|History of Briolettes
Most faceted gemstones today are cut with a flat table and crown and pavilion facets. It's a style that maximizes the light returned to the eye and thus the brilliance of the gem. But at one time this was not the most popular faceting style. Back in the 17th century the briolette was the favorite of royalty and aristocrats. A fine example is a diamond necklace that Napoleon presented to Empress Marie Louise containing 10 diamond briolettes over 4 carats each. The necklace is now in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
The briolette is a pear or drop-shaped gemstone which has its entire surface covered with small geometric facets. Historians believe that the briolette cut originated in India about 800 years ago. The popularity of the briolette in Europe was due to the famous French traveller and trader, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who brought briolettes back from India.
The popularity of the briolette started to decline in the late 17th century as gem cutting technology progressed and the early versions of the modern round brilliant cut became popular. Many existing briolettes were in fact recut using modern methods.
The briolette regained popularity in the Victorian and Edwardian eras and was a favorite of Art Deco designers. But briolettes faded again into obscurity. In large part is was a cost issue. A briolette has a lot of surface area and requires large pieces of rough stone. It is quite expensive to cut diamonds, rubies or sapphires as briolettes, and gem cutters regard briolettes as an inefficient use of the rough material. Only recently have briolettes started to be seen again, particularly cut from less expensive gem materials.
While it is true that briolettes don't concentrate brilliance like a modern round brilliant cut, briolettes have their own charm. They display color and reflect light from any angle, and have a quiet refined elegance. They work especially well as earrings and pendants because they dangle and move and catch the light. They are unencumbered by any setting except at the top, and this allows you to see more of the gem than with any other cut.
When you buy loose briolettes you will often find that they come with a hole drilled through the top. Usually they are are cross-drilled, where a hole is drilled through the gem near the tip, perpendicular to the length of the gem. This allows the gem to swing freely on a wire or pin and avoids the use of adhesives. Sometimes you will find briolettes top-drilled, where a hole is drilled a few mm into the gem from the top, allowing a small metal pin to be inserted. A third method is to abrade a small area at the tip, providing a slightly pitted surface for an epoxy resin to be used to secure a metal cap.