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When Did They Stop Cutting Diamonds by Hand?

When Did They Stop Cutting Diamonds by Hand?

Cutting diamonds is an extremely high-skill job and was considered an even more high-skill job before modern times.

People who knew how to cut diamonds were very well off and considered some of the most well-respected people in the community.

Of course, there were not that many people that knew how to cut diamonds. Today, the story is the same as it was before.

Naturally, today’s world has much more diamond cutters than it had then, but considering how many people there are, diamond cutting isn’t exactly considered a popular craft.

But we digress. Our primary concern today is the answer to the question of when they stopped cutting diamonds by hand.

The short answer to that question would be the 1900s. This was when the modern machines for cutting diamonds were first made, and that’s when people completely stopped cutting diamonds by hand.

But, there is a lot of backstory about this answer, and we’d like to share that story with you. So if you’re ready, let’s dive right into the backstory behind the answer to our question!

Diamonds Cutting – A Short History 

India was where diamonds were initially discovered and where the earliest methods of polishing and cutting were created.

Some of the world’s most stunning diamonds are still created using the diamond cutting processes utilized today, which are based on those early technologies. We shall examine the development of diamond cutting throughout history in this magazine!

The first diamonds were discovered in India and were preserved as uncut, loose stones. They were regarded as holy items that supposedly had magical abilities. People didn’t wear diamonds in jewelry until the 11th century, and then only in their raw form.

The first diamonds were cut in the 14th century, but at that time, the stone was probably only lightly polished to add some brightness.

The Point Cut Diamond – The Oldest Cut

The first of its kind, the point-cut diamond, was made using the initial cutting method. This technique, created in India, required chiseling a tiny point onto the diamond.

The diamond’s facets, which reflect light and give the stone its glitter, were then fashioned using the point. For centuries, point cutting was still in use.

Learn More: An In-Depth Guide on Diamond Cutting: How Are Diamonds Cut?

When Did They Start Cutting Diamonds By Hand?

Diamond cutting initially began back in the 14th century. However, keep in mind that the level of cutting and polishing was nowhere near what we have today.

Most likely, the cutting they did was superficial and just meant to give the diamond some shine that isn’t present when it is in its natural state.

Before this process of cutting diamonds, people of that time knew of them but kept them in the form of loose, unpolished stones. What’s interesting about diamonds of that time is that, until the 11th century, diamonds were considered sacred items and thought to have magical powers.

Only in the 11th century did people start wearing diamonds as jewelry. And that’s how they started cutting them. They needed the diamonds to be shinier and more sparkly when they wore them around their necks.

As far as where diamonds could be found, the answer is – India!

Before the more “modern” times, diamonds were also known to be worn by the Romans. How cool is that?

However, with the Roman empire’s decline, diamonds ceased to exist in the European continent. The only way the Western European countries were supplied with diamonds was from India.

An exciting aspect of this story is the fact that religion, like many topics throughout history, played a significant role in diamonds’ popularity. 

Because of the previous superstitious beliefs tied to diamonds, Christianity discarded them, which is why they weren’t considered valuable in Europe.

In India and the Islamic world, however, diamonds remained a significant and widespread gem, which is why we have some interesting historical sources about diamonds coming precisely from those parts of the world.

A notable historian named Jack Ogden claims to have seen Medival Islamic jewelry in the simple Table cut, which could date as far back as the 13th century. That means that the first diamond-cutting practices started eight centuries ago. Impressive, right?

As far as European diamond cutting goes, it probably wasn’t long after 1330. This is because it was around that time that Venetian merchants started reopening the trade routes to the East. That’s when diamonds found their way back into Europe, and the cutting started on that continent.

Why Were Diamonds Cut By Hand?

We’ve established that diamonds have been around for a long time, so it’s natural that the way they were cut and polished has changed and evolved over time.

Initially, we know how complex ways of diamond cutting using machines today were unimaginable and unattainable.

However, people of those times still found ways to make these precious gems as shiny and sparkly as possible. And they did all of that by hand.

In the Georgian and the Victorian eras (from the 1700s to the 1800’s), for example, all diamonds were cut by hand, and they all had a similar cut – the antique Old Mine cut.

The way these diamonds got their name is through the place of their origin. They all came from, quite literally, old mines in India and Brazil.

And as for the cut, it was mainly because of the natural shape of the rough diamonds. The shape was octahedral, which is like stacking two pyramids base to base. Diamond cutters followed that shape and made a more polished version of the rough diamond.

