Old European-Cut Diamonds: the Complete Guide
Finding an old European cut-diamond that looks good can be challenging. You’ll have to work closely with a trusted antiques dealer or jeweler. If you’re buying online, we recommend using the expertise of CustomMade. Their jewelers can help you find just the right diamond and set it in a unique ring created just for you.
What is an Old European-Cut Diamond?
As you might guess, these diamonds are cut in a style developed in Europe and popular from 1890 to 1930. If you find an antique ring with a round diamond from this period, it very likely features an old European cut, often abbreviated as “OEC.”
Earlier diamonds typically received what is known as an “old mine cut,” while later ones were cut as the well-known modern round brilliant.
Old European vs Modern Brilliant
You could have many reasons for wanting an old European cut instead of a modern round brilliant. However, there are reasons why the modern cut surpassed the old one in popularity. Ultimately, for you, choosing one or the other will come down to your personal style and preference. Nevertheless, you should consider the following factors.
Fire vs Sparkle
The biggest visual difference between an old European cut and the modern round brilliant is that the old cut favors dispersion or “fire,” the multi-colored flashes of light from within the stone. On the other hand, the modern round brilliant maximizes sparkle and brilliance, which creates the signature black-and-white pattern you see play across the surface.
These two cuts also reflect light in different styles. The antique diamonds have a chunkier pattern of light, while the modern diamonds have a more “splintery” pattern with a greater brilliance or return of white light.
Not sure what this really looks like? Check out this GIA video comparing these diamond cuts.
Hand-Crafted vs Machine-Cut
Machine cutting wasn’t available when old European-cut diamonds were popular. Each one was cut by hand. While you might think this means superior craftsmanship, it really just means that each one is unique. Some will also have more quirks than others.
For example, some old European cuts have off-round shapes with strange bulges. Others have asymmetry in their facets.
Meanwhile, modern cuts are much more uniform. While they vary somewhat in the angles, and not all are perfectly round, you can easily find one without any noticeable bulges or asymmetries.
Antique vs Classic
While the old European cut was once the most popular diamond cut, its heyday is long past. The age of these diamonds makes them antiques. Of course, this gives them an allure that modern diamonds won’t have.
That said, the modern cut is itself a classic. For decades, it’s been the most popular diamond cut by far. When someone says “engagement ring,” most people probably think of a solitaire ring with a modern round brilliant diamond.
Rare vs Readily Available
Practically speaking, even finding an old European-cut diamond can present some issues. There simply aren’t very many of them, so few appear on the market at any given time. In addition, the ones that do appear are more likely to have chips, due to their age. The quality of these diamonds can also vary tremendously from one to the next.
In contrast, modern round brilliants are readily available. You can easily find a good quality one, too.
Most old European-cut diamonds were cut to retain more weight, rather than optimize appearance. Because of the shape of rough diamonds, the end result was a deep cut with a high crown and small table. These old diamonds also often had a flat facet instead of a tip at the culet. This not only protected the bottom from chipping but also gave them a distinctive look. You can see the culet as a circle in the middle of the table.
The higher depth and steeper crown angles allow these diamonds to show off more fire. This effect is similar to a prism creating rainbows from sunlight. As light moves through the diamond, it splits into its component colors, each curving a different amount. The colors then reflect back to your eye. Since the light travels farther in a deeper diamond, you get more fire.
However, this greater depth also means that there’s more light leakage in an old European cut. These diamonds simply won’t look as bright as modern round brilliants. They will show less white light.
How to Buy a Great Old European-Cut Diamond
If you have your heart set on an old European cut, you’ll have some work to do. Unlike the modern brilliant, the old European cut has no cut grades. You’ll have to assess its beauty yourself and rely on the expertise of your jeweler or dealer.
Look for Symmetry
First, if you want a high-quality old European-cut diamond, you’ll want it to be symmetrical.
Look for a round outline and check the length-to-width ratio. Ratios below 1.1 are worth considering, and 1.05 or below is excellent. Anything above 1.1 will have a noticeably off-shape and likely has a bulge.
