Grandma’s Vintage Diamonds vs. New Diamonds, How to Design With Them
“I have seven pieces of inherited jewelry from my Grandma Lolly that I never wear,” Pat said to me one day. “My challenge to you is to design a brand new custom piece of jewelry using all of the old diamonds from my Grandma.”
Is there a trick to designing with older cuts of diamonds? You bet. Read on for Pat’s story and the seven rules for working with older diamonds.
Pat’s Jewelry Loving Grandma Lolly
The challenge to this project was that though most of the diamonds were of older cut styles, three of her diamonds were modern cuts from replacements of lost diamonds. The replacements stood out like tree ferns on the moon.
Vintage Diamonds or New Diamonds, They Are All Lovable
When you compare an older cut vintage diamond to a diamond with a modern cut, it is easy to see the difference.
Different doesn’t mean bad, it just means different.
Things can go bad, however, when you try to combine the two different diamond cuts into a single piece of jewelry next to each other without careful planning.
The new modern brilliant cut diamond will have a sparkle and fire that the older European cut diamond or old mine cut diamond just can’t match.
Therefore when designing with older cut diamonds there are some design rules, which I would like to share with you.
Hand Faceting Years Ago VS. Modern Cutting Technology
Before we get to the rules, I want to give you a little bit of information about antique and vintage diamonds.
In the past, diamond cutters used techniques to cut diamonds that are no longer used today. They cut with the priority of enhancing the color or lack of it. Modern whiter diamonds have allowed cutters to focus on sparkly brilliance in their cutting.
In the past, diamond cutters cut diamonds by hand, and created diamond shapes and dimensions that reflected the era in which the stone was cut. Time and technology have given diamond cutters the skills and resources that just weren’t available a hundred years ago.
Diamonds that were cut by hand exhibited less fire and brilliance than diamonds that are cut in the modern way today. Happily for vintage diamonds, many people prefer the warmer, romantic glow that comes from a diamond cut by hand.
In fact, antique and vintage diamonds are starting to become quite a popular trend again. More brides-to-be are deciding to go with the old-fashioned romance of an antique or vintage cut diamond as their gemstone of choice.
The Difference Between Vintage and Antique Diamonds and Modern Diamonds
Many antique and vintage cut diamonds are of lower color than what would be considered “top” color today. This is because the mines that yield such colorless beauties that we see today were undiscovered all those years ago.
However, the unique cutting techniques and facet arrangements used on antique and vintage diamonds, often fool the eye into believing the actual color of the stone is much higher than it is. This is especially true when the older cut diamond is set into a mounting.
One of the most unique factors of an antique or vintage cut diamond, is that the faceting arrangement creates a much more chunky facet look. You’ll also see a more colorful play of light with the older cuts as well.
Modern cut diamonds show a brighter fire with more tiny pin point flashes of light. It’s as if they are charged up with energy. The older cut style is beautiful in a more mellow way.
Seven Rules For Designing With Older Cut Diamonds
- Do not mix modern cut diamonds with older style cuts of vintage diamonds. (Subtle sparkle vs. focused and flashing sparkle.)
- Chose designs with vintage details to accent the charm of your older cut vintage diamonds. (Details like filigree, decorative hand engraving and fancy detail around center diamond.)
3. Use textured details like milgrain edging to enhance older diamond beauty. The texture of milgrain edging enhances the impression of sparkle in your diamonds. (See my blog post on milgrain engraving.)
4. If your older diamonds exhibit slight off color details, try setting them in yellow gold or rose gold. (Yellow gold is better for slight yellow tones, rose gold is better for brown and grey tones.)
5. If your older cut diamonds have visible inclusions, set them into a group of diamonds off to the side, or if they are sentimental to you, consider setting them into the gallery work, (side view under crown element), where they will be most visible to you alone. Keep in mind that the optical illusion of the better diamonds nearby will fool the eye to forgive the more imperfect one.
6. Older cut diamonds frequently don’t hold their sparkle when they get dirty. Modern cuts often continue to shine when dirty. It is often recommended to use the older cuts in earrings or pendants instead of rings. (Rings tend to get dirty easily unlike earrings and pendants.)
7. Find a jeweler who works with vintage jewelry or is an experienced jewelry designer and knows about the various eras of diamonds. Walk away from a jeweler who doesn’t offer matching older cut vintage diamonds and tries to sell you on using modern cut diamonds with your old ones saying, “Oh, it’ll look just fine.” (It won’t!)
Pat’s Old Diamond Design Desires
A week later, Pat and I sat down at her kitchen table with her grandma’s five ring and two pendants. I could immediately see that many of the diamonds were single cut—an older style with fewer facets.
The sizes and colors of the diamonds also varied widely. Fortunately, the largest diamond rated the best of the lot. Unfortunately, it had a few small chips on the sides.
“Grandma Lolly was my favorite and I’ll always love her,” Pat said. “She managed to take me on lots of adventures when I was young. What I really want is to somehow use all her diamonds in one piece of jewelry.” I pulled out my pad and pencil and we got down to work.
Pat’s Design Wishes Translate into the Basic Shape
Pat wanted a heart shape to represent her love for her Grandma. We began with that.
Since there were a lot of diamonds there was no way that we could do a ring unless it was huge and kind of gaudy.
However we could totally make it as a pendant.
Problem Solving For a Chipped Diamond
Since the large, center diamond was chipped in multiple places on the sides, I suggested we bezel set it to cover up the imperfections.
Pat agreed. She didn’t want to re-cut the diamond. She kind of liked the personality of those chips.
She liked the idea of knowing they would be hiding there under the bezel setting.
After several different configurations, we finally settled on placing the largest diamond in the center of the heart. Pat had a mixture of single cut small diamonds and Old Mine Cut medium cut diamonds.
