Where to Buy Vintage Style Diamonds: Old Mine Cushion Diamonds That Sparkle

A few people have been asking me where to get vintage cut diamonds.

The following article talks a little about these antique styles followed by a recommendation on where to find some newly cut diamonds that are similar to the old mine cut but with some remarkable improvements in light performance.

History of The Old Mine Cut

Most Old Mine Brilliants found today are diamonds that have been handed down from generation to generation. These antique diamonds, while charming, are often lacking in many areas. First of all being used diamonds, these antique stones can have many signs of wear, including chips, abrasions, and cracks. These stones, having been cut at a time when diamond cutting technology was not as developed as it is today, are also severely lacking in cut precision. It’s common to see antique Old Mine Brilliants that are lop sided and the poor craftsmanship is easy to spot. In addition to physical symmetry polishers had little to no understanding of light interaction in a diamond and no notion of light performance.

The Gemological Institute of America informs us that centuries ago, diamond cutting was a slow process. The less material the cutter removed from the original rough diamond crystal, the more quickly he completed his work. If a diamond cutter took too long to complete a task they would see their wages cut as a penalty. Therefore, the typical cut during this time was actually a squarish, sometimes slightly oval cushion-brilliant. The name used by most jewelers today when refer to such shapes is the “old mine cut.”

The Old Mine Cut‘s defining characteristics are more often than not a squarish shape. The Old Mine Cut diamond’s top and bottom — that is to say, crown and pavilion — were both much deeper than are found in cuts employed in the shaping of today’s diamonds. In the mid-1800’s  Coster’s Amsterdam diamond cutting house was the largest diamond cutting establishment in the world. It employed a labor-intensive process that included three phases of operation. Each phase required specialized skilled labor to split or cleave the diamonds, cut the diamonds, and finally polish the diamonds.

In the 1870’s a “bruting” machine started being employed which gave the diamond a round outline. The first angle gauges led cutters to use the angles associated with today’s modern cuts. In the year 1900 a second event changed the way diamonds were shaped: the circular saw came into use. This new tool made it a great deal easier to split the typical octahedral-shaped diamond rough crystal into two pieces. This in turn made it possible to cut the smaller top piece into a finished diamond. The technique employed prior to this was to simply grind it away. – A waste of precious diamond which would no longer be necessary. Within the next couple of years many in the industry realized that using the saw saved weight from the common octahedral diamond crystals, which meant that the new proportions could be cut without the type of waste of diamond rough that previous techniques had caused. This change shifted the emphasis from weight recovery to allowing diamonds to be cut into prettier shapes resulting in the many designs which eventually have become the styles that we see today.

Vintage Style Diamond Cut: Cushion Cut

A Cushion Cut Diamond. Available from Ritani.com

The cushion cut diamond had a big increase in popularity over the course of the 19th century. Old mine cuts are often fairly close to and can even be confused with modern cushion cut diamonds. Today, some cushion cut diamonds are actually certified as “old mine brilliants”.

The main difference between Old Mine Cut diamonds and cushion cut diamonds is that Old Mine Cut diamonds have fewer facets which makes the facets larger than you would find in a cushion cut diamond of the same weight.

The cushion cut is basically a modern take on an old style. It has more of the fire, scintillation and brilliance expected in diamonds, while still having a shape reminiscent of the old mine cuts.

Cushion cuts have been in high demand in the past few years, yet it was not until the Canera Antique Cushion came on the scene that anyone had been able to bring out the true chunky faceted style of the Old Mine Cuts and still have the diamond display the optimum light performance that makes a diamond sparkle. In the end this scintillation, fire and brilliance is what diamonds are most famous for.

Diamond manufacturers have been known to re-cut old diamonds in order to update their “look” as contemporary cuts.

You’re probably wondering, “Hang on! That’s going to make the diamond smaller!”

You are absolutely right.

Reshaping a diamond will reduce its weight. No two ways about it.

But it’s often considered a necessity. The manufacturer/jeweler can’t be certain vintage styled diamond will come back into vogue. But styles often do cycle around. What seems dated in one decade given 20 to 30 years becomes “vintage” and you start seeing a renewed interest.

It has become evident that the cycle has come around again. Jewelers, trades people and consumers have again come to appreciate the beauty of the antique faceting seen in these timeless diamonds.

Antique style diamonds have a special charm so it’s no surprise that the interest in vintage jewelry has increased dramatically of late.

While it’s not great to re-cut a diamond, because of the reduction in its size, the truth is that many old style diamonds did not have good light performance. They lacked the fire, brilliance and scintillation because the technology used to both plan, cut and measure the result was inferior to what is available today.

Improvements in cutting technology and techniques make it possible to recreate those antique cuts with minor adjustments which result in improved light performance.

Victor Canera is a diamond cutter in Los Angeles California that saw the charm of the old mine cut. He applied his expertise to improve the light performance of this style and the Canera Antique Cushion was born.

He created a unique cut that

An antique/vintage style diamond: The Canera Antique Cushion

The above diamond can be found here:

The above diamond has an Ideal or 0 Cut grade which is the highest cut grade issued by AGS. An AGS Ideal Cut diamond is considered by many to be one of finest cut diamonds in the world. An Ideal cut grade is reached by factoring in polish, symmetry, proportions and performance scores of a diamond.

The Canera Antique Cushion is a high performance cushion cut diamond. As touched on earlier, the old mine cut diamonds of the 19th and early 20th century did not have the benefit of the advancements in light performance that we have today and therefore did not display the optimum traits that the new designs exhibit. The Canera Antique Cushion designed by Victor Canera combines both the charm of the old style cuts while benefiting from the advancements in the science of light performance.

