X Marks the Spot

The name Joseph Asscher might not ring a bell, but nearly all lapidarists will understand what you mean when you reference an Asscher cut. Boasting a prominent ‘X’ shape in its center only viewable from the top down, it seems to radiant with energy from the Art Deco period, although in reality, the Asscher came into being about eighteen years prior (all great artists show up before their time).

Amsterdam, 1902, found the Asscher family with Joseph Isaac Asscher at the head. Over fifty years prior, Joseph had established the I.J. Asscher diamond company. Though he boasted five sons, each of which he passed his wisdom onto, two stood out in particular: Joseph and Abraham. With his cozy family, Asscher presided like a king over his fabulous five-story Tolstraat workshop. Much like a king passing on his legacy to a prince, Asscher’s son Joseph took the reigns at the forefront of the family with his invention of the Asscher cut.

By taking an emerald cut and turning it into a square, Joseph pressed all the focus of the eye into the center. With cut corners, a sudden optical illusion occurred, if only viewed from the top down. An ‘X’ appeared in the center of the stone. This radical cut became all the more popular during a time of geometrical design and modern fashion. Because the cut was patented, high end design houses like Cartier, as well as royalty who wanted access to this unique cut only had one source to find it.

There’s More to a Legacy Than One Cut

The Asscher family’s attention to detail and focus on precision and craftsmanship had already established them as one of the most respected diamond cutters in all of Europe by the time they patented their unique new diamond cut. As a result of this, the company was entrusted to cut what was then the world’s largest diamond, the Excelsior, in 1903 and then the world’s new largest diamond, the Cullinan diamond in 1908.

Excelsior

On June 30, 1893, the stone which became known as “The Excelsior” diamond was pulled out of the ground at Jagersfontein Mine in South Africa. Weighing a total of 995.2 carats, the Excelsior was the largest known diamond ever discovered up to that point. The stone was shopped around quite a bit before ending up at the Asscher’s cutting facility in Amsterdam.

Most likely one of the main reasons it took so long to cut, the inclusions in the rough stone made it impossible to cut a record breaking faceted stone. The rough stone was divided into 20 large polished diamonds, with the largest being a mere 69.68ct and 10 of the stones weighing over 10ct.

While none of the stones ended up in the newly patented Asscher cut, the recognition from being offered the opportunity to cut the world’s largest diamond was certainly a sign of the reputation this family diamond firm had built over their 50 year history.

Cullinan

Just a few short years after being asked to cut the Excelsior diamond, the Asscher family was once again honored with the opportunity to cut the world’s new largest gem quality diamond, the Cullinan Diamond. To this day, the Cullinan Diamond still holds the record as the largest gem quality diamond to ever come out of the ground at 3106.75ct, roughly the size of an average human heart.

Although King Edward initially envisioned keeping the stone in it’s rough form, Joseph Asscher convinced him to allow Asscher to cut and polish the stone. To suggest that Joseph Asscher was particular over the way this stone was cut would be understatement. In the first month of his cutting, he spent the entire time carefully creating an incision that was just 1cm deep.

The first two diamonds were finished with their final polishes and ready to present to King Edward almost a full year after first arriving at Asscher’s workshop. The largest stone, the Cullinan I, weighed in at 530.2 carats and was renamed the “Great Star of Africa”, while the smaller of the two massive stones, the Cullinan II, weighed in at 317.40 carats and was renamed the “Smaller Star of Africa”.

A Sad End to a Beautiful Journey

In 1902, upon its creation, the Asscher cut became the world’s first patented diamond cut. The art deco period and the sudden rise in popularity of the once ignored emerald cut brought great wealth to the Asscher family. This boon continued right up until World War II. Asscher, like so many others of Jewish descent, was hunted by Nazi’s, eventually succumbing to the horrors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Out of the entire Asscher family and its 500 employees, only twenty-five people survived to the end of the war.

Other Important Asscher cut diamonds

The exclusivity and prominence of the Asscher cut has led to many important diamonds being cut in this style. These stones include the 54.04ct Porter Rhodes Diamond, the 127.01ct Portuguese diamond, and the massive 302.37ct Graff Lesedi La Rona diamond. Celebrities who have worn Asscher cut diamonds as an engagement ring include Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow, Pippa Middleton, Kate Hudson, Zoey Deschanel, Vanessa Minnillo, and of course we are also counting the elongated Krupp diamond famously worn by Elizabeth Taylor.



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