Antique Cut gems, Period Jewels, and everything else that falls in this specialized, “unique” niche have been trending in the right direction for years.
Despite the increasing popularity, there is still a lot of confusion when referring to “Old Mine Cut” gems. In this guide, we are going to bring clarity to the subject finally.
General History of Diamond Cutting
For thousands of years, women and men have been known to wear rocks and stones as talismans. We can only imagine that Diamonds — in their rough forms — must have been used in this regard as well.
The earliest Diamond discoveries originated in India. Early testaments to these discoveries can be understood from Marco Polo’s works, “The Travels of Marco Polo,” around the 13th-century. Within these works, you’ll find at least two tales on the earliest alluvial Diamond mining methods.
Mughal Empress Nur Jahan (1577-1645)
Diamonds in their rough form were probably used as embellishments for jewelry adornments before evidence – from around the 14th-century – revealed Indian and European abilities to grind and cut Diamonds.
Prior to this, and because Diamonds were discovered in India, cleaving was the only known method for shaping rough Diamonds, and thus we can assume with a high-degree of certainty that the method originated in India
I mention “assume” because this practice was kept religiously guarded for many centuries, so we have to fill in the blanks based on the facts available.
In the beginning, cleaving was mainly developed for the shaping of irregular rough Diamonds into point cuts that were popularized in the era. A cleaver could shape almost any irregular rough form into an octahedron, which could then be adapted into a point cut.
Point cut Diamond
As cleaving continued to evolve it soon became possible to split and divide rough Diamonds along its plane directions. This allowed the partition of a single rough crystal which cleavers took into account to avoid unwanted internal inclusions. A Diamond cleaver has only four cleavage directions, which is extremely limiting and probably the main reason for the development of the flat rose cut Diamond
Rose cut Diamond
Old mine material origins – The provenance importance
The term “Old Mine” must be looked upon from two directions:
The first speaks to the geological mineral specimens themselves, such as Emerald (Beryl), Diamond, Sapphire, Ruby (Corundum), and plenty of others found around our planet.
The historical literature mostly describes the “Old Mine” term in this context. The books cover specific geographical regions and mines that became famous for discoveries of certain exceptional materials that, with time, earned them the name “Old Mine.”
Describing material in this way usually meant its provenance was from a famous (and probably depleted) mine associated with exceptional and rare gem quality.
Examples of these Old Mines would include examples like the historical Colombian Chivor and Muzo Emerald mines that were active from the early part of the 16th-century, and the storied and legendary Burmese Mogok Ruby mines that were famous for their pigeon, blood-red colors. There are also the famous Golconda Diamond mines from Hyderabad, India, where materials were believed to have a unique water-like transparency that hasn’t been replicated in any other location in the world.
Old Mine Cut Diamond – Cutting history
The second point of direction speaks to the actual lapidary works on the gems. The name “Old Mine Cuts” refers to the cutting forms and styles which were practiced historically using limited tooling, technologies, and knowledge.
Since cutters depended mostly on their own abilities and know-how to transform rough gems into beautiful, smoothed and/or polished gems; these gems needed to absorb and react to light in a way that allowed jewelers the freedom to create objects of visual desire.
Rough crystals came in many forms and surface textures and were often marked with plenty of irregularities (various inclusions). All these elements complicated the cutter’s decisions and plans. In essence, they dictated the early shapes and cutting designs.
Although Old Mine Cuts exist in all gem materials of the time, over time the term became primarily linked to Diamonds. I believe the Old Mine designation begins at the antiquity age but dives mysteriously deeper into lapidary histories, which were a well-kept secret for hundreds and perhaps even thousands of years.
Old Mine Diamonds Shapes
Old Mine Cuts came in many shapes and cuts. It’s a mistake to solely designate the term to old “cushions shapes.” Old Mine Cuts can actually refer to any shapes such as Pear (pendeloque), Marquise, Hearts and any out-of-round shapes that were cut throughout antiquity.
In fact, the shape and contour of the rough were responsible for determining the end-shape of the polished Diamond. First came irregular shapes and faceting, and only then were naming conventions issued. Old Mine Cuts were a very wide scope of different cuts, but they all shared one key attribute – their purpose was to bring forth a strong play-of-light
Old Mine Pear Cut Diamond
Old Mine Pear Cut Diamond
Triangular Old Mine Cut Diamond
Old Mine Marquise or Moval Cut Diamond
Famous old mine cut Diamonds
There have been many Old Mine Cut Diamonds that made headlines throughout the years. Here are just a few examples:
“The Grand Mazarin” Diamond was sold on November 14, 2017, by Christie’s Auction House.
