Replacing Diamonds in Antique and Estate Jewelry

When a piece of antique or estate jewelry requires replacement of a missing diamond, you’re generally dealing with rose cuts, old mine cuts, or old European cuts. Art nouveau (1890-1915), Edwardian (1901-1914), and many art deco (1920-1935) jewelry pieces contain these older diamond cut styles. The challenge comes in finding a diamond to match the rest of the piece and paying the right price once you do.

Rose cuts. The rose cut was introduced in the 16th century, when the rudimentary sawing of diamonds first became feasible. Diamond crystals were sawn in half, leaving two stones, each with a flat bottom and a pointed top.

It’s called a rose cut because it resembles an unopened rosebud, with small, symmetrically placed triangular facets rising to a pointed dome over a flat base. The standard rose cut can have 12, 16, 24, or even 36 triangular facets. The name “rose cut” also applies to diamonds so small – less than 0.01 ct. – that they can barely be faceted, often showing only one, two, or three facets.

You may encounter estate pieces in which “single cuts” – small modern rounds with nine crown facets and eight pavilion facets – have replaced missing rose cuts. To restore the beauty of the original piece, you must replace these modern stones with the old style. Rose-cut diamond jewelry is appreciated because of its appearance, not despite it. “I like their lack of brilliance, the wateriness of rose cuts,” says one antique jewelry dealer.

The supply of loose antique rose-cut diamonds is limited. Rose cuts often turn up in unappreciated estate pieces sold for scrap value. Diamonds cut in this style, assumed to be worthless, are removed and never seen again. Larger rose cuts are commonly recut to modern styles. As a result, when jewelers need rose cuts for repairing estate jewelry, there are only a few suppliers with adequate stock.

Edith Weber, a jewelry historian and owner of Edith Weber Antique Jewelry in New York, has saved many antiques from oblivion. It’s not unusual for clients to show her an 18th-century piece set with rose cuts that a local merchant deemed worthless. Stephen Kilnisan of Babylon Traders in Hoboken, N.J., a specialist in antique and estate jewelry, agrees that the older cuts are hard to find but worth the effort to search for and save.

Determining what you should pay for rose-cut diamonds isn’t easy. Large rose cuts are rare and valuable. Smaller, well-made stones may seem costly, but set in a fine early piece they become even more valuable. The jewelry in which they’re used is worth more than the sum of its parts.

David Atlas, an old-cut diamond trader in Philadelphia, says that while stated values of rose cuts can range from $150 per carat up to $1,000 per carat, the market determines the real worth.

Michael Goldstein of Michael Goldstein Ltd. in New York, an antique diamond dealer, notes that there’s a new demand for rose cuts among today’s jewelry designers. Reportedly, some Indian diamond manufacturers are again producing the antique rose cut in calibrated sizes.

Old mine and old European cuts. “Brilliant-cut” diamonds (having 58 or more facets) date back to around 1700. Diamond cutters would retain most of the predominantly octahedral-shaped rough crystals by sawing off a small portion of the top pyramid, according to Gail Brett Levine, G.G., estate jewelry appraiser and publisher of the Auction Market Resource for Gems and Jewelry. The earliest such brilliants have a blocky appearance from the octahedron’s outline and are now referred to as square, or elongated, cushion antiques. By the early 1800s, the antique cut’s squarish corners had become subtly more rounded.

The term “old mine cut” dates from the late 19th century and distinguishes diamonds from Brazil and India, the world’s oldest mining sites, from those from the newer South African mines dating from the late 1800s. At that time, diamond cutters were producing an even more rounded outline, today known as “old European cuts.”

The cushion-shaped old mine cut differs from the old European’s round outline. The old mine cut has four skinny mains, kite-shaped facets on both the crown and pavilion in the corners of the squarish outline. Both diamond cuts have small tables and large culets by today’s standards. Because of its thick, high crown and deep pavilion, the old miner is a prime target for recutting, easily refashioned into a modern round brilliant. “This makes the old mine an endangered species among vintage diamond cuts,” laments Levine.

Establishing the price of an old brilliant-cut diamond is difficult. Atlas has bought and sold old cuts since the early 1980s. He compiles a comprehensive list for retail jewelers, from .01-ct. sizes up to 5 cts. and larger. It’s a daunting task. “I still go through the same mental-hoops process every few months when I re-create and reevaluate the listings,” he says.

