The beauty of an old mine cut diamond lies in its imperfections. Handcrafted by a diamond cutter following the raw crystal’s natural octahedral shape (picture two pyramids back to back) and bringing out the particular architectural artistry that lies within each diamond. It was all about aesthetics and the cool incandescence that glowed from within. Symmetry and uniformity were of no concern in those romantic times.
The old mine cut diamond calls to mind the romantic arts of the Georgian and Victorian eras: the poetry of Byron, paintings of Goya and musical compositions of Chopin. No wonder that, even with its imperfections, it remains a coveted gemstone. What a glorious origin!
HISTORY OF THE OLD MINE CUT
Though diamonds have been around for millions (maybe billions) of years, the first mention of them appears in records found in India, the site of the first diamond mines, that date back to the 4th century BCE.
But it was not until the 14th century CE that craftsmen began to shape and polish the beautiful crystals—just enough to smooth out some surface blemishes and bring out the shine.
And it was not until the 18th century that techniques, as comparatively simple as they still were, progressed enough to be able to fashion the old mine cut diamond, its ability to reflect light a crucial development in diamond cutting.
The diamond cutter handcrafted the stone by grinding two diamonds together, then handed it over to the diamond polisher—the whole process was a time- and labor-intensive endeavor that produced a square-ish stone with slightly rounded corners (similar to the cushion cut today).
Unlike the mechanically cut and polished diamonds of today, however, no two old mine cut diamonds were alike. There was no symmetry, no uniformity in the dimensions nor in the color nor in the glow emanating from the stone. And in the imperfections lies the beauty of the old mine cut, the most commonly worn gemstone throughout the Georgian (1714-1837) and Victorian (1837-1901) eras.
[Read: Vintage Jewelry Design Periods]
The name, “old mine cut,” came about after diamond mines were discovered in South Africa in the mid-19th century. Stones sourced from the first mines that were located in India and Brazil were said to be from the “old mines.”
The old mine cuts remained the crème de la crème of gemstones until the late 19th century, though they shared center stage with old European cut diamonds until both were rendered obsolete by the creation of the round brilliant cut in 1919.
OLD MINE CUT VS. OLD EUROPEAN CUT
The old mine cut is the granddaddy of the old European cut, so naturally, there are similarities.
Both are hand-cut with wider and more geometric facets than today’s diamonds and both crafted to dazzle under the lower light conditions of the times. Each individual old mine cut and old European cut is unique.
The primary difference in the two cuts is the shape: the old mine cut, as we’ve already seen, similar to today’s cushion cut; the old European cut round.
Cutting techniques had advanced by the late 19th century, and cutters used a wheel to create round shapes and elongated facets. The old European cut was more refined, more symmetrical than the “chunky” old mine cut with its uneven facet junctures.
[Read: Basic Guide to Diamond Cuts]
Both cuts have 58 facets, a high crown, small table, deep pavilion, and flat culet.
In the European cut, however, the table is larger and the pavilion better proportioned—significant differences that allow more light into the diamond, resulting in more reflected brilliance.
HOW THE 4C’S APPLY TO AN OLD MINE CUT DIAMOND
Today, all diamonds are ranked according to cut, color, clarity and carat weight. The hand-crafted and unique old mine cuts do not fit into those categories (except for carat weight).
How can you rank any gemstone that is like no other? You can’t. Back in the days of the old mine cuts, the aesthetic appeal was all that mattered.
We have addressed the cut and the shape. When the facets are paired with a deep pavilion, there is a greater play of light within the diamond. The more refined the cut, the more glow—both measured only by the eye, as the diamond cutter did.
Old mine cut diamonds have a hint of color to them—a warm tone that, for one thing, assures you that the stone is authentic. It is also a part of its character, and if you get past the general preference for today’s blindingly white diamonds, you may find that the warmth of the stone makes it more beautiful than the icy white stones.
There were no 10x microscopes around in the 18th and 19th centuries; no one was searching deep into the diamond for inclusions. The diamond cutter had only his eyes to determine what needed to go and what needed to stay, as he brought out the beauty and character of a stone. That’s all you need also. What is pleasing to your eye is all that matters.
Make sure you view the stone in different lighting conditions, certainly away from the fluorescent lights in a jewelry store, tilting it this way and that to see its unique play of light.
Carat weight is the simplest aspect of any diamond. It weighs what it weighs. One carat today is the same as one carat four hundred years ago. You need only decide what weight stone you prefer.
BUYING AN OLD MINE CUT ENGAGEMENT RING
Your future bride is her own person. She spurns designer labels and anything that hints of status seeking. She is a romantic who appreciates the history that a piece of jewelry carries with it and handcrafted over mass-produced.
In other words, you want to propose with an old mine cut diamond engagement ring, so you can be sure that no one else in this world has ever had or will ever have one like it. It is, indeed, a small work of art.
In addition to the advice contained in the 4Cs section, we have a few other tips for you.
TIPS ON BUYING AN OLD MINE CUT DIAMOND RING
- Be prepared to be patient. Old mine cut diamonds are scarce. They stopped being cut more than 100 years ago—all the more reason that your lady will cherish it.
- The girdle (the widest part of the diamond) of an old mine cut may be very thin. Look carefully to make sure that the girdle is fully protected by the setting—there is no edge exposed.
- Even though the diamond will last forever, a setting might not, e.g., the Victorian filigree settings. Look for worn spots. You want a ring that can be worn every day without concern.
- The best advice, however, is to work with a reputable jeweler who specializes in vintage jewelry. Nothing will give you more confidence in the old mine cut diamond ring you choose than being guided by a knowledgeable and trusted vendor.
We hope you enjoyed this article, and if you did, make sure to share it with your vintage loving friends! If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below, we always answer.
Happy Vintage Shopping,