Just about everyone wants a natural diamond, but not everyone wants the same style or cut.
Let's just say - we like our diamonds with a bit of character. And old cut diamonds tell tales with every facet in a way mere modern cut diamonds can't match. Antique diamond cuts often have imperfect facets and quirky, asymmetrical features so common in diamonds measured by eye and cut by hand. These aren’t your grandmother’s rocks!
If you ask me, old cut diamonds are the way to go – but not because they’re old! When you choose an old cut diamond, you know your jewelry is bound to impress throughout the generations. So if you’re looking to inject some soulful chutzpah into your jewelry collection, look no further than old cut diamonds.
Of course, these beauties come with questions - are they better than newly cut stones? Are they worth the hype? What's so special about old cut diamonds? Are those twinkles enough to make me swoon? See what we mean with one glance...go ahead, take the plunge - you won’t regret it!
So what are antique cut diamonds?
Antique cuts are the very first cuts that were created to cut diamonds. It’s a term encompassing centuries of cutting technique evolutions, underpinned by the use of hands - instead of machines - to perform the cutting. They differ quite a bit from today’s diamonds because they were not created using all the technology and knowledge we have developed in the past decades.
Diamonds that entered the market in the new millennium are most likely laser cut. Machine cut stones tend to all look the same. Instead, the facets in antique diamonds are bulkier, larger and more asymmetrical. They don’t sparkle or shine as much as the diamonds do today and that’s exactly what we love about them: their imperfections. They have this nostalgic feel and a glow that makes them incredibly glamorous.
That brilliant cut diamond you’ve seen on Google, Pinterest or in the window of your local fine jeweler? That’s a modern cut diamond. They’re created with factory-like precision, tighter light patterns appearing like flashes of colors, and greater brilliance.
Most antique diamond cuts offer a very romantic and soulful appeal. Their most distinguishing characteristic is that they’re not as blingy or sparkly as most modern cut stones. Many antique diamonds were meant to be viewed in the candlelight, offering a soft glow and romantic feel.
Different types of antique cut diamonds
(and their history!)
Antique cut diamonds were cut under low lighting conditions and by hand, giving them larger facets and more weight. With the invention of electricity and new cutting tools, the faceting process was improved, giving diamonds the reflection and brilliance they’re so famous for today. Diamond cutting went through subtle changes over the centuries, like smaller and more facets, the shrinking of the culet and the widening of the table.
Let me walk you through how diamond cuts evolved throughout the millennia.
There are a range of cutting techniques that fall under antique cuts. Let’s start with the oldest one: the polki diamond. Polki diamonds supposedly go back 2,500 or even 3,000 years to India, the motherland of all diamonds long before Western cutting methods were seen there. They often retain their original rough form and have an unfaceted, polished surface. Polki diamonds are often described as uncut, because of their polished planes rather than facets. The stone is generally small with a flat bottom, similar to diamond slices, but much thicker. Though they lack brilliance and fire, polki cuts do give a soft sheen.
Polki diamonds ooze a raw, rustic, old-world charm. They tend to be cloudy, included, lower color grade and without the faceting that gives diamonds their brilliance and appeal. They’re less valuable than ordinary cut diamonds.
Is polki diamond jewelry worth buying? The diamonds themselves don’t have much resale value, it’s the jewelry that’s time-consuming and needs a lot of skill. Polki diamonds are often used in multiples rather than a solitaire like the modern brilliant cut diamond. And since each stone has a unique shape, each setting is crafted individually.
Rose Cut Diamonds
Once it was understood that only diamonds can cut a diamond, the process of changing the shape of a diamond began. By the 1500s, people started cutting rose cut diamonds, which have flat bottoms and a domed top. Kind of like an upside down stone, or a crown without a pavilion. Since there’s no pavilion, if the diamond has good clarity you can look right through the stone. Rose cut diamonds glow more than the minimalist and rough polki cut diamonds. But they’re still far from the brilliant diamond cuts we know today. Nowadays, rose cut diamonds are popular for their multifaceted tops, excellent finger coverage and availability of shapes.
