The European Cut - America’s First Contribution to Diamond Cutting

The Victorian era is one known for industrialization, revolution, romanticism, and the redefining of every facet of our world (pun very much intended). Lapidary was no exception. The next major step in the perfecting the modern round brilliant cut, and the modernization of diamonds as we know them today, came from a couple of men in Boston: Henry D. Morse and Charles M. Field. These two men arguably contributed more to the art of diamond cutting than anyone else in the 19th Century.

Henry D. Morse – The Father of American Diamond Cutting

According to a snippet from Morse’s personal scrapbook “Henry Morse whose advanced ideas of Diamond Cutting in 1870 influenced the change in cutting proportions from the Dutch to the American cut – and are today's proportions for Diamond Cutting”.

Morse traveled to Holland to apprentice under Dutch specialists, widely considered to be the best diamond cutters in the world, before traveling back to Boston in 1861. Upon his return, he started a factory there with a handful of Dutch diamond cutters, and he also taught a new wave of American lapidaries diamond cutting skills. He was the first person to set up a facility to cut diamonds in the US and his apprentices would go on to supply a vibrant, developing American society with their need for beautiful diamonds.

One of those apprentices would soon change the world of diamond cutting in an even more significant way. That man was Charles M. Field.

Charles M. Field – The Shop Foreman Who Changed Diamond Cutting Forever

Charles M Field was an early employee of Morse’s diamond cutting factory. He was trained in diamond cutting under Morse, and soon rose to become the shop foreman. In 1876, twelve years after becoming foreman, Field patented the most significant advancement in modern lapidary: the steam powered Bruting machine. The machine was soon introduced all over Europe and he followed it up with a patent for an electrical diamond cutting machine in 1891. Suddenly, it was possible to enjoy the aesthetic without losing too much weight, and men could form cuts much more quickly than before.

The Evolution of the European Cut

Over their career together, Field and Morse worked together tirelessly to find new angles and proportions to maximize brilliance in a diamond. Morse would build on his experience in Holland, and working with Field enhanced the visual appeal of the diamond, even if it meant “losing value” by reducing the weight. This idea of thinking was scandalous in a world that wanted to keep diamonds as heavy as possible (that’s how they were traditionally valued after all), but Morse and Field saw the value in a stone that had lower main angles, smaller tables, and symmetrical facets. This new diamond cut notably rounded out the natural square shoulders of the old mine cut diamond, allowing for more symmetry from all angles as light bounced around inside the stone.

While they were certainly not the first people to cut a round diamond, Field’s innovation of the steam powered and then electric bruting machine is what made this cut economical, and Morse’s theoretical proportions and tireless experimentation advanced the brilliance in a way that led to the round diamond taking off in popularity.

How did this unique cut shift from being called to “American Cut” to the “European Cut”? I have no idea. Possibly because it just sounded fancier, possibly because the Dutch and other Europeans didn’t want to think about those brutish Americans when they were cutting these elegant stones. Regardless of the reason behind the name, these rounder stones with their large culets became the epitome of what a diamond should look like for decades to come.

Why Do Old European Cut Diamonds Have a Yellowish Tint?

The yellowish tint found in diamonds comes from the nitrogen content in their chemical structure. The most valued gems are a pure white (“D” Color), which means they have a complete absence of nitrogen. While South Africa proved to be the most significant source of diamonds the world had ever seen, these stones would also tend to show a little more color than the magnificent diamonds produced from the famous Indian mines of centuries past.

Another major reason is more sad: recycling. As diamond cutting processes evolved, Old European cut and Old Mine cut diamonds were losing their appeal in favor of more brilliant modern stones that were becoming available in new unique shapes. During the period between 1960s-80s, diamond cutters all over the world were buying up these older stones to be recut to fit the modern standard. Obviously, their first choice of diamonds to buy were the whitest, making high color old cut diamonds even more rare than they already were.

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