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Marcel Tolkowsky The Man Who Brought The Shine Out Of The Diamond

Although diamonds have a natural beauty, Marcel is the man who figured out how to get the most light to shine out of a diamond, calculating how to maximize light return. 

 Do you like diamonds? Does the sparkle of a well-polished round diamond tantalize you? One man deserves a lot of credit for the fire and brilliance of diamonds and that is Marcel Tolkowsky. Although diamonds have a natural beauty, Marcel is the man who figured out how to get the most light to shine out of a diamond, calculating how to maximize light return.

Marcel Tolkowsky had learned how to cut diamonds by the time he was nine years old. Part of a great diamond dynasty, his grandfather Abraham Tolkowsky was a diamond and precious gem cutter and dealer that served and supplied European nobility with diamonds starting in the mid-1800s. Abraham emigrated from Bialystok, Poland to Antwerp to work in the local diamond center. Two of Abraham's nine children, Samuel and Maurice, would establish themselves as professional diamond cutters and eventually carry on the family's growing legacy. However, it was his son Isadore who fathered the man who would transform diamond polishing forever.

It was born out of an important family legacy of innovation. Marcel's grandfather Abraham always stressed the importance of the technical side of their trade, and insisted on continued skill development. Marcel's uncle Maurice invented the earliest diamond bruting machine. This machine would allow the development of many new diamond shapes that had never been seen before and would also significantly reduce the amount of time needed to complete polishing a rough diamond, while improving rough yields. This last quality was of great importance because by enabling bigger diamonds to be polished from the original rough, the resulting polished diamond would sell for more, improving the return on the cost of the rough stone.

These lessons were passed on, and Marcel, a brilliant young man, soaked it all in. Yet his first inclination was to go to university and get a formal education. It is possible that Marcel was less inclined to join the family business or maybe he was more curious about math and felt that it was his calling. We don't do not know the answer to this, but we do know that although he worked in the family polishing workshop from a very early age, he decide to study mathematics at the University of London and pursue an academic career.

Marcel completed his first two degrees and decide to continue his studies and earn a PhD. His focus was mathematics, and he decided to write his dissertation on light refraction in diamonds. The idea was to employ a mathematical view on diamond polishing, combining the two fields in which he was very knowledgeable and apparently passionate about, and backed by his grandfather's and uncle's pursuit to improve the technical side of diamond polishing. Marcel studied rough diamonds from a new angle, cut diamonds, recut diamonds, and measured the light reflection from the different resulting polished diamonds. He considered the crystal structure of diamonds, looked for patterns and eventually succeeded in his quest.

The results of his research were published in a book titled, Diamond Design, published in 1919. Subtitled A Study of the Reflection and Refraction of Light in a Diamond, the first part of the 100+ page book describes the history of diamond cutting and how the round brilliant diamond shape transpired. In the second part of the book, he explains the optical properties of diamonds, defines luster and brilliance in a diamond and the role that they play, explaining how light passes through a diamond, and what causes it to reflect and how it disperses through a diamond, breaking them into mathematical models.

What made this study so extraordinary was that in the many years that diamonds were cut, this was the first scholarly deep-dive into this properties of diamonds with a practical application. Marcel was not oblivious to this at all. In fact, he was very aware of the importance of the work he had done. "It is a remarkable fact that, although the art of cutting a diamond has been known for more than two thousand years, it is entirely empirical, and that, though many keen contemporary minds have been directed upon the diamond, and the list of books written on that subject increases rapidly, yet nowhere can one find any mathematical work determining the best shape for that gem," he wrote in the book's introduction, adding, "The present volume's chief aim is the calculation of that shape."

Indeed, through a serious and detailed explanation of the science behind achieving maximum light return and brilliance, through dozens of illustrations and with very meticulous explanations of each stage of his process, the third part of the book, Mathematical, leads the reader to a complete understanding of how to better polish a round diamond. His findings include the conclusion that if a diamond is cut too deep or too shallow, which means that if the bottom part is too long or the angles too open, light will enter the top part of the diamond (known as the table), hit the lower facets that act as mirrors, and bounce back in directions other than back through the table. When that happens, much of the light will disperse sideways, and the diamond will look dull. If, however, the bottom facets are polished in the right angles, then light will bounce back through the table, giving the diamond much more sparkle.