Single Cut Diamonds
The single cut diamond is one of the earliest and most basic of cuts, dating back to the 1600s. The single cut was a big step forward in diamond cutting and is a very simple form of the round cut diamond. It has an octagonal girdle (the side edge of the diamond). The single cut is also known as an “eight cut” and sometimes referred to as “huit huit”, from the French “huit”, meaning eight. That’s because it’s designed with eight facets on the crown, eight facets on the bottom half of the diamond, and generally an additional single table facet on the top of the crown, making it a total of 17 facets.
Single cut diamonds can be identified by their large, flat table (the surface on the top of the stone). These days, single cut diamonds are generally used as side stones or low-cost diamond jewelry like watch dials, tennis bracelets, earrings and gemstone jewelry. They complement colored stones like emerald, garnet, ruby and kyanite, because the single cut reveals a whiter color that helps accentuate these stones more fully, without all the distracting fire of a modern diamond.
Old Mine Cut Diamonds
Fast forward two centuries later, cutting skills and techniques had evolved, but lighting conditions hadn’t. Diamonds were still cut by hand, with cutters using only their eyes and dim light or daylight to measure the precision of their work.
To level up the refraction factor, jewelers started making the bottom part of the diamond longer and the culet slightly more pointy. This way, light could travel further and bounce back and forth inside the diamond, creating ‘fire’. This was the first attempt to create a diamond cut shining for centuries. Shape consistency and symmetry was of less importance than play of light.
The first generation of brilliant cuts is the old mine cut, popular in the 1700s. The old mine cut still has a larger and wider culet, because no technology existed to make a pointy tip (yet). It also has a shorter bottom half, imperfect facets and asymmetrical features, all thanks to the hand cut nature of the old mine cut. The result is more sparkle and brilliance than a rose cut diamond. If you look at an old mine cut diamond from the side, you might find the girdle to be thick and occasionally unpolished.
Old mine cut diamonds come in many shapes and proportions. Most old mine cut diamonds have a pillow cushion shape, as the cut follows the shape of the octahedral diamond crystal to retain as much of the weight of the rough as possible. Old mine cut is the nomenclature given to all older diamonds with a brilliant cutting style, no matter their shape. Their shapes can range from almost square with rounded corners, to oval and to pear. Irregular shapes are also found, these are called a crude old mine cut.
Old European Cut Diamonds
Enter the late 19th century for the second generation of brilliant cut diamonds: the old European cut (old Euro cut or OEC). This Art Deco darling has a smaller culet than the old mine cut, but it’s still very much noticeable and far from the pointy modern diamond. You get better refraction of light and more colors, but with its deep pavilion, small table and tall crown, it’s still unlike the brilliant cut we know today. If you see it from the top, you’ll see a rounded crown instead of the cushion shape of the old mine cut. From the side, you’ll find the girdle to be smaller than the old mine cut. In other words, we’re getting closer to brilliant cut diamonds!
What’s all this talk about the culet?
The culet is the bottom facet of a diamond, and the culet size is the quickest way for a jeweler to identify diamonds as a modern or an antique diamond cut.
In days long gone, no technology could make the bottom of the diamond have an exact pointed tip. As a result, old mine cut and old Euro cut diamonds have a facet rather than a culet point. The facet allows for rays of light to shine through the diamond, creating a subtle refractive color.
How do antique cut diamonds compare to modern diamonds?
You might see antique diamond cuts and find them no different than any other diamonds you see in the market today. In some ways, you’re right: the look from the top of these antique cut diamonds vs the modern cut diamonds may not look very different to the untrained eye.
But for professionals, there are a few obvious clues. First, it’s the culet at the center. Today’s machines can map diamonds and determine their shape. Jewelers use cutting wheels to shape the culet of modern round diamonds, resulting in an exact pointed tip. Professional jewelers will see the culet on antique diamond cuts because they’re larger, whereas modern cut diamonds are pointy (so pointy, you can’t see them with the naked eye).
