The History of Diamond Cutting (Part I)

The history of diamonds is every bit as captivating and intriguing as the precious gemstones themselves. Some of this history remains shrouded in mystery, but what we do know for sure is that people first began mining, refining, treasuring and wearing diamonds in India — which would long remain the source of nearly all the world’s diamond supply. Diamonds were traded and even taxed in India as early as the fourth century B.C., and an ancient Indian text called the Arthasastra makes reference to diamonds, their traders and collectors.  

The earliest diamond jewelry, however, wasn’t exactly as brilliant and dazzling as what we’ve all come to expect, however. In fact, it was quite crude and raw. One reason for this was a deep belief among earlier societies that diamonds gave their wearer a mystical, protective power — and that cutting or otherwise altering them from their natural state would also cut into and chip away at their mystical, magical abilities. It wasn’t until the medieval era in Europe that the first practices of what we now call “diamond cutting” began to emerge. At this time, diamonds were still rather rare and exclusive; in possession of and worn by royalty alone. If any alteration at all occurred, they were only lightly polished and cleaned before being set into jewelry.

A lot of time has passed since then. Which means that a lot has also changed when it comes to diamond cutting technique, tools, shapes and styles. Here, we take a deeper dive into some of the milestones, developments and specific diamond cuts that have emerged over the centuries.

Early Point Cut (14th Century A.D.)

As we touched on earlier, the earliest known diamonds were mined in India, and kept and cherished as loose unpolished stones, usually only by royalty. Considered sacred objects, they were believed to possess magical powers. Around the 12th century A.D., they started to make their way to Europe, where they began to be cast into wearable jewelry in their natural uncut form. Not until the 1300s did we start to see initial diamond cutting, however. Some historians cite the early origins of European diamond cutting as the 1330s in Venice, Italy. This 14th-century diamond cutting was typically little more than a deep, hearty polishing of the stones to give them more sparkle, sheen and shine. Then came the Point Cut, which followed the natural shape of the diamond — and aimed to shape flawed and crooked stones into something closer to a more ideal octahedral shape and form.

Point Cut & Table Cut (15th Century)

The Point Cut, sometimes referred to as a writing diamond, was one of the earliest diamond cuts on record. A Point Cut diamond typically features four flat surfaces, or facets, that lead to a pyramid shape. Earlier Point Cut diamonds were often set with reflective foils behind them to maximize their shine under lighting. The late 15th century saw the rise of the Table Cut — the first major diamond faceting technique to be implemented. Why is it called a Table Cut? Because the top is flat, like a table — while each of the four sides features a simple facet that approximates a bevel. Also of note in the 15th century? In 1477, Mary of Burgundy received a diamond engagement ring from Archduke Maximilian of Austria — a foundational moment in the evolution of diamond engagement rings. The ring was set with a Point Cut diamond and flat, thin diamond pieces that formed a “M.”

Early Rose Cut (16th Century)

The 16th century was when things really started to reach new levels in diamond-cutting. Exciting and powerful new tools (some of them steam-powered) were invented to cut facets into diamonds, and early faceting, diamond polishing and bruting (cutting a diamond round) were also adopted by European diamond cutters in the 1500s — with Amsterdam (the Netherlands) and Antwerp (Belgium) emerging as particularly strong centers of diamond cutting and refinement. Often emanating from these locations, elegant Rose Cut diamonds soon rose to prominence all across Europe. With a mere 24 facets, Rose Cut diamonds emitted a softer sheen than the almost blinding light of the modern Brilliant Cut. Rose Cut diamonds are defined by their flat-at-the-bottom but dome-shaped-at-the-top appearance. As these new cutting techniques debuted and evolved in the 16th century, demand for the precious stones themselves began to surge across the world.

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