What’s even more impressive was that they did all of this by hand and by eye, without any of the fancy equipment they have today. These diamonds were shaped perfectly to get the most sparkle in candlelight and in the low lighting conditions of those times.

Another cut that was popularized a bit later in the Victorian era is the Old European cut. This cut came about because there were some advances made in diamond-cutting technology in the 1800s.

While more complex than the aforementioned Old Mine cut, this cut was still imperfect since it was also cut by hand.

When Did People Stop Cutting Diamonds By Hand?

As you can see, some slight advances in diamond cutting technology were made in the 19th century, which only continued further down the line.

That’s how we got to the machines we used to cut modern diamonds. But, you’ll be surprised to find out they aren’t such a new invention after all. 

The same machines we use today (with slight alterations, of course) were first invented in the early 1900s! 

Now, in the eyes of history, that may not be such a significant period, but if you look at how few changes were made from then to now, you’ll realize how impressive it was to have such technology a century ago.

So, these machines allowed diamond cutters to have much better cuts that gave the most sparkle and brilliance. Also, machines enabled cutters to experiment with diamond shapes, which significantly diversified the market.

Furthermore, additional advances in technology allowed diamond cutters to see microscopic flaws within the diamond, which ultimately led to the production of higher-quality diamonds.

But what’s interesting is that the diamond cut that is the most popular today, the Round Brilliant, is somewhat similar to the Old European cut, which came before it. The alterations were made as a result of Marcel Tolkowsky and his mathematical calculations of diamond cutting.

How Are Diamonds Cut Today?

You now know the historical background of diamond cutting, but how does all of that look today? We know that diamonds are no longer cut by hand, but are they cut then?

First and foremost, we must remember that diamonds are pretty large when they are in their natural form, which means that, before doing any fine work, they need to be cut down to a more manageable size.

That is done in a couple of different ways, depending on where the diamond will be cut:

CLEAVING – This method is used to cut a rough diamond in its weakest point, the tetrahedral plane. While the diamond is being cut, it is being held by wax or cement mold. The cutter places a sharp steel blade along the plane’s groove and strikes it with force.

SAWING – The second option for the first phase of cutting is sawing. This method is used when there is no plane of weakness, which is a situation in which cleaving cannot be used. The diamond is cut using a phosphor-bronze blade which rotates at about 15,000rpm

Another method of sawing is by using lasers, but this option is much more time-consuming.

During the sawing process, the cutter has to decide which part of the diamond will become the table and which will be the girdle.

BRUITING/CUTTING – This is what actually gives diamonds their recognizable shapes. Sawing and cleaving are only used to make a rough diamond smaller and easier to cut, while cutting is where the magic happens.

Bruiting is a word used when we’re referring to cutting by hand, while cutting is what we say when a machine cuts a diamond.

When a machine is used, a diamond is placed in a lathe, while another diamond is used to rub against it, which creates a rough finish of the girdle.

POLISHING – When the cutting process is finished, the diamond still has a rough finish and doesn’t have the recognizable brilliance that we all know and love.

To achieve that look, the cut diamond needs to be polished. This process is also done by a machine, by a rotating polishing wheel.

Since diamonds are a ten on the Mohs scale, they can only be scratched by other diamonds. This is the reason why the wheel is coated with an abrasive diamond powder, which smoothes the diamond and makes it nice and sparkly.

Related Read: Diamond Polish: From Rough Stone to a Beautiful Diamond

Conclusion

As you can see, diamonds have gone through an evolution of their own in terms of the cutting process. 

In the beginning, diamonds were cut by hand, which is reasonable if we consider that they have been present since Roman times. The technology that we use to do the job today only came about in the 1900s.

The only way diamonds could be cut is by hand, using simple tools, which meant that the final product was nowhere near as smooth and neat as it is today.

Once the more advanced machinery came into play, diamonds no longer needed to be cut by hand. It was much less time-consuming and much more practical, which is why it quickly took over hand cutting.

What also made the diamond-making process much more precise is the appearance of tools that allow diamond cutters to see the microscopic flaws inside diamonds. This means that they could put more high-quality diamonds on the market.

Diamonds are now almost exclusively cut by machines, but what precedes the actual cutting process is sawing/cleaving to make a rough diamond smaller. Only then is a diamond formed into one of the recognizable shapes and then, finally, polished.

Well, that’s it. You are now all caught up on all things diamond cutting. We hope this article was helpful to you and that you were able to learn something from it.

Thanks for reading!

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