A Quick History of Diamond Cutting
If you’ve ever looked at loose diamonds or chatted with a jeweler, you might have heard us throw around a few different terms when referring to a diamond. Terms like Round Brilliant or Old Mine Cut or Single Cut come from advancements in diamond cutting technology – the more advanced the cutting tools, the more refined shape the diamond will have. Some people tend to prefer the more geometric, vintage-cuts like the Old European or Old Mine cut. Some people prefer the diamond cut we’re most used to, the Round Brilliant or Ideal cut.
Note: We’re talking about diamond cuts here, not diamond shapes! Vintage-cut diamonds are usually round or slightly off-round. If you’d like to read more about the different diamond shapes, check out the links below:
Early Point Cuts:
The very first record of diamonds were found in India and kept loose and unpolished. They were believed to have magical powers and were considered sacred objects at the time. Diamonds weren’t worn in jewelry until the 11th century, but they were still uncut and unpolished. In the 14th century, diamond cutting began as a very superficial type of polishing to give the stone a bit of shine. The point cut followed the natural shape of the diamond and were only available to royalty.
The Table cut & Step Cut:
The Table cut was the first major faceting technique used beyond simply polishing the diamond. This was soon followed by the discovery of the step cut – the precursor to the emerald cut diamond we have today! Both of these cuts were possible thanks to the discovery that diamonds could be cut by their own dust in the 15th century.
Fun Fact: The first instance of a diamond engagement ring was recorded in 1477 when Mary of Burgundy received a diamond “M”-shaped ring from Archduke Maximillan of Austria!
In the 16th century, tools were invented to cut facets into diamonds. Diamond cutters could produce what we now call Rose cut diamonds and transition cut diamonds. Early bruting, faceting, and polishing of diamonds began to be used by European diamond cutters. Rose cut diamonds have 24 facets and present a soft, diffused light compared to the bright sparkle of the modern brilliant cut. The most notable feature of rose cut diamonds is that they are domed on the top and flat on the bottom – they do not have a culet, point, or table!
Old Mine Cut:
Antique Old Mine cut diamonds are most commonly found in jewelry from the Georgian and Victorian eras, spanning from the 1700’s through the 1800’s. Diamonds from this time were all cut by hand – the machines we use to cut modern diamonds was not invented until the 1900’s! The rough diamond for these gems originated in, quite literally, the “old mines” in India and Brazil. These diamonds tended to be of lower color than the diamonds found now and were found in smaller quantities.
Diamond cutters of the time would follow the rough gem’s natural octahedral shape (imagine two pyramids stacked base to base) as a guide to shape the stone. They did this all by hand and by eye, masterfully cutting the stone to highlight its individual features and to perfect it’s sparkle under candlelight and in low lighting conditions.
The most notable characteristic about an Old Mine cut diamond is the open culet, the round facet on the very bottom of the stone. In modern diamonds, the culet comes to a point. Old Mine cut diamonds also have a slightly squared “cushion” shape and aren’t perfectly round. The girdle, or the widest part of the diamond, was usually left unpolished and showed the natural diamond crystal. The table, or top facet, was usually very small. This antique cut also features a high crown (top half) and a large pavilion (bottom half). Old Mine cuts have 58 facets, the same number as a modern brilliant cut, but are less refined and more geometric than our modern diamond.
Fun Fact: In the mid 1700’s, King Louis XV of France commissioned his court jeweler to create a diamond cut in the shape of his mistresses' mouth (Madame de Pompadour), thus creating the marquise shaped diamond!
Old European Cut:
Further advances in diamond cutting technology in the 1800’s led to the development of the Old European cut diamond – creating diamonds with larger tables, elongated facets, and a rounder shape.
Old European cut diamonds were popular during the Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Deco eras. Although they have a rounder shape compared to the Old Mine cut, many Old Euro cuts are still imperfect since they were cut by hand. The culet is still present in this cut, but is smaller than the culet in an Old Mine cut. Since the Old Euro cut is a precursor to our modern brilliant diamond, they also have 58 facets.
Single cut diamonds were most commonly used as melee, or the teeny-tiny accent diamonds found in some jewelry pieces. Single cut melee were first used in jewelry in the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century. These diamonds are known for their 8/8 facet arrangement: eight facets along the top (or crown) of the diamond and eight facets along the bottom (or pavilion) of the diamond, plus one table facet (top), for a total of 17 facets.
In the 1970’s, the invention of the 16/16 cut in Antwerp, Belgium doubled the number of facets in the traditional 8/8 single cut. The 16/16 faceted diamond was only popular for about two decades until diamond cutters were able to apply the traditional 57-58 facet design of a larger, modern round brilliant diamond to stones under 0.10ct. By the end of the 1980’s, almost all melee production had moved to the new standard, full cuts. You’ll find full cut melee in new jewelry pieces and single cut melee in vintage and low-quality commercial jewelry pieces.
In the early 1900’s, Henry Morse and Charles Field perfected the transitional cut diamond, also called the Early American cut. This diamond cut evolved from the Old European cut but features a lower crown (top half), a medium sized table, and a smaller culet. The transitional cut is consistently proportioned, but was soon outshined by the next diamond cutting evolution: the modern brilliant cut.
Modern Brilliant Cut:
In 1919, Marcel Tolkowsky applied very specific proportions and mathematical computation to diamond cutting in order to maximize brilliance and the dispersion of light. The early modern brilliant cut, also called an Ideal cut, and other round diamonds today are cut for brilliance, while Old European cuts were cut to improve the color of the diamond. Advances in magnification technology allowed jewelers to see microscopic flaws in the diamond and allowed them the ability to produce higher quality stones. The round brilliant is the most popular diamond shape on the market, making up over 75% of diamonds sold today. This diamond cut features a larger table, a smaller or pointed culet, and facets that are leaner and longer. The combination of these features allows light to enter the diamond and bounce back out into the eye of the wearer, giving the stone its signature sparkle and fire.
It’s almost unfair to compare the hand-cut antique diamonds to the modern, machine-cut diamonds of today – they're two completely different diamonds for two completely different shoppers! Old Mine cut and Old European cut diamonds are in a league of their own. Each one is unique and are best observed and appreciated one by one. The modernization of diamond cutting technology has evolved to produce diamonds that are mathematically designed to maximize their brilliance. While they lack the individual character of an antique stone, modern cut diamonds have a signature sparkle that is hard to miss. No matter your diamond cut preference, we have a little bit of everything to offer in-store! From antique diamonds still in their original 1900’s mounting to the newest round brilliant cut, we’ll find you the diamond of your dreams!