For some people, a chic vintage Cartier watch or Hermès Kelly bag has far more character and style than a new edition, and it’s usually not like anyone else’s.
That’s the case with vintage natural diamonds too. A classic old cut has a softer sparkle than modern cut stones. Also, a vintage diamond’s slight imperfections—the result of being cut by hand and candlelight (electricity wasn’t invented yet)—underscores that the stone is natural; not man made.
“Old diamonds have a sense of emotion with their imperfections, and because they already lived another life,” said French designer Elie Top. “I like the stardust from the past on a modern design.”
When the Paris-based designer recently spotted a 1940s ring with a 5.85-carat cushion cut diamond, he knew just what to do with it: He set the stone atop a coiled snake ring, made in 18-karat gold and burnished silver, which gave the statement piece a sense of mystery and quiet sparkle.
He’s not alone. More designers are seeking out vintage diamonds to imbue a sense of individualism and character in contemporary designs.
The bonus: These beautifully imperfect stones can also be a good deal. Designers say vintage diamonds typically don’t command the same prices as precision cut new stones.
While old diamonds have long been popular in engagement and wedding jewelry, now we are seeing them in contemporary everyday designs. “Vintage diamonds create a new layer to add to the story of a piece that fills it with beauty, nostalgia, mystery, and intrigue,” said designer Dana Bronfman. The old diamond’s unique sparkle and shape, she says, inspires different types of designs.
What classifies as a vintage diamond
Old mine cut diamonds originated in the early 18th century with a squarish shape and 58 facets in a unique arrangement that allowed for flashes of fire and scintillation. They were widely used in Georgian (1714-1837) and Victorian (1837-1901) jewelry designs.
In 1874, when the first mechanized diamond cutting device appeared, known as the bruting machine, it allowed for more precision cutting and rounded outlines and led to the old European cut stone. Also with 58 facets, the European cut was used in Edwardian and Art Deco jewelry styles.
Top believes he’s passing on the older diamonds through his new designs until they reach their next destination. “It is as if we are a go between for these eternal gems,” he said. “They will continue to be reset on another piece of jewelry again and again, as they have been in the past.”
The stone’s got character
In our less than perfect world, designers want imperfect stones today. “Aesthetically, I love that most vintage diamonds are cut to less perfectly symmetrical standards, unlike the way modern cuts are today,” said Jade Lustig, owner of Jade Trau. “While I totally love the brilliance that comes with an ‘excellent’ or ‘ideal’ cut round diamond, I also have a lot of reverence for the handmade quality of a vintage diamond.”
Old diamonds don’t necessarily result in vintage looking designs. Lustig, for instance, uses them in all shapes and sizes in stylish necklaces, playful rings, and stacking bracelets.
Even at William Goldberg, known for cutting extraordinary modern diamonds, they can’t pass up an interesting large vintage stone, says Eve Goldberg. When they come upon a rare old diamond, “it is usually quite unique and one of a kind, so it makes it very interesting and challenging to come up with a contemporary design,” she said. Goldberg has used them in statement cocktail rings and long diamond chains.
Men are also taking notice of the more subdued vintage diamonds, says Hallam Harvey, creative director at Harvey Owen in London. In the past, he said, when men inherited diamond jewelry, they usually had engagement rings made. “Now, we have noticed a new trend with men wanting to create diamond jewelry for themselves, now that they are being bolder and more confident in their own style.”
The old stones, however, require some education. The 4C’s don’t necessarily apply because often these stones don’t exhibit optimum cut and color. But that’s the charm says Bronfman. “I love to witness the sense of wonder and awe that people have when I explain to them what makes a diamond unique and special, beyond the 4 C’s.”
It’s a good diamond deal
It’s because of those imperfections that you can often get a good deal on a vintage diamond. Take note, a great quality, sizable old stone is still a rarity, and you will pay the price. But looking at a wide range of old stones, designer Jamie Books of Mason and Books finds good value.
“Pricing is a bit easier on vintage diamonds, so it allows me to take some design risks that I might not take with a modern stone,” said the New York-based designer. “The color also tends to be slightly warmer, which I adore next to the buttery yellow gold that has become our signature color.”
Vintage diamonds clearly attract people for completely different reasons than cut, carat, color, and clarity. “When you see old cut diamonds you immediately know they are something special with characteristics that make them stand out,” said New York-based designer Mindi Mond, who has a collection of designs made exclusively with recycled old diamonds.
“When I see a period piece that speaks to me, I imagine it being worn and cherished in its original era,” she said. “From there, I can decide how I want to repurpose it so that it can be adored by modern collectors.”
Whether the style, energy or the price appeals to you, it’s also nice to know that old diamonds live on in stylish new designs. It’s luxe recycling.