If you’ve spent any time perusing our website, you’ll probably have noticed the prevalence of old cut diamonds across our collections. If you’re new to the term ‘old cut’, you might be wondering what exactly we mean by it. To some extent, the clue is in the name; as far as precious materials go, old cut diamonds tend to be pretty old. There’s more to it than that, however. When compared to the round brilliant cut diamond – the old cut’s contemporary equivalent and by far the most popular choice amongst engagement ring shoppers today – there are a variety of interesting differences, many not immediately obvious to the untrained eye.
Today, this blog post frames the historical context that gave rise to the old cut, what sets it apart from the familiar round brilliant cut, and why we love these charming old sparklers so much.
The old mine cut (or cushion cut) enjoyed its heyday from the early 18th century to the latter end of the 19th century, and is now most commonly found in jewellery of the Georgian and Victorian eras. It exists as an evolution of the 33-facet cushion-shaped Peruzzi cut of the 1700s and is considered the earliest version of the modern brilliant cut, as the first to utilise 58 facets. It’s thought that the term ‘old mine cut’ entered the common vernacular in the late 1800s, at a time when diamond production in Africa began to eclipse that of the ‘old mines’ of Brazil and India. Any diamond originating from Brazil or India and cut with 58 facets and a squarish shape was labelled an old mine cut.
Early diamond cutters formed old mine cut diamonds with the use of other diamonds as cutting tools, since the diamond is the hardest known natural substance on earth and thus only capable of being sliced by a fellow diamond. Naturally, this laborious technique of rubbing two diamonds together by hand resulted in dimensions that varied from stone to stone. Every old mine cut diamond is therefore totally unique; often endearingly lumpy and always bursting with personality.
The Victorian era of the late 1800s was one of progression, an Industrial Revolution ushering in a number of inventions that would go on to change the world; from the automobile to electricity and indoor plumbing. Unsurprisingly, diamond cutting advanced significantly during this time. The introduction of the steam-powered diamond lathe in 1874 helped to refine and standardize the way diamonds were cut, offering cutters a little more precision and control. Not only did this give rise to the round shape, but it enabled cutters to cleverly modify the proportions of those 58 facets, creating greater scintillation. A precursor to today’s round brilliant-cut, this interpretation is now known as the old European cut.
At Lebrusan Studio, ‘old cut’ is a blanket term that we use to refer to any sparkler that originated from within this epoch. For design purposes, round old European cut diamonds are those that we tend to use most often.
When viewed from above, old mine cut diamonds are square with slightly rounded corners, whilst the old European cut is almost perfectly round.
Though the invention of steam-powered bruting machines in the late 1800s enabled cutters to begin cutting round diamonds on an industrial scale, it was not until the early 1900s when motorized diamond saws gave rise to the perfectly circular form of the brilliant cut.
The old cut diamond is usually characterised by a small top facet – or ‘table’. The crown, which is the portion of the stone above its widest point, is usually a little taller than that of the modern round brilliant cut. Meanwhile, the pavilion depth – the portion of the stone below its widest point – is generally deeper.
‘Culet’ is the name for the very bottom of a diamond. The rudimentary cutting techniques used to produce most old cut diamonds made it virtually impossible to create a pavilion with uniform facets that tapered at a straight angle. Unlike the modern round brilliant cut, whose expertly pointed tip is the product of advanced cutting technology, old cut diamonds rarely end in a nib. Instead, their culets are flat; a feature that diamond cutters once believed would enable more light to enter the stone, thereby increasing its brilliance. This flat culet often appears as a dark circle, sometimes mistaken for a hole or inclusion. In fact, it’s one of the most distinctive attributes of and old cut diamond in comparison to a modern round brilliant cut stone. The old cut’s flat culet is classed as a 58th facet, whilst round brilliant cut diamonds are defined by only 57.
Old cut diamonds were cut with an emphasis on maximising size and enhancing colour and clarity. Meanwhile, the key priority of the round brilliant cut is to maximise brilliance – or the volume of light reflected internally and externally by the stone.
Because old cut diamonds were faceted by hand or basic machinery, they lack the uniformity of modern diamonds. Though precise symmetry is a basic expectation of the round brilliant cut, an irregular shape or misaligned facet are not uncommon features of old cut stones.
There’s something incredibly romantic about the image of an artisan sat at his bench, carefully cutting a diamond by hand. The unique shape, size and facet placements of each old cut stone give it a distinctive and unrepeatable personality.
Whilst round brilliant cut diamonds offer serious surface sparkle, old cut diamonds scintillate deeply, dancing under candlelight and drawing the eye inwards. For those who are deterred by the loud bling of modern cuts, the old cut is a gentle and sensitive alternative.
In the present-day, we jump at the opportunity to work with an old cut diamond. Here at Lebrusan Studio we’re passionate about minimising waste and reducing consumption, preferring instead to champion beautiful metals and gemstones that are already above-ground. Reclaiming old cut diamonds not only enables us to fashion new jewels with minimal impact on the environment, but it allows us to preserve legacies. Whether a remodelled family heirloom or a contemporary engagement ring set with an intriguing vintage centrepiece, jewellery incorporating pre-loved materials is jewellery that tells a thousand stories of lives well lived.