The line of succession in lapidary up until the end of the 17th century was a singular line. From point cuts came table cuts. From table cuts came rose cuts. But as man began to spread his influence over the natural world and explore more regions, the field of lapidary underwent an explosive change. Cuts were emerging from every continent almost simultaneously, and they were each discovering what the other thought that it already knew: more facets meant more fire. The stories of these individual cuts, each co-existing with the other, would eventually combine to create what became arguably the most important family cuts in modern lapidary history: the brilliant cut. The singular tales, each fascinating in their own way, paint a vivid picture of lapidary through the years. Today, these early brilliant cut diamonds are better known by another name: the old mine cut.

A Gambling Cardinal and His Vast Collection of Jewels

The story of the brilliant cut starts in a most unexpected place: in the heart of Vienna where a Cardinal and a nameless lapidarist met for the sake of an infant French king. When Louis XIII died in 1643, his successor Louis XIV was only four years old. For a man who had had pretty much everything in life, the one thing he really wanted in death was for his Queen to not succeed him as Regent. Unfortunately, when you’re dead, you don’t get much say in the matter, and four days after his death Queen Anne of Austria was declared Regent. But a few of Louis XIII’s lackies still remained in the government, and they’d have to go if she were to have any type of peace. So, on the very same evening that she became Regent, Queen Anne made Cardinal Jules Mazarin her Chief Minister and the head of her government. It would be his job to make sure that little Louis XIV had a good education and survived long enough to overtake his mother and become the next King of France.

A rampant gambler with a strong affinity for art and jewels, Mazarin amassed a fortune during his time on Earth, and much of that wealth he invested in diamonds and gemstones. The sources and timeline of his accumulation are unknown, but he was known to source stones from royal families across Europe and renowned traveler and gem broker, Jean Baptiste Tavernier.

Upon his death in 1661, his massive collection was divided up collection generous, bequeathing the Duc d’Orléans 31 emeralds, Queen Anne a large round diamond and a cabochon ruby ring, and Queen Marie-Thérese of Spain received a cluster of diamonds. The most notable of his collection though was left to the King of France to be included in the Crown Jewels of France, under the condition that they continue to bear his name. Among the 18 diamonds he willed to the crown of France included 55.23ct “Sancy Diamond”, the 21.68ct “Mirror of Portugal” and the 19.10ct Slightly Pink “Grand Mazarin Diamond”. The smallest of these diamonds was 6.16ct and all but 3 were over 10ct.

The Mazarin Cut

Oddly enough, not a single one of the diamonds acquired by the Crown of France was fashioned into what became known as the “Mazarin Cut”. Six diamonds were pear shape rose cuts (including the Sancy), three were rectangular table cuts, eight were square table cuts, and one was essentially a marquise cut. The cut was most likely developed during the latter portion of his life, and there is a good chance it was named after him in honor of his love of diamonds.

The Mazarin cut boasted 34 facets (17 crown facets and 17 pavilion facets), including a polished culet and girdle. They simultaneously played on the natural octahedral shape of a diamond to save weight while dramatically improving light reflection enhance the fire and brilliance of the stone. Fast forward a few centuries, and the Mazarin Cut has become the epitome of what most people have in the mind when they envision an old mine cut diamond.

The Mazarin is considered by many to be the first “brilliant cut” diamond, but travel to Italy, and many people will argue a different story...

Is That How It Really Happened? The Peruzzi Puzzle

While a lot of people credit Cardinal Mazarin with the development of the brilliant cut, there are many others who would attribute that honor to a Venetian man: Vincenzo Peruzzi.

In 1817 a large manual was published called ‘La Science des Pierres Précieuses’ which translates to "The Science of Precious Stones". Inside, it mentions that a Venetian lapidarist named Vincenzio Peruzzi was the first to transform a diamond into a Brilliant cut. The author, Antoine Claire, was a French lapidarist, but he apprenticed in Turin, Italy, so it’s not unreasonable to think there is some truth to the story, or at the very least, this was the story that people believed in Italy at the time.

All that said, much like the mysterious and controversial Lodewyk van Bercken, there is scant evidence that Vincenzo Peruzzi ever existed. In fact, while doing research for his book on the history of diamond cutting, Herbert Tillander reached the conclusion that Peruzzi was a myth, never finding any evidence for the existence of a diamond cutter of that name or anything close.

