Expert Guide to Old European Cut Diamonds

The diamond cutting process is complex. Over hundreds of years, diamond cutting technology has evolved to allow cutters to work with more precision resulting in brighter, more scintillating, and more brilliant diamonds. A timeline of diamonds from different periods, each with distinctive appearance, records this technological advancement. And though the aspects of light performance have been effectively optimized in the modern brilliant cut, there remains a market for antique cut diamonds, reminiscent of the romantic candlelit days of bygone times. One such diamond, is the old European cut.

What are Old European Cut Diamonds?

Succeeding the old mine cut diamond, old European cut diamonds hit their height of popularity in the late 19th to mid 20th century. They presented a rounder shape than mine cut diamonds but retained the large culet and small table. Old European cut diamonds were cut and measured using nothing more than the cutters eye; the result is a diamond with a truly ‘hand-made’ appearance and wide variances. For many, it is this rudimental craftsmanship and the unique nature of the old European cut diamond that makes them appealing. The scientific, technological process for cutting and polishing modern diamonds stands in contrast to this more hands-on approach; you can read about the fascination transition of rough to polished diamonds in this article.
Old European Cut Diamond
Image courtesy of GIA
There is a heritage that connects the old European cut to the modern round brilliant; it was one of the precursors for the diamonds which we know and love today. Both are round and have 58 facets. However, there are also some distinct differences.

Old European Cut Diamonds VS Modern Round Brilliant Diamonds

The key differences between the old European cut and modern round brilliants are indicative of a cutting process that relied on instinct rather than precision, and was the standard for beauty during this period.
Table: Perhaps the most obvious difference of all is table size – the largest facet on the diamond’s top. Old European cuts have very small tables, sometimes a little as 38% of the diamond’s diameter. The optimal range for table size of a modern round brilliant is between 53%-58%.
Culet: Old European diamonds also have a large culet (the facet on the point at the bottom of the diamond) and it is visible when viewing the diamond through the table. Modern round brilliants are crafted with no culet (pointed), or a very small culet.
Symmetry and Precision: Due to the process of cutting by hand, old European cut diamonds do not possess the optical symmetry and precision of a modern brilliant.
Light play: The larger, face up patterns of old European cut diamonds gives them a quality described as ‘inner fire’. In all diamonds there is a necessity to balance white light with contrast (dark areas). An old European cut displays a dramatic version of this, displaying dark and light patterning in a ‘checkerboard’ effect. Modern round brilliants display smaller more regular bursts of scintillation, while older cuts return ‘chunkier’ flashes of light to the eye in a more random way. Fans of these early diamond cuts particularly enjoy seeing the larger colored sparkles (fire) that can sometimes be seen in certain lighting conditions.
Cut for Color: Modern round brilliants are (as the name suggests) cut for brilliance. Their hypnotic sparkle is the result of a delicate balancing act that allows fire, brilliance and scintillation to be unleashed in a synergistic fashion. We often speak of round brilliants as being ‘forgiving’ when it comes to color, allowing a diamond that is a little yellow to face up white. By maximizing brightness, the modern round returns much more ambient light to the eye, thereby camouflaging some of its yellow body color. An old European cut tends to reveals body color more readily than a modern round.
Modern Round Brilliant
The facet arrangement of a modern round brilliant diamond. Image courtesy of GIA
Old European Cut
The facet arrangement of an Old European Diamond. Image courtesy of GIA
To fully understand the remarkable transition from early cuts to the modern round brilliant, our Round Cut Diamond Buying Guide is a must read. It shows how these transitional diamonds paved the way for sparkling optics and light performance that we enjoy today, and how to find the best of the best.

Old European Cut Diamonds: Buyers Perspective

Personal taste is the foundation of any diamond buying decision. The imprecise nature of a European cut combined with its shortcomings from contemporary cut quality standards means they are no longer on the radar of most modern buyers. However, the niche for vintage cuts is small but powerful, and if you are enamored with the subtle, hand-cut appearance of an old European cut, then perhaps nothing else will do.
In the most basic terms, most modern buyers want a bright, fiery diamond with a fantastic sparkle. Our A CUT ABOVE® hearts and arrows diamonds and their stringent specifications are the culmination of technical diamond cutting, taking the transitional diamonds of the past and fully optimizing their light performance. The blockier appearance of an old European cut combined with their unforgiving nature when it comes to revealing body color limits their popularity in the market today. There also comes complication with assessing overall quality; the proportions of each old European cut differ drastically. Due to this lack of conformity, the GIA do not offer cut grades for old European cut diamonds. You can buy old European cut diamonds with a GIA certificate based on these rules of thumb, but you will also need to see the diamond with your own eyes as these specs will not reliably convey the overall eye appeal of an older cut.
  • Table size: less than or equal to 53 percent
  • Crown angle: greater than or equal to 40 degrees
  • Lower half facet length: less than or equal to 60 percent
  • Culet size: slightly large or larger
A lab report on an old diamond is not indicative of beauty; rather it simply confirms the diamond falls into the category of an old European cut and provides identifying characteristics.
There is an alluring interplay of risk and reward when buying vintage diamond cuts. They are best assessed by eye and need not conform to any set parameters. Some buyers love this focus on character and “personality” rather than on specifications, despite the shortfalls that deficits in technical light performance often cause. Choosing a vintage diamond is driven by personal desire, and the old European cut certainly embodies a special romance that is so intrinsically linked with diamonds.

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