History of Round Diamond Cuts
Ancient Diamonds / Point Cut
The first historical mention of diamonds is found in ancient Hindu texts. In the millennia before active mining, Indian fishermen would find the stones rolling loose in the rivers and streams below the Himalayas. Although these rough, dull octahedrons bore little similarity to our modern vision of a diamond, they possessed the same incredible hardness and durability as contemporary stones. The Hindus worshipped diamonds as gifts from the gods and thought them indestructible – a belief that was shared throughout the ancient world. The very name "diamond" comes from the Latin word "adamas," meaning "invincible". This word also gives root to the modern English terms "adamant" and "diamante."
The ancient Hindus believed it was bad luck to alter a diamond's natural state, but other cultures were not so reverent. The Romans soon discovered that a diamond could be cut and polished with its own dust. In fact, the first “cut” recorded was not an actual cleave but rather a simple polishing process in which the rough stone was shaped into an even, pointed octahedron. This “point” cut became the standard for over a millennium and was used throughout Europe. By 1375, there is evidence of a full-scale diamond polishing guild in Nuremburg.
(Right) Roman ring simply set with a point-cut diamond.
Table Cut / Old Eight Cut
By the early 1400s, a new cut had been developed – the Table Cut. In addition to the usual polishing, the top section (usually around a third of the stone) was now sliced off to reveal a flat surface, or "table". Soon, the corners of the octahedron were also being cut off, adding the first "facets" to the stone. This became known as the Old Single, or Old Eight cut.
(Right) Memorial ring for Charles I of England, set with a table-cut diamond.
While these advances highlighted the diamond’s clarity and unique, adamantine (literally "diamond-like") luster, neither cutting style allowed the stone any of its trademark brilliance. In portraits from medieval times diamonds appear dull – almost black.
(Left) Portrait of Catherine Henriette de Balzac d'Entragues, mistress to Henry IV of France. The dark-looking brooches in her hair are most likely set with diamonds.
In the middle of the 16th century, Belgian traders unveiled an innovative new cut that changed the European perception of diamonds. Based on a traditional Indian cut of the time, this new cut gave the appearance of a rosebud unfurling, and was christened the "rose" cut.
The rose cut is a relatively shallow, broad cut, with many symmetrical triangular facets, and it can appear dull to our modern eyes. However, the angles of the rose cut allow light entering a diamond to refract. For the first time in European history, diamonds began to flash with fire and brilliance. Although the rose cut has largely been overtaken in popularity by more technically advanced brilliant cutting styles, some contemporary diamonds are still cut into a rose shape. The rose appears soft and romantic, and appeals to many of today's fashion consumers.
(Right) A Georgian Era diamond ring with a large rose-cut diamond and rose-cut diamond surround.
Old Mine Cut
The Old Mine, or Old Miners’ cut was first developed in the early 1800s and continued to be used well into the 1870s. Even though the Old Mine style occured during the height of the Industrial Revolution, the vast majority of Miner diamonds were cut entirely by hand.
Old Mine Cuts possess a distinctive cushion shape that mimics the original shape of the rough stone – both an intentional effort to maximize carat size of the finished stone, and a simple reflection of the technology of the time. With its high crown and small table, this cut looks “top-heavy” when compared to the modern round brilliant, and possess a large (or "open") culet. This appears as a small circle through the top of the stone, and is usually considered an extra facet.
(Left) Victorian gold ring set with a cushion-cut emerald flanked by two Old Mine-cut diamonds. Note the large culets and irregular girdle.
Old European Cut
As the Industrial Revolution progressed, diamond technology improved significantly. Around 1875, Charles Field, a shop foreman for Henry Morse, developed the steam-powered diamond lathe. This new invention gave diamond cutters more precision with their cuts, which resulted in the ability to create an entirely round, thin girdle – a process known as "bruting." Soon craftsmen had developed the Old European cut, the prevailing style from the 1890's to the 1930's.
(Left) Edwardian Era earrings with two Old European-cut diamonds.