The match game. Merely locating a rose, old mine, or old European cut is not challenging. There are dozens of diamond wholesalers with small inventories of older-make stones. However, if you’re looking for a replacement that must match other diamonds in the piece, there are very few dealers with strong inventories to help you.

When matching diamonds, you need to know what you have in order to know what to get. First, evaluate the quality of the mounted stones for clarity, color, and cut. The two quality factors most difficult to find in older cuts are color, specifically high color, and cut, especially fine makes.

Most appraisers agree that mounted old-cut diamonds appear at least two color grades better than what they actually grade. “White goods” (colorless and near colorless diamonds) are scarce, even more so than higher-clarity goods, notes Atlas. These include everything from J color and higher. As for cut, finding perfectly symmetrical rose cuts, for example, is asking for the impossible. Weber notes that diamond faceting was still in its infancy when these antique cuts were made. You need to consider what’s acceptable today vs. what was possible back then.

Finally, you must decide on the replacement diamond’s description. Are you looking for an old miner or an old European, an older square antique, or a more modern transitional cut? Focus on the girdle outline, since this will need to fit into the often irregularly shaped hole in which the now-missing stone was mounted. Suppliers also appreciate measurements along with the description. Carat weights are optional, since most old-cut stones, whether due to their lumpy nature or to the flat bottom of a rose cut, appear much different from their actual weight.

Once you’ve found a match, knowing whether the asking price is a fair one can be tricky. “The key determinant of price is how difficult it will be to find,” says Goldstein. “Finding matching stones in multiples is very hard.” Expect to pay more. A quality diamond is a quality diamond, but the failure also to consider rarity, aesthetic value, and antiquity – and instead rely solely on the diamond’s quality grade – often leads to undervaluation of antique diamond jewelry.

Repairing chipped diamonds. Gemologists used to be taught to evaluate the potential of an old-cut diamond to be recut into a modern round brilliant. With more trade knowledge and appreciation for antique and period jewelry, the older-style diamonds are being evaluated for what they are, not what they might be.

However, some older cuts are so badly chipped or poorly fashioned that they must be recut. But that doesn’t mean they have to be recut to modern proportions. Uri Uralevich of Diamond Manufacturers in Los Angeles recuts old diamonds for estate and antique dealers. “Jewelers who have antique lines put the [repaired] old miners back into the original mountings,” says Uralevich. “Some jewelers have their older diamonds repolished just to make them brighter and whiter.”

That’s not to say that cutters don’t get old-cut stones for recutting to modern styles. Many stones are too badly damaged to repair. And since some jewelers simply don’t appreciate the older styles, recutting to modern round brilliants is a common practice. According to Goldstein, stones of L-M-N color and darker are worth far more as old stones than as modern cuts and therefore should not be recut. The value added to the individual diamonds by recutting does not always match or enhance the value of the item from which they were removed had it been left intact.

Locating old-cut stones. You can find old-cut diamonds in JCK’s 1999 Jeweler’s Directory under “Loose Stones – Old Cut.” You can also explore the Internet using keywords such as “rose-cut diamonds,” “old mine-cut diamonds,” and “old European-cut diamonds.” Other useful resources include the American Society of Jewelry Historians in New Rochelle, N.Y., (212) 744-3691; the Estate Jewelers Association of America in San Francisco, (415) 834-0718; David Atlas in Philadelphia, (800) 441-1312; Babylon Traders in Hoboken, N.J., (201) 659-0802; Michael Goldstein Ltd. in New York, (800) 235-6581; and Broff’s Inc. in Pittsburgh, (800) 245-6558.

Special thanks to Gail Brett Levine for her contributions to this article.

Old European Cut Diamond Selling Prices*

.23-.29 ct. .30-.36 ct. .50-.59 ct. .70-.84 ct. 1.00 ct.-1.49 cts.
D-F
VVS-VS** $1,170 $2,340-$1,605 $3,775-$2,305 $4,510-$2,905 $7,665-$4,445
SI 740 1,235 1,770 2,305 3,560
I1 525 805 1,145 1,465 2,165
G-I
VVS-VS 880 1,815-1,100 2,790-1,590 3,320-2,065 5,115-3,460
SI 655 1,005 1,460 1,950 3,250
I1 475 630 925 1,255 1,885
J-L
VVS-VS 725 1,170-780 1,590-1,165 2,015-1,430 3,325-2,525
SI 595 715 1,100 1,365 2,315
I1 440 480 720 915 1,525
*Old mine cut and poorly cut are 10% to 50% less.
** When a range of prices is given, the VVS price is stated first and the VS price second.
Courtesy of D. Atlas Inc., Philadelphia

A Tale of Two Diamonds: The Regent and the Tiffany

Two of the world’s most famous old-cut diamonds are the Regent, an old mine-cut diamond, and the Tiffany, a fancy yellow square antique double brilliant. Both have had an eventful history.

