Part of my fascination with antique jewels involves my amazement at the craftsmanship achieved without the use of electricity and power tools. The handcrafted artistic skills needed to complete a single ring, brooch or any type of jewel is a wonder to me.
Especially when it comes to working with diamonds, one of the hardest materials known to man.
Tracing the history of diamond cutting back to the Middle Ages once can see the progression, albeit a slow progression and evolution of cutting techniques. By the 14th century, diamonds were rarely used in jewelry and when they were, it was worn only by royalty. The diamonds they wore would not be recognized by many today as a “diamond” since they were not faceted stones but only polished in their natural form. Diamonds at this time were admired for their “luster” and not their sparkle.
The most shape a stone polisher could hope for with a diamond during this age was to polish a rough stone into an octahedron shape, known as a point cut. This way, the stones natural octahedral facets could be tamed into a more symmetrical shape.
By the 15th century, the table cut emerged as the new diamond cutting technique and was achieved by sawing off slightly less than half of the top of an octahedron point, thus achieving a flat top, much like the flat top of a table. Soon after it became popular to create cuts on the four corners. This style became known as the old single cut (or old eight cut). Even with these improved cutting techniques, the stones would still not be recognized by many today as “diamond” since a table cut diamond would often appear dark or black to the eye. Keen observation of portrait paintings from this era will show jewels adorned with black stones, and these stones were most likely diamonds. It’s easy to see how colored gemstones such as ruby, sapphire and emerald were far more popular during this time period because of their brighter color and appearance.
Around 1475 a Flemish polisher named Louis van Berquem created a technique of cutting diamonds with symmetry and creating facets by using a device called a scaif. He cut diamonds in the shape known today as a briolette or pendeloque, which was pear shaped with triangular facets on both sides.
By the 16th century tools had been invented that were better able to cut facets into diamonds, Diamond cutters in Antwerp were cutting stones using a rose or rosette pattern which consisted of triangular facets cut in a symmetrical pattern across the top of the crown, but with the bottom of the stone being flat and having no pavilion. Rose cuts remained popular throughout the 18th century and into the early 19th century. Rose cuts had more sparkle than other cuts at this time and often these diamonds were set in closed back settings with silver foil behind the stones to allow for more light to reflect out from the stone. An 18th century rose cut diamond in candlelight is a sight to behold!
Antique 18th century Georgian Rose Cut Diamond Cluster ring from my shop. (SOLD)
As cutting techniques improved, diamonds started to become more popular across Europe but they still remained a rare stone to acquire.
The introduction of the first brilliant cuts happened around the middle of the 17th century. The first, known as Mazarin, had 17 facets cut in the crown (the upper half) and were sometimes called “double-cuts” as they were seen as the next step up from old single cuts. An Italian polisher, Vincent Peruzzi, began increasing the cuts in facets on the crown from 17 to 33, which resulted in more fire and brilliance in the gem. This style of cut diamond became known as a triple-cut or Peruzzi brilliant. Still, compared to today’s modern brilliant cuts, Peruzzi’s stones would still seem rather dull.
Although new sources of diamonds had been discovered in Brazil, the 18th century still saw only the wealthiest and the aristocracy wearing diamond jewelry. As we moved through the 18th century into the early and mid-Victorian era in the 19th century, the rose cut gave way to a new cut – the old mine cut, also known as a cushion cut, which became popular. Most of these stones were created in a square or rounded square shape and were cut with a small table, a high crown and a large culet.
Antique Georgian Old Mine Cut Diamonds reset in the Edwardian era, available in my shop. Click HERE
By the mid-19th century and the age of the industrial revolution, new diamond saws and jewelry cutting tools allowed cutters to become much more precise with their work and increase their production levels . Soon a new cut gained favor and was called the old European cut and had 58 sparkling facets.
In the late 19th century a diamond rush occurred after the discovery of diamond mines in Africa and diamond cutting became a major industry unto itself.
The early 1900’s ushered in the popularity of the round brilliant cut. This modern cut became the ideal based on the fact that precise calculations were used to create a faceting pattern that allowed rays of light to enter and exit a stone for maximum fire and brilliance. With the ability to now use modern machinery to aid in cutting diamonds, new shapes began to appear such as Asscher, Emerald and modern brilliants, becoming very popular during the Art Deco era.
In modern times, beginning in the 1970’s computers began assisting in design and calculating cuts for many diamond designs and stones. Further providing for perfectly cut stones to release the maximum amount of sparkle.
Today, one of the top diamond cutting and polishing countries in the world is India, with an estimated 92% of the world’s diamonds being cut, polished and processed from there. To lower production costs, diamond cutters now are using sophisticated computer programs that can map out the most efficient way to cut a diamond. In recent years, there have been tremendous advances made using intelligent laser cutting machines that can cut and polish diamonds with minimal human labor. Wouldn’t those diamond polishers back in the Middle Ages be amazed with how their life’s work is accomplished in today’s world!
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Crown: The top portion of a diamond from the girdle upwards.
Culet: The bottom point of a diamond.
Facet: A cut flat surface on a diamond.
Girdle: The outermost edge on a diamond.
Pavilion: The bottom portion of a diamond from the girdle downwards.
Polishing: The act of faceting diamonds including cutting & polishing.
Table: The flat surface on top of a diamond.
Reference and Graphic Sources: GIA (Gemological Institute of America), IGI (International Gemological Institute), Windsor Jewels, London Victorian Ring Co., Joy Jones Jewelry
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