The Glow of the Past: Diamond

Octahedron diagram

Diamonds have been valued for their brilliance since ancient times. Greeks and Romans described this gem using the word adimant or adimantum, meaning unvanquished, most likely referring to the stone’s hardness. Some linguists believe that our word for diamond comes from the French word diamant, which is their adaptation of adimantum.

But enough linguistics.

  The ancients mounted natural diamond crystals in their jewelry, having no way to facet this material, but it is fascinating to know that, even in their most basic form, diamonds have always been “a girl’s best friend.”

Recently, I was given the opportunity to show some true antique diamonds to a woman interested in making a ring using historical material, and not just new diamond rough cut into a modern version of an antique shape. So I dove into history and learned some new things which I wanted to pass along to you.

First, there was no such thing as the “Four C’s.” No one cared about the whiteness or the clarity of the stone to the same degree as we are told to care now. The crowd-pleaser was brilliance or sparkle. Prior to 1894, there were no electrical powered cutting machines, so the most common shape was the cushion, a square with rounded corners. The cushion was the easiest to form because it followed the natural lines of most diamond crystals, which are octahedral. Early diamond cutters maximized the weight of the stone which explains why antique stones are so deep.

The table (topmost flat surface) of the diamond was kept small to retain weight and to allow the facet patterns to be executed. Diamonds in the 1800’s were meant to be worn in dim light (think gaslight and candles) where the stone’s glow was maximized by the faceting pattern. Round brilliant-cut diamonds came to be in the early 1900’s.

Antique diamonds allow us to own a piece of jewelry history and, simultaneously, be environmentally responsible by reusing an old stone. In my market research, large, antique diamonds are much less expensive than modern-day diamonds, which is something else to consider if you are looking for a larger stone.

I loved learning that we can buy gorgeous, unset, antique diamonds. I was fortunate enough to meet one of the leading dealers in this category and it was from his stock that I brought home some diamonds to show. This not only gives us the opportunity to custom-design a modern setting that unites the original and new owners, but it also avoids paying for an existing setting that might be very worn, fragile, or unattractive.

I love the idea that we can own something that is not produced anymore and valued for the delight it has provided for decades, not for the prescribed values we are “supposed” to have now.


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