Antique diamond cuts also have less facets than a modern brilliant cut, which has very precisely measured facets. Turn the ring or stone around, and you’ll see the sides and bottom are cut differently, so they refract light differently.
The most notable difference between antique cut diamonds and modern cut diamonds is its lightplay. Antique diamond cuts tend to have a candle like shine - think mellow and soft - whereas modern cut diamonds have more fire and brilliance.
Polki cut vs rose cut
The main difference between polki and rose cut diamonds lie in the pattern of facets. Polki diamonds tend to have a handful or less of large, flat facets. They’re not necessarily faceted, but polished to retain their natural structure, often into an irregular and asymmetrical form as the cutter strives for the maximum size. Facets in rose cut diamonds have more of a pattern and more of a crown.
Although both may be imperfectly shaped, you’ll find rose cut diamonds tend to be less asymmetrical than polki diamonds, which fully follow the raw diamond’s shape.
Old mine cut vs cushion cut diamond
The shape of the old mine cut vs cushion cut can be confusing. Both cuts have slightly rounded, curved sides with a pillow-like appearance, and the old mine cut is considered the precursor of the modern cushion cut. But, where the cushion cut only comes in square and rectangular shapes, the old mine cut may also be pear, marquise or triangle shaped.
The key difference between the two is the way they are cut. The old mine cut uses primitive processes under low lighting conditions, resulting in wonky shapes and uneven facet sizes. There were no standards for the shape, and cutters attempted to save as much of the diamond weight as possible. As compared to the modern cushion cut, old mine cut diamonds have a smaller table, taller crown, deeper pavilion, chunkier facets and open culet rather than a pointy tip.
Modern cushion cuts aim for symmetry, color retention and play of light, meant to sparkle under electric light. The culet got so small to the point it disappeared, the table got wider, the crown lower, the pavilion more shallow and the facets smaller and more elongated. It’s significantly lower profile than the old mine cut.
Both the old mine and cushion are brilliant cuts, but they react to light differently. The different facet shapes and sizes makes the old mine cut show larger face-up patterns of light and dark and less brilliance than the modern cushion cut.
Placed next to a modern diamond, the proportions of an old mine cut diamond can look overly large and bulky at first glance. It’s only under candlelight that you see its soft, romantic glow.
Single Cut vs Modern Brilliant Cut Diamond
The main difference between the single cut and modern brilliant cut diamond is in the number of facets. This affects the appearance and price of the diamond. A single cut diamond only has 16 to 18 facets, whereas a full-cut diamond has 57 or 58 facets. The high number of facets maximizes light reflection, giving the diamond more brightness and brilliance as compared to a single cut diamond. Needless to say, a full cut costs more time, and so more money.
The modern cut makes the diamond look significantly nicer than a single cut - to the point I’ve heard a gemologist say the single cut is an insult to a diamond’s beauty and brilliance. With modern day technology it’s not that much costlier, so these days only some melee diamonds (these are small diamonds, usually under 0.12 ct used as sparkly accents) still use the single cut to save money.
In terms of looks, the light reflection in a full cut diamond is much higher than in a single cut, so a single cut diamond has less brilliance and shine.
While single cut diamonds have a decidedly vintage look and were very popular between the 19th century and mid 20th century, they are rarely used as the center stone these days.
Old European cut vs modern brilliant cut diamond
The Old European cut has a smaller table, higher crown with a steeper angle, deeper pavilion and a larger culet than the modern round brilliant cut. The modern round brilliant cut is designed to push its fire and brilliance up through the middle of the stone. The Old European cut looks less brilliant from the top down view, yet offers more brilliance and fire from the side.
Can antique cut diamonds be new?
