Uncut diamonds appeared in Europe in the fourth century BC, when Alexander the Great's expeditions opened up limited trade between East and West. At the time India was the only known diamond-producing country, and diamond still ranked well below ruby and sapphire in value.
Around mid-1300s, European and Indian gem cutters begun to cut and shape rough diamonds.
The first polished diamonds appeared in Europe around 1380.
In 1499, the explorer Vasco de Gama found a sea route around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope. This increased the amount of quality diamond's rough entering Europe from India. Soon the cities of Bruges, Antwerp and Amsterdam joined Venice as bustling diamond trade centers. These cities fed the growing appetite of European royalty for polished gems.
Compared to modern brilliant cuts, ancient finished diamonds were very plain.
The Point Cut was the earliest diamond cut and was popular into the fifteenth century. It closely followed the rough octahedral shape.
Early cutters used boards treated with diamond dust and olive oil to shape the diamond rough.
The Table cut-
In the mid to late 1400's cutters begun fashioning existing point cuts into a new style: the table cut.
To create a table cut, the cutter removed the point of the octahedron's double pyramid by rubbing it on a board treated with diamond dust and olive oil. This resulted in a square polished facet that resembled a tabletop.
Often cutters also removed the lower point to make a smaller square facet called the culet. The result was that, when viewed from above, the table cut looked like a square within a square. This appealed to Renaissance Europe's interest in classical proportions.
The table cut greatly improved the amount of light returned to the viewer. This gave table cut diamonds more brilliance and fire than point cut gems. Point cut diamonds became scarce as they were gradually reshaped into table cuts.
Table cut dominated diamond jewellery through the 1500's and into the 1600s. Variations included rectangles, tapered shapes and diamond called lozenges.
The Rose Cut-
The rose cut appeared in the early sixteenth century and was popular until the nineteenth century. Unlike the table cut, it was designed for octahedral rough. Instead, it provided an efficient way to produce the largest possible gem from flattened rough.
Rose cut gems have flat bottoms and triangular facets that come to point to the top. The rose cut produce considerable brilliance, but little fire. Cutters, also developed variations- the double rose has faceted peaks on both sides - the briolette resembles an elongated double rose
Seventeenth century cuts
After creating the table cut and the rose cut, European gem cutters experimented with other cutting styles. Much of the religious jewellery of the early 1600s included diamond. Cutters designed a faceted diamond at the request of France cardinal Jules Mazarin. The Mazarin Cut also called the double cut, was a cushion-shaped with a total of 34 facets.
Cutters of the mid 1600s introduced the Single Cut -or eight cut- based on the shape of the octahedral rough. This simple style had more potential for brilliance than table cut because it had more facets: a table eight crown facets, eight pavilion facets and sometimes a culet.
The single cut served as the basis for the full-cut modern brilliant. Even today the faceting of small diamonds often stops when they reach the single cut stage.
Early Brilliant cuts
In the early 1700s, the discovery of diamonds in Brazil of alluvial deposits yielded quantities of diamonds of good enough quality to affect the European diamond market. Diamond rough from Brazil was used for early brilliant cuts, such as the Old Mine Cut a cushion shape with high crown, deep pavilion and large culet.
The Old Mine Cut has the same number of facets -58- as the modern Brilliant, but its pavilion was deeper, so it displayed less brilliance and fire. Still the the old mine cut played an important part in the development of the modern brilliant cut. Old miners become the most popular cut diamonds of the eighteenth century.
Old mine and other early brilliant cuts such as the Old European cut, with a circular girdle that was unusual for that time, become models for later diamond cut designers.
The modern Brilliant cut
More than 500 years of experimentation led to the introduction of the modern brilliant cut in the early 1900s. Its intricate proportions showcase a diamond's brilliance and fire with dazzling effectiveness.
The earliest development of the modern round brilliant cut actually be traced to the late 1800s. Henry Morse a Boston diamond cutter, has been trying to achieve an optically efficient cutting design. After much trial and error, Morse discovered the proportions that produced the effect he was looking for. But the cutting establishment rejected Morse's ideas in favour of the old mine cut and old European cut. Many of the Morse proportions were similar to those published year later -in 1919- by Marcel Tolkowsky.
Tolkowsky recommendations for a brilliant cut diamond's best angles and proportions influenced diamond manufacturers, especially those who fashioned large, high quality rough. But not all round brilliant diamonds were cut to Tolkowsky's suggested proportions. Some cutters preferred slightly different proportions and lower quality rough was still cut to retain maximum weight.