Wednesday, December 1, 2021

How Old is Old?



By Richard Alan

In any given week, I look at a lot of diamonds, lots and lots of diamonds. I examine them for security in their settings, which includes prong wear and tear. I examine them for damage to the diamond itself. Contrary to public belief diamonds are not unbreakable and can be chipped or severely damaged if proper care is not practiced. Those folks who believe a diamond is indestructible have been reading too many Marvel Superman comics.

I also inspect to identify questionable white stones that have been found in recently deceased Aunt Mary’s jewelry box. I inspect diamonds to assess their value for insurance appraisals, verify or condemn questionable pieces of diamond jewelry for uncertain tourist purchases while abroad.

Not to mention the innumerable folks who walk in and simply hold out their diamond ring and ask me, “what is this worth?” My favorite question is, “How old is this diamond?” Being the smart Alec I am known to be, I usually answer, “Oh, around two or three million years old I guess, give or take a few hundred thousand years!” Nevertheless it’s a good question. The “age” of a diamond can be determined by the way the diamond is cut, but it is next to impossible to narrow it down to the exact day and date unless it is a renowned gem. Obviously, certified diamonds cut within this century, purchased from a company that did the cutting should have “birth information” about an important diamond. I can usually pick the part of the century when a customer’s diamond was cut. Thus the customer can some- times figure out what ancient relative it belonged to. (I can also cheat by reading the initials and date on the inscription engraved inside the ring! This skill results in ooh’s and ahh’s of amazement!)

In a nut shell, without getting too technical, the older the diamond the more crudely it was cut. As technology progressed so did the art of diamond cutting. Diamonds before the 18th century, were odd shaped, flat on the bottom with most of the faceting resulting from the original crystal found in the mine or riverbed-not the prettiest thing. By the early 19th century the old miner cut appeared. Mankind could actually cut diamonds into shapes and add more facets to give the diamond more brilliance and sparkle. The diamond was no longer pancake shaped. This era was when the art of diamond cutting and polishing progressed dramatically.

The Belgians or Flemish were on top of their game as far as creating the best cut diamonds in the world, and they still are today. The old miner progressed into the old European cut, to the European cut and to today’s Ideal cut. I was recently asked by a customer if the diamond she



inherited from her grandmother was a “holocaust diamond.” On my close examination, my assumption was, possibly, because it was an old Euro cut. The age of the cut and polish made it feasible but without physical proof, impossible to prove.

To identify the cut of your diamond is not difficult. A magnifying glass or jeweler’s loupe would make it even easier. (I will gladly let you borrow one of mine.) There are very few diamonds circulating out there cut before the 1700’s and 1800’s. Most have been recut and resold. There are some in exhibits and personal collections.

But there are millions of old miners set in ladies’ engagement rings, gents’ rings, pendants, etc. First thing to look for is a diamond which is not perfectly round. Some can be rounded squares or as I call them “rovals,” a combination of round and rectangle.

The top of the diamond, which is known as the table, is small, the sides or edge of the gem, known as the girdle, is thickly cut. Some can be like a knife edge and will most likely be chipped from a century of wear and tear. The facets are not uniform and do not have an identical cut.

The tell tale identifier is the bottom of the diamond should have a large facet or flat spot. (a.k.a. the culet.) Normally, in modern cut diamonds there is a pointed culet. This can be seen by looking through the top of the table to the bottom of the diamond and looks like a little “window”.

As time marched on, the old European cut emerged into a form which is relatively easy to identify; more exact roundness to the diamond, a larger table and the faceting more exact and uniform. The girdle is not too thick, not too thin and the culet facet is minimal or non-existent. In fact, it is a pointed culet. The brilliance of the gem is quite remarkable.

After the 1800’s the old European progressed to what we have today, the Ideal cut, which is literally engineered, computerized cutting that maximizes brilliance, scintillation and beauty of the diamond.

Today there are numerous shapes and cuts that involve multi-faceting diamonds so that the finished product makes the old miners pale in comparison.

As for me, I love the older cut diamonds. There is a romance and history to each one which was reset and passed down from generation to generation. We have a treasure we can prove graced the hand or neck of our ancestors.

Who knows? Centuries from now the state of the art diamond cutting of today may be considered old crude cuts to our future generations.

“I never hated a man enough to give his diamonds back.” – Zsa Zsa Gabor

Richard Alan is a Designer /Gold- smith and the owner of The Harbor Goldsmith of Marco Island and welcomes your questions about “All That Glitters” at 239-394-9275 and

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