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Introduction by Thesis:
Portrait cut diamonds possess historical significance as one of the oldest cuts and accompaniments to highly personalized jewels. In the 1600’s, before the age of photography, these diamonds were used in sentimental jewelry to protect and adorn small oil painting portraits of loved ones.Portrait cut diamonds are typically fashioned with very high-qualitydiamond crystal and little to no flaws. Unlike some other highly faceted diamond cuts, these have nothing to hide.
One factor that is driving popularity of the portrait cut diamond is the growing interest in antique cut diamonds and their illustrious and rich histories. Portrait cut diamonds have importance in both the past and in the present— appealing to clients who love creating symbolic customized projects as well as celebrating the unusual or unexpected. Our diamond expert and source Randy Poli, from Poli Trading Co. will dive more deeply into the intricacies of the portrait cut below, and what makes it so special.
Interview with Randy Poli, of Poli Trading Co., diamond dealer and expert.
- What's the appeal of the portrait cut, and why might consumers gravitate towards it? Portrait cuts have appeal on several different levels, but I think the most prominent reason lies in its subtlety and the way that it can be incorporated to thoughtful design while still maintaining a low profile both literally and figuratively. Opinions amongst consumers and designers can be pretty polarizing, people either like them or don't understand the appeal at all with very little in between, so the audience is still niche. I think the people that do love them appreciate the artistic side of how they are cut and manufactured. There really is no mass production of portrait cuts and you very rarely ever see the same type of stone twice.
- What is so special about the cut and what design opportunities does it offer? When done properly, the cut is really quite special in its adaptability to many shapes and the massive spread in measurements that can be achieved. A well made portrait cut will generally have a depth below 20% with a thin girdle, while still maintaining a beautiful outer band of facets that give the stone an elegant brilliance that is present without being overbearing. With these types of specs, the stone will generally look 2 - 4 times larger than its carat weight would indicate with the large "portrait" center leaving a blank canvas to display and amplify whatever design element the designer chooses to put underneath. These features can vary anwhere from a mosaic or enamel miniature painting, an initial, some diamond pave work or hand engraving to name a few.
- What do you think is driving the portrait cut's current popularity? I believe that the two main factors driving popularity and demand for portraits currently are the resurgence/popularity of vintage and antique cuts and the emerging designers using them in contemporary work that is mainly showcased online and via social media. Antique/vintage stones tell a story that people seem to really connect with and there is no better place for the client to connect and learn about these types of stones than through social media. Clients tend to find an emotional connection with both the designer as well as the stones so I think both really have a synergy in driving the popularity. Previously, one would really have to do a lot of legwork to get exposed to enough antique and vintage jewelry to even see a portrait cut. Now, they have the resources to explore at their fingertips.
- Has the cut evolved? Is the contemporary portrait cut slightly different from a vintage one? Historically, portrait cuts have served different purposes. With roots in antique Indian jewelry, portrait cuts were very thin slivers of diamonds with little to no outer faceting that were encased in gold bezels in intricate designs. Moving forward to the deco era, they were used as the "crystal" for elegant cocktail watches with more of a prominent , broadly faceted outer rim. There are current iterations of the cut that honor both traditions (little to no faceting and more prominent), but I think current manufacturers are willing to experiment with a wide variety of shapes that previously were not really available. Faceting for newer stones has also become a bit smaller and more condensed to enhance brilliance.
- In terms of pricing portrait cuts – how does it compare to other fancy cuts? I would say that pricing really depends on the quality of cuttingand the rarity of the item. In more approachable sizes I would say you can find portrait cuts for anywhere from 5-25% less than traditional fancy cuts depending upon how well the stone is cut and exotic the shape. These are still very niche items with very few dealers that are willing to stock them so I would expect to pay a bit of a premium if you are looking for something special. Larger size portrait cuts are extremely difficult to find so expect to pay up if you are on the hunt. Vintage and antique portrait cuts are extremely desirable and trade at decent premiums to traditional fancy cuts amongst those that are "in the know".
- How would you describe portrait cuts to your clients? Is it a hard one to sell? I would describe a portrait cut to a client as a way to capture some vintage/antique aesthetic in a modern creation that will allow the diamond to be more of a vehicle to display and preserve a more artistic vision rather than the diamond being the focal point of the design. It gives the diamond a different purpose than we are generally used to. I don't think the cut is a hard sell because the connection to the stone for the client is generally instantly there or it isn't. People that don't like it generally move on quickly and people that it clicks with don't need much selling. It is certainly not a cut for most people, but those that like it generally do so on sight.
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