The History of Diamond Cuts

For centuries, craftspeople have perfected the art of cutting diamonds to maximise their brilliance and beauty. From 17th-century rose-cuts to modern round brilliants, our guide explores what makes each cut unique.

Cutting diamonds is an art and a science. The hardest natural material on earth, it takes great skill to shape rough stones into the sparkling gems used in jewellery. Humans have been perfecting this skill for hundreds of years. Pragnell’s expert gemmologists sift through thousands of diamonds to select the most beautiful: from 17th-century rose-cuts to modern-day round brilliants.

Early Experimentation: Table-Cut and Rose-Cut

For centuries, diamonds were treasured in their rough state: cutting didn’t begin until the 14th century. The very first cuts used another diamond to cleave along the natural planes: the ‘table cut’ had nine rudimentary facets. In the late 1500s, Indian lapidaries developed the rose cut: so called because it resembles a rose bud. Dome-shaped with a flat base and large, triangular facets on top, rose-cut diamonds were hewn from shallow Indian rough.

European cutting houses perfected the style, and rose-cuts were used in jewellery throughout the 17th and 18th century. Cut for candlelight, they have a more subtle sparkle than brilliant-cut stones. We source all our rose-cuts from antique jewellery, giving a new lease of life to these romantic, historic and enduringly charming diamonds.

Origins of the Brilliant-Cut: Old Mine, Old European and Transition Cuts

By the 18th century, Europe was the centre of the diamond cutting industry, and a new style of diamond was introduced. Old mine cuts were the precursor of the modern round brilliant, and have a small table, deep pavilion and high crown, as well as a distinctive large culet which is visible when you look through the top of the stone.

Technological advancements in the late 1800s meant the old mine cut was refined into the old European cut, which was rounder and more symmetrical, with more facets. This in turn led to the ‘transition’ cut, as lapidaries tweaked and perfected what would become the modern brilliant.

Perfecting the Modern Brilliant-Cut

In the 18th and 19th centuries diamonds were hand-cut by skilled craftspeople who were aiming for the brightest, biggest, most beautiful diamond possible. While they don’t possess the same symmetry and bright-white fire of modern brilliant-cuts, their imperfections are testament to their history and one-of-a-kind nature. Many of the best quality old mine cuts were repolished into modern brilliants, so they are increasingly rare and sought-after.

By about 1950, the modern brilliant was refined into what it is today. Its table became larger and lower, its girdle thinner, its culet polished into a point to prevent light escaping, and its 58 facets became finer: resulting in the intense fire and brilliance that dominates modern diamond jewellery.

Art Deco Developments

The 1920s and 30s saw a surge in creativity in jewellery design as well as in diamond cutting. During this period, step-cut stones were developed, with parallel facets that create a ‘hall of mirrors’ effect.

The Asscher cut was invented by the Royal Asscher Diamond Company in 1902 but was not used widely until the 1920s. Original Asscher cuts are square or rectangular, with large step facets, high crowns and small tables. The rectangular versions became known as emerald cuts. Both possess the geometric elegance we associate with the Art Deco era, and continue to be popular today.

Emerald- and Asscher-cut diamonds are still produced, but we believe that original Asschers from the 1920s and 1930s have a brightness and liveliness that can’t be matched by modern versions.

A Lasting Legacy

The Art Deco period also saw the development of French-cut diamonds, which are square with eight facets on top, resulting in a distinctive star effect when viewed from above. Baguette-cut, carré-cut and shield-cut stones were all developed during this intensely creative period.

Many Pragnell designs call on cuts from this era. As well as sourcing and remounting beautiful old Asscher cuts, we work closely with skilled diamond cutters to produce rows of French-cut stones, custom-cut for jewellery that blends Art Deco style with modern craftsmanship and finesse.

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