The main attraction of any diamond is its striking brilliance. Or is it?
Some designers have turned that idea on its head by focusing on diamonds that are largely devoid of the sparkle and fire usually expected from the stones. Portrait-cut diamonds — thin, flat stones that are minimally faceted along their perimeter and have a transparent glass-like appearance — are gaining a following among a group of designers and clients drawn to their unusual allure.
“The portrait cut, also known as lasque, is one of the oldest forms of diamond cutting,” says Beth Bernstein, author of “The Modern Guide to Antique Jewelery.” “It originated in ancient India and gets its name from the custom of placing portraits under the gems to enhance their appearance and protect them.”
Later, the same technique was also used in Europe. “Royals and aristocrats commissioned jewelry with portraits set under thin strips of diamonds, either as symbols of status or as a sign of love and loyalty,” she said.
Vishal Kothari has an entire collection devoted to standing cut diamonds for VAK, his Mumbai-based jewelery brand that reinterprets motifs from Indian art and architecture with a modern eye. The Indian origins of the style first attracted him, and he said he “gradually fell more in love” when he found that the shallow profile allowed him to achieve an effect he couldn’t create with other diamonds.
“Because the stones are flat, I can use a thin wire, which makes it look like they’re floating against the skin,” he said. “You see very little metal in my designs.”
He has applied that almost invisible setting technique to diamonds in every layer of his collection, from tall jewelry designs, such as floral earrings composed of clusters of triangular diamonds ($42,000), to dainty studs ($2,600), often paired with accents in colored stones — ruby , spinel, sapphire — or rose-cut and full-cut diamonds.
The novelty of the cut and subtle character appeals to many of his clients, he said, including members of several royal families who have commissioned works featuring portrayed stones. And a diamond choker that converts into a tennis bracelet has become one of his bestsellers. “Everyone has a full cut diamond tennis bracelet. You can find it everywhere online,” he said. “But when it’s done with portrait cuts, it’s a little cooler and you can wear it anywhere, like the Tube in London, without drawing attention.”
Anup Jogani, a Los Angeles gemstone dealer who works primarily with high-end designers and specializes in rare, untreated stones, said he had witnessed a spate of requests for standing-cut diamonds, including modern stones and antique diamonds sourced from wells. like watches. He considers them a connoisseur’s choice: “It’s a diamond around the diamond, not flashy and twinkling.”
However, potential buyers shouldn’t expect a bargain just because portrait-cut diamonds are not that well-known; they’re “about the same price” as their highly faceted counterparts, Mr. Jogani said, although the slender profile of the stones gives “a much larger look per carat.”
With their increasing popularity, more options in standing cut diamonds are entering the market. Grace Lavarro, founder of Jewels by Grace, a retailer that offers vintage, antique and his own contemporary pieces online and in his Los Angeles studio, said she’d noticed there was more variety available: “Contemporary portrait cutouts come in really cool, funky shapes — kites and hexagons and pillows — while most antiques would be somewhat irregular in silhouette.” And while many antique stones had a brown cast, she said, “You’ll find a higher color, like D, E, and F, in contemporary stones.”
Ms. Lavarro said one of her main considerations when selecting a portrait-cut gem was whether a stone was free of inclusions or imperfections, as the cut reveals virtually any flaw at a glance. But that crystal clear view makes up for such gems for keeping mini memories in plain sight. For example, a recent Jewels by Grace locket ring with a portrait diamond that slides up so items can be easily added or removed.
Yoram Finkelstein, the founder and owner of GemConcepts, a diamond polishing company in Ramat Gan, Israel, has worked extensively with diamonds using cuts developed in the past, including portrait-cut stones. He said he occasionally experimented with his own jewelry designs, although he didn’t copy vintage styles. In one ring, for example, he superimposed a standing cut diamond on top of a pink diamond of a tenth of a carat, giving the combination a sort of mysterious appeal. “The possibilities with these stones are endless,” said Mr. Finkelstein.
Once she got her hands on them, Kelty Pelechytik of Edmonton, Alberta, explored the possibilities of standing cut diamonds, making them an important part of her brand’s output.
She said she waited a year for a gemstone dealer to ship her first package of portrait-cut white diamonds, and when she received them in 2018, she processed them into all sorts of pieces, including hoops and eternity bands.
Her contemporary interpretations of lovers’ eyes, a late-18th-century jewelry genre featuring miniature depictions of a single eye or pair of lips, have proved particularly popular in the past year, she said. Clients submit a photo of an eye or lips, and Robyn Rich, an artist in Frankston, Australia, creates it in enamel on a gold surface, and Mrs. Pelechytik sets it under a clear portrait diamond.
The jewels, which range from about $4,300 to $15,000, are often romantic gifts or mementos, but Ms Pelechytik said she also made pieces to honor deceased parents and “many people also commission them for their children and pets.”
Some designers have long been advocates of the portrait form. Eva Zuckerman said she had been using portrait-cut diamonds from her decade-old fine jewelry brand Eva Fehren “since day 1,” a time when the style was so rare that she “collected and coveted them for years and years.”
While the New York-based designer considers the diamonds “extremely beautiful with a special shine,” she said the fact that they defied expectations was part of their appeal. “I think there’s something very irreverent about using a diamond that isn’t cut to maximum brilliance,” said Ms. Zuckerman. “I think it’s a bit rebellious.”
She initially used portrait-cut gemstones for small hoops that encircle the ear, pendants and stacking bands, but has expanded their use to include more extravagant designs, such as a pair of stiletto earrings that graze on the shoulders. “We’ve gotten braver with scale,” Mrs. Zuckerman said. “Now I feel more empowered to take risks because I’ve seen it makes sense.”
In 2019, Ms. Zuckerman even chose a hexagonal portrait-cut diamond, shaped to her specifications, for her own engagement ring. “I love them for so many reasons, but part of it was the portability,” she said. “I use my hands all the time, and portrait-cut stones are unobtrusive and understated.”
She doesn’t mind that the cut keeps the gemstone from being easily recognizable. “Most people may not recognize it as a diamond,” Ms. Zuckerman said. “But if you know it, you know it.”