“The Grand Mazarin, …takes its name from Cardinal Mazarin, who became France’s Chief Minister in 1642. Toward the end of his life, Mazarin assembled a collection of 18 exceptional gems. …Of the 18, eight were ‘square cut’ diamonds; the largest of these is known as the Grand Mazarin”.
The Wittelsbach Diamond (known presently as The Wittelsbach-Graff), is one of the earliest documented brilliant cuts. Its history originates around mid-17th-century.
After being purchased in December 2008 by Laurence Graff, a decision was made to re-cut this historical Diamond. This decision caused a lot of waves at the time with some people going as far as to call it an act of vandalism.
A 10.14 carat Light Pink Golconda Diamond. Sold by Christie’s Magnificent Jewels, Geneva 2001.
The interesting story of this Old Mine Cut Diamond is possible because of my direct involvement in the early stages of this specific and rare gem.
Sometimes in the early part of the year 2001, I received a call from a close colleague/friend who asked me to visit him as he wanted to show me an old Diamond which he thought might be of interest to me.
Towards the end of that day I paid him a visit on the trading floor of the Diamond Exchange (at that time that’s where he conducted his business from), he took out an old parcel paper and opened it in front of me, the sight mesmerized me on the spot.
What my eyes saw was a beautiful 10.14 carat slightly off-round Old Mine Cut Diamond which he just received from abroad. He was just about to re-cut this Diamond into a modern 6 carat Diamond and so offered me it for the potential recut outcome (6 carat) price.
I immediately accepted his generous offer and the next day shipped this Old Mine Cut to a distinct New York dealer specializing in Period Gems & Jewels without even informing him such a Diamond was coming his way.
The next day I received a call from the dealer who was surprised upon receiving this parcel and a quick sweet deal was struck. A few months went by when I was pleasantly surprised to hear this Diamond got the recognition it deserved when it was sold for a high value at the Christie’s Magnificent Jewel auction in Geneva (circa 2001). I was happy I managed to save such an historic gem from being re-cut.
Locating Old Mine Cut Diamonds
The majority of original Old Mine Cut Diamonds traded today are either set in their original antique jewelry or by specialty gem traders who specialize in this niche. Their availabilities are extremely limited, which only add to their mysterious and storied allure.
Most Old Mine Cuts will be found in lower colors as, unfortunately, many if not most of the colorless Old Mine Cuts were re-cut to modern cuts throughout the last century. There is a common assumption that most Old Mine Cuts were cape/yellow colored but I don’t agree with this take and wrote an article supporting my position.
Another option is locating and purchasing “newly cut” Diamonds that are cut to the “Old Mine Cut” style, which basically attempts to imitate the style of yesteryears. Today one might find perhaps a handful of Diamond manufacturers which offer such cuts but most will offer Old Mine Cut Diamonds cut to a similar cutting process as their modern counterparts, most Diamonds today are cut in an assembly line production process.
The production process includes at least three different hands that are involved in the process for each Diamond. These Diamonds might look like Old Mine Cut as far as their protocol proportions and faceting design, but they mostly lack the old look, character and feel that serve as distinct features. To my eye, they are cut too “modern-like” for them to bring out the natural charm that these cuts are known for.
A final avenue that has received a lot more public attention over the last few years are the public auction venues. Today, private clients who wish to find a more diversified range of Period Jewels and antique gems turn to specialist jewelry and gem auctions.
With technology today, you can even make a stunning purchase from the comfort of your couch at home. How times have changed..
GemConcepts and Old Mine Cuts
I have been educating myself on the subject of Diamond cut history for over two decades. I have studied and observed countless antique and also a few famous Diamonds either loose or set in their original antique jewels.
About twenty years ago I started to work with an offer antique cuts to jewelers. They would ask me for specific shapes, looks and appearances. Some even requested fair/poor grades by the GIA in symmetry and/or polish because they were focused on the uniquely beautiful look and play-of-light that antique Diamonds possess.
To replicate Old Mine Cuts one has to add and/or leave countless little details that amount to the patinated look and feel. Thanks to my many years of education and practice, I am now able to offer Old Mine Cuts in a range of appearances; from the lopsided shapes which popularized the numerous periods of history to the ultra, three dimensional optical symmetry cuts that you find in the market today.
When choosing antique jewels (because of their Diamonds contents) or just loose antique Diamonds; one has the luxury to choose from a worldly palette of potential offerings. No cut standards are applied. Period.
The only standards that matter are your eyes and your personal taste. You should visually study the Diamond in different real-life lighting environments – preferably out of the dealer’s office, which is commonly set up with fluorescent lighting. Move and tilt the Diamond in the palm of your hand. Make the Diamond dance and reveal its unique play-of-light.
If you pick up on that magical sparkle created by the moving white and colored flashes, and those sparkles dance throughout the Diamond’s surface, chances are that you’ve found your winner.
Old mine cut Diamonds by GemConcepts
Papers (Gemological grading reports) don’t tell the tale of antique Diamonds except for its weight, color and clarity. Grading reports are important for value estimations of such Diamonds.
An excellent polish and/or symmetry tells you nothing about the Diamond’s beauty, appearance or play-of-light. It is just a testament to near perfect meet point/facet junction symmetry and near perfect polish that is usually in contradiction to real antique Old Mine Cut Diamonds.
Other facts like fluorescence and total depth percentages (which are considered critical in modern generics) play less of a role in antique Diamonds, we must remind ourselves that strong blue fluorescence (what used to be called blue-white [blau-weiß]) Antique Diamonds used to be sought after and commanded hefty premiums in those days (with good reason if I may add.)
Such phenomenons like various colored fluorescence just adds to its mysterious allure. Years of Gemological researches show that less than 2-3% of fluorescent Diamonds negatively affect their appearance.
Total Depth percentages might have fatal marketing obstacles when it comes to modern generic Diamond cuts because in antique cuts they are much less of an obstacle and usually an optical treat. Total depth “percentage” takes the distance between culet and table relative to the Diamond’s short diameter side.
In modern cuts, where crown heights are usually low or very low, total depth percentage points exclusively to excessive carat weight hidden on the pavilion side of the Diamond — away from the viewer’s pleasure. Exaggerated total depth proportions will cause a lack of light return to its viewer while also making the Diamond appear smaller than its actual weight.
In Old Mine Cut Diamonds the proportion ratio between pavilion depth and crown height (pavilion depth + girdle thickness + crown height = total depth) is nowhere similar to modern cut proportions.
On the contrary, old cut proportions (e.g. high crown height vs pavilion depth) are a basic requirement for the old charm, look and feel of antique Diamonds. These proportions provide an enjoyable play-of-light both from the Diamond interior as well as its reflective exterior, due to the three-dimensional proportions of old cuts.
Most antique Diamonds will possess wear and tear marks. Don’t worry; these marks are considered the patina that authenticates the antiquity status of such Diamonds. My advice is always to try to live with them. These marks tell the unique story of the Diamond and should be appreciated.
It is advisable that when marks are significant (large chips, cracks or other breakages), then these Diamonds must be handled by an experienced cutter with cut-history knowledge and practice (a rare find these days). It’s important that these Diamonds are repaired without altering their antique look. Unfortunately, regular cutters of modern Diamonds will often cause unwanted and irreversible results
The evolution of Antique Diamonds spans over centuries. They were ground, cleaved and cut in different locations and cultures over long periods. The results were dependent on the available tools and skills of the cutters as well as the optical goals for that period.
Diamonds were shaped, cut and faceted by hand alone and they worked with freedom due to no lack of strict rules about their facet designs and/or angle relations. Optical knowledge was in its early stages, and Antique Diamonds transport us back to this time.
The cutting away of material by the “feel of the eye” brought out light reflections of that moment or period in life. For instance, Diamonds cut to stand out during candlelight events in feudal times.
There is a general assumption that the sparkle of Antique Diamonds is inferior to those of modern cuts. I believe that the demand for these Diamonds over the past decade or more is proof enough to cancel that incorrect assumption.
This recent article by KATERINA PEREZ includes a quote that captures what makes Antique Diamonds so special:
“Old Mine Diamonds – the Beauty In Imperfection
January 2, 2017”
“The feel and nature of our contemporary creations is complemented with the use of old-mine diamonds. Such stones are one-of-a-kind, in effect, as for their cut, adding an extra layer of history, narrative and personality to a jewel. Beyond their recognizable rarity and collectible value, such stones are timeless, evoking a very distinct visual code to our present-day, unique jewellery designs,”
Christian Hemmerle, January 2018.