The Magic is in the Cut

When it comes to the 4C’s – carat weight, color, clarity and cut — cut is perhaps the most important one. Whether you are aware of it or not, you’re noticing cut, it’s what makes a stone sparkle spectacularly or fall flat. You may look at a diamond and think it looks amazing, or you may look at it and think that something is not quite right —  again it is often cut that you are perceiving. Legendary diamantaire William Goldberg was a strong proponent of cut bringing out the beauty in a diamond and he coined the eponymous firm’s tagline “The Magic is in the Make”. Make is a diamond dealer’s shorthand for cut.

What is Cut?

So what exactly does cut mean? Cut is the arrangement of facets on a stone, while shape is the geometric form – round, pear, marquise, etc. — that is created during the cutting process. Cut is what gives a stone sparkle and brilliance – the return of white light that makes a diamond bright and lively. A skilled diamond cutter can take a rough diamond that is not so great and make it into an amazing gem. So what exactly is a good cut and how does a cutter know what to do?

Master diamond cutter William Lopez, of William Goldberg  talks about what he looks for when he starts to cut a diamond. “When I look at any rough diamond, I decide what will be the biggest, cleanest stone that I can get from the rough,” explains Lopez, who has been cutting diamonds for 52 years. “Then I look at the options, will it be round, emerald or cushion and I give my opinion as to the best way to cut the rough.”

Cut Gives Diamonds Character

According to Saul Goldberg, president of William Goldberg and the second generation in the family business, cut is subjective, each person will have a different opinion about what they like. Cut, he says, is what gives a diamond its character. “A diamond can look great on paper, such as a 10-carat D, flawless, but if it doesn’t have the right cut, it won’t look right when you see it.”

Referencing fancy shape diamonds (anything that is not round) William Goldberg, executive vice president Barry Berg, notes that “the brilliance and life of a diamond is determined by the cut, each cut has to be shaped a certain way to look its best.” That means that not only do the facets on the diamond need to be placed optimally, but the end result has to have the right proportions. Those proportions will vary depending upon the shape of the stone, but generally you want a gem that is not stubby or too elongated.  

“With cut you are trying to get the best brilliance and refraction of light,” agrees Lopez, whose father was a diamond cutter who learned the trade in Puerto Rico and then came to New York City to work. “A cutter is dealing with angles. Top to bottom and bottom to top, certain angles reflect light better. If a stone is too deep on the bottom it will be dark, if it is too shallow it will look glassy. There has to be light bouncing back from the facets to create sparkle.”

Benjamin Goldberg, chief gemologist at William Goldberg is Saul’s son and the third generation to be part of the business, has a slightly different take on the topic. “Cut is a visual aspect of a stone,” he notes. “But clarity can be more important. No one wants to see imperfections.”

Still a well-cut diamond can in some instances minimize the imperfections in a diamond, depending upon where they are in a piece of rough, they can be eliminated altogether or they may land in an area of the finished diamond that is less intrusive.

What Makes a Well Cut Diamond?

So back to our first question, what makes a well cut diamond? “For me, the angles, polish and symmetry all have to be really good. I put a little bit of me into each stone,” says Lopez who learned to cut diamonds from a cutter and friend — Tony Borrero —  who worked in the shop where his dad worked. “Every cutter does something a bit different. It comes from my experience and what I’ve learned over the years. It’s almost a signature. With round stones you pretty much go by the angles, but with fancy shapes you can put more of your artistry into it.”

Ultimately the beauty of cut is, like so many other creative expressions, a highly personal decision based on your own tastes and what your eye perceives as beautiful. At William Goldberg the company principals agree that they prefer to sell a diamond in person, where someone actually looks at the stone rather than selling it based on a gemological laboratory report.

“It comes down to the beauty and character of a diamond,” concludes Saul Goldberg. “You can’t be hung up on the grading report. You have to look at the stone and see how it strikes you. Is it sexy? Does it look good? The stone will talk to you. After all the magic is in the make.”

Featured video (top of page): Diamond cutter William Lopez, from William Goldberg, cutting a diamond.

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