Diamond crystals have been worn and admired since at least as far back as Roman times. They were worn in rings as status symbols and charms.
At the time, however, they were not the sparkly objects we know today, but were left in their natural state, seen below; this was because of the belief that they would lose their magical properties if they were worked by man.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, they were hardly seen at all in Europe for almost a thousand years, reappearing around the mid-thirteenth century. It is known, however, that Indian craftsmen were polishing other gemstones with ground-up diamonds in the 6th century (documented in Ratnapariska by BhuddaBhatt), and Islamic texts from the 10th century also show this development. By the 1350s, diamonds had reappeared in Europe. Around the year 1400 early cuts were beginning to be developed. By the mid-fourteenth century, there appears to have been diamond cutting as a craft in areas around Flanders, Venice and Paris; it was possibly in existence in other areas too. Venice is the most likely place for diamond cutting to have developed, as it was the centre of the European trade with the far east and India, from where diamonds came at that time. The earliest documented diamond cutters were German immigrants to Paris, Jean Boulle in 1381, and Hermann in 1407.
Generally, diamonds come out of the ground in 8 or twelve sided crystals. With only a small amount of grinding of the 8 sides, an attractive stone can be made. This shape is now called a point cut, with pleasing internal reflections. The 12 sided crystals, when polished, formed a shape called the Burgundian Point cut, seen below. A type of reflection called mirroring can be seen here, where opposite facets are reflecting through the top of the diamond.
A painting of the jewellery of the Duchess Anna von Bayern from the 1550s shows a jewel, set with a point cut (in blue, at the top) and a step cut (in red).
Exactly how the brilliant cut developed from these cuts is a bit of a mystery, but it seems most likely that it was a gradual process. What is known is that by the 1560s the term “Brilliant” began to be used in France to replace “Mirroring”. By the 1600s, it was widely in use, though not necessarily to describe a particular type of faceting. That seems to have taken a further century – in the inventory of the Crown Jewels of France in 1691, the term Brilliant cut is used almost exclusively to describe a round stone with a table, culet, 32 crown facets and 24 pavilion facets.