The Allure of Asscher Cut Diamonds

There are a number of very enchanting antique and vintage cut diamonds that we all know and love – old miners, old Europeans, rose cuts and cushion cuts to name a few. But the most coveted and hardest to find is the Asscher cut diamond – mostly because a limited number were cut in the early 20th century before production ceased. The story of the famed Asscher cut can be traced back to the Asscher family in Amsterdam in the mid 1800s.

The company was founded by Joseph Isaac Asscher in 1854 as IJ Asscher Diamond Company. As the years progressed, Joseph Isaac’s sons – Joseph and Abraham – came into the business and changed the name of the firm to the Asscher Diamond Company. The firm became one of the most prominent diamond cutting businesses in the world. By the turn of the century and early 1900s, Amsterdam was the preeminent global diamond cutting center teeming with cutters and business. And the Asscher family was at the center of it all.

Famous Diamonds

In 1903, Abraham Asscher was tapped to cut the Excelsior Diamond, which at 995-carats was the world’s largest diamond at the time. Discovered in 1893, the diamond languished in a vault for ten years due to some legal issues. When it finally came out of the vault, the diamond was cut into 11 stones, three of which were purchased by Tiffany & Co.

A couple of years later in 1905, the Excelsior’s place as the largest diamond was usurped by the Cullinan which weighed in at an astounding 3,106-carats. The Cullinan diamond was given to King Edward VII, in 1907 as a birthday gift from South Africa’s Transvaal Colony government. King Edward sought the advice of Joseph Asscher on how to best cut the diamond. After much studying and the development of some new tools to cut the diamond, Joseph Asscher cut the rock in 1908. Nine of the polished gems were presented to King Edward and remain in the British Crown Jewels today – The Great Star of Africa and the Smaller Star of Africa were the two largest. The remaining 96 smaller stones stayed with the Asscher Diamond Company as payment for services.

The Asscher Cut Debuts

In 1902, Joseph Isaac’s grandson, also named Joseph, cut the first diamonds that would bear the family name. The Asscher cut was very different from other cuts of the era which tended to be more round and curvy. The Asscher broke with tradition and was a square, with cut corners that created an octagonal shape giving it a distinctly different look and feel from other diamond cuts that were already available. The cut was so unique that Joseph Asscher had it patented, making it the world’s first patented diamond cut.

Its square shape is not the only trait that sets the Asscher cut apart from other diamonds. It was also the extraordinary sparkle of the stone that comes from the cut corners that allow more light return in the diamond. The Asscher cut is similar to an emerald cut in that they are both step cuts, however an emerald cut is rectangular. The Asscher is distinguished by 58 facets, with a high, two-step crown and a deep pavilion. When you look straight down into the diamond from the top, you will see an “X” that is formed by equidistant converging facets, earning the cut the nickname “hall of mirrors” for the amazing light reflection in the stone.

Art Deco era jewelers were enthralled by the Asscher cut and it became one of the most important diamond cuts of the day. Its square shape was new and modern at the time and its linear architectural form was the perfect complement to the straight geometric lines of the jewelry that was being made in the 1920s and 1930s. The Asscher Diamond Company was thriving.

The End and a New Beginning

When World War II ravaged Europe, the Nazis invaded Holland, stormed Amsterdam and arrested the Asscher family and most of the few hundred employees at the company, all of whom were sent to concentration camps. At the end of the war, ten surviving members of the Asscher family returned to Amsterdam as did about 15 of their cutters. The city’s diamond industry had been gutted.

The Asscher family resolved to rebuild their business. And they did, but they stopped cutting the original Asscher. In 1980 the firm was given the Dutch Royal Predicate from Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. The company changed its name to the Royal Asscher Diamond company. A number of years later the firm introduced the Royal Asscher cut, designed by Joseph Asscher’s great grandnephews, Edward and Joop, which was based on the original cut. Sixteen more facets were added to the design for a total of 74 facets that give the diamond extra shimmer.

The firm continues to cut diamonds today with the fifth and sixth generations of the family at the helm, operating at Tolstraat 127, Amsterdam, the same building where the company started in 1854.

Featured image (top of page): Asscher Cut diamond, 1.87-carats, F/VS2, set in platinum with diamonds and natural Burmese rubies, signed Yard, circa 1935, courtesy Berganza Limited.

