From time to time, jewelry takes on a dual role, creating a piece that is both functional and beautiful. The portrait cut is an example of this, a cut born out of necessity.

The concept of framing something beneath glass for preservation was first mass produced in the mid-18th century, but portraits (as a picture, not a stone cut) existed long before then. Many people often enjoyed wearing their portraits around their necks in lockets, but a few more enjoyed them on rings. It was here that the portrait cut was born; a thin, flat stone with minimal facets to produce a glass like appearance that a painting could go underneath.

This form originated in ancient India, as a means to keep tiny portraits safe from the wear and tear of life. But by removing facets, crowns, and tables, the diamond was suddenly stripped of its sparkling ability. Why then would one choose to cut a diamond in this fashion? It was a matter of utilizing a diamond for its rawest form, its strength. What was more, it elevated the love of the portrait’s subject, for here their form was contained forever beneath a fragile layer of the world’s hardest and most valued stone.

Portrait cut diamonds are fairly rare to find in antique pieces, but they have seen a sudden surge in popularity today, getting attention from modern designers who are creating diamond pieces designed not to sparkle. These modern designs will often have ornate metal work or a diamond design viewable through the main portrait cut diamond.

“The Russian Portrait”

The most famous portrait diamond in existence today is the pear shaped diamond referred to as “The Russian Portrait” or “The Portrait Diamond”. The diamond measures 40 x 29mm and weighs approximately 27 carats, which qualifies the stone as the largest portrait cut diamond in the world.

The diamond is set in a bracelet dating back to around 1820. The bracelet is yellow gold, accented by enamel, and the diamond is placed over a portrait painted on ivory of Emperor Alexander I, who was emperor of Russia from 1801-1825. Underneath the diamond, it is engraved “To the blessed Emperor Alexander I”.

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