The briolette takes its name from an 1860s French alteration of brignolette (“little dried plum”). Today, it’s as popular a cutting design as it has ever been—and it’s been around for centuries. Commonly defined in Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language as “any pear-shape gem having its entire surface cut with tiny triangular facets,” the briolette is actually more complicated. Most gem book definitions will add descriptors such as “tear drop,” “pendant,” and having “brilliant facets.”
But cutters and wholesalers also describe as briolettes faceted gems that have been drilled off center or suspended, so today’s definition focuses more on how the gemstone hangs rather than how it is shaped. Whether spherical, flat, round, or elongated (horizontally or vertically), if a faceted gemstone is suspended and most of the gemstone hangs below the suspension point, it’s considered a briolette.
Famous briolettes. The 90.38-ct. Briolette of India may be the most important briolette in the world, not only for its size and D-color but also for its colorful—and phony—history. Among the famous falsehoods: It’s the oldest diamond on record, older than the Koh-i-noor (14th century); Eleanor of Aquitaine brought the stone to England, and her son, King Richard the Lionhearted, took it with him on the Crusades. Laurence Krashes, author of Harry Winston, the Ultimate Jeweler, discovered that, in fact, the briolette was first cut in Paris in 1908.
Winston bought the briolette in 1947, sold it to an Indian maharaja, and repurchased it in 1956 after the maharaja died. Winston sold it again, to Mrs. I.W. Killam, and bought it back in 1967 when Mrs. Killam died. Winston sold it in 1971 to a European family, and it has been with that family ever since.
Other famous briolettes, some single stones and some groups of stones, are mounted in significant pieces of jewelry. The Smithsonian’s gem and jewelry collection, for example, has two important necklaces sporting diamond briolettes. One, previously owned by Napoleon I, was given to Empress Marie-Louise to celebrate the birth of their son. The 47-diamond necklace (275 cts. t.w.) went to the Archduchess of Austria in 1847. One hundred years later, it was purchased from Prince Franz Joseph II of Liechtenstein. Harry Winston acquired the necklace in 1960 and sold it to Marjorie Merriweather Post (owner of the Eugenie Blue), who donated it to the Smithsonian.
The second important Smithsonian briolette-set piece is the Inquisition necklace, an emerald and diamond jewel with 16 barrel-shaped diamond briolettes. It was donated through Harry Winston and appeared in his traveling exhibit “The Court of Jewels” from 1949 through 1953.
Color. The most popular color for briolettes this year is a lavender amethyst mined in Brazil, says Harsheel Shah, vice president of Prijems, Los Angeles, specialists in briolettes. The next most popular color is London blue topaz. Pink is next, including sapphire and rubellite. Other fancy color sapphires follow.
Cutting. The most common briolette gem design is a three-dimensional rounded teardrop, heavier at the bottom, tapering toward the top, and covered with diamond-shaped facets. The tapered top is typically drilled to accommodate a wire or post. Briolettes usually are used as drop pendants and earrings and occasionally in bracelets and even rings.
There are two directions for drilling. Horizontal drilling allows for wire or jump rings for mounting. Vertical drilling accommodates a post, which is then glued into the hole. In both cases, a metal cap is commonly glued and placed over the drilled section of the briolette. Some briolette tops are left rough or preformed to allow for a better epoxy hold.
While many of today’s briolettes are cut in India, Idar-Oberstein has a long history of cutting briolettes, and Idar’s cutters continue—on a much smaller scale—to cut some of the world’s finest.
Quality. To check for cutting quality, Shah notes, the teardrop should be perfectly symmetrical. Touch is important. It should feel smooth all the way around. Facets should line up side to side and front to back, so one can look directly through the stone. Ask yourself whether the facets match. Is it a perfect round teardrop? Does the briolette go to a fine point at the top, or is it flattened to hide the asymmetrical faceting?
Weights and prices. Most jewelers are familiar with the sizes and weights of traditional round brilliants, so it’s important to remember that the weight of every gem briolette is approximately twice what it appears to be. For example, a 4 x 6 round teardrop amethyst briolette would weigh approximately 0.55 carats, while a 5 x 7 would weigh approximately 0.90 carats.
This optical illusion also affects how one calculates the cost of a necklace of briolettes. For example, 5 x 7 lavender amethyst briolettes at .90 cts. each could range in price, depending on quality, from approximately $1.75/ct. to $3/ct. That sounds relatively cheap, until it’s multiplied by 90 pieces in the strand. That equals $270 without stringing and clasp.
A larger amethyst briolette pendant—such as a flat teardrop briolette measuring 22 mm by 16 mm wide—would weigh approximately 20 cts. In a single large-stone order like this, the width measurement isn’t usually mentioned. Larger flat teardrops, measuring 30 mm in length, would weigh approximately 45 cts. Again, the width, approximately 20 mm in a well-made stone, would typically not be mentioned.
A 4 x 6 strand of round teardrop London blue topaz briolettes would be approximately 55 cts., or an average of 0.65 cts. per stone. A 5 x 7 strand of round teardrop briolettes would be approximately 90 cts., or an average of 1.10 cts. per piece.
There is a huge price range for London blue topaz, typically $1.50/ct. all the way up to $7.50/ct. The above-mentioned strand, weighing 90 cts. and priced at $7.50/ct., would run $675.
A flat teardrop briolette measuring 20 mm would weigh approximately 20 cts. A 25-mm briolette would weigh approximately 50 cts. Large high-end deep blues, typically special requests, are priced separately.
Care and cleaning. Proper care and cleaning will depend ultimately on the variety of gem material used. That said, because the briolette is mostly exposed, one should always be careful not to knock the gems against any hard object, especially when set as a bracelet or in the manner that has been seen in some Brazilian-designed rings. As with pearls, take added precautions to keep briolette jewelry separate from other jewelry in the jewelry box.
The greatest danger for a briolette, even more than chipping the teardrop, is in damaging the drill hole. Because the gem material is at its thinnest at the drill hole, the gem is more likely to be damaged here than anywhere else. And because of enormous weight loss when repairing a damaged drill hole, the briolette will most likely have to be replaced.
Special thanks to Harsheel J. Shah, vice president, sales and marketing, for Prijems Inc., Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 489-1234, or visit www.prijems.com.
To contact the Meridian Collection, call (888) 890-2323 or visit www.themeridiancollection.com. Jude Frances Designs can be reached at (949) 759-8005 or online at www.judefrances.com. Contact Pala International at (800) 854-1598 or online at www.palagems.com. Michael Goldstein can be reached in Manhattan at (800) 235-6581 and on the Web at www.antiquediamond.com.