Let's start with a quiz. Tell me the name of the hottest rock in Hollywood these days. If you said, or even thought, "princess cut," put on a sweater because you should be starting to feel cold. And if the phrase "hearts and arrows" is the next one on the tip of your tongue, throw on a down vest because the mercury just dropped some more.
Give up? You might as well because most outsiders to the celebrity scene will, like this writer, give, and keep giving, the wrong answer. Here's a hint to the right answer: Don't assume the most coveted diamond cut in Tinseltown these days is a contemporary one.
No, the name to drop when you shop for a diamond in Hollywood or Beverly Hills these days is Asscher, a revered Amsterdam diamond family famous for cutting, among other historic stones, the 530.20 carat Cullinan and 69.68 carat Excelsior very early in the last century. But it's highly doubtful that the stars inquiring about the Asscher cut associate it with these historic stones. No, to them the name is synonymous with a highly brilliant form of square-cut diamond which the family developed, probably around 1910, and hasn't cut since the end of the Art Deco period in the 1930s.
Extremely scarce, these stones are bought almost as soon as the few jewelers who stock them put them in their showcases. Take the platinum ring featuring a 4 carat Asscher cut that Los Angeles estate goods specialist Neil Lane showed Ryan Phillips gave Reece Witherspoon. "He had obviously done some homework because he came in and specifically asked me for an Asscher cut," Lane recalls. "When I told him I had one in stock, he immediately wanted to see it. One look and I knew the piece was leaving here. The whole transaction couldn't have taken more than five minutes."
In any case, Witherspoon was so smitten with her Asscher-cut diamond that she didnít stop wearing it, even through her pregnancy. A few days before she delivered, the actress came to the jeweler and asked him tearfully to saw the ring off because her finger was swollen and wearing the diamond had become too painful. "She had really fallen in love with the stone," Lane says, "and didn't want to be parted from it."
What is it about the Asscher cut that inspires such bonding between gem and owner?
The Asscher cut addresses and answers one of the chief complaints against step-cut diamondsónamely, that they lack brilliance. [Note: Step cut refers to a style of cutting in which long parallel facets, called steps, are placed on both the crown and pavilion of stones.] Without sacrificing the elegance of line that is a hallmark of the step cut, the Asscher square uses its small table, high crown, cut corners, and deep pavilion to shine as spectacularly as a brilliant-cut diamond. And it is this blend of refinement and radiance that makes these stones stand out from other traditional rectangular and square cuts. "As far as I'm concerned, the Asscher cut makes it unnecessary to brillianteer the rectangle cut," says a 47th Street admirer of step cuts. "The modern style is too busy-looking for my tastes."
Apparently, a growing number of consumers are starting to agree with him. How else do you explain the current explosive interest in antique cuts? "Diamonds are not just light bulbs that you plug into a mounting and admire because they burn brighter than the sun," says the diamond district old-timer. "They are beautiful objects, wonderful pieces of sculpture. I sometime wonder if we've forgotten that cutting is an art rather than a science."