By Beth Bernstein
The Past And Present Of The Cushion Cut Diamond
From the Hope to the Regent Diamond, from the 1700’s to modern day, the cushion cut has a prevalent place in the history of diamonds. Not only are there numerous famous stones but the antique and modern versions are a favorite among certain celebrities—rocking both elegant and excessively large variations on the cut. Cushion cut rings and certainly cushion cut engagement rings have become over time an important part of the jewelry landscape so it is important to recognize how this all began.
A Moment In Time; The History of the Cushion Cut
Let’s take step back into history –it was the 1700s when what was called old-mine or old-miner’s diamonds featured rounded edges of a more squarish shape. The name old-miner’s derived from the Brazilian diamond mines, which became known as the “old mines” after diamonds were discovered in South Africa, as well. The cut was so popular from the1700s to the 19th century in all forms of jewelry, sometimes combined with smaller rose cuts as a halo or in part of the design. Back then the cut was thought of as modern but was really one of the percussors to the modern brilliant cut. The shape of the mine-cuts has a pillow like shape which eventually led to the term cushion cuts. They were cut with 58 facets with a high crown with a small table facet. On the pavilion side, you could see a deeper pavilion and an open culet. During the antique shape’s popularity diamond cutters saved weight with this cutting style.
What Becomes A Legend: The Famed Cushion Cut Diamonds
The Hope Diamond is part of the permanent collection in The Harry Winston Gallery at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian and is perhaps the most famous of all diamonds. It is an antique cushion cut blue diamond weighing 45.52 carats and is set into a pendant with a surround of white diamonds. It was originally brough back from Kollur mine in Golconda India in 1668 by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a French merchant and traveler and sold to Louis XIV. It went through a few different names: Tavernier Blue and French Blue and was recut from its irregular shape and weight of approximately 112 carats by the court jeweler into a 67-carat stone that the king wore on ribbon around his neck. Then in 1749, Louis XVI had the stone reset into a piece of ceremonial jewelry for the Order of the Golden Fleece. The diamond was one of the crown jewels that was stolen in 1792.
A diamond bearing it’s distinction turned up in 1812 with strong evidence indicating that stone was the French Blue. It was acquired by King George IV. At his death, in 1830, it was reportedly sold to pay off his debts. The next owner was the banker Henry Philip Hope for which the diamond was named. It remained in the Hope family for years until 1901 and then sold and sold again until Pierre Cartier purchased it in 1909, and he in turn enticed socialite and jewelry collector Evalyn Walsh McLean to buy it. Cartier remounted the stone for Ms. McLean into a headpiece and then eventually into the necklace which resides in the Smithsonian today. Ms. McLean owned the diamond until her death in 1947 when Harry Winston purchased her entire jewelry collection. He gifted the Smithsonian the diamond in 1958 where tourists come from around the globe to view the storied diamond.
The Regent Diamond is displayed today in the Galerie d’Apollon at the Louvre and has an intriguing history. It started out weighing 410 carats and was found in 1701 at the Partial mine along the Krishna River. It was first sold to a merchant named Thomas Pitt whose son brought it to England where it was cut into a 140.5 carat cushion. But Thomas was the brunt of rumors of possible shady dealings in which he acquired the diamond which was then known as The Pitt. The son sold the diamond to Philippe d’ Orleans regent of France in 1717. It was then named the Regent. The story takes more twists and turns. The diamond was set above the rim of the coronation crown of Louis XV in 1722. Stolen in 1792 with the other French crown jewels, it was found in the attic of house in Paris. It was then used to help finance the French Revolution, after which it went to Napoleon who wore the Regent mounted in the guard of his ceremonial consular sword and then his imperial sword. The last way in which it was set was for Empress Eugenie in the late 19th century in a diadem. It was one of the diamonds that was not auctioned with the rest of the crown jewels.
The Tiffany Diamond was discovered in around 1878 in Kimberly South Africa. It was a yellow octahedron which weighed a whopping 287.42 carats. George E. Kunz, the legendary Tiffany & Co. employed gemologist supervised the cutting of the rough into a 128.54 carat yellow cushion with almost double the facets than that of the old mine cut diamond. This brought out more sparkle and life. In 1879 Tiffany & Co. purchased the stone and has never sold it since. It has become an icon of the house—on view and display but only worn three times in public. Lady Gaga wore it to the 2019 Academy Awards evoking the look that Audrey Hepburn made famous when she wore it in publicity stills for the film Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Hepburn wore it in one of the Schlumberger ‘wardrobe of settings’ created for the diamond. The first person to ever wear it was Sheldon Whitehouse for a Tiffany Ball in 1957. Tiffany & Co continues to display the diamond.
All of these historic cushion cut diamond pieces add an even more charming backdrop to the modern day decision to choose a cushion cut engagement ring or other cushion cut ring style for one’s jewelry wardrobe.
Pillow Talk: How The Modern Cushion Cut Diamond Ring Was Formed
Diamond experts report that the modern day cushion cut ring not only drew inspiration from old mine cuts but from a number of old diamond cuts such as the table cut, Peruzzi and candlelight cut. However, due to more advanced cutting techniques, the cushion evolved over time with 64 facets rather than its original 58, allowing for more sparkle and more elegant proportions. Today’s cushion cut diamond reveals several variations in faceting and varies between a rounded corner rectangle and a roundish square. As far as faceting techniques there are four that come to mind: “crushed ice” which is achieved by adding more small pavilion facets and creating mirror like reflections when light enters the stone. There are also chunky cushions which display larger facets and broader flashes of light which hark back to the original mine cut diamond and imbues a more antique feeling. All of these innovations in cutting have made for ever more beautiful cushion cut rings and other jewelry styles. A classic brilliant cut offers a similar approach to a round brilliant diamond while there is also what is known as the “hearts and arrows” faceted pattern which can really only be seen through a 10x loupe.
The modern style has made cushion cut engagement rings very popular as it is softer, more romantic and more vintage in feeling than the sleek radiant or Asscher cut, yet it features the sparkle of a round brilliant.
In addition to cushion cut rings, cushion cut diamonds are also set into solitaire pendants, eternity necklaces and a variety of earrings which add a soft shape to the diamond jewelry that lights up the face.
How Engaging: The Celebrity Connection
Celebrities that own or have owned cushion cut diamonds include but are not limited to Jessica Biel, Ashley Tisdale, Kelly Rowland, Kim Kardashian, Gabrielle Union and Sofia Vergara.
Beth Bernstein is a jewelry historian, collector of period and modern jewelry and a purveyor of all things sparkly. She has penned three books—'My Charmed Life,' a memoir; 'Jewelry's Shining Stars,' a modern jewelry design coffee table book; and 'If These Jewels Could Talk,' an in-depth look at celebrities and the stories behind their legendary jewels on the silver screen and in real life—with a fourth one in the works. She has written and continues to write for major print and online magazines on all subjects pertaining to jewelry and style.