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How Are Melee Diamonds Cut?

by David Weliver

Melee diamonds are tiny diamonds used to accentuate jewelry, usually surrounding the central stone in an engagement or wedding ring. Melee diamonds are increasingly popular in how they can add brilliance and visual impact to a ring. They are also increasingly popular because new technologies have created ways to increase the sparkle of even very small diamonds and made them more accessible and versatile than ever before. Let’s take a closer look at how melee diamonds are cut.

What are Melee Diamonds?

Melee diamonds are tiny diamonds. They are usually classified as less than 0.2 or 0.15 of a carat but can sometimes be as small as 0.001. Melee diamonds are cut and polished to add brilliance and glitter to jewelry.

Melee diamonds are also often called accent diamonds. They may sometimes be called diamond chips, but that terminology is incorrect: Diamond chips are also tiny diamonds, but they are not cut, shaped, or polished.

Melee Diamond Cuts

Melee diamonds are typically available in two different cuts.

Single Cut

Single-cut melee diamonds were most popular in the 19th and first half of the 20th century. A single-cut melee diamond has an 8/8 facet arrangement, 8 facets on the crown and 8 facets on the pavilion, and a table facet on the top for 17 facets.

Today, precision single-cut melee diamonds are used heavily in the watch-making industry and are seldom used in jewelry. Single-cut melee diamonds on the market are usually associated with highly inexpensive, poorly cut diamonds or with vintage and vintage-inspired jewelry designs.

Full Cut

In the 1980s, diamond cutters could use the full 57-58 faceted cuts of modern brilliant diamonds on the much smaller melee diamonds. Full-cut melee diamonds have 32 facets on the crown, 24 facets on the pavilion, a table, and a culet.

These advanced cutting techniques give the small diamonds more sparkle and “fire,” adding to their visual impact and enhancing a considerable range of ring designs. Because it is so popular, full-cut melee diamonds are almost universally used in modern jewelry designs.

How are Melee Diamonds Cut?

The small size of melee diamonds requires different handling and production methods from standard-size gemstones. Because they are so small, individual melee diamonds are not precisely sorted and graded; they are loosely grouped and sold in bulk. When it comes to cutting and polishing melee diamonds, manufacturers have two opinions.

Some believe imperfections and flaws will not be noticed because they are so small, and so high precision is unnecessary.

Others believe that because melee diamonds are valuable for their shine and sparkle, precision that maximizes the refraction of the stone is incredibly important. These differences in approach lead to dramatic differences in the quality and price of melee diamonds.

Although “mass cutting” or “machine cutting” are popular terms in various places, melee diamonds are all cut individually by hand. Here is a brief overview of the process used in diamond-cutting factories:

  1. Bulk melee diamonds are sieved and sorted.
  2. Each diamond is individually attached to the tip of a rod, which makes it easier to handle, cut, and polish.
  3. The diamond-tipped rods are attached to a holding tool.
  4. The tool is then mounted onto an armed bracket over a spinning disc, like a face-up sanding disc.
  5. The height and angle of the bracket arms are adjusted.
  6. The diamond is lowered onto the spinning disc at precise positions and angles.
  7. As it spins, the disc either cuts facets or polishes the faces of the diamond.
  8. Diamonds are then checked for quality and removed from their mount.
  9. Melee diamonds are then re-sorted by size, color, quality, etc., and re-grouped to be re-sold in bulk as cut gems.

Almost all melee diamonds for the jewelry market are cut in India, and a high-producing factory can cut and polish 5000-15000 melee diamonds a month.

As mentioned, there can be tremendous variation in precision during this process. Some cutters cut “by hand,” simply holding the stone at the desired height and angle during cutting and polishing, while some use arms and brackets to precisely position the diamond. The quality and condition of the equipment will also make a massive difference in the final result.

How Are Melee Diamonds Cut

What to Look for in Melee Diamonds

Unlike standard gemstones, melee diamonds are not graded. The cost of grading such a small diamond is greater than its value. This can make it difficult for a consumer to make informed choices when buying melee diamonds, leading to cutting corners during processing and misrepresenting the value at retail.

It is essential to know as much as you can about diamonds to assess the quality of melees or buy from a trusted diamond seller with an excellent reputation.

When to Choose Different Melee Diamond Cuts

The modern, full-cut, brilliant style melee is by far the most common and popular melee cut in jewelry. However, it is not always the right choice for every piece. Here are some things to consider when choosing full-cut vs. single-cut melee diamonds:

Single-Cut Melee Diamond Advantages

Quality and Precision

A single-cut melee is the smallest cut that can be done by hand using traditional techniques. When properly cut by an expert, single-cut can be far more precise and perfect than machine-cut melees, which is why they are used in the world’s finest watches.

Many jewelers choose to single-cut melee diamonds themselves, so they have the most control over the quality of the diamond, precision of the cut, and level of polish. Some jewelers are justifiably proud of the care they take to create the most perfect melee diamonds, and that care adds value

Vintage and Antique Designs

Single-cut melees are found in vintage and antique jewelry and thus in the vintage and antique gem market. They are also used in modern jewelry inspired by vintage styles and designs to replicate the look of an older piece.

Add a More Subtle Shimmer

Many jewelers recommend single-cut melee diamonds to accent colored gemstones like sapphires, emeralds, and rubies. Single-cut melees add style and visual impact without being so glittery that they distract attention from colored or vintage faceted center stones. They also add shimmer and sparkle to gemstones that don’t sparkle on their own, like emeralds.

How Are Melee Diamonds Cut

Full-Cut Melee Diamond Advantages

Accessibility and Affordability

Today, full-cut melee diamonds are far more common and thus can be more affordable than single-cut melees. Modern machine-cutting techniques make these cuts easier to produce quickly and accurately, making them more widely available, with more choices in size and color

The Most Popular Modern Designs

Today’s halo and pave rings are designed to take advantage of the brilliance of full-cut melee diamonds. Almost all contemporary jewelry designs that use melee diamonds should be made with full-cut melee diamonds to look as intended

Enhance Fire and Sparkle

Full-cut melee diamonds magnify the impact of modern brilliant-cut diamonds used as a central stone. For round brilliants, radiant cuts, stylish cushions, and other contemporary diamond cuts, full-cut melee diamonds enhance and magnify the impact of the main stone, making it more brilliant and more impressive

When not used to accent a central stone, individual preferences vary. A single-cut melee diamond will often stand out more against a metal band, with a more distinctive presence.

In contrast, full-cut melees seem to blend in more, adding shimmer and glitter to the metal, but these characteristics often depend on the specific ring design—the metal used and the quality of the melees.


Modern melee diamonds are a marvel of ingenuity and technology and are incredibly versatile stones. Understanding more about the different melee cuts and how they are achieved will help you make informed choices about the diamonds you choose.

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