The book concludes with two tables of recommended angles to use in the different parts of the diamond, including what amount of light to expect shining out of the diamond, complete with light measuring values, compared to those commonly used at the time. He concluded the book stating, "We may thus say that in the present-day well-cut brilliant, perfection is practically reached: the high-class brilliant is cut as near the theoretic values as is possible in practice, and gives a magnificent brilliancy to the diamond."

Tolkowsky was confident that he found a near perfect cut. The book ends with the following passage: "That some new shape will be evolved which will cause even greater fire and life than the brilliant is, of course, always possible, but it appears very doubtful, and it seems likely that the brilliant will be supreme for, at any rate, a long time yet." He was right. Nearly one hundred years later, and his 58-facet round brilliant-shaped diamond proportions are still used to this day. Some created a few variations to it, a few even modified it a little to improve on the light return properties, but no one radically transformed diamond polishing proportions in the way he did with this seminal research.

In explaining his findings in fine detail, Tolkowsky took diamond polishing to a whole new level. He clearly stated that the book was written principally for students of precious stones and jewelers, but more particularly for diamond manufacturers, cutters and polishers. With that, Marcel Tolkowsky gave to the world and the diamond industry the theoretical knowledge as well as the practical approach to polishing diamonds that are much more appealing to consumers.

Marcel returned to Antwerp and kept the family polishing tradition up until World War II, when it became dangerous for Jews to live in Nazi-occupied Belgium. In 1940, he arrived in the US and started over. He opened a polishing facility, helped out his cousin Lazar Kaplan, became a respected dealer in New York City's diamond industry, and maintained an active career as a master polisher and diamond designer.

Tolkowsky also took on leadership roles in the local diamond industry, serving as chairman of the Diamond Dealers Club's arbitration board. Marcel retired in 1975 and died in Manhattan on February 10, 1991 at age 92. He left behind him an important legacy of striving to improve, continuing his family's heritage of elevating quality for the betterment of all.

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Abraham ‘Bram’ Fischler & the Kimberly Process

Abraham 'Bram' Fischler was honored numerous times throughout his life for his many achievements, but more than anything, he should be credited for his pivotal role in establishing the Kimberly Process, a United Nations backed effort to limit trade in rough diamonds to countries that adhere to strict controls and by doing so to prevent diamonds from being used to help finance civil wars. 

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World Diamond Industry: Canada

 In a massive and resource-rich country like Canada, diamonds are a relatively small component of overall natural resource exports. Canada is a major exporter of gold, nickel, uranium, and forestry products and, perhaps surprisingly, possesses the world's second-largest oil reserves in the country's western part. In 2015, Canada exported $231 billion in natural resources. Diamond exports were $2.4 billion, just one percent of resource exports. However, diamonds have been located in some of the most northern and often inhospitable locations in this vast country. So while the impact of diamonds on the economy as a whole has been relatively small, they have been critical to the sustainable development of many northern settlements. These small towns and villages suffer from harsh weather and a lack of employment opportunities, so diamonds have been instrumental in their success in the last 15 years.

Diamonds were first discovered in Canada in 1991 in an area that few people believed could possess kimberlite intrusions. The Ekati mine, which is still in operation today, began mining in 1998. The following year, a massive gold mine called the 'Giant mine' closed after more than fifty years of mining. This was a major blow to the mining-heavy economy of the region, and diamond mining helped save the capital city of Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories. In Canada, roughly 87 percent of the population of 36 million people live and work within 160 km of the US border. That makes Yellowknife, located about 2,000 km north of the US border, very remote, to say the least. The Northwest Territories, where much of the diamond activity in Canada is centered, has a population of just 44,000 people in an area of 1.34 million square kilometers. Diamonds have been a major source of employment and tax revenues for this area, which are desperate to benefit from their resource base.

