Cut is a trademarked name called “True Hearts” (and we’ll discuss these "Hearts" soon), whereas Blue Nile lists "Ideal" as their second best Cut, and "Signature Ideal" as their cream of the crop.


So Ideal is the best by AGS, Excellent by GIA, True Hearts by James Allen, and Signature Ideal by Blue Nile…

Tolkowski Ideal

Just recently (2009), Kay Jewelers began selling the "Tolkowski" line of Rings and Diamonds. These are all Light Performanced and Graded by Gemex (an entirely different grading system that’s very vague and pretty meaningless). Note that the description says all the stones are Ideal Cut, but it gives you no specifics, nor any info about the Polish or Symmetry. Plus, the Clarity and Color of these stones is often quite low.

Kay Jewelers Tolkowsky Ideal Diamond!

So that’s a totally different Ideal that’s sure to confuse…

Still with me?

No wonder why people don’t get it.

And then of course, you have the big, most impressive sounding term: “Hearts and Arrows“.

Hearts and Arrows

Hearts and Arrows is where a Diamond is Cut so well, and arguably so perfect, that when viewed with a special Hearts and Arrows Loupe, the light reflects off the facets and creates a symmetrical pattern of Hearts that can be seen when looking through the Pavilion (bottom view), and an Arrows pattern will be seen when viewed from the Crown (top view), as so…

Hearts and Arrows Symmetrical Pattern Display!

The Hearts and Arrows Pattern is truly awesome to look at (even though you only see it once, at the time of purchase, and never see it again unless you buy yourself that special scope – it’s not something that can be seen with your naked eye). The good thing is, any Diamond, any where, could be Cut with such great precision. These exceptional stones are equal to AGS’s Ideal 0 Cut, or GIA’s Triple Excellent Diamonds (which are the Best Cut Grades possible). Some stores like to give them fancy names such as: Premium Cut, Hearts on Fire, Hearts and Arrows, or “True Hearts“, etc, but they are all Cut with the finest care and precision.

Granted, you will find some Hearts and Arrow Diamonds sold on the market that are not-so-perfect in quality or reflection. After all, Hearts and Arrows is just a characteristic name given for what naturally happens inside an extremely well Cut Diamond due to light. Sadly though, there are no exact cutting guidelines as to what qualifies a stone to be sold as a "Hearts and Arrows", so you’ll find that these standards and specs will vary greatly from company to company and Diamond to Diamond.

Take a look at some Hearts and Arrows Diamond examples below, showing only the top view…

Hearts and Arrows Diamond Examples!

As you can see, some so-called “Hearts and Arrows” Diamonds really do look questionable as far as the crisp patterning goes.

The bottom line is, there is no true definition of Hearts and Arrows… nothing carved in stone. And, even if a Diamond is a Hearts and Arrows Diamond, GIA or AGS will not grade it as one. They will only mention it in the Comments section if the Diamond is Laser Inscribed with “H&A“, “Hearts and Arrows“, “Hearts On Fire“, or something like that (see image below). This still doesn’t mean anything more than it’s just another way to identify the stone. It’s not saying that they agree nor disagree with the Hearts and Arrows claim.

Hearts On Fire Laser Insribed Diamond!

Companies that sell Hearts and Arrows Diamonds usually do have Nice, Dazzling Diamonds (They are still cut exceptionally, but often the Color or Clarity are just of Average Quality). My thoughts are: If GIA or AGS won’t acknowledge a stone as “Hearts and Arrows“, does the name really matter? NO! What companies will generally do in this case, is to offer their own unique "Light Performance Report" instead (Like Kays did above, and GCAL does below). Many times these documents are still pretty vague though. It can be frustrating trying to figure out exactly what the true proportions are. Their own sales staff may not even be able to tell you!

GCAL Light Performance Diamond Report!

Hearts on Fire

The main company that sells these Hearts and Arrow type stones is Hearts on Fire. I will say, they have done a fine job with marketing and educating people on Cut (especially since most jewelry stores ignore this all too important topic). Their Diamonds do Sparkle, but, as I’ve said, any Diamond Cut with the Best Cuts will! Hearts on Fire’s biggest problem, in my opinion, is that they concentrate on Cut alone, and not so much on Clarity or Color. See my full Hearts on Fire Review here

Other big name stores push so-called Excellent Cut Stones as well…

Take Tiffany for Example…

Here is a Tiffanys Diamond Report (Supposed to be the Best of the Best Diamonds)…

Tiffanys Diamond Report!

See what I mean? They have 1 Excellent Grade, and 2 Very Good Grades! That doesn’t sound top-of-the-line to me. Not to mention the fact that the stone has Medium Blue Fluorescence (it seems like a lot of their stones do have Fluorescence – buyer beware!) So Exceptional Quality really is debatable!

And then, as we move on… Diamond Grading Terms get even more obscure with Triple Zeros.


Triple Zero is a grade given by AGS that’s supposed to signify one thing: A Diamond with an Ideal Cut, an Ideal Color, and an Ideal Clarity (in that exact order). As taken directly from the AGS website, this is what they say:

The AGS 0–10 grading scale is easy to understand.

The highest possible grade is zero; and 10 is the lowest.

Easy, huh?

So, a diamond with a color grade of 3 has less color than a diamond with a color grade of 5. Diamonds having less color are more rare; therefore, they may cost more on the retail market.

When writing the grades of a diamond using the AGS Scale, diamond Cut grade is first, then diamond Color, clarity, then Carat Weight — in that order.

