As seen during the 2013 Oscars, vintage jewelry and diamonds continue to live in the spotlight, as evidenced by this 19th century oval and cushion cut diamond bracelet worn by Jennifer Aniston. But do you know the storied history behind your favorite vintage diamond cuts?

Getty 162785359-insetCenturies ago, diamond cutting was a slow process. The less material the cutter removed from the original rough diamond crystal, the more quickly he completed his work. Diamond cutters wages were penalized if they took too long or removed too much material. Therefore, the typical cut during this time was actually a squarish, sometimes slightly oval cushion-brilliant, or what most in the jewelry industry now refer to as an “old mine cut.” The defining characteristics are an often squarish shape and the diamond’s crown (top) and pavilion (bottom) are both much deeper than today’s standards.

Early mechanized, steam-driven factories in Amsterdam best illustrate how diamonds were cut in Europe and throughout the world at the time. During the mid-1800’s, Coster’s cutting house in Amsterdam was the largest diamond cutting establishment in the world. They employed a labor-intensive process that included three phases of operation, each requiring workmen with specialized skills: 1) splitting or cleaving, 2) cutting, and 3) polishing.

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Plot diagram.

Three events led to the more modern styles: in the 1870’s a “bruting” machine gave the diamond a round outline and the first angle gauges led cutters to use the angles associated with today’s modern cuts. In 1900 the circular saw came into use, making it far easier to split the typical octahedral-shaped diamond rough crystal into two pieces making it possible to cut the smaller top piece into a finished diamond, rather than just grinding it away. By 1902, many in the industry realized that using the saw saved weight from the common octahedral diamond crystals, which meant that the new proportions could be cut without expensive waste of diamond rough, shifting the emphasis from weight recovery to the beauty of the styles that we see today.


Natural yellow, old mine cut diamond.

These old-fashioned cutting techniques may have changed, but the gems from that era have a charm all their own, waiting for you to discover.

Discuss why you think vintage diamond cuts are a trend that is here to stay!