Diamonds are found in alluvial deposits; gravel is swept by streams, rivers, glaciers and ocean currents. As in consequent in the rough as beach pebbles, the true beauty of the diamond was not revealed until the 16th century, when gemstone cutting and polishing techniques were perfected. Prior to this time, it was considered taboo to modify the original state of a diamond. In stark contrast, today, the value and appeal of this gem stone depends largely upon how skillfully it is cut and faceted.
Diamonds were worn for the first time in the 11th century as an adornment in their uncut form. The 13th century brought with it the discovery that a diamond’s appearance could be altered and enhanced by the grinding and polishing of this amazingly solid gem. This state was achieved by grinding along the upper four octahedral faces of the rough crystal.
Originally diamond dust was used to polish a single stone at angles varying slightly from those of the original octahedral facets to form a ‘point cut’.
Point cuts were used from the Middle Ages until the European Renaissance.
The first major facet to be created on a diamond crystal is referred to as a table-cut. A technique called ‘bruting’ was created to form the table-cut by grinding down the top octahedral point of a stone to form a square facet, the table facet was then finished by polishing with diamond powder. Bruting essentially entails the use of a diamond or diamond chips to wear away a portion of another diamond crystal. This method is still used today in modern cutting, specifically to form the rounded shapes of the girdles and pavilions of variously shaped stones.
The mid 14th century brought the creation of the polishing wheel or scaife, a major advancement in the world of diamond faceting. This new invention enabled the manufacture of brighter diamonds with increasing complexity of facet patterns. It is believed that the early diamond cutting styles that originated in Europe, were pioneered by European travelers visiting India who searched for diamond treasures and transported diamonds from the Golconda mine back to Europe for cutting. These diamonds were ultimately transported back to India to add to the Moghul kings and/or Maharaja’s treasury.
One of the oldest and most valuable diamonds in the world is the Kooh-e-noor diamond, interpreted as ‘the mountain of light’ in old Persian. Originally owned by the Rajah of Malwa from India, the several thousand year old Kooh-e-noor became a player in victories and defeats spanning India, Persia and Afghanistan. It was in the possession of the great Mogul dynasty from 1526 to 1739, when the Taj Mahal was built. The Persian king Nadir Shah briefly possessed it until his assassination in 1747. Eventually it came back into India under British rule. The stone was presented to Queen Victoria who had it cut from its original 187 carats to 108 carats in an attempt to further enhance its beauty. Queen Victoria also declared the celebration of her 50th anniversary of reign a ‘Diamond Jubilee’. After her death, the diamond became part of the British Regalia, and was worn by the Late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in her 1937 coronation and on all special occasions throughout her life.
The famous diamond centers of Amsterdam and Antwerp became the major sources of diamond-cutting activity until the early 1900′s.
The popular table-cut diamond was later modified by adding a smaller facet to the lower octahedral point, forming a culet at the base of the stone.
Over the course of time, numerous older point-cut stones were converted into table-cuts and thus gained increasing popularity. The latter were further altered by adding eight narrow facets thereto, one to each edge of the pavilion and table, with a view to improving the brilliance of the stone.
It was not until the 17th century that experimentation’s with diamond cutting yielded significant results. Although unable to polish the rough octahedral diamonds, the early diamond cutters found out that they could polish or grind diamonds into a point by polishing almost parallel to the diamond’s rough faces, they also discovered that they could only cut diamonds with diamonds. A wooden table covered with diamond dust was used for all kinds of polishing which resulted in the ‘rose-cut’, called by this name due to its resemblance to a rose bud. The rose-cut came into existence in the early sixteenth century and was widely used well into the nineteenth century.
The mid-seventeenth century saw the introduction of the old single-cut. This new design was formed by producing a more rounded overall shape with an octagonal table as well as eight facets on the pavilion and crown of the diamond. The old single-cut eventually evolved into the brilliant cut with the complete rounding of the girdle and application of additional facets to the crown and pavilion. Round diamonds weighing less than 0.20cts (melee) that were used frequently for accent stones, are presently cut in the form of single-cut diamonds due to the fact that smaller stones require fewer facets.
There were a few intermediaries contributing to the modern cutting style of the ’round brilliant-cut’, the most noteworthy and the direct ancestor being the ‘old mine-cut’ or the ‘old-miner’ which came into existence in the late 17th century. The old-miner was the first diamond cut that had all the facets of the present round brilliant cut but the facet alignments were different. Furthermore, the old miner (also called ‘triple-cut’) was also more of a square or cushion-cut, rather than round in shape. The direct descendant to the old miner is the ‘old European cut’, considered the predecessor of the ‘modern roundbrilliant cut’. The old European cut was current in the late eighteenth century until the early twentieth century. During the latter period, numerous experiments were conducted with a view to improving the positioning and angles of European-cut diamonds, the most notable ones being done by Henry Morse and Marcel Tolkowski.
Throughout history, diamonds have been fashioned to reflect the styles and techniques of the period during which they were designed. It is therefore important to refrain from assessing old diamonds by modern standards when examining antique jewelry. Previous century’s diamonds were fashioned with a softer, more romantic glow as opposed to the glittering brilliance of today’s modern cuts. It is subsequently due to their distinctiveness that these antique diamonds are becoming highly sought after favorites in an increasingly homogeneous world and fast-paced cultural norm.