For jewelry connoisseurs, one of the most collectable and sought-after diamonds is the vintage Asscher Cut. So few were ever produced that to find an original Asscher Cut diamond is highly unusual, making these stones very rare and valuable.
“One of the ways that experts can tell that an Asscher Cut diamond is vintage is that it has a softness of reflection. These diamonds are not hard and edgy like modern cut diamonds,” explains New York–based precious stone dealer Richard Buonomo, principal of Richard Buonomo Ltd., who specializes in old cut diamonds. “The softness of reflection is probably due to the fact that in the earlier days, diamond wheels were made of tin over wood dressed with oil and diamond grit. The wood under the tin had a little bit of give. Modern wheels are made of hardened steel, making them rigid, with no give. That teeny bit of give made the facets of the diamond ever so slightly convex. Today, the facets are perfect, so light reflects accordingly.”
The company was originally established in Amsterdam in 1854 by Joseph Isaac Asscher, who named the company IJ Asscher for his son Isaac Joseph Asscher. Isaac Joseph handed the business over to his two sons, Joseph and Abraham, who later renamed the firm the Asscher Diamond Company. Joseph created the original Asscher Cut in 1902.
In the early twentieth century, Joseph and Abraham Asscher were among the world’s premier diamond cutters and experts. In 1908, Joseph cleaved — which means to split a rough diamond into smaller pieces so they can be cut — the famous Cullinan Diamond that is part of the British Crown jewels. In fact, he was personally commissioned by King Edward VII for the job. Prior to that, Abraham had cut the 995-carat Excelsior Diamond, which was the biggest diamond ever found until the larger 3,106-carat Cullinan came along.
The Asscher Cut is a square shape, characterized by large cut corners, a small table, broad, even steps and an open, squarish culet. It is important to note that an Asscher Cut has a two-step crown, setting it apart from the emerald cut, which has a three-step crown and is generally more rectangular. The Asscher Cut is widely considered to be the precursor to the modern-day emerald cut. The legendary beauty of the Asscher Cut comes from the balanced facet proportions that produce a dazzling optical display of sparkle and brilliance. Its linear form worked well in the geometric shapes of Art Deco jewelry. Soon after it was developed, the Asscher Cut became very popular and was patented for a 50-year term.
“The fundamental motivation and assessment of diamond cutting before modern gemology was how beautifully a stone faced up,” comments Buonomo. “Cutters had a pure, direct attachment to the beauty of the stone as an end result. They were not going for the metrics of cutting — table size, pavilion angle, etc. — which today serve as an indirect road map to beauty. The diamonds were cut by hand directly for beauty.”
During World War II, the Nazis invaded Amsterdam and raided the Asscher Diamond Company, seizing the stones and sending the family and most of their polishers to concentration camps. When the war was over, there were ten surviving members of the family and of the 700 diamond cutters they had employed, only 15 came back. The family had to restart their business from the ground up, as not only their company, but much of the diamond industry in Amsterdam had been decimated. Today, the Asscher family remains in business, but no longer produces this legendary cut in its original form.