An antique diamond cut may be a newly mined diamond cut in an antique style. If you're looking for an actual antique diamond make sure the stone is called antique not just antique cut. By definition, antique describes an object having a high value because of considerable age or belonging to ancient times. Officially in describing jewelry any piece older than 1920 or 100 years old can be deemed antique. An antique diamond would be one cut prior to the 1920s.
Since we source many of our diamonds directly from artisanal miners in Borneo, we sometimes get a say in deciding the diamond cut. We commission a local cutter to cut each rough stone based on our cutting preference, and that includes antique cut diamonds (yes, *happy gasp*).
So should you purchase a truly antique diamond ring or an antique cut diamond ring?
Since true antique diamond rings are expensive, price would surely be a considerable factor. But unlike antique cut diamond rings, true antique pieces are rich with stories. Whether they are actual historical pieces (like, they’re owned by Princess Diana) or a hand-me-down from your dear grandma, there’s nothing else that can replace a true antique jewelry piece.
The problem is, with antique jewelry pieces, you might not get the best ethical stories. They can be made with conflict diamonds or mined by miners who weren’t well-paid. They can be guilty and you might not want to associate yourself with its dirty past. Getting antique cut diamond rings that are actually ethical means you’re getting the aesthetics and the ethics at the same time. You’re starting anew and you can hand down jewelry rings that are actually clean!
Are antique diamond cuts cheaper than modern diamonds?
True antique diamond cuts (that means they could be centuries old) will gain value over time and become more expensive. Especially now that we’re seeing a surge for antique cut gemstones, their price is predicted to increase over time. Jewelry from the 17th century are considered extremely rare and valuable. They are a piece of history, and this will be reflected in the price.
What are the best settings for antique cut diamonds?
Here’s our ideal antique cut ring design. The antique diamond cut is set in a solitaire ring with basket prongs or an open bezel to allow more light entering the stone from below. Then add three side stones to enhance the overall brightness.
Are antique cut diamonds right for me?
With mysterious stories behind them, nothing says timelessness like antique diamond cuts! Ready to make an impression for generations to come? Well, there's only one way to find out… you be the judge!
You want more colors and lights
Our polki cut diamond, a nod to the oldest diamond cutting technique.
Cutting techniques were used to maximize color and lightplay, not brilliance. They have larger facets and diffuse more light, so what you’ll get is a more mellow glow and softer brilliance. In other words, antique diamond cuts give a softer, more romantic feel. Plus, they’re designed to perform well under dim lighting, like for that proposal dinner.
You want less waste
Design your own ring with this old cut diamond from Borneo.
Older diamonds tend to be chunkier with less faceting, and thus, less cutting. When cutters facet a stone, they’re essentially polishing bits off the diamond. Back then cutters and traders tried to minimize their waste and maximize what they have, leading to chunkier diamond cuts. These days diamonds are cut with higher standards of precision, so that more of the diamond is polished off. The remaining diamond dust may be sold for industrial uses.
You want a piece of history
Oval old mine cut diamond hailing from Kalimantan, Indonesia.
What can I say - I’m a sucker for anything with an interesting story. With post consumer antique diamonds, be happy you’re owning a heritage piece someone else used to so cherish. With newer diamonds cut in an old style, be happy you’re owning a piece with a long history to tell.
You want one of a kind jewelry
A play on the unique characteristics of each stone.
Nowadays, computers offer cutters a preview of the best faceting to work on for each stone to maximize its brilliance. This technology also guarantees cutters with more precise and uniform results. On the other hand, antique cut diamonds play on the unique characteristics of each stone. In other words, you’re owning a piece no one else has.
You want more charming everyday jewelry
Glows like a candle and fits all occasions, day to night.
More glitter doesn’t necessarily mean more happiness. Being the humble sister of a more flashy diamond, antique cut diamonds don’t call for attention. They blend into the design, using it to make the piece standout as a whole, as opposed to making itself the spotlight. Just a tad of glow can do wonders, and that’s the magic of antique cut diamonds.
Think antique cut diamonds are right for you - and for theRing?