Within its beautiful “pillowy” outline, the Canera Antique Cushion employs an antique facet pattern inspired by Old Mine Brilliant diamonds of centuries past. This type of faceting is commonly referred to as being “broad faceted” or “chunky faceted”. These terms accurately describe the large, optimally tuned facets employed in the Canera Antique Cushion that reflect broad flashes of light compared to modern diamonds that have a more “splintery” reflective character.

Left: AGS000 Generic Antique Cushion with “mushy” appearance caused by virtual facets. Right: an AGS000 Canera Antique Cushion

The Canera Antique Cushion is a high performance vintage cushion cut diamond having optimal optical symmetry and ideal light performance and can be found exclusively at VictorCanera.com.

I invite you to view Victor Canera’s current offering of loose Canera Antique Cushion Diamonds and see why the lucky owners of this gem, call it one of the finest cushion cut diamonds in the world.


What are Virtual Diamonds?

I have been asked a question which I am sure other people are also wondering about. What are Virtual Diamonds? If you have no idea what the term Virtual diamonds means you could easily start wondering if these are some sort of imaginary diamonds. Are the diamonds really there? What the heck are virtual diamonds? Have no fear. This article should clear  up any confusion surrounding virtual diamonds.

In a sense virtual diamonds are not there, so in a way you’d be right. But the good news is that they are somewhere. They do exist. They just aren’t being physically kept by the jeweler that is retailing them. Virtual diamonds are the diamonds which are still held by  manufacturers, ie siteholders. These diamonds may be listed by a number of jewelers as virtual inventory by permission from the siteholder. Some online jewelers’ inventory is entirely virtual. This is how James Allen and Blue Nile began.

Jewelers who own their own inventory such as Brian Gavin Diamonds, Victor Canera, Leibish & Co. , Asteria Diamonds and Whiteflash all vet the diamonds they have on offer. They have essentially had to put their money where their mouth is: They have invested in the diamonds and their vast experience means that they know what people want. The diamonds they present to you represent their brand and the quality they represent.

Some of these jewelers do also list virtual diamonds, but they draw on their gemologists’ expertise when deciding which virtual diamonds to include in their inventory. The virtual diamonds in their database are still going to be a reflection on their company and the aforementioned jewelers work very hard to maintain the good reputation they have built up over the years.


On of the advantages of being able to access a virtual inventory is that  you have access to a wide selection of diamonds. The ability to compare many different diamonds allows you to select for whatever attributes you want. Some people select size over quality of cut, others (who do their research, and know that a poorly cut diamond is not going to sparkle) make their selection based on the quality of the diamond’s cut. But the choices are there and much of this is made possible through virtual stock. Jewelry retailers can list diamonds without having to arrange and maintain secure storage not to speak of investing untold millions of dollars in the precious cut stones themselves. The wide variety of stones available through virtual stock is great for those who like to research and narrow their search down to within specific parameters.

Disadvantages of buying from Virtual Inventory

One disadvantage of browsing through virtual stock is that not all listings include a photo of the specific diamond. Often listings only show a stock photo, or none at all. This is not always the case, but it is understandably quite a logistical challenge for a jeweler to photograph inventory they do not have possession of. Which is why James Allen’s amazing feat of photographing tens of thousands of diamonds is all the more impressive. One disadvantage to buying from a virtual selection that has given rise to complaints on more than one occasion is that in rare circumstances the diamond someone wants may already be in the process of being sold to another jeweler. If this were to happen to you most likely your jeweler would be happy to suggest some alternative stones. However you may have thought long and hard about a particular diamond and will understandably not be too happy at being told that it’s no longer available. Another disadvantage of buying from virtual selections is that all the best signature cuts are generally not included in virtual listings. Signature cuts are best bought directly from the cutter for the best deals anyway.

So as you can see there is a downside to shopping the virtual market. Virtual diamonds are typically listed on multiple websites. It often happens that the diamond you so carefully chose turns out to be unavailable.
Vendors then have to talk you into another diamond making it seem like they are trying a bait-and-switch. When in fact they are simply trying to hang on to the sale that has just slipped out of their hands due to the diamond having been sold by another retailer.
This kind of prior sale or even logistic and delivery delays undoubtedly cause disappointment and frustration.
Another disadvantage is that the diamonds are not pre-vetted by the merchant. This opens up a slew of unforeseen issues that could be a risk.
Diamonds listed with old certificates, with limited objective data, with mismatched data, with minimal return options, or by sellers with questionable or unproven reputations, are all red flags that should be taken very seriously by consumers.
Virtual diamonds coming from overseas are difficult and expensive to return, thereby creating an incentive for the merchant to fulfill the order even if an issue is discovered. In this way, problems are sometimes passed along undermining the protections a consumer would expect the merchant to provide.
Because there has been a massive trend in the industry toward the virtual model, the value of in-stock, fully vetted diamonds available for immediate sale is sometimes under-estimated.
The opportunity to see a comprehensive set of diagnostics on the diamond and the option of having a gemologist answer questions with the diamond in hand, or provide additional information such as comparison images, can be very valuable for such a special purchase. This also makes it possible for a consumer to visit the vendor to see the diamond in person and get to know the merchant and the operation face to face. On large dollar purchases, many smart shoppers do exactly that.

Virtual diamonds present us with an opportunity to browse many more diamonds than would be possible if jewelers had to own all their stock.

While the highest grade diamonds are usually purchased from those who specialize in such items and are often hard to find in virtual listings, every inventory will have better and lower quality diamonds. One simply has to choose in which areas they are willing to compromise: size, cut, color, or clarity.