Making the Cut: The Evolution of Diamonds

05/01/2015 01:01 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2015

Diamonds may be forever, but their preferred shape is in constant flux. As tastes and technology have progressed with time, we've seen these gems evolve from simple manual executions to dazzlingly complex designs.


Early diamond cutters had limited options compared with their contemporary counterparts; as they were equipped only to polish diamond rough, stones dating from the 1300s echo the shape of the natural crystal structure, says Katherine Palmiter, G.G., jewelry specialist at online auction house Auctionata. Later on, cutters developed more sophisticated tools to wear down the notoriously hard gemstones, using diamond dust and oil to shape and polish them.

To this day, the natural structure still governs the end result, as cutters aim to retain as much of the stone's original weight as possible. However, as faceting technology evolved, more precise cuts were able to be developed throughout the 20th century.


Modern diamond cutting was further revolutionized by scientific advancements in optics and the study of how light travels through the stone. "Marcel Tolkowsky's 1919 watershed book on the interactions between light and diamonds forever changed the way diamond rough is treated," says Palmiter. While the outline of a modern stone may be similar to an earlier shape, the facet arrangement and resulting fire and light return are as different as can be. "The perennial market favorite, the round brilliant cut, is the fruit of centuries of diamond cutting labor," she adds.

Many modern diamond cuts are variations on this very successful theme. Tolkowsky's principles have been modified for numerous diamond shapes over the years, notes Palmiter, all with the same goal: a livelier, brighter, bigger looking stone. The methods used to cut ovals, squares, pears and other shapes have all undergone radical overhauls as trends and technology changed in the last hundred years.


But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Though the cuts may change, classic shapes remain in demand, and each one enjoys periods of increased popularity. In fact, many shapes that originated centuries ago remain as desirable as those recently developed. Don't believe it? See if you can guess the date some of today's most popular styles first arrived on the market (answers below):


For information on the pieces shown above, view the online catalogue for Auctionata's May 11th Jewelry auction here.

ANSWERS: Asscher - 1902; Rose - 1500s; Baguette - 1912; Radiant - 1977; Pear - 1400s; Cushion - 1800s; Modern Oval - 1960s; Marquise - 1700s; Princess - 1960s