Old Miners, Euros, Single Cuts, Rose Cuts and more…
Today in our era of hyper-personalized jewelry, it’s seems a bit counter intuitive to learn that antique and vintage jewels are more popular than ever. Once a consumer grasps the fact that most of these early pieces are indeed one of a kind, then respect is earned and the consumer is drawn into the experience of viewing these miniature works of art.
Demographics Drive Preferences
The metal component isn’t the only ‘old’ thing in each of these pieces. Consider the early cut diamonds and gemstones found in the original items. Collectors may be drawn to vintage and estate jewelry, but they usually need help understanding the older cut diamonds in these collectible pieces. Younger jewelry consumers with a penchant for green and recycled goods see buying estate jewelry as a responsible way to collect. Yet the older diamond cuts often appear strange to a novice.
Jim Fiebig, sales manager at Joseph’s Jewelers, West Des Moines, IA has a distinct vantage point for viewing these old charmers. Family owned Joseph’s Jewelers has been in business since 1871. What we call old cuts today were the latest diamonds when the store first opened. “We are 5 years older than Custer’s Last Stand,” he reminds.
Understanding the Old Cuts in Context
Older cut diamonds can certainly confound a neophyte. “They used to come in and ask about ‘that big black hole in the center of grandma’s diamond,’” he said. Some of these early diamond cuts have simply disappeared through recutting because of consumer reaction some decades back. It wasn’t uncommon for jewelers to recommend recutting the oldies for their clients who were used to modern round brilliants.
Mid century and into the 1970s, Fiebig says, “most of us just discussed re-cutting to proper proportions with minimal loss to the diameter and great potential for increased brilliance. Those older cuts just weren’t as attractive to the consumer.”
New Times, New Taste
The internet age has changed all that. Consumers are savvier about a lot of things today, including their taste in diamonds. Fiebig finds that shoppers have come up to speed about diamond cutting in general over the last 5 to 10 years, perhaps in part as a result of marketing the Tolkowsky cuts. “Older cuts now seem to garner more respect from the public.”
New Convo at the Counter
The result is that consumers are definitely onboard with preserving the integrity and inherent appeal of these antique beauties. That shift in preference alters the conversation at the sales counter. Shoppers may not know all the names of earlier diamond cuts but they like them anyway. “They don’t know the difference between Old Mine vs. European cuts but they have requested Rose Cut diamonds before.” The bridal sector is ideal for old stones because engagement rings can become even more sentimental by including family diamonds. “Many new brides come in with grandma’s 1920-1930s platinum engagement rings asking us to restore them,” Fiebig says. But the decision is made on a case by case basis. “While this is sometimes possible,” he explains, “I remind customers that the diamond is the soul of the ring. We can never add enough metal to make it wearable daily for the next 25 years.” When restoring an old mounting is not possible, he suggests new vintage style mountings. “Period specific diamonds can find proper homes in newly produced styles.”
In the Lab
Prominent jewelry appraiser, Charles Carmona, president of Guild Labs, Los Angeles, has examined antique diamonds for decades. “It is increasingly true that the public has preferred to keep their inherited stones as they are. But I’ve encountered those sentiments since I started in the business in the late 1970s.” Loyal customers have come to rely on him for guidance about their jewelry. “I always encourage my clients to keep the old stones as they are.” Even damaged stones found in really old jewelry can keep their original appeal. “And if they are damaged,” he advises, “repair them, keeping them as old cuts.” That’s for aesthetic reasons, says Carmona. “Modern cut diamonds with excellent cuts all look alike. So if you have something a little unusual, stick with it, and be a little different.”
The Valuation Process
Is valuing an antique cut diamond a special procedure? “You always appraise them for what they are and not for their recut value,” he confirms. Carmona’s cultivated taste includes a fondness for the older stones. “Nothing is prettier to me than a well made antique cushion.”
Fortunately many old diamonds are still in circulation today. Grading labs see a number of older cut diamonds come through their doors. Many of these stones have languished in family vaults and now heirs want to clean house. Truly important old stones make their way to the major auction houses where a global community of aficionados is eager to lay down big money to acquire stones that convey historical significance in addition to their intrinsic beauty.
Refreshed and Re-envisioned
Some antique cut diamonds enjoy a completely new second act.
Gemologist-diamond grader Laurie Seuss reports that about 20% of the diamonds passing through the laboratory where she worked were antique cuts. Those loose stones can find new life in modern jewelry but they require planning. “Depending on the stone and its potential setting,” Seuss explains, “an older cut stone can make a new piece of jewelry look unique. The challenges with Old Mine and Euro cuts are their extremely large culets and extremely thin girdles.” Creating new jewelry with old stones takes vision. “I worry about setting safety with such thin girdles. The rose cuts I like as they are.”
Tutoring assists in the opinion people have about vintage stones, according to Seuss. “For many customers, a little education about the different cuts and the importance of cut to appearance of the stone makes a big difference in their perception and willingness to try different cuts.”
With demand strong for antique diamonds now, the future of older diamond cuts looks secure, says Fiebig. “Vintage jewelry is more popular than ever right now, and the pieces that survived usually were the best quality available at the time. Older cut diamonds have found their niche in this market.”
The market dictates demand and projects future traction of the old diamond sector. “There is plenty of activity for old cuts in the auction and resale markets,” confirms Carmona. “Look at the growth of the estate jewelry business in our industry and you’ll see that there is a great demand for old cuts.”
Award winning trade journalist and gemologist Diana Jarrett is a Registered Master Valuer Appraiser and a member of the Association of Independent Jewellery Valuers (AIJV). She’s a popular speaker at conferences and trade shows. Jarrett writes for trade and consumer publications, online outlets, her blog: Color-n-Ice, and www.jewelrywebsitedesigners.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit her website at www.dianajarrett.com, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter (Loupey).