Henry D Morse

Henry Morse (1826-1888) was a famous diamond cutter in Boston, who was responsible for major advancements in the science and skill of diamond cutting.

A 19th century diamond in a cluster ring

He was taught by Dutch specialists, and although originally interested in cutting the largest diamond, he quickly moved to learning to cut the most beautiful diamond possible, even if that meant losing more weight.

He partnered with B. S. Prey, and together they set up the first diamond cutting factory in the USA. Morse’s foreman, Charles Field, invented a diamond bruting machine which used one diamond to cut another, and enabled the first truly round cut diamonds.

His emphasis was on lower main angles, smaller tables and regular outline with symmetrical facets. This lead to greater weight loss, but yielded an exceptionally beautiful diamond.

Problem solved with invention of power-driven circular saw. Morse invented a number of instruments for mechanising work previously done by hand.

W. R. Chatelle in 1911 stated “A diamond… if properly proportioned, shows an equal distribution of light and brilliancy at all distances from the eye.”

Wade stating in 1916 “When Henry Morse, of Boston, made a really scientific study of the effect of the brilliant upon the light which entered it and found out the angles which  gave the best possible results, and the religiously cut his diamonds in accordance with what he had found out, little room for improvement was left. A fine five-carat Morse cut which the writer has seen is about as handsome as any diamond to be found among stones more recently cut. There has been some further refining of the lines and angles, but the ideal brilliant is not for from the shape that Morse gave his stones.”

Morse cut the Dewey diamond, at the time the largest diamond ever found in the USA. It was found in 1843 or 1844 when a man called Moore was digging into a clay hill at the corner of 9th and Perry streets. The pebble he dug up, embedded in six feet of clay, turned out to be an uncut diamond weighing over 18 carats. How it got there is a total mystery.

Without knowing he had a valuable find, Moore kept the stone as a curiosity. It was the jewellery firm of Mitchell and Tyler in Richmond who identified it as a diamond for Moore. Capt. Samuel W. Dewey, who also inspected the stone, tested it in a smith’s forge for two hours, and thereupon he too pronounced it a diamond. Despite two large flaws in the rough diamond, and all of his contemporaries telling him it was impossible to cut one single large diamond, and furthermore that he should cut it into several smaller stones, Morse was able to cut it into one large round brilliant cut with a weight loss of only 51 percent, a terrific result.

Moore sold the diamond to Capt. Dewey, reportedly for a price of $1,500. Dewey later mortgaged it in New York to a man named J. Anglist, who in turn mortgaged it for $6,000 to John Morrissey.

Morrissey became the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1858, and later operated a string of gambling houses in New York. What he did with the diamond isn’t known.


Morse died in Boston in 1888, and is today considered the father of diamond cutting in the USA.