If a diamond possessing the finest diamond cut grade is also colorless, free of inclusions and blemishes, and weighs one carat, it would be written as: 0/0/0–1.000 carat.

In the American Gem Society Diamond Grading Standards, this would be known as the famed Triple Zero® or Triple 000
. “

In email communication they clarified:

The term (triple 000) has been used to describe a diamond which has the highest grade (0) for proportions, symmetry, and polish. However, the AGS Performance grading for the cut of a diamond now assesses the performance, proportions, and finish. That’s still three categories, but the Finish includes both symmetry and polish, technically addressing four categories.

According to the Diamond Standards of the American Gem Society, for a diamond to receive a grade of AGS Triple Zero®, it must achieve an AGS Ideal® grade for its cut, color, and clarity. This means the best cut of a colorless and flawless diamond of any size

So Triple Zeros was supposed to be the Best Overall Quality of Diamond you could buy, not just the best Cut one could achieve.

Sounds pretty simple and self explanatory, right?


You see, AGS made one slight error that they didn’t foresee. They gave their Light Performance, Polish, and Symmetry Top Grades of ZERO (0) as well. Which means, if you look on an AGS Diamond Report you could potentially see 6 zeros all together (even though it’s only called Triple Zero), as so…

AGS Triple Zeros Grade!

Hence, more confusion!

It became confusing to sellers as well. Online dealers (as well as Forums, Articles, and even Diamond Education Blogs) will list a particular Diamond as Triple Zero when in fact, it’s isn’t. Like this website here that calls Triple Zero Cut, Polish & Symmetry…

Misuse Of The AGS Triple Zero Grading Criteria!

Often these stones are low in Color or Clarity, which is NOT what an Ideal Diamond was supposed to be! Many places are still stating that Triple Zeros mean grades of 0 in Cut, Polish, and Symmetry. They are misinforming the public!!! I don’t really blame the confusion either because Cut, Polish, and Symmetry are what makes a Diamond Sparkle the most. But that still doesn’t make "Triple Zeros" accurate or right.

Triple Zeros truly mean:

  • Cut Grade: AGS Ideal 0
  • Color Grade: AGS 0 (D Color)
  • Clarity Grade: AGS 0 (Internally Flawless, or Flawless)


One more term that’s often heard is “Triple Excellent” or “Triple Excellence“. Triple Excellent refers to GIA’s Grading System and it’s 3 Excellent Grades for Excellent Cut, Excellent Polish, and Excellent Symmetry. It’s not confusing since only these 3 items can get "Excellent" Grades, but it is another term that could confuse some… Many will believe this “Triple Excellent” rating for GIA’s Cut is what leads people to confuse AGS’s “Triple Zeros” Cut. Who knows?

So what do I Recommend?

Stick to the standards if you’re looking for a Diamond that Sparkles like crazy (Do note that I only recommend buying GIA or AGS Certified Diamonds and none others… EVER!)


GIA: Excellent Cut, Excellent Polish, Excellent Symmetry (that’s the highest Cut Grades possible by GIA).


AGS: Ideal 0 Cut, Ideal 0 Light Performance, Ideal 0 Polish, and Ideal 0 Symmetry (that’s the highest Cut Grades possible by AGS).

GIA AGS Excellent Ideal Triple Zero Hearts and Fire Cut Confusion!

Color and Clarity

Whatever Color or Clarity you want is fine (again, this is more for if you want a "Sparkly" Diamond). As long as it isn’t I Clarity Diamonds it won’t affect the appearance much. But, if you’re spending good money for "The Best Cut" it does seem like a shame to get a Low Grade Clarity or Color. That’s why I also recommend buying at least a VS Clarity Diamond with a F Color or better (Colorless or Pure White Diamonds – D, E, or F – are my favorite).

A Diamond like this will kick ass and knock her socks off!

So forget about “Triple Zero“, or “Premier“, or “Signature“, or “Hearts and Arrows“, or whatever else a company will label their Best Cut Diamonds. Stick to the specific Grades listed above, and ignore everything else.

After all, you’re looking for the Best Cut, not the most Confusion!

Get started with these “Excellent” and “Ideal” Diamonds below from James Allen

.45, VS2, F, TRUE HEARTS, GIA $,1560 VIEW
.45, VS1, F, TRUE HEARTS, GIA $1,610 VIEW
.53, VS1, E, TRUE HEARTS, AGS $2,760 VIEW
.58, VS1, E, TRUE HEARTS, GIA $3,160 VIEW
.52, IF, D, TRUE HEARTS, GIA $4,860 VIEW
1.23, VS2, D, TRUE HEARTS, AGS $13,800 VIEW
1.52, VS2, E, TRUE HEARTS, AGS $19,100 VIEW

Recommended Jewelry Supplies:

Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaner Jewelry Steam Cleaner Complete Jewelry Cleaner Kit Diamond Dazzle Stick
Gold Silver Jewelry Polishing Cloths Jewelry Making Supplies Kit Gold Acid Test Kit Watch Tool Repair Kit
Ring Adjusters EMT Emergency Ring Cutter 10x Jewelers Loupe Jewelers Microscope

Recommended Jewelry Supplies:

Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaner Jewelry Steam Cleaner
Complete Jewelry Cleaner Kit Diamond Dazzle Stick
Gold Silver Jewelry Polishing Cloths Jewelry Making Supplies Kit
Gold Acid Test Kit Watch Tool Repair Kit
Ring Adjusters EMT Emergency Ring Cutter
10x Jewelers Loupe Jewelers Microscope


  1. Fantastic job of explaining a confusing topic! Very much appreciated!

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