Understanding The Transitional Cut Diamond

by Sasha t on Jan 23, 2023

Understanding The Transitional Cut Diamond - Jack Weir & Sons

The round brilliant cut diamond as we know it today is a result of decades of evolution and optimization in the art of diamond cutting. It is most directly descended from the transitional cut diamond, which is not a cut that is discussed too often but is absolutely exquisite and should be considered when looking for old cut diamonds. 

What is a Transitional Cut Diamond? 

A transitional cut is a diamond cut that was developed in the late 1920s, as a transition between the Old European Cut (OEC) and the modern Round Brilliant Cut (RBC). The transitional cut diamond is characterized by its round shape and 57 or 58 facets, like the Round Brilliant Cut, but with a higher crown and a deeper pavilion than the Round Brilliant Cut. This results in a diamond that has a slightly more antique look than the modern Round Brilliant Cut, while still maintaining the brightness and fire of the modern cut.

Because the GIA doesn’t have a specific categorization for the transitional cut, it’s worth noting that the term "transitional cut" can also refer to any diamond cut that was developed as a transition between two different styles or periods. For example, the Princess Cut, which was developed in the 1960s, could also be considered a transitional cut, as it marked a transition between the traditional round and square cuts of the time. 

HOWEVER, the transitional cuts we are talking about today are specific to the transition between old cut diamonds and more modern cuts, from 1920s - 1950s. These specific transitional cut diamonds are often sought after by collectors and vintage jewelry enthusiasts due to their unique blend of vintage and modern characteristics. They are also popular among those looking for a more unique and antique-looking diamond for an engagement ring.

The History of Transitional Cut Diamonds

 Like all good things in life though, we should ask “Why?” Why do we have transitional cut diamonds and how did they come to be?  Well, I’m glad you asked. If you’ve read any of our other blogs, you’ll know that prior to this era, all diamonds were cut by hand and the dim lighting available at the time - resulting in what we call “Old Mine Cuts” or “Old European Cuts.”  In 1876, American Charles M. Field acquired a patent for the first modern diamond cutting machine, because of this, Transitional Cuts are sometimes referred to as Early American Cuts.  This machine, the diamond lathe, was powered by steam and diamond saws and wasn’t foolproof. Because they were learning as they used it, every transitional cut diamond is fairly unique - their ultimate hope was to achieve the best possible light performance for each stone. This was important to Field and his boss, David Morse, because electrical light was becoming more pervasive in society, meaning that diamond cutters were not only using it to cut, but that their work would be scrutinized under it as well. This is the reason transitional cut diamonds featured a wide range of proportions, angles, and facet numbers - to ensure the quality of light performance, striving for brilliance and scintillation. The cuts were based on the stone, not on any particular set of criteria, as they are today.  Thirty years later, the proportions were mathematically perfected by famous diamond cutter Marcel Tolkowsky and eventually resulted in the modern round brilliant cut as we know it today.

What do Transitional Cut Diamonds look like?

The transitional cut diamond bridges the chunky old Euro diamonds of the old world and the flashy brilliant stones of today. These beauties manage to have an old world feel while maintaining that mega modern round brilliant sparkle. They feature larger tables, a lower crown, and a smaller culet than the previous old Euro, but since the cutters were optimizing as they went, this cut really can feature all manners of angles, proportions, and facets.  Some stones exhibit the famous checkerboard pattern which is one of the more unique characteristics of the transitional cut. These rare stones were cut from the 1920’s to 1940’s and represent a very unique time in history. 

Transitional cut diamond details


Art Deco 2.40 carat transitional diamond cut ring with smaller diamonds on the side in a platinum setting


Mid century french 7.37 carats transitional cut diamond ring in a platinum setting

Today, they are becoming increasingly rare as many are being recut to fully modern round brilliant cuts. This cut was around for such a short period that GIA doesn’t even categorize it as its own cut. They use different names to describe transitional cuts like “Round Brilliant” or “Circular Brilliant.” In fact, sometimes they even call Old European Cuts “Circular Brilliant”. The differences for their names are minuscule and are very technical. GIA counts facets and % of proportions. If a stone has a small table, open culet (they are traditionally small for transitional cuts), large facets, medium to thick griddle, deep pavilion, it’s very likely a Transitional Cut. The culet makes all the difference as Modern Round Brilliants don’t have a culet at all. 

In response to some of this confusion and misappropriation, GIA introduced the “Circular Brilliant” in 2014 and this categorization does include some Transitional Cuts. Regardless of GIA categorization, a true transitional cut has its own character and remains one of the important cuts in diamond history. We’d be happy to help you on your search in finding one! 

Here at Jack Weir & Sons we’ve spent the last 40 years traveling to Europe and all over the world, curating extraordinary estate jewels. JWS is where the old world meets the new world. Celebrate life, preserve history, discover your own priceless heirloom jewel. We are extremely grateful for our clients and the ability to help people to celebrate their special moments through one of a kind jewelry. To share that gratitude and our strong family values, we chose to partner with Baby2Baby. So far, from November 2021-October 2022 we've donated $39,018. A portion of every sale goes towards children living in poverty to provide them with diapers, clothing, and all the basic necessities that every child deserves. 

We offer in-person and Virtual Appointments and are happy to answer any questions about your favorite jewel. 


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Don't forget to check out our Transitional cut diamonds youtube video

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