We’ve Got History: All About Antique Cut Diamonds & Selecting Them.

Antique Diamonds: Little diamond time capsules
Antique diamonds have been enjoying a resurgence in popularity for some time now, but thanks to social media like Instagram, the requests for these special cuts have gone up exponentially.  Let’s take some time to dive into what makes these misfits so special.
As many of you know, one very special Old European Cut stole my heart forever.  About 12 years ago, I purchased an Art Deco ring on Ebay, which housed a 0.71 ct Old European Cut that had been abused over the years.  Likely tossed in a drawer with other diamonds, she was abraded and scratched beyond recognition.  No worries!  A quick trip to the polisher restored her shine, and I have loved her dearly ever since.  She sits loose currently, and I’m still waffling about how to best showcase her beauty, but more on that debate another time.
Why are antique cuts so special, you ask?
Oh, step into my office, friends.  Let’s chat.

Antique diamonds are about 100 years old, often cut and polished by candlelight.  Defying modern cutting standards, no two are remotely alike.

Sarah Martin Rowe, GIA Graduate Gemologist
Antique Shapes
Let’s get technical here.  Antique diamonds span a few different shapes.  Most known are the Rose Cut, Old Mine Cut, and Old European Cut.  Spanning from the early 1600s up until the early decades of the 20th century, these shapes were cut by hand, often under candlelight.  Since tools were limited and primitive compared to modern methods, there are great variances in proportions and polish of these diamonds.  Whereas modern standards would type these proportions as lacking, antique diamond lovers see them as unique characteristics.
Rose Cuts
Characterized most often with flat undersides, rose cuts have domed, faceted tops.  This shape ruled the Georgian era, when jewelry designs were handmade with florid detailing.  Notably focused on showcasing the diamond, rose cut diamonds brought an understated, romantic feel to an otherwise ornate piece.  Rose cut diamonds vary in their faceting patterns, but in general, you will see anywhere from 3 to 24 facets.  Best of all? Rose cuts come in all shapes, from round to pear to oval, and can also be cut double-sided (called a Double Dutch Rose).
Many modern diamond cutters are coming back to this shape, cutting new rough into rose cut variations.  Modern designers like Kirk Kara have recently debuted whole collections utilizing only rose cuts, answering the demand of many new ring buyers.
Old Mine Cuts
Commonly cut up until the 20th century, Old Mine Cuts are the dream of any cushion-cut lover.  This pillow-shaped creation contains 58 chunky facets, a small table (center facet), open culet (bottom of diamond does not come to an exact point), and a high crown angle (angle formed between the middle of the diamond and the table facet).  The resulting sparkle is mostly white light, with large flashes under normal light conditions.  In low light environments, like a restaurant, you will also see splashes of fire.  Unlike their modern cousins, the cushion modified brilliant, Old Mine Cuts quietly and serenely sparkle and have been described as “less busy.”
Old Mine Cuts can be square in shape or elongated.
Old European Cuts
Old European Cuts (OEC).  The OG of the round diamond world.  It is no secret that I adore this shape in all of its glorious variations.  With 58 facets like the Old Mine Cut, OECs paved the way for the modern round brilliant cut.  Commonly seen in the early 20th century, OECs reigned supreme in late Edwardian through the Art Deco periods.  With wide, chunky facets, this shape provides broad flashes of white light and quiet hints of fire.  Most OECs have small table facets, deep pavilions (bottom halves), with an open culet (diamond does not come to an exact point), and a high crown angle (angle formed between the middle of the diamond and the table facet).  However, all OEC-lovers out there also know that this shape can be very shallow, with shallow total depth percentages, shallow crown angles, and a small table.
In fact, my beloved 0.71 carat OEC is shallow, measuring in diameter akin to a 0.88 ct.!  No OEC is the same, making this cut popular with collectors and antique jewelry enthusiasts alike.
Comparing Qualities
Simply put: It would be a disservice to compare the proportions and finish of an antique cut to a modern cut.
These two eras of diamonds enjoyed vastly different technology and tools, making the precision of cut and finish infinitely more accurate in modern cuts.  However, looking for the following attributes will separate an attractive antique cut from a dull one.
At least Good polish grade will ensure more light return from your antique cut, allowing for surface light to reflect to the eye.
Although Fair symmetry is common to see, you will see a noted sparkle increase by going for Good or Very Good.  This is especially true of OECs and Old Mine Cuts, which can otherwise suffer from darkness in the center (Old Mine Cuts) or out-of-round outlines (OEC).
Keep in mind: no antique diamond will be 100% perfect, so don’t stress too much about the exact angles shown on a diamond certificate.
There is something inexplicably special about antique diamonds.  For me, it is the history experienced by the diamond & the completely unique appearance.  Here’s how to choose your perfect antique diamond:
  • Focus on the overall shape you prefer
  • View the diamond in a variety of light environments
  • Assess the visual symmetry and outline
  • Look for Good or better symmetry & polish
  • Compare a few options to determine your favorite look
  • Don’t stress too much about proportions
  • Remember that antique diamonds are not perfect by modern standards!