T o the untrained eye, a diamond might be just another pretty stone. Revered for their timeless beauty, longevity and inherent value, these gems have fascinated humanity for centuries. Every faceted diamond has been meticulously crafted at just the right angle with precisely measured cuts to bring out the brilliance and clarity of each individual gemstone. While most are familiar with round, brilliant-cut diamonds – a type of cut that maximises the sparkle and brilliance of the stone – the step-cut stands out as an exquisite, intentional choice, gracing iconic engagement rings and necklaces throughout history. From their rich heritage and historical impact to their enduring allure, step-cuts have always been renowned in the world of high jewellery.
Celebrated for their clean, geometric lines, step-cut diamonds feature rectangular or square facets that create a staircase-like effect. These cuts emphasise a diamond's clarity and lustre, producing a unique play of light known as the “hall of mirrors.” Unlike the dazzling brilliance of round, brilliant-cuts, step-cuts offer a more refined, understated elegance. The vast roster of step-cuts includes a few particularly popular styles, from the carre-cut and the baguette-cut to the Asscher-cut and the emerald-cut. Originally designed for emeralds, the clean lines and minimalist silhouette of the emerald-cut have also made it a sought-after choice for diamonds. Its open facets provide a clear view into the diamond's interior, making clarity a top priority.
One such example is Elizabeth Taylor's legendary 33.19-carat Krupp Diamond, now known as the Elizabeth Taylor Diamond, which features an Asscher-cut. Graded the highest on the GIA scale in both colour and clarity, this remarkable piece of jewellery was gifted to Taylor by her then-husband Richard Burton, and exemplifies the sophistication of step-cuts.
Often referred to as the “square emerald cut”, the Asscher-cut owes its name and fame to Joseph Asscher, a visionary diamond cutter. In 1902, Joseph, along with his brother Abraham, introduced the world to the Asscher-cut, a groundbreaking variation of the step-cut featuring a square shape, eight sides and large, step-cut facets. It was a historic first where a diamond cut was patented, while the innovative finish revolutionised diamond cutting with precisely cut corners seen across the square shape.
Although created in the 16th century, step-cuts rose to notoriety during the Art Deco period, where a notable shift was seen moving away from the traditional and towards more modern and geometric shapes. One such maison that gravitated towards this cut was Cartier, who famously designed Grace Kelly’s engagement ring which featured an elongated step-cut diamond with a vintage Art Deco platinum setting.
This autumn, Sotheby’s Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels I presents an array of step-cut jewels, including a dazzling Cartier 7.03 carat emerald-cut ring, boasting the best colour and clarity a diamond can offer (D Colour, Flawless Clarity). The curation also includes a 7-carat Kashmir sapphire and diamond ring. With Kashmir being the most sought-after region for sapphires, this show-stopping ring showcases the exceptional beauty of step-cuts and their ability to highlight truly precious gemstones.
The sale will also present a 5-carat Mozambique ruby ring and a 4.92-carat Burmese ruby and diamond ring. Burma is coveted for its rubies, while the ring in question features a striking, deep red Asscher-cut ruby, with eight diamonds surrounding each side of the ruby. The line-up of step-cut designs continues with an 11-carat blue spinel and diamond ring and a 15-carat yellow sapphire ring, both from Ceylon, Sri Lanka. Commonly known as cobalt blue spinel, stones sourced from Sri Lanka are particularly rare and typically darker in colour due to the higher iron content in the stone.
Another fascinating piece in the sale is a unique 11.50-carat emerald-cut Colombian emerald scarf ring, by Van Cleef & Arpels. The piece exemplifies the beauty of step-cut stones in the form of a lavish, uncommon accessory. Occasionally, maisons may accommodate personal orders from clients, resulting in exceptional pieces like this. These unique creations promise to be exquisite examples of the versatility and beauty of step-cut diamonds.
Step-cut diamonds, with their timelessness and geometric allure, have enchanted jewellery enthusiasts and aficionados alike for generations. Whether it's the emerald-cut's classic luxury, the Art Deco charm of the Asscher-cut, or the delicate sparkle of the baguette cut, these diamonds exude an enduring charm that transcends passing trends. The historical journey of step-cut diamonds, from their inception to their continued adoration by brands like Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, showcases their unwavering appeal. As trends come and go, step-cut diamonds remain a symbol of sophistication and timeless beauty, forever marking their place in the world of jewellery as a testament to the enduring allure of diamonds.