If you're in the market for a vintage engagement ring, you've likely stumbled across two specific diamond cut styles—old mine and old European. Chances are, though, that you still have questions. And for good reason. Though both cuts illustrate the engagement rings of the past, they're subtly different in terms of time period, shape, and brilliance.
To help you decide between the two, we tapped two vintage diamond experts, who also offered insight into the cuts' niche markets. The gist? These diamond types aren't always easy to find—but they're more than worth the search. "Millions of diamonds are cut by modern standards every year, but like a vintage model-T car, old mine and old European cut diamonds are no longer made, difficult to source, and highly coveted," says Amanda Adams, the Managing Partner at Queen May Jewelry, a Cape May, New Jersey, retailer that specializes in sourcing these cuts. Ahead, our guide to both antique styles.
Old mine predates old European.
"Old mine cut diamonds are the grandfather to old European cuts," explains Rhett Outten, the owner of Charleston's Croghan's Jewel Box. As a result, the old mine cut is much less refined—if you're lucky enough to find an original (they date back to the Georgian era), take note of its imperfections, the effect of a by-hand carving process that led to uneven facet junctures and asymmetry. "They tend to be very chunky, because they were cut by hand from rough diamonds," adds Adams. These rough diamonds (warmer in color than modern-day gems) were literally sourced from the old mines in India and Brazil, hence the cut's name. For all of their flaws, they boast a sparkle no contemporary cut can match. "They were cut to shine at dinner parties lit by candlelight," she says, of the slightly-square, cushion-shaped stones.
Old European cut diamonds gained popularity in the Victorian era.
Diamond-cutting technology evolved with the invention of the bruting machine in the late 1800s, which launched this round cut's reign—it remained popular through the Edwardian era, peaked in the Art Deco period, and would pave the way for the contemporary brilliant cut years later. As for this style's main features? "It is more refined in its facet positioning," explains Outten, adding that the stones also have a higher crown (the slanted section at the top of the diamond!) and smaller culet (its point!) than its old mine counterparts. "When you look straight through the table of an old European cut you do not see a point—you see what looks like a very small hole," she adds.
Both are difficult to source.
But finding authentic old mine cut diamonds is more challenging, says Adams, who typically sources this type directly from Paris. "The larger the diamond, the rarer," she explains. "The chances of finding old European cut and old mine cut diamonds with their original mountings is ever lower! "
Most of the old mine and old European cut diamonds you see today have been salvaged.
If you stumble upon one of these cuts, it's likely been taken out of its original bauble and re-set in ring form. "Many of these stones are pulled out of 'undesirable' pieces of jewelry in the modern market, such as brooches, scepters, and tiaras," adds Outten.
They're a dying breed.
The reason? Few contemporary jewelers cut diamonds by hand anymore (it's not economical to do so, since hand-carving often takes weeks and typically results in flaws that reduce the value of the stone). The amount of old mine and old European cut diamonds in the global market has also dwindled over the decades. "Most old European cut diamonds have been recut into modern shapes," explains Adams. It's a shame, though, since you'll never come across two duplicate iterations of either cut: "Because they were carved by hand to enhance their color and shimmer, they were never cut identically—every stone is unique."