The diamond-cutting innovations of the early 20th century changed the vintage diamond forever. Up until then, highly skilled craftsmen used special techniques to cut the diamonds by hand.
These techniques still exist today, but not many jewelers know them. The cuts, as well as the styles of the era, make a diamond vintage or antique. There are many benefits to choosing a vintage diamond. Especially if you’re buying an engagement ring.
In this article, we’ll guide you through the details of what to look for in buying a vintage diamond. And we’ll go over the most relevant styles still popular today.
What Is a Vintage Diamond?
Understanding why diamonds are so valuable is the first step to understanding the appeal of vintage diamonds. But what is a vintage diamond, anyway? Technically speaking, a vintage diamond is any diamond that was cut 20 years ago or older.
It’s also important to note the difference between vintage and antique diamonds. Even though these terms are often used to describe the same thing, that’s incorrect. Antique diamonds need to be at least 100 years old. And vintage diamonds usually date from the early 20th century to the 1960s.
Almost all antique and most vintage diamonds were cut by hand. The cut makes a diamond vintage because these techniques were only used in the eras that have passed. So, let’s see what the most common antique and vintage diamond cuts are.
Cushion Cut Diamond
The cushion cut is one of the most popular vintage cut diamonds today. They’re famously elegant and have an impressive level of brilliance. Their color is also difficult to retain, so H color or better is probably the best way to go.
A cushion cut diamond combines the modern round cut with an old mine facet pattern, adding the curved edges. To make it easier to understand, it’s a square cut with round corners. It looks a little bit like a pillow, hence the name.
The advantage of buying a Cushion Cut is that you’ll get that high level of brilliance. It also allows for more customization if you’re looking for a unique shape.
The round edges make this vintage cut quite durable, perfect for an engagement ring. Also, per carat, they are less expensive than other vintage cuts.
The openness of the Cushion Cut makes it easier to notice any flaws. And that’s one of the main disadvantages of choosing this vintage cut.
Also, this vintage diamond cut has many other commonly used terms. Antique Cushion Cut, High Dome Cushion Cut, and a few other names might cause confusion among buyers.
McKinney Ring. Circa 1900 (Antique, Edwardian Era)$6,500
Old European Cut Diamond
If you’re interested in antique diamonds, you might have heard about the Old European Cut at some point. These diamonds became popular in the late 19th century and are still going strong today.
The overall look of an Old European Cut is classic with a bit of softness to it. Of all vintage diamond cuts, this is the most well-known. Diamonds used to be measured by hand and cut that way too.
Jewelers relied on only their expert eye to create the perfect shape and symmetry. The Old European Cut is round and has 58 facets. It also has a somewhat small table, but a large and visible culet.
The advantages of buying a vintage diamond of Old European Cut are many. But the best argument is that you’ll get a completely unique diamond. If you want to design a one-of-a-kind engagement ring, this cut will fit in various settings.
If the rarity of the diamond dictates its value, then the Old European cut will only become more valuable over time, which makes it an ideal heirloom.
The Old European Cut has a few negative aspects as well. First, there are no Gemological Institute of America (GIA) grades for this cut. And the quality of the diamond can be quite different. That means you can’t be too sure what you’re buying. It’s mostly going to be about how the diamond looks to your own eye.
Dartmouth Ring. Circa 1915 (Antique, Edwardian Era)$13,500
Old Mine Cut Diamond
An Old Mine Cut is another type of antique diamond. Just like with the Old European Cut, the Old Mine jewelers used their hands to make the cut. The shape of this cut is square, with very slightly rounded edges. And just like with most antique diamonds, the Old Cut Mine has a relatively small table. When you look at the diamond above, that becomes clearer.
The culet is large, and from above, it’s easy to see it. If you compare the vintage Old Mine Cut to any modern diamond, you’ll notice it’s quite large and rather bulky.
But it’s important to understand that that’s on purpose. It’s part of its charm. An Old Mine Cut diamond won’t look perfect in any setting. Candlelight and dim lighting are where it glows the best.
The history of the Old Mine Cut goes back to the 18th century. At that time, the only diamond mines existed in India and Brazil. And these old mines are the source of this vintage diamond’s name.
By definition, the Old Mine Cut diamond is over 100 years old, therefore antique. If you compare it to the Old European Cut, it’s a bit shallower.
Should you choose to buy an Old Mine Cut diamond, make sure to look for what you like. You won’t be able to get the GIA certificate for every stone. So, don’t let that guide your selection.