Dealing With Different Sizes and Colors of Diamonds
Since the diamonds were different sizes, we chose to arrange them from biggest nearest to the center to smallest radiating outward. We used the tiny modern cut diamonds down low and too the side where they didn’t make the other diamonds look bad.
I suggested we place some of the more “off color” diamonds on the outer edge where the design curved down, where they’d be less visible. Pat liked that idea.
“I also think pave setting would be the way to go,” I said to her. “For setting the smaller diamonds.”
“Pave is a style of setting that would allow us to set the diamonds close to each other and capture the curvy puffed nature of the design we’re looking for. After we cast the basic shape, the setter will create the tiny prongs to hold the diamonds. This allows the setter to accommodate different size gems. It’s like he’s putting together a puzzle.”
The Happiness of Your New Piece of Redesigned
Four weeks later I presented Pat with her finished heart pendant. “Oh my God!” she exclaimed with tears running down her cheeks. Admittedly, my eyes weren’t completely dry either. It was such a happy moment.
Pat gets many opportunities to tell stories about her grandmother when people ask about her pendant. Pat told me, “Calla, I’m so glad I re-used Grandma’s diamonds. I love my necklace!”
Do You Have Unworn Older Jewelry?
Do you have older cut vintage diamonds? Loose or set, you might like to make use of in a new piece of jewelry?
Redesigning older jewelry is a wonderful adventure. Call me and we’ll find your inner jewelry designer! And make you a piece of jewelry to cherish.
Old Cut Diamond Re-Designer,
PS. Check out my blog on Rose Cuts, Old European and Old Mine Cut diamonds.
Calla, I have come to expect great advice from you in your blogs. This information on designing with older diamonds is great.
Having seen rings that have newer replacement diamonds next to older vintage diamonds and seeing the clash of shine and sparkle, I agree that there have to be rules!
Calla Gold your vintage diamond design rules are excellent!
Thank you so much for your response. I love that you have reality on the clashiness of the two different cut styles.
Please can I have it on the seventh December
Hello Mr. M.
If you have placed an order I have not received it.
Your Personal Jeweler,
If I have a ring with a center diamond of 1/5 carat and another ring with 3/4 carat center diamond can I somehow combine the two diamonds to make one big stone
I’d recommend designing a ring using your 3/4 carat diamond as the center and the 1/5th of a carat on one side and another diamond just like it on the other for symmetry. By setting them all close together it could create a bigger center gemstone look.
Your Personal Jeweler,
Looked and looked and respect your opinion on resetting my wedding ring
I’m very pleased that this was a help in your re-design of your wedding ring!
Your Personal Jeweler,
I have a rather large ring with lots of small diamonds and want to have it restructured into an engagement ring. Can you help me?
Thank you for writing. This is my specialty and I’d be delighted to work with you. I’ll email you.
Your Personal Jeweler,
I have chipped my grandmothers 2 carat center stone ( 3 stones) ring. How much is a 2 carat old fashioned round stone?
Before you replace her diamond have you had it looked at the see if it can be re-cut?
There are Old European Cuts, Miners Cuts and in between versions. There are different colors and clarities as well. When I am tasked with replacing an older cut diamond I use the side stones cuts as a guide as the new center will be flanked by them and it should look cohesive with them.
Are you in my local area? Santa Barbara? Or would you be a distance client?
Your Personal Jeweler,
hello, So my engagment ring is hlf a ct.princess cut white gold. I have a small princess cut white gold that i never wear anymore can i combine onto my engagment ring?
I generally advise against having two main diamonds together as the center element of a ring. However if you put a nice colored stone between them that could work nicely.
Your Personal Jeweler,
I have an engagement ring that has a larger diamond with 2 other diamonds on each side. One of those diamonds is smaller than the one on the other side. My fiancé said it was his Grandma’s which would make it a ring from 30s or before. Was this common to have a ring made like this one back then?
Hello Kim, It is not at all common to have mismatched diamond sizes from that time period or any other time period I have seen. That doesn’t mean I haven’t from time to time seen mismatched side diamonds. When I’ve looked closely at mismatched diamonds they often also didn’t match in cut style suggesting that these were diamonds from different rings, pressed into service as a wedding ring. Look carefully at the two mismatched diamonds. You may find different color or cut or even clarity which could indicate diamonds from different rings or a diamond replacement from a jeweler back… Read more »
I have a 1.01 ct lower quality diamond with inclusions, currently in a bezel setting. It’s not an old cut, it was bought in 1991. Can I use this diamond as a center in a halo setting and what kind of melee should I use? I guess not top quality since the difference will be too noticeable? At the same time would be nice for the melee to “light up” the center.
Hello Jonna, Thank you for your question. As you have probably seen, one of the popular trends in diamond rings is salt and pepper diamonds. These are diamonds with visible inclusions. Sometimes to a degree that it is hard to tell it is a diamond. So you have that on your side. When I do halo surrounds to set off the center diamond I generally go up one color grade. You are right that if the halo diamonds look too good it makes the center look bad. Work with a jeweler who can select diamonds that are not too sparkly.… Read more »
Hello from Canada ….. I came across your site while looking for information regarding a pair of old screw back earrings that I have. Since you are a jeweller I may as well tell my story …. if you don’t mind 🙂 My earrings have a beautiful opal, circled by “rhinestones” … I think. The setting looks like filigreed old brass and has a small hole behind the opal but the circle of faceted/flat top clear stones around the opal has no opening behind them and are totally enclosed. I’m assuming that if the clear stones were diamonds, the backs… Read more »
Your earrings by description of the design and little green on metal, are costume metal. I’d say wear them till they break and if they are beloved, have a replica pair made in real metal and gemstones.