But since when is history exclusively focused on reality? Search on the internet and you will learn that Vincenzo Peruzzi not only existed, but he was the first person to cut a diamond with 58 facets (the same number of facets that you will see in Marcel Tolkowsky’s ideal round brilliant cut diamond). Whether he existed or not, his legacy is certainly real, and his name is tied to another cut, the Peruzzi cut, which like the Mazarin, is typically described by most people using the blanket term "old mine cut".

The Peruzzi cut is very similar to the Mazarin cut, adding additional facets to both the crown and pavilion. These diamonds are cushiony in shape and always have the signature open culet at the bottom to enhance the fire inside the stone.

Mazarin Cut, Peruzzi Cut and Old Mine Cut Diamonds
A Comparison of a Mazarin Cut, Peruzzi Cut, and Old Mine Cut Diamond

Where Does the Term “Old Mine Cut” Actually Come From?

The End of Indian Diamonds

All good things must come to an end, and eventually, what was considered to be the only source of diamonds in the world for over two thousand years slowly stopped unveiling beautiful gems. Around the same time that Indian production was slowing, diamonds were discovered for the first time on the other side of the world: Minas Gerais, Brazil.

This discovery could not have come at a better time for European traders. Almost immediately, Brazilian diamonds began to account for the vast majority of the world’s production, and by the end of the 18th century, Indian diamond mining had been completely exhausted.

The New Mines Vs the Old Mines – The Discovery of Diamonds in South Africa

These new diamonds came from South Africa, and were much like the Brazilian diamonds in their origins. They were found not in any particularly beautiful or mystical setting, but in the fields of a poor Boer farmer named Daniel Jacobs. He lived with wife and son on a farming settlement in Hopetown, which was an isolated community on the Orange River in the Cape of Good Hope Colony. Jacobs, like his neighbors, was a European settler who’d moved his family from the coast to the fertile lands of Africa in the hopes of raising livestock. He certainly wasn’t a diamond man, so when his son Erasmus started collecting pebbles that shined in the sun, he didn’t pay much mind to it.

As a matter of fact, no one around Erasmus thought much of it, save for his mother who mused that it was rather pretty for a pebble. She showed it in passing to a neighbor, Schalk van Niekerk, who liked it so much he even offered to pay for it. A woman of the earth, Mrs. Jacobs thought that this was the stupidest thing she’d ever heard, so she promptly gave him the pebble and told him to enjoy it to his heart's content.

Niekerk certainly did enjoy it. He started showing it off to anyone he could in Hopetown, wondering if someone could tell him what it was. No one cared, so Niekerk went to the next city over in Colesberg and managed to snag the attention of the civil commissioner named Lorenzo Boyes. Boyes noted that the stone could scratch glass which was disconcerting… because there are only two types of stones that can do that: corundum (ruby/sapphire) and diamonds.

Boyes and Niekerk, sensing they were on the verge of discovering something enticing, sent the shiny little pebble to a Dr. W.G. Atherstone, a geologist living in Grahamstown. Atherstone examined the pebble, noted its physical properties, and then let Niekerk and Boyes know they’d sent him a 21.25 carat diamond. That’s a diamond roughly the size of a cherry.

The governor of Cape Colony, a Sir Phillip Wodehouse, was happy enough to buy that cherry-sized diamond from Jacobs for a whopping £500. When you equate that sort of money to current buying trends, it would be worth nearly seven years salary of a skilled tradesman.

One can imagine that talk was more spirited than usual around the Jacobs dinner table that night...

Rounding Off the Corners

Shortly after the discovery of diamonds in South Africa, an American inventor and lapidary named Henry D Morse patented the world’s first steam powered bruting machine, which allowed for much more precise fashioning in regards to the shape of a diamond. Suddenly diamonds, were beginning to become more circular and it didn’t take nearly as much time and manpower to shape out the sides. Thus the European cut was born.

Because of the close proximity to the invention of the steam powered bruting machine and the discovery of the abundant diamond supplies in South Africa, the rounded and precisely polished diamonds became associated with the new mines and the more square stones with the high tables and large open culets became associated with the old mines. The term “old mine cut” had officially entered the language of lapidaries and jewelers around the world.

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