While rounder and more brilliant than the Old Mine cut, this new style wasted up to 50% of the rough crystal. Such waste was only made acceptable by the 1867 discovery of South Africa's prolific diamond mines. Early transitional cuts were still quite uneven, but as time progressed, the cutting became more precise and the facets more symmetrical.
Like an Old Mine cut, an Old European cut diamond has a high crown, small table, open culet, and a thin girdle. The biggest visual difference between the Mine and the European cuts is the change to a round symmetrical outline. Some Old European cut diamonds are still used in contemporary jewelry, but only very sparingly. While many customers prefer the undefinable romance of the older cut, it is rare to find these stones used past the 1940's.
(Right) a Jabel lily ring circa 1950. A rare example of the use of Old European-cut diamonds in the modern era.
Also known as the Early American Cut and the Early Modern Cut, this style had a lower crown, larger table, shorter pavilion and smaller culet than the Old European, though cutters had not yet begun to facet the girdles of the stones.
Henry Morse operated the first diamond cutting factory in America, and was perhaps the second most significant diamond cutter after Marcel Tolkowsky. Morse’s Boston shop was the first to consistently cut stones for beauty rather than size. His diamonds possessed smaller tables, shallower crown angles and much smaller culets than the prevailing European cut. Morse most likely found through practice what Tolkowsky would later attempt to determine mathematically.
This cutting style is seen from around 1918 through the mid to late 1920s.
Round Brilliant Cut
In 1919, Marcel Tolkowsky (a noted diamond cutter and engineer) published a specific mathematical computation of angles and proportions to maximize a diamond’s brilliance and fire. Tolkowsky knew that a diamond cut either too shallow or too deep (common attempts to maximize carat weight) would lose light through the bottom and sides of the stone instead of reflecting it back through the top.
These exact cutting proportions, known as the Tolkowsky, the Modern Brilliant, or the American Ideal, became the standard for American diamond cutters. Tolkowsky was not the first man to suggest diamond proportions in these ranges.
Many cutters such as Morse had already been using similar proportions in their workshops. However, Tolkowsky was the first to support the style with a definitive mathematical foundation. Unfortunately this mathematical precision proved too expensive to reliably reproduce. For decades, diamond cutters still produced wide diamonds with large tables and deep pavilions. Diamonds with wide tables not only weighed more, but were simply more popular. The general public still seemed to prefer the appearance of size rather than brilliance.
GIA Cut Grades
In the past thirty years, the buying public has become vastly more educated about diamonds. More and more consumers expect a diamond report with their significant diamond purchases, and place a priority on better proportions. More diamonds are being cut to Tolkowsky's standards than ever before. While it is exceedingly rare to find a stone that exactly meets Tolkowsky’s original specifications, an "Ideal Cut" stone will typically range around those original numbers.
Over the 34 years Perry’s Fine, Antique & Estate Jewelry has been in business, we have sometimes found that a customer who focuses too much on the exact proportions of a stone has forgotten the most basic premise of buying a diamond: beauty and romance. A customer who is blinded by numbers forgets the true purpose of a diamond – as a symbol of unending love and devotion.
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) recently completed a 15 year study of more than 38 million proportion combinations and over 70,000 human observations on 2,300 diamonds. This study concluded that, in addition to Tolkowsky’s standard, there exist many other proportion combinations that would provide maximum brilliance and dispersion. As a result, GIA has developed a new cut grade system that considers the combination of seven components: brightness, fire, scintillation, weight ratio, durability, polish and symmetry. This new cut grading system includes five grades: EXCELLENT, VERY GOOD, GOOD, FAIR, and POOR. The new GIA Diamond Grading Reports will include an overall cut grade of the diamond and expanded proportion information.
The Modern Consumer
What does this mean to you? You should know what you are buying when shopping for a diamond. The four C’s – Cut, Color, Clarity, and Carat weight – remain the best way to compare diamonds. The improved cutting grade system – from Excellent to Poor – gives you a better understanding of the overall beauty of a stone. Use this knowledge to make your decision. But most importantly – after you have considered all the numbers and grades – you should simply choose the diamond that you like the most!