Professional Jeweler Archive: Suspended in Color

November 2000

Gemstones & Pearls/ News


Suspended in Color

The briolette is an ancient gemstone cut that charms today’s consumers


The briolette is moving back to the future of gemstone jewelry fashion. Those customers who come in to your store looking for the latest thing – briolette jewelry has been featured in Vogue, InStyle and Elle – might be surprised at the long history of this cut.

Briolettes have been used since Roman times, probably evolving into their faceted form from rounded beads. Classic briolettes are teardrop-shaped and composed of triangular facets. Rectangular-facet briolettes, which are rarer, are a variation.

“Briolettes in earrings or necklaces were very popular at the French courts before and during the time of Napoleon,” says Eve Alfillé of Eve J. Alfillé Ltd., Evanston, IL. “Their subtle return of light, three-dimensionality and swinging movement caught observers’ attention, glittering and flashing color at candle-lit dinners.” A fabulous diamond necklace Napoleon presented to Empress Marie Louise containing 10 diamond briolettes (over 4 carats each) now resides at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Fading from use after ancient Roman times, the briolette cut may have been reintroduced to Europe by Jean Baptiste Tavernier, the French traveler and businessman who bought briolette diamonds and colored gems during his travels in India a century before Napoleonic times. In India, Tavernier saw Mogul emperors and sultans who sewed briolettes into their turbans and clothing. Magnificent ruby, sapphire, diamond and emerald briolettes from this era are well-known.

Briolette gems have caught the eye of today’s designers and consumers. “Interest in briolettes is definitely on the increase,” says Debra Techmer, a diamond and colored gem buyer for Eve Alfillé Ltd. “Customers like the elegant way in which briolettes are suspended and how they project color and flashes of light from all angles,” she says.

Cutters and dealers are taking note of this increased interest. “Briolettes are taking on a much larger role in colored gemstone cutting,” says dealer Ron Rahmanan of Sara Gems, New York City. His company has incorporated a multicolored line of briolette-cut sapphires from Madagascar.

Jewelry designers such as Gregg Ruth, Malibu, CA, say the increased availability of briolettes provides another way to be creative. “Briolette-cut citrines, amethyst and garnets are very fashion-forward and are priced affordably so they can be matched with clothing,” says Ruth. Designers such as Paula Crevoshay, Christie Franz, Hiroko Sato-Pijanowski and Cynthia Marcusson also have answered the call to use briolettes.

Like a Chandelier

Like a teardrop, briolette gems have a sharp point at one end and a rounded one at the other.

Holes for mounting are drilled diagonally or horizontally at the sharp end. This thinner area is the gem’s most vulnerable point, especially after being drilled. Briolettes dangle from here, much like crystal attachments on a chandelier.

“Because these gems are not encased and protected by metal like other gems are, you can imagine what might happen if they’re dropped and hit a tile floor,” says Steve Green of Rough & Ready Gems, Littleton, CO. Green specializes in cutting colored gemstone briolettes and is credited with promoting the cut in recent years.

He lists three basic ways in which a briolette can be mounted:

Cross-drilling – A hole is drilled near the top, perpendicular to the length of the gem. This method allows the gem to swing freely on a wire or pin and avoids the use of adhesives such as epoxy resins. Green says this increases wear and tear on the gem. Some designers object to this method because minute variations in the position of holes cause dramatic differences in the way gems are suspended.

Drilling a vertical hole – A drill hole is extended 2mm-5mm into the gem from the top. A small metal pin is inserted and adhered from the top. Green says this method seems to work well for all briolettes, providing a lighter look.

External air abrasion – This method averts the need to drill holes that weaken the briolette. Instead, a small section (3mm-8mm) near the top of a briolette is air-abraded, a process that produces an effect similar to sand-blasting. The result is a microscopic pitted texture that increases the effectiveness of an epoxy adhesive when used in conjunction with a metal cap. Green says it also enhances the visual effect of briolettes. He manufactures a line of caps designed to fit most angles encountered in briolette tips.

While briolettes are unique enough to sell themselves, it’s important to remember they don’t return light and color the same way traditional cuts do. “Traditional cuts are designed to be brilliant in one direction,” he says. “Briolettes are not brilliant from any direction ... but they look good from all directions!”

Eve J. Alfillé Ltd, Evanston, IL; (847) 869-7920.
Sara Gem Corp., New York City; (800) 472-1777.
Gregg Ruth, Malibu, CA; (310) 456-1888, www.greggruth.com.
Rough & Ready Gems, Littleton, CO; www.briolettes.com.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

A suite of spectacular, multicolor sapphire briolettes from Sara Gem Corp., New York City.
The subtle movement of suspended briolettes has captured people’s imaginations for centuries. The illustration at left from a 17th century manuscript depicts the Shah Jahan, India’s fifth Mogul emperor, enjoying his briolettes.
Eve Alfillé designed this set of asymmetrical earrings containing blue chalcedony carved by Steve Walters. Included are marquise and round diamonds and two diamond briolettes.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications