All about Old Cuts

Antique diamonds are often described as 'Old Cuts', but what are they and how do they differ from todays modern cut diamonds?


Old cut diamonds are unique; they have a distinctive look and charm derived from the way that they were cut and polished, and the techniques and technology available at the time. Most old cut diamonds were cut between 100 and 200 years ago.

So what distinctive features do old cuts have, and what are the main differences between an old cut and a modern brilliant cut?

Often appearing softer and more 'pillowy' in shape, all old cuts are totally unique and differ from the perfectly proportioned appearance of modern diamonds. Old cuts have individual character as each one was cut and polished by hand during a laborious process often taking several weeks. The skill of the diamond cutter would be to follow the shape of the natural rough crystal and to retain as much carat weight as possible. Carat weight was always highly-prized which is why they often feature a high crown and wider facets.

No two old cuts are ever the same and their was no 'ideal' standard to follow like in todays modern cutting, which means older stones are often not as uniform in shape and have a totally individual look - something that we love and find really charming!

One main difference with old cuts is the culet (pronounced kew-let). From the top of the stone when looking inside, you will see a circle in the centre, this is actually the bottom of the stone, known as the culet. Old cuts don’t come to a point at the bottom like modern diamonds, instead they have a flat bottom. This is an extra facet and so old cuts tend to be classed as having 58 facets instead of the 57 seen in a modern brilliant cut.

Modern brilliant cuts were first developed by Marcel Tolkowsky after his publication of the 'ideal cut diamond' in 1919. However it took a little longer for brilliant cuts to become mainstream and they weren't seen commonly until the 1930s and 1940s. Now, almost all new diamonds are cut in exactly the same way, with little or no individual character.


Old European vs Old Mine Cut

Old cuts can be further categorised into old mine cut and old European cut. The old mine cut predates the old European cut and were cut in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, before a technique known as bruting was introduced where the 'rounding' of the stone was possible. These diamonds have a more square or cushion shape following the natural square girdle found on a typical octahedral, the most common form of rough diamond. The facets were added using the harder direction of one diamond against the softer direction of the stone to be cut and polished with scaifes laced with tiny particles of diamond to polish its surface. Once bruting was possible after the invention of the bruting machine in 1874, the rounder shape of the old European cut is seen, which is the precursor of the modern brilliant cut that we see today. Old European cuts still feature high crowns and open culets and were cut during the late 19th century up to the early 20th century.

 Genuine Old Cut diamonds are unique pieces of history which are only getting rarer. Diamonds are no longer cut in this way and it means those that were produced in that small window of time is all we have! There are even instances where Old cuts are being re-cut and re-proportioned into modern brilliant cut stones, losing these pieces of history forever! At Holts Jewellery, we simply love the beauty and unique charm of old cut diamonds, and believe that we should treasure and take care of these precious heirlooms. Wherever possible, creating new chapters in their history by finding them new custodians to enjoy and treasure.