Types of Antique Diamonds

Antique or vintage diamonds have an allure to them that others don't, bringing with them a history that reaches back long before you ever encounter them.  Sometimes a stone is enriched by an accompanying story, and sometimes the story has been lost, leaving you to imagine what life a diamond had before you discovered it.  Antique diamonds are wonderful choices for modern engagement rings, particularly for the woman who loves a story or history -- and for those seeking something that just looks a little 'different'.  There are several different types of antique diamonds, each with telltale characteristics that give them a slightly different or unique sparkle.  As an added bonus, antique diamonds are an environmentally-friendly and socially responsible choice, as they require no additional impact on the environment or people.

The Old European Cut

What we know as a 'European Cut' or 'Old European Cut' diamond is actually a predecessor to today's brilliant cut.  It marks a stage in the evolution of diamond cutting, and reflects the ability and technology of the time.  Today's diamond cutting is more advanced, and thus more refined, resulting in more symmetrical shapes, more facets, and flashier stones with maximum sparkle and light refraction.    According to GIA, "trade professionals characterize old European cuts as having small table facets, heavy crowns, and overall “deep” or “steep” proportions."  

old european cut pattern GIA

This style is typical of stones with cutting origins from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. Old Euro diamonds feature a wide range of cutting variation, and as a result, grading labs do not apply a 'cut grade' to such stones, since there really are no standards to go by.  This ensures that these diamonds are never judged by standards that they were never fashioned to meet, and from which they would likely receive a “Fair” or “Poor” cut grade for.  Furthermore, they are not criticized on a technicality for the main feature that gives them their charm.   Often, lovers of antique diamonds will prefer certain styles of cut (shallow vs deep) and will seek to find those particular specimen or 'makes'.  Technically, to qualify as an 'Old European,' a diamond must exhibit at least three of the following:  

Table Size: 53% Or Less
* Crown Angle: 40% Or Greater
* Culet: Slightly Large to Large
* Lower Half Facet Length: 60% Or Less

The Old Mine Cut

The old mine can often be confused with the old European cut, but is actually distinctly different.  The 'old mine' features a square-shaped girdle with slightly rounded corners, most similar in contour to the modern cushion cut.   Old mine cuts date back to the early 1700s and were very popular during Georgian and Victorian eras. They are easily distinguishable by their shape, which is actually the result of a technical decision.  Diamond cutters aimed to maximize carat weight and to minimize rough loss during cutting -- which is where the distinctive shape of an old mine cut diamond comes from.   In addition to their overall square or cushion shape, old mine cuts are recognized by a large culet, deep pavilion, small table and a high crown. Old mine diamonds do share 58 facets, just like a modern round brilliant, however they are always more asymmetrically shaped.  Often times this asymmetry is what lends to the feel of the antique stone -- giving it a sense of time and history, or alluding to the hand of the cutter.  

The Circular Brilliant Cut

As an attempt to address older-style diamonds that aren’t technically Old European, but also don't meet modern standards, GIA designated the 'circular brilliant' cut.  Before this designation, graders were forced to either call a stone a round brilliant, grading it according to modern standards, or to call it an old European cut and leave off a cut grade.  A transitional cut, the 'circular brilliant' refers to a stone that is somewhere between the 'old European' and a modern brilliant.  In order to be considered a circular brilliant, a diamond must meet the following criteria:

circular brilliant cut GIA

* Lower half length: less than or equal to 65 percent
* Star length: less than or equal to 50 percent
* Culet size: medium or larger

The Single Cut

The single cut diamond is most often seen on smaller stones, and features eight crown facets and eight pavilion facets. Dating back to the 1300s, this antique diamond cut is one of the oldest -- and is set apart from others by an often octagonal shape and simplistic design (modern full cuts feature 58 facets). Single cut diamonds are sometimes also referred to as 'eight cuts'.  Single cut diamonds can often be recognized quickly as they have a unique or different sparkle or flash to them.  

When to Choose an Antique Diamond

An antique diamond is a perfect choice if you love antiques and want a timeless classic.  Similarly, if you're after something truly unique and one of a kind -- an antique stone may be ideal.  Owning an antique diamond means that you will never have exactly what someone else has -- yours will always be different, recognizable.  Antique stones also have a romantic, classic feel that perfect ideal or modern cuts sometimes lack -- as those can feel a bit too 'perfect' or engineered for some tastes.  

Another reason to source an antique diamond might be for more sustainable reasons.  Although the original sources of antique stones are often never known, or circumstances may have been less than desirable by modern standards -- you can rest assured your modern choice is not creating a current negative environmental or social implication.  A stone that was mined and cut hundreds of years ago is repurposed -- thus not causing additional harm in your lifetime, regardless of what its origins may have been.    In that way, you can choose an antique diamond with a sense of peace of mind, knowing that your choice makes sense in terms of least impact -- which in itself can be viewed as a socially and environmentally conscious choice.