The History of Diamond Cutting (Part II)

In our previous blog post, we took a look at the evolution of diamond cutting — from early examples of “polishing” up until the invention of semi-sophisticated tools for polishing, faceting and bruiting (cutting a diamond round) in 16th century Europe.

Here in Part II, we dive deeper into the continuing history from that point forward, starting with the birth of the Old Mine Cushion Cut and the expansion of diamond mining and production from India to Brazil. 

Rose Cut & Old Mine Cushion Cut (18th Century)

Rose Cut diamonds became much more popular in the 18th century, which also saw some of the world’s diamond mining and production shift from India to Brazil. The century also gave rise to a new, rounded style of diamond cutting known as Old Mine Cushion Cut, or simply Cushion Cut or Old Mine Cut — which became quite popular in Georgian and Victorian jewelry. The precursors to modern Brilliant Cuts, Old Mine Cuts featured a slightly curved edge that formed a soft square. Comprising a variety of facet patterns, they always featured a small table, high crown and larger, open bottom tip, or culet. On a more personal note: In the mid-18th century, King Louis XV of France commissioned his court jeweler to create a unique diamond cut — one that mirrored the shape of the mouth of his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. This cut became known as the Marquise Cut (also sometimes referred to as the Navette Cut).

Old Mine Cushion Cut & Old European Round Cut (19th Century)

The 19th century was truly revolutionary for diamond cutting, mining and manufacturing. Much of the Early and Middle Victorian Era diamond scene was defined by Old Mine Cushion Cuts. When the bruting machine and motorized saw were created in the late 1800s as part of the world-changing Industrial Revolution, the art and science of diamond cutting took yet another step forward. These powerful new tools let diamond cutters more precisely and creatively shape and round diamonds — and gave rise to the Old European Round Cut and English Round Cut (both of which feature 58 facets, just like today’s Brilliant Cut diamonds). In the latter years of the 19th century, many mines were established in South Africa, jumpstarting a true Diamond Rush — and making many, many millions for the De Beers Mining Company, which claimed ownership of most successful South African mines. In fact, the two largest diamonds on record were both unearthed in South Africa.

Asscher Cut (20th Century)

In 1902, renowned diamond cutter Joseph Asscher and the Asscher Diamond Company invented the Asscher Cut. One of the world’s first patented diamond cuts, the 74-facet Asscher Cut roared to prominence during the decadent, stylish Art Deco era of the 1920s. Cut into squares, classic Asscher Cut diamonds resemble Emerald Cuts — but feature larger step facets, a higher crown, a smaller table, cropped corners and a higher degree of brilliance. Today, Asscher Cut diamonds from the 1920s and 1930s are considered rather rare. To get a better idea of how respected Asscher was, he was dubbed the “Greatest Cleaver in the World” — and England’s King Edward VII commissioned him to cleave the massive, record-setting 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond into three parts, so they could be included in the Crown Jewels.

Engagement Ring Surge (1920s)

During the flashy and stylish Art Deco Era of the 1920s, diamond engagement rings surged in popularity all across America — and the chosen style was often the Old European Round Cut (sorry, Mr. Asscher…though he made out OK, too). Since they have a round girdle, Old European Round Cut diamonds appear round from the top, in stark contrast to the more squared-off roof of the Old Mine Cut. While modern Round Brilliant Cut diamonds have thinner facets, Old European Round Cut diamonds feature facets that resemble thick triangular blocks.

Emerald Cut (1930s)

When the Roaring Twenties gave way to the 1930s in America, the term Emerald Cut also emerged. Replacing the earlier Table Cut and Step Cuts, Emerald Cut diamonds feature straight rectangular facets (typically 57 in number) that create a highly dramatic “hall of mirrors” effect. Mirroring the Art Deco emphasis on clean lines and symmetry, the Emerald Cut soon became synonymous with elegance, refinement and discerning taste.

Modern Brilliant Cut (1940s)

The 1940s were a pivotal decade for the diamond industry. In 1947, the aforementioned De Beers Mining Company (now known simply as De Beers) coined the classic and truly timeless tagline, “A Diamond is Forever.” This decade also saw the rise of the Modern Brilliant Cut, which grew to transcend Old European Round Cut diamonds — and remains the dominant cut of diamonds to this day. In fact, nearly all rough diamonds that are mined today end up being cut and fashioned in this style and form. The most common form of a Modern Brilliant Cut diamond is known as the Standard Round Brilliant Cut. It features 58 facets, though an array of facet structures are employed — and new, unnamed cuts designed to enhance a diamond’s natural refraction and shimmer are developed daily. The “Brilliant” used in the name of this dominant cut refers to the optimal light return that’s produced by the cutting design.

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