I was looking at our diamond case this morning and noticed that currently it is FULL. Full of all different shapes, sizes, and cutting-styles of diamonds. I began thinking of the older cuts of diamonds and how rare they are now. How so many of them have been re-cut to modern round brilliants and how that made me kind of sad. We currently have an old European cut in the case (they don’t tend to last long). It got me thinking that probably many of you aren’t familiar with the history of the old European cuts and why would you be? But also, why can’t you be? If you think you might find the history as fascinating as I do, please read on and if not, perhaps this post is not for you, and I promise to mix it up next time. Perhaps we’ll pick Jacques’ brain on his go-to watch brands, so please check back.
What is an Old European Cut Diamond?
The old European cut diamond is the standard round diamond that was cut between 1890 – 1930. As a predecessor to the modern brilliant cut diamond, the old European cut diamond strongly resembles the modern brilliant cut diamond. The old European is very popular among vintage jewelry collectors.
History of Old European Cut Diamond
Old European Cut on Left. Modern Round Cut on Right
Until the mid 1900’s, if someone needed a diamond, it had to be cut and measured by hand. The diamond cutters at the turn of the century used only their eyes to measure for precision. They cut and polished their diamonds for maximum sparkle against candlelight (can you imagine?!).
The Old European cut diamonds were handcrafted from 1890 – 1930’s. Rounded diamonds that were cut before 1890 are called old mine cuts* Round diamonds that were cut after 1935 are called either Transitional Cut or Modern Round Brilliant Diamonds.
Old European cut diamonds were the diamond cut that was used in almost all rings made at the beginning of the 1900’s. Most antique jewelry from that era used old European cut diamonds, old mine cut diamonds, rose cut diamonds, and single cut diamonds.
Characteristics of the Old European Diamond
Easy to Identify Old European Cut Characteristics:
- Large culet. (The culet is the facet at the bottom of the diamond)
- A very small table. (The table is the facet at the top of the diamond)
- Frosted girdle. (The girdle is the facet that encircles the diamond between the crown and pavilion).
- Old European cut diamonds have the same number of facets as modern diamonds: 58.
- Larger facets than modern diamonds.
Pros and Cons of Old European Cut Diamonds
Pros of Old European Cut Diamonds
- Hand-cut and unique. Jewelry cutters made each Old European cut diamond by hand.
- Environmentally conscious and conflict-free.
- Inner fire. (See below for an explanation)
- Rarity. With passing time, less and less old European cut diamonds are available for sale.
Cons of Old European Cut Diamonds
- Imperfect Cuts. Handcrafted diamonds will never have as perfect a shape as a laser-cut modern diamond.
- Options are scarcer. Due to the rarity of old European diamonds, the variability is less.
The Inner Fire of Old European Diamonds
Vintage collectors are always talking about the advantages of Old European cut diamonds over modern diamonds. In addition to the scientific differences, as mentioned earlier, collectors always mention the “inner fire” of old European cuts.
Inner fire is a hard metric to quantify, but because the diamond specifications are different, the way they react to light is different too.
Diamond experts changed the diamond proportions in the 1930s, and the changes created more sparkle in the diamonds. Many believe that it was the modern angles that caused the diamonds to lose the inner fire.
Old European diamonds typically show larger face-up patterns of light and dark—what might be described as a “checkerboard” pattern by a non-jeweler. The modern brilliant diamond displays a tighter mosaic of light and dark patches often labeled as “splintery” by those who prefer older cutting styles.
As with almost everything, “old” and “new” is relative. If we class the Great Pyramid of Giza as “old”, then even the castles of medieval England can be classed as “modern” despite some being nearly 1000 years old. With diamonds the descriptions don’t cover quite such a period but, with old mine cuts, we are talking about diamonds being cut up to 300 years ago.
Hope you found this post to be as fascinating as I did to write it. Thanks so much for stopping by.
*The old mine cut is probably the oldest recognized cut type we know today. It was very popular in the early 18th century and had been around for some time before. The old mine cut had something of a renaissance in Victorian time and is still in demand today. The level of demand is enhanced by there being relatively few good examples around.
When we talk about old mine cuts, it’s usually thought of as the classic old mine almost-square shape. Producing round diamonds by hand is incredibly difficult, even for the best cutters, and so a more cushion-type appearance was used. The basic finished cut is similar to modern diamonds only in that it incorporates the same elements. From top to bottom, as with other cuts, there is a table, crown, girdle, pavilion, and culet. Again like modern cuts, there are 58 facets on an old mine cut diamond.