Canada's attempts to develop its own cutting and polishing industry have had mixed, but mostly disappointing, results. In Canada, the provincial or territorial governments have much autonomy to establish the laws and guidelines within their jurisdiction. This had led to different rules within the three different provinces currently mining diamonds, and has created competing interests for the downstream diamond manufacturers in the country. However, in two of the three provinces where diamond mining takes place, the local governments mandate that mining companies sell up to 10 percent of the mined diamonds by value to local manufacturing companies, assuming that such demand actually exists. In reality, the demand has been far less than 10 percent, and the local cutting industry has not really gotten off the ground in more than 15 years.

In the early days of diamonds in Canada, many companies rushed to take advantage of the opportunity. In Yellowknife, a small compound was developed, and aptly named 'Diamond Row,' a stretch of buildings located next to the city's airport. Some big players entered the area with much promise, including Tiffany & Co.'s rough diamond polishing company Laurelton. However, it soon became evident that proximity to the diamonds was not a sustainable competitive advantage. In Northern Canada, the remote location makes the delivery of most products and services very expensive. This means that the cost of just about everything, including wages, is very high, making everything from the cost of building a factory to day-to-day operations high-cost and non-competitive.

For many years, local and federal governments were willing to subsidize factories that were losing money in order to keep the industry alive. However, this proved unsustainable, and many factories closed immediately after subsidies were revoked. This included many high profile manufacturers such as Tiffany and Arslanian Frères. While diamonds were available in large quantities to the local industry, it did not get any sort of discount on the rough price, and miners had their own internal market prices that local cutters had to pay. Despite the plentiful access to rough diamonds, manufacturing costs in Canada were on average more than eight times that of India.

'Diamond Row' has become an uneasy symbol of the policy failure to develop a cutting industry in Canada. Although some factories remain open, most have closed, and many have changed hands several times. Crossworks Manufacturing, a company owned by the HRA Group, has been a success story of late, with three manufacturing facilities in operation across the country. Their latest factory was built in the province of Ontario, to take advantage of diamonds coming out of the De Beers Victor mine.

Critics also point out that the cutting industry, both past and present, did not create the jobs for Canadian workers that were initially promised. Citing a lack of trained local workers, many firms brought in outside cutters from Albania and Vietnam. Generous foreign worker regulations in Canada allowed this to continue indefinitely, and local workers were largely left out of the opportunity. In one case, Albanian workers were given a generous stipend to be used to purchase winter clothing and outerwear for the harsh northern winter. Since it was summer at the time, many workers sent the money back home to their families, only to be vastly unprepared for the winter when it arrived.

Perhaps the saving grace for the cutting industry has been the branding of Canadian diamonds. Several different brands are sold in the country, and marketed as mined, cut, and polished in Canada. Canadians are a very nationalistic people, and these diamonds have sold successfully, despite the higher cost than foreign-made alternatives. For marketing purposes, retailers are able to leverage the environmental record of Canadian mines, the living wages paid to its workers, and the generally 'clean' perception of the diamond industry in the nation. This has helped a small number of factories to carve out a niche for themselves, and the industry sustains itself to this day.

Brands like 'Fire and Ice,' 'Glacier Fire,' 'Ice White Diamonds,' 'Canada Goose,' and 'Canada Pride' have resonated well with Canadian consumers. The government has also implemented a voluntary code of conduct that ensures producers can track the chain of custody of diamonds under their brand. This gives consumers the ability to ensure that they are buying a Canadian diamond.

Beneficiation in Canada has taught the world some valuable lessons. A cutting industry cannot be forced to exist, but rather must develop for a viable business reason or strategy. Proximity to the resource and the guarantee of consistent supply is very important, but may not ultimately be enough for an industry to thrive when other costs pressures exist. In Canada, the branding strategy has certainly worked to carve out a niche with Canadian consumers. The next step for them is to see these brands expand to the rest of the world.

Despite some of the setbacks, it still must be said that diamond mining in Canada has brought enormous opportunities to disadvantaged regions, and tax revenues continue to support governments at all levels. According to the Kimberley Process, Canada exported nearly $1.4 billion worth of rough diamonds in 2016. With a 10 percent royalty, diamond mining generates over 100 million dollars for the country every year. Since mining began in Canada, more than 10 billion dollars have been invested to develop and operate four diamond