Many jewelers recommend pairing the Old Mine Cut diamond with a rose or yellow gold setting. These antique diamonds look especially beautiful in that combination. And don’t stress too much about choosing the right color.
Rose Cut Diamond
A Rose Cut diamond has a rich history of several centuries – and it seems that this vintage diamond is making a comeback. What many people like about the Rose Cut diamond is its simplicity.
The beauty and charm might be hard to put into words. But with one look at this vintage gem, the attraction becomes apparent. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is a rare cut indeed.
The design of the Rose Cut Diamond features triangular facets that look like a rose. An engagement ring of this cut will look like you’re wearing a small rose on your finger.
If you look at this vintage diamond, it seems a lot bigger than other cuts. But it has a low profile and doesn’t extend from the setting much. The flat shape ensures the durability of the diamond. That’s also what makes it an excellent choice for an engagement ring.
Some might not like that it lacks the brilliance of other cuts. The reflection of the light might not be what you’re looking for. It’s also not going to have any GIA certificate like most antique diamonds. On the other hand, all the imperfections and asymmetries aside, this is a rare and gorgeous gem.
Asscher Cut Diamond
If you’re a fan of an octagonal shape, the Asscher Cut is probably going to impress you. It’s a square shape cut with layered facets. It has a high crown and a rather deep pavilion.
Unlike many vintage diamond cuts, brilliance is its signature feature. There are also two kinds of Asscher Cut. The standard Asscher Cut has 58 facets, and the royal Asscher cut has 74 facets. The history of the Asscher Cut started in 1902 when the Asscher Brothers from Holland perfected this shape.
The culet is very prominent at the very bottom. When buying the Asscher Cut, the most important feature to pay attention to is the diamond’s clarity. This cut doesn’t provide any real sparkle, so the VS2 clarity is a possibility to consider.
This clarity will provide the best value, but you can always choose even better clarity if available. As for the setting, the solitaire is always a great choice. And this vintage diamond pairs well with platinum and gold in every color.
Emerald Cut Diamond
The last, but by no measure the least, vintage diamond we’ll talk about is the Emerald Cut. This is one of the most famous vintage cuts in the world. You can easily recognize it by its rectangular shape and linear facets.
You also might notice that jewelers tend to crop these diamonds to avoid fractures and add to the stability. The surface table is large which offers plenty of deep clarity. However, it’s important to point out that the Emerald Cut is also available in a square shape.
This vintage diamond cut provides an excellent opportunity to place a larger stone on an engagement ring at a lower cost. If you’re not sure which setting to look for, an understated approach is always better.
The GIA scale for clarity of the Emerald Cut has a wide range. It starts with I2 and ends with IF, which represents an internally flawless diamond. For best value, however, the VS2 clarity is often the best choice.
The advantages of buying an Emerald Cut diamond are many. For one, they are not that difficult to find. Per carat, they offer a lot of value for a lower price too. This is, overall, a beautiful cut that represents elegancy in a very low-key way.
One disadvantage of buying an Emerald Cut vintage diamond is that the inclusions are move visible. It’s also not going to provide brilliance like some of the other cuts.
Colorful Diamonds Are the Most Valuable
Colorless diamonds are available pretty much everywhere. Their value will be determined by the remaining Cs: clarity, cut, and carat. Colorful diamonds, on the other hand, are a true rarity.
Yellow diamonds are rarer than colorless but more common than red diamonds. Pink and blue diamonds are extremely rare, and their prices go up to tens of millions of dollars. Engagement rings with colored diamonds are always going to be the most expensive.
The Styles of Vintage Diamonds
All of the diamond cutting techniques mentioned above developed before or at the very beginnings of the Industrial Revolution.
The antique style diamonds date from eras that marked many styles in jewelry making. Here are the epochs and movements to keep in mind to get a better sense of what to look for during your search for the perfect vintage diamond.
Georgian Era (1714 – 1830)
As you would expect diamonds from this era are rare. Not just because it was a very long time ago, but because in the early Georgian period diamond mines themselves were rare.
However, this is when the fascination with diamonds began if jewelers still focused more on colorful gemstones like rubies and sapphires.
The Old European Cut was first developed during this time. But the Rose cut was still one of the favorites as well.
Victorian Era (1837 – 1901)
The Old Mine cut was favored during the Victorian Era. Queen Victoria’s engagement ring popularized yellow gold.