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Allure of Vintage Diamonds

Bracelet Features Three Old European Cut Diamonds, Photo Courtesy: Global Gems

A mix of art and math, diamond cutting is a specialized skill that takes a rough rock from the ground and turns it into a dazzling object of desire. Through hundreds of years diamond cutting has evolved and changed as hand tools gave way to new technological innovations. The first diamonds were cut using hand tools and the cutter had to rely on his artistic ability and skill to cut the gems. This resulted in each diamond being slightly different with its own unique charm and personality.

Not to be confused with shape, cut is the arrangement of facets on a stone, while shape is its geometric form. Cut is very important to the appearance of a diamond. How facets are placed on a diamond impacts how much it will sparkle.

Early Diamond Cuts

Some of the first diamonds discovered in jewelry date back to the Roman era. These diamonds were in their natural rough state. Many years later the Table Cut was created and is widely considered to be the first diamond cut ever developed. The Table Cut took a rough diamond and cut off the tip of the stone, leaving a large, flat table-like area.

During the Renaissance period in the 1500s and 1600s some important diamond deposits were found in Brazil and India. Many of these diamonds made their way to Europe where skilled artisans began experimenting with ways to bring out the best attributes of these coveted gems.

These artistic experiments eventually led to the creation of the Rose Cut diamond. Developed in the 1500s, the cut got its name because it looks like a blossoming rose bud.  A Rose Cut diamond is dome shaped with a flat bottom. The dome is covered with triangular facets. Rose Cut diamonds have a lovely shimmering sparkle and a romantic, dreamy feeling.

Old Mine Cut Diamonds

While there were some intermediary steps that created new diamond cuts – such as the Mazarin that had 33 facets, the next cut to make a big impact in the diamond world was the Old Mine Cut, which first came on the scene in the 1700s. These diamond cuts follow the octahedral shape of the rough stone. Because each rough diamond is slightly different in form, Old Mine Cut diamonds can be found in round, square, cushion or rectangular shapes. They have 58 facets and are distinguished by a high crown – the top half of the diamond; small table, which is the large facet on top of the diamond and an open culet.  

When we look at a modern diamond, we are used to seeing the culet come to a point at the bottom of the stone. In an Old Mine Cut, there is no point at the bottom, instead there is a flat, open area. Since they were cut by hand, Old Mine diamond facet sizes and shapes will vary not only between stones, but also on the same stone itself.

Many Old Mine Cut diamonds were created before the advent of electricity. These diamonds were cut to be seen in candlelight and they are at their sparkling best when they are seen in that type of light, which is why they are sometimes called “candlelight diamonds”.  During the Georgian and Victorian eras, Old Mine Cut diamonds were at the height of their popularity.

Old European Cut

During the late 1800’s there was a new development in diamond faceting that led to the Old European Cut. Despite the name Old European, the cut was actually created in the United States by  business partners Henry Morse and Charles Field who established the first diamond cutting factory in the country. The diamonds were called Old European, because they were cut by people who had come to the United States from Europe.

The duo took cut parameters in a new direction focusing on smaller culets, better symmetry and smaller tables. This diamond cut became known as the Old European Cut and was much rounder in shape than its predecessor the Old Mine Cut. It also has a much smaller culet. Widely considered to be the precursor to the modern-day brilliant cut, the Old European Cut was popular in the first half of the 1900s.

Marcel Tolkowsky and the Ideal Cut

Enter mathematician and gemologist Marcel Tolkowsky. In 1919, Tolkowksy, who was working on his PhD at the University of London, did much of his research on “grinding” diamonds. His book, Diamond Design, grew out of his research and explained the best way to cut a diamond for maximum light return that creates the best sparkle, fire and brilliance. What he discovered is what we now know as the Ideal Cut. His research revealed that to coax out the best sparkle in the stone, a rough diamond needs to be cut into 58 perfectly proportioned facets. He also discovered that a diamond that was cut too deep or too shallow would lose light making it less sparkly. To this day, Tolkowsky’s Ideal Cut diamond is one of the most important modern diamond cuts.

As technology advanced and diamond cutting became more precise, diamonds began to have crisper facets and more defined lines and shapes. Yet despite these perfectly cut stones, vintage cut diamonds continue to capture the hearts and imagination of jewelry connoisseurs everywhere who love the handmade artisan feeling of these special treasures.

Authored by Amber Michelle