Gail Brett Levine – Appraising Antique Diamonds

Gail Brett Levine

Gail Brett Levine

On September 23, 2008 we were treated to Gail Brett Levine, gemologist, author and president of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers. Gail’s topic for the evening was older diamonds and how to value them. She emphasized that these stones need to be valued for what they are, not what they are not, as in recut to modern proportions.

One school of thought on this is that an old mine or old European stone should be valued based on the recut weight and estimated colour and clarity.

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Ms. Levine disagrees with this and throughout the presentation, gave several resources for research purposes.

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The first determination should be period dating the piece. Since there are many crossover periods, art and monarch dating should also be considered i.e. Deco vs. Nouveau or Napoleonic vs. Victorian to name a few.

pic5Some of the oldest cuts seen in antique and period jewelry are the table and rose cuts. These cuts date back as far as the early 1300’s. Cutting processes were primitive at best so the stones were mostly flat and rectangular, hence the name. A little further in to the 1600’s, rose cuts appeared. These stones still had flat bottoms but had facets on the top, dome style. There is virtually no light performance to judge and the jewelry was often two-sided.

pic666Gail showed several examples of these. Point cuts were also common during this period and were square with sharp pointed tops and were used for etching names in glass panes. In valuing these pieces, age, provenance and workmanship are key. The best resources are the auctions markets.

During the Elizabethan era, the queen’s jewels of choice were rubies and pearls. Up until this era, men were the dominant wearers of jewelry. Henry VIII was often pictured with many jewels. The trend then shifted to women. Rose cuts were still the norm with varying triangular faceting. This is key in separating old from new.

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The newer rose cuts are more precise with symmetrical faceting. This was rarely seen in the 16th and 17th centuries. England’s George the III ushered in the “Age of Diamonds” in the mid-1700’s to early 1800’s.

Rose cuts were set with closed, foil backing that yellowed with time. The backs were melon-ribbed. The rings of the period often had a swirl design in the shanks.
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Many pieces were made “en tremblant”. Rose cuts remained popular into the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Due to the closed backs, weight determination is difficult at best so the pieces should be valued based on age, provenance and workmanship. Again, the auction markets would be the resources.
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Moving to the old mine and European cuts, the main difference between the two are body outline and faceting. The mine cuts are cushion shaped with a four-rayed, back faceting pattern. The European cuts were typically round but could be other shapes as well. Both styles have high crowns, large culets and small tables. The separation of new mine cuts from old ones is that the new ones typically have small culets, no back rays and finished girdles. The valuing of mines and Europeans is different and there are several resources for this. Gail referenced Don Palmieri, Michael Goldstein and The Guide along with the auction markets. These are real time pricing guides for old cut stones so basing a value on recut weight is not necessary or recommended.
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Gail finished by noting that some older stones are being reset in to modern pieces and should be valued for their intrinsic worth.

Meeting Summary Submitted by Sherlene Y. Bradbury, G.G.
Photos Submitted by Melanie Marts, G. G.

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