The Regent originated in 1701 as a 410-ct. rough stone, one of the last large Indian crystals from the Golconda mines. Through clandestine escapades, it made its way into the hands of Thomas Pitt, the governor of the British outpost at Madras in India (and the grandfather of American revolutionary William Pitt).

Pitt shipped the rough crystal to England, where it was fashioned into the 140.50-ct. cushion-shaped brilliant we know today. This diamond was acquired in 1717 by the Duke of Orléans, the regent of France who ruled on behalf of 7-year-old King Louis XV.

Still, it’s not certain whether the Regent Diamond was named for the Duke of Orléans or an earlier regent, Cardinal Mazarin, who served under Louis XIV. Mazarin was credited with designing the 34-facet precursor to the 58-facet brilliant cut (the “old mine cut”). Mazarin died in 1661 and willed to the French Crown 18 famous diamonds, including the Sancy, a 55.23-ct. double rose cut pear shape, and the 20-ct. rectangular table-cut Mirror of Portugal (later known as the 10th Mazarin).

The Regent’s ceremonial status began when it was mounted in the crown of King Louis XIV for the coronation of King Louis XV. The diamond was later pawned to help finance the French Revolution. It ultimately found its way back to the French court and into the hands of Napoleon and Empress Eugenie. Today, the Regent Diamond resides in the Louvre and is considered one of France’s great national treasures.

The Tiffany Diamond. In 1877, just four years after its discovery, the South African Kimberley diamond mine yielded a 287.42-ct. fancy yellow rough diamond, one of the largest fancy yellow diamonds in the world. Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of Tiffany & Co., purchased the rough for $18,000 – a real bargain by today’s equivalent of just over $270,000. He gave the yellow diamond to his newly hired gemologist, 23-year-old George F. Kunz, to have the gem cut in Paris.

The Tiffany Diamond’s facet arrangement was a 90-facet brilliant. The cutters began with the standard brilliant style (the old mine cut) and then added facets by horizontally dividing the bezel facets on the crown, creating a total of 41 crown facets. They also added 24 facets to the standard pavilion, horizontally dividing the pavilion mains, adding eight half mains, and placing long, thin, horizontal lower-girdle facets atop the normal lower girdles, for a total of 49 pavilion facets. This transformed the 287.42-ct. rough into a 128.54-ct. modified “square antique double brilliant.”

The Tiffany Diamond has never been sold, although for one brief 24-hour period, on Nov. 17, 1972, a Tiffany ad in the New York Times offered the diamond for sale at $5 million.

Only two women have ever worn the Tiffany Diamond. Mrs. Sheldon Whitehouse, chairwoman of the Tiffany Ball in Newport, R.I., wore it in 1957, and in 1961 Audrey Hepburn wore it for publicity photos for the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Auction Sales Results of Old European Diamond Jewelry

Carat Weight Hammer Price Price per Carat Color Clarity
.65 $1,232.15 $1,896 Off white VS
1.25 3,737.50 2,990 Off white SI
1.50 3,162.50 2,108 Some color brown SI
1.75 4,928.60 2,816 Off white SI
1.85 12,650.00 6,838 White VS
2.00 7,187.00 3,594 Off white SI
2.69 13,800.00 5,130 Off white VS
Source: Auction Market Resource, December 1998

Auction Sales Results of Old Mine Diamond Jewelry

Carat Weight Hammer Price Price per Carat Color Clarity
2.92 $10,350 $3,545 Off white VS
3.01 9,200 3,056 Off white SI
Source: Auction Market Resource, December 1998

Auction Sales Results of Certificated Old Style Diamond Jewelry

Cut Carat Weight Hammer Price Price per Carat Color Clarity
OE 5.18 27,600 $5,328 I SI2
OM 6.79 74,000 10,898 G SI1
OE 13.57 54,050 3,983 S-T VS1
Source: Auction Market Resource, December 1998