There was a time when cutting and polishing a diamond was considered sacrilege. It was believed that cutting and shaping the precious stone would devoid it of the supernatural power that it was believed to posses. The diamond was considered a prestigious stone and only rulers and even they were not allowed to tamper with the rough stone that was found naturally.
It is interesting to know that India was the only source of diamonds, way back in fourth century BC and it was only after Alexander the Great’s conquests that the diamond was introduced to the West after limited trade began between the East and the West. Even at this time, the diamond was not considered to be as expensive as the ruby or the sapphire.
Gem cutters started applying their skills on the diamond only in the 1300’s. By this time the trade had opened up between India and other trading centers like Venice and the Europe saw its first cut and polished diamond around 1380AD. With the trade various methods of polishing and cutting the diamond were also shared between the countries.
However, travel between the East and West was still not easy and the journey was arduous and took a long time. It was only when Vasco da Gama traveled from the Cape of Good Hope to India by sea that trade routes opened up further as the pains of transportation reduced. Within months of the discovery of this route cities like Bruges, Antwerp, Amsterdam and Venice started seeing large number of diamonds from India in their markets. Roughs from India were transported to these cities that fed Europe’s unending hunger for the gem.
The diamond cutting of these times was far less sophisticated as compared to the brilliance that we see today. This is obvious when one observes antique jewelry and antique settings. Many of these simple cuts were later adapted to the more modern cuts over time and records of the methods used can only be obtained from paintings, diaries and catalogs.
The journey of the diamond cutting industry, as we know today, starts with the point cut and ends at fancy brilliant cuts. The point cut was the first cut that we are aware of today and it was the most popular cut in the fifteenth century. The cut mimicked the rough octahedral shape of the natural diamond and this was accomplished by the use of stationary polishing surfaces covered with diamond grit and olive oil. The olive oil was used to reduce the heat created due to the friction required in the process.
The table cut made its appearance in the late 1400’s. The top part of the natural octahedral shape was cut using the same tools present earlier – a stationary cutting surface with diamond grit and olive oil. The end result was that of a polished square facet that looked like a tabletop. Some cutters removed the lower part of the octahedral shape to give it a square shape called the cullet. The kind of a table cut looked like a square within a square when viewed from the top. Since the table top cut improved the reflective index and resulted in higher brilliance and fire, this proportionate cut found a lot of appeal among consumers during the Renaissance period. This cut ruled the diamond industry for the next couple of centuries and there were numerous variations like rectangles, tapered shapes and lozenges.
After a couple of centuries of the table cut rule, the rose cut made its appearance and continued to dominate the scene till the nineteenth century. This cut was not conceptualized for octahedral diamonds but a cut that aided in producing the largest cut diamonds from flattened roughs. The rose cut has flat bottoms and triangular facets that become a point towards the top. Though the cut gives a high level of brilliance, the fire that this cut allows is not too high. Creative cutters have created variations of this cut too and we have the double rose and the briolette.
The seventieth century saw different kind of cuts coming onto the market. The seeds of the modern brilliant cut were sown when miners found some crystals in the river gravel in Minas Gerais in Brazil. Initially the miners did not realize that the crystals that they were using to keep score in card games were actually diamonds. It was only after someone familiar with diamonds pointed it out to them that they became aware of the value of their find. With resources drying up in India, this deposit was very welcome and Brazil became the key source of rough diamond for the diamond cutters in Europe.
Diamonds from Brazil were used to create the first brilliant cuts and thus was born the old mine cut, a cushion shaped cut with a deep pavilion, high crown and large culet. Even though the number of facets in the old mine cut are similar to the modern brilliant cut, this first cut did not give as much brilliance since the pavilion was deeper.
The modern brilliant cut came onto the scene after more than 500 years of experimentation. This was the first cut that did full justice to the brilliance that a diamond is capable of. A round brilliance has a round girdle outline, symmetric triangular and kite-shaped facets. The table is more than 50% of the girdle diameter and a culet that is hardly noticeable. The earliest of the modern brilliant cut can be traced back to the 1800’s. Even though Henry Morse from Boston discovered this cut earlier, it was rejected by the cutting establishment and stuck to the old mine and European cuts.
It was only in 1919 when Marcel Tolkowsky published these cuts did they become popular. Though many cutters who worked on large high quality roughs adopted Tolkowsky’s suggestions, there were others that used variations of this for the smaller diamonds intending to gain the maximum weight of the diamond from the rough. Other variations also made an appearance and thus were born shapes like marquise, cushion, pear and oval.
The contemporary cuts allow for higher levels of artistic flair and the roughs can be cut and polished based on minimum loss due to cutting and polishing. With the popularization of the brilliant cut, many fancy brilliant cuts started coming into the picture. It was the success of the round brilliant encouraged cutters to try out other shapes along with the brilliant cut.
The triangular brilliant, ‘Trillion’, developed by Leon Finker in the 1960’s became so popular that any people started referring to any triangular brilliant as the ‘Trillion’. Milton and Irving Meyer were marketing their own version at this time and they called it the ‘Trilliant’ and registered the name. The phrase ‘trillion’ had become so generic in nature that they changed the name later to Trielle in 1992.
Other brilliant cut shapes like rectangle and square brilliants were also produced. Henry Grossbard patented the first rectangular brilliant and called it ‘Radiant’. The use of this cut resulted in a loss of 40% of the rough as compared to the 50% lost in the case of a round brilliant. Other brilliant cuts like the square brilliant also came on the scene. Ambar Diamonds, Inc. developed and patented a brilliant square cut called the Quadrillion®.
Fancy brilliant cuts allow for minimum loss in a rough diamond. They are also very useful in manipulating and perfecting the color of the diamond when seen from the face up. These days the diamond cutting industry makes the use of modern computer software and technology to develop new cuts that can optimize the size of the diamond. The round brilliant has been perfected further with the use of technology that can standardize the production process to create symmetrical, proportionate and proprietary diamond cuts.
Some marketers and manufacturers tried to promote what they called the ‘ideal cut’ in the 1990’s. This was marketed as the cut that was ideal for a specific diamond to provide minimum loss, maximum brilliance and fire. Though the concept was welcomed by researchers of the diamond cut industry, there was no proof that the ‘ideal cut’ was really ideal. The technology allows the customer to see the various cuts and how each one compares to the other. However, diamond critics claim that there is more to a diamond than the cut alone and that there may not be one ideal cut that fits all.
Even though history has seen various cuts that have come and gone and technological and creative expertise in this field, there is no doubt about the fact that what really matter sin the end is the perceived beauty of the diamond by the buyer, the wearer and the onlookers!
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