The history of diamond cutting is a fascinating journey that begins in the Middle Ages. Before this time -- the late 1300s -- diamonds were simply used in their natural state. A raw diamond crystal is shaped like an octahedron, which looks like two pyramids back to back.
The first methods used to enhance the natural beauty of a rough diamond took place sometime in 14th century Venice. Lapidaries polished the diamond crystal faces to smooth out the facets and remove any blemishes. This was called the point cut.
By the middle of the 15th century it was time for a change, so artisans began to improve upon the point cut. They created the table cut by removing part of the octahedron, leaving a smooth flat surface on the top. It was also around this time that the importance of a culet was discovered. A culet is a cut on the bottom of a gemstone that creates a flat surface. Its purpose is to prevent cleavage. (Culets, especially large culets, are not considered desirable by modern cutting standards.)
Meanwhile, the 15th century also saw the introduction of tools capable of continuous rotary motion -- they were propelled by an artisan kicking a wheel with his foot. These tools made it easier to grind facets into diamonds and set the stage for new diamond cuts such as the rose cut.
The rose cut diamond had a flat bottom and a domed, peaked top with facets arranged in a symmetrical radiating pattern. The earliest rose cuts had three facets. Later stones cut in this fashion had up to 24 facets.
Many large, renowned Indian diamonds of old (such as the Orlov) featured a rose-style cut. Shown belowis a picture of the Orlov Diamond in Catherine the Great's Imperial Sceptre along with an examples of rose cut diamonds from the Georgian and Victorian eras.
Brilliant cuts are important in the history of diamond cutting because they are, by far, today's most popular cut. The first brilliant cuts were introduced in the middle of the 17th century. Cardinal Mazarin is often credited as being the first to have a diamond cut into a brilliant (with 34 facets) - sometime during the reign of Louis XIII. But then there was also a Venetian stone cutter named Vincenzo Peruzzi who was the first person to cut diamonds with 56 facets, a table, and a culet. When compared to the modern round brilliant, the Peruzzi cut is much taller and has a small table and a big crown. But wait! There is the old mine cut, also touted as the first of the brilliant cut. The old mine cut actually resembled a modern cushion cut. The old mine cut is signified by a high crown with a small table, a round to somewhat rectangular girdle, a deep pavilion, and a large faceted culet.
The era of the old European cut was an early evolutionary stage in the progression toward the modern round brilliant. Typically, an old European cut is characterized by a small table, heavy crown, and overall “deep” or “steep” proportions.
Well, whichever style was the first manifestation of the modern brilliant cut, legend has it that the birth of this cut style was due to the desire for more sparkle during the candlelit evenings of the early 1800s.