Everyone knows what the glittering center gemstone is. You've seen one on engagement rings and on beautiful necklaces. But how much do you know about melee diamonds? These are the smaller gems that help bring out the magnificence of the center stone. They're specially cut to create gorgeous settings, or many will feature together as the focus in melee diamond jewelry. How are such small gemstones cut? What's the difference between full cut melee diamonds and single cut? Let’s find out.

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Popular Melee Diamond Settings

A melee diamond is defined by the GIA as being 0.2 carat or less. The settings around center gemstones need melee diamonds cut to an incredibly exacting degree. The glittering accent that many melee diamonds add can make the central fire and brilliance of a gemstone stand out even more. The most popular settings for melee diamonds include pave, eternity, and halo:

  • A pave setting attaches diamonds using droplets of metal. Their pattern is tight and regular, and often somewhat wide. It emulates a bead setting and creates the look of a path paved with diamonds, although the correct pronunciation for a diamond pave setting is “pa-vey”. This is often a good way of creating more affordable engagement rings that still have the same sparkle.
  • An eternity setting places melee diamonds into a metal channel. There's no separation between them, and no prongs are used. This creates a long, thin, flowing channel of diamonds. It's best used in simpler, thinner designs where the channel will define the design rather than becoming lost in it.
  • A halo setting circles around the gemstone itself. This can help the center gemstone appear larger or use light to draw attention to the center stone. The goal here is to create a stunning halo around the gemstone itself in a way that highlights its best features.

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Full Cut Melee Diamonds

Full cut melee diamonds can be understood best as smaller versions of a standard brilliant round cut. This means the diamonds are cut with an incredible 57 or 58 facets. Having so many facets means that as the melee diamonds move, they keep catching and reflecting the light at a number of angles.

The effect is similar to how a lake catches the sunlight. So many ripples create so many unique angles that each reflect the light a little bit differently. The effect is fiery and absorbing to behold.

Single Cut Melee Diamonds

Single cut melee diamonds are cut with either 17 or 18 facets. Fewer facets means each of those facets has to be larger. Therefore, the effect in the melee diamonds themselves is one of giving them a shine. They'll flash and draw attention with larger faces that catch and reflect light.

The effect here is more like a mirror catching the light and reflecting it back to you. There's less of a fiery or glittering effect and more of a pronounced shine.

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Why Are Single Cut So Expensive?

The full cut option is more complicated, more exacting, and creates many more facets than single cut. That means it must be more expensive, right? Believe it or not, the opposite holds true. This is because full cut has become such a popular option that it's easier to produce them in great numbers.

Single cut aren't as in high demand. Some of their biggest demand comes from the Swiss watch industry. Watchmakers want to accentuate the flat face and mirror-like qualities of a watch surface, rather than distract from it with fiery, glittering diamonds. This is why single-cut is often preferred there.

Single cut's rarity makes them pricier. In fact, many jewelers don't use single cut melee anymore. Thus, it's actually more reasonable to get full cut in melee diamond jewelry.

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When Should You Use Each?

Full cut is much more popular. This isn't really due to a change in tastes. It's just that the technology for cutting melee diamonds so precisely wasn't reliable until the 1970s. Even then, it didn't become accessible enough for heavier production until the 1980s.

Full cut melee diamonds are ideal for the vast majority of jewelry designs. Their fire does a better job of catching the eye without outshining the center gemstone. Similarly cut stones benefit most from full cut: round brilliants and radiant cuts look beautiful when accented with full cut melee.

There may be unique cases where single cut is preferable – particularly in vintage designs. Just be aware that the flashier single cut can draw some attention and shine away from the center stone. Step cut center stones do best with single cut accents. Other vintage facets can also look good with them. The flatter shine and less fiery nature of single cut provides a somewhat whiter color, which can help bring out the color in stones like emeralds, rubies, and sapphires.

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Beware Discount Single Cut

Retailers should be aware of low-cost single cut that you can buy in large numbers. There's a great deal of single cut coming out of India, but the melee stones themselves are often cut without proper symmetry and have very crooked facets.

For reliable single cut, stick with suppliers who have dependable reputations and histories. The easiest way to find quality single cut is on vintage jewelry. This isn't a reliable enough way to procure single cut that can be used for entire design runs, but it's an approach suitable for bespoke pieces for individual customers.

Always work with suppliers who can back up their work and provide transparent and accurate analysis on what you're buying. There are good ones around. The quality of melee diamond jewelry you're able to create for your customers depends directly on the quality and accountability of your supplier.

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