How the cutting and polishing of diamonds became an important part of its value

 

- December 2015 -

Diamonds were extremely rare, with as East India their only source. And the primary diamond cut which could not produce a great brilliance, did not allow the diamond to sparkle well.

 

Eastern people always tried to maintain as much weight as possible when cutting them. This way of cutting is still visible into traditional Indian design.

point cut of diamondstable cut diamond
point cut and table cut

In the 15th century the table diamond cut was introduced. It gradually took the place of the point cut, which eventually disappeared towards the end of the 16th century. At that time, the disciplines of refraction and geometry developed considerately due to an increase of gem stocks, which allowed more experimentation and improvement of diamond and coloured gem cutting. Around 1580 the rose diamond cut, which for the first time gave more brilliancy, became very popular. The ‘rose cut’ diamond was always be set on a foil, due to its flat base. Foil reflected the totality of the light entering the stone and gave it its brilliancy.

rose cut diamond
rose cut

As Robert de Berquem stated in 1669 in his account on ‘Les Merveilles des Indes Orientales’:  “The nobility of Paris had large diamonds on which facets were cut on the side and around the table of the diamond. This is a change, because the perfect diamond was considered to have a square shape and be thick. But like French humour, new things change, and cutters persuaded them to become fashion.” 
In the beginning of the 17th century, the table cut and rose cut were still current. The old brilliant cut found its origin in the Mazarin cut, named in homage of the expert and promoter of diamond size. The jeweller Pouget called him the inventor of the old brilliant cut. But this was denied in the 20th century. The Peruzzi cut, named for the Italian inventor and engraver, reflects the origin of the old brilliant cut. 

mazarin cut diamondperuzzi cut diamondold european cut diamond
Mazarin cut, the Peruzzi cut and the Old European cut

Louis XIV already gave an example by re-cutting many precious gems in his private collection and in the collection of the French Royal Crown Jewels. Today it is often difficult to retrace the history of a beautiful gem because of the re-cutting it underwent during changes of fashion.

Thanks to its beauty and its brightness, the diamond took a central place in ornaments for the first time. It had a long secondary role, surrounded by coloured gemstones, and designated an indicator of power and magical forces.  Towards the end of the 17th century, many imitations were discharged from their negative connotation. Before, fake gems were made for swindling or to satisfy the middle-class, who wanted to imitate the nobility. Consequently, fake jewellery was introduced within the Royal Courts, but only allowed to wear in the day. The discovery of new diamond mines in Brazil at the beginning of the 18th century made it possible for the diamond to keep its position above all precious gems.

In 1866 the young Erasmus Jacobs, playing with his sister at the border of the Orange river in South Africa, found a pretty stone. Seeing the children playing with the stone, the neighbour, Shalk van Niekerk, asked to buy the stone. He priced the gem then sold it immediately. The first South African diamond was discovered! Consequently the rush to South Africa to make one’s fortune started.  The newly discovered diamonds flooded the European market and decreased the prices. The abundance of diamonds on the market permitted more experimentation, which improved the old brilliant cut. Because of its brightness, the brilliant cut gradually replaced the rose cut.

The science of lapidary, essentially developed during the 17th and 18th centuries, led to the scientific approach of gemmology, developed in the 20th century. Marcel Tolkowsky, a Polish engineer, publish a theoretical treatise on the ideal dimensions of the diamond in 1914. By calculating the ideal angles a diamond shape needs to have, the light which is captured would be reflected optimally. Even today the brilliant cut is still the most accepted diamond cut in the world. With other words a "brilliant" is a shape of a diamond.

diamond cut

Tolkowski cut, better known as the brilliant cut

 

Text ©World Luxury Jewellers.
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