But it was her love of diamonds that truly pushed this stone center stage. During her reign, you could find diamond combinations with other gemstones and all types of metal settings.
Edwardian Era and Art Nouveau (1890 – 1910)
The Art Nouveau movement had a strong impact on jewelry making. It also overlaps with the short reign of Kind Edward. Even though these two eras have some similarities, they were also different in meaningful ways.
The Edwardian era was a continuation of the late Victorian tendencies in diamond cuts and jewelry making. It was a peaceful time that focused on the joys of living. Art Nouveau was a movement that celebrated nature above all things. For followers of this trend, the diamond wasn’t the favorite choice due to its origin.
Art Deco Era (1920 – 1930)
This period of great change was all about geometric shapes and straight lines. It was also about the contrast and mixing unusual stones together.
For that reason, you’ll find vintage Art Deco jewelry that has diamonds and other gemstone combinations in bright colors. Platinum was the metal of choice for the time. Vintage Art Deco diamonds are one of the most sought-after pieces on the market.
Retro Era (1940 – 1960)
The Post-WWII era was a bridge between the old and modern worlds. That’s why jewelry from this era carries the influence of both.
Just before the great marketing campaign that popularized diamonds, other gemstones such as emeralds and amethysts were very common.
Advantages of Buying a Vintage Diamond
The number one reason to buy a vintage diamond is that you like the stone’s shape and style. That said, there are other reasons to consider. The craftsmanship of the vintage diamond might not be as perfect as the cut a machine produces.
But that’s precisely why it’s so special. All the imperfections and asymmetry that so many people can’t stand is what others will adore. A vintage diamond has its own personality.
In addition, an antique or vintage diamond is, by definition, environmentally friendly. If you’re buying a new diamond, you also have to think about the process of mining, shipping, and processing.
All of this causes a lot of waste. With a vintage diamond, all of that has already taken place.
If you’re worried about the budget, you’ll be pleased to know that vintage diamonds are often much cheaper than new pieces. Of course, that doesn’t include incredibly rare stones with even rarer colors.
Disadvantages of Buying a Vintage Diamond
If you already have your mindset on buying a vintage diamond, it’s unlikely you’ll ever regret it. But keep in mind that if you’re looking for the sparkliest diamond with the brightest color, vintage will likely disappoint you. That’s not their main appeal. Some vintage diamonds come with splintered facets, but it isn’t the standard.
Also, some vintage diamonds might show signs of damage. It’s very rare, but it’s worth always checking before purchasing. This is not a good sign if you’re looking for a stone to put on an engagement ring, for example. If you’re buying a vintage diamond from an unreputable seller this can be a serious problem, but if you’re buying from a respectable vintage seller they will always check their diamonds before buying or selling.
Finally, you might find it challenging to maintain your vintage diamond. Especially if you want to use it to create a unique piece of jewelry. Finding an expert that can help you choose the setting and explain the best way to take care of your stone is essential.
Rules of Design with Vintage Diamonds
It goes without saying that to create a jewelry item with your vintage diamond, it’s best to talk to an expert.
Preferably someone who has worked with vintage diamonds before and who knows what to focus on. But it can be beneficial to keep in mind several rules that anyone who wants to buy a vintage diamond should know.
No Mixing Old with New Diamonds
Don’t use your vintage diamond with other diamond cuts, especially modern ones. You run the risk of your lower sparkle vintage diamond being outshone next to the flashing sparkle of the contemporary diamond.
Focus on the Details
Choosing a design that will accentuate your vintage diamond is vital. That means hand engraving, fancy details, and other decorative techniques. Vintage diamonds are unique but not flashy, so thoughtful details count a lot.
Disguise the Inclusions
If you’ve found a fantastic vintage diamond, but it doesn’t have great clarity, you can disguise it. If you’re customizing an engagement ring, for example, consider setting the diamond in the gallery work where you’ll have the best view of it. That way, others won’t be able to notice all the flaws in clarity.
Know Your Cut
Older cut diamonds are not the best at holding their sparkle once they get dirty. As a result, these cuts are better off in a pendant or a pair of earrings – unless it’s an engagement ring. However, if the diamond still has plenty of sparkle, they’ll be perfect for a ring too.
Talk to a Diamond Expert
If you want a piece of vintage jewelry and a diamond with a story, vintage cuts provide just that. Feel free to reach out to our diamond experts with any questions.
You can expect a response within 1 business hour.