Take a look at the diamond from the side, too. Turn it a few times. Make sure it has no strange bulges here, either. This may indicate the stone was cut to maximize weight without improving performance. Avoid these stones. Otherwise, you’ll be paying more for a diamond that won’t look as good as you might expect.
Finally, look at the diamond from the top down, then from the bottom up. Make sure the facets are visually symmetrical. Asymmetrical facets will interfere with how the diamond reflects and refracts light, making it less appealing.
Judge its Performance
Next, look at the diamond under different kinds of lighting. Natural sunshine, fluorescent office lights, and warmer bulbs you use at home will all have different effects on the stone’s appearance. To see the diamond color that gem graders see, view the stone under a daylight-equivalent light bulb with an ultraviolet component. That’s the lighting standard for diamond color grading.
Take a look at the play of white and colored light in the diamond. The flashes of light should dance through the stone and scintillate.
Look at the dark areas, too. Avoid diamonds with dark areas that cover more than 25% of the stone, regardless of the viewing angle. This condition is called “extinction.”
Notice the patterns of light and dark as you move the diamond. Often, old European-cut diamonds have adjacent facets that go dark at the same time. The best stones won’t show this, but those are few and far between. Most likely, you’ll get a diamond that has several facets going dark simultaneously at certain angles.
Diamond Grading Reports
Although gem grading laboratories don’t provide cut grades for old European-cut diamonds, they do grade these stones for color and clarity. Here are some tips to better understand the grades you’ll find in a grade report.
White diamond color grades refer to how colorless a diamond is. This grading system starts with “D,” which is completely colorless, and assigns letters further down the alphabet for diamonds with incrementally more color, all the way to “Z,” for stones with distinctive yellow tints. Diamonds with stronger yellow color or any other type of color, such as pink or blue, are considered “fancy colored” diamonds. These stones have a different color-grading system.
The following recommendations are for white diamonds.
For a modern round brilliant to appear colorless in white gold or platinum, we generally recommend color grades of I or higher. For a stone to appear colorless in yellow or rose gold, we recommend color grades of M or higher. Of course, modern round brilliants reflect a lot of white light. However, old European-cut diamonds aren’t made for that. They show more colored light. So, you might need stones with colors a grade or two higher to get a colorless look with an old European cut.
Many old European-cut diamonds have lower color grades and will appear to have a yellow or brown tint in any setting. This is why diamonds with low color grades give off a “vintage” vibe. They look more like the stones people commonly associate with antiques!
Most likely, the old European-cut diamond you’ll find for your ring will have a noticeable tint. Make sure that you’re OK with that if you’re considering these stones.
Diamond clarity grades give you an idea of the number and size of the imperfections in the stone. For consumers, what really matters is whether any of those imperfections are visible with the naked eye and if they weaken the diamond’s crystal structure. Although famously resistant to scratching, diamonds can still break or chip.
Diamonds with mid-range clarity grades like VS1 or VS2 will also be eye-clean. Most SI1 and many SI2 clarity diamonds will have no visible imperfections. However, you’ll have to examine any SI clarity diamonds closely before buying. Ask vendors if the SI stones you’re considering are eye-clean. They can point out imperfections that you might have difficulty seeing. Afterwards, can you still see the imperfections? Can you see them from the distance you’d normally view a ring? Some consumers are very particular about having an eye-clean diamond. Others don’t mind a stone with a hardly noticeable flaw, especially if it saves them money. The decision is yours.
Any diamonds with a low clarity grade of I are likely to have visible imperfections. These stones may even have durability issues as a result of large imperfections. You must be willing to spend a significant amount of time searching for an acceptable I clarity diamond.
Where to Buy an Old European-Cut Diamond
You may have to shop around at multiple vendors to find the right stone for your ring. We recommend using a custom jeweler like CustomMade. Their experts can help you find a diamond that will look great while staying within your budget. However, no matter where you get your diamond, make sure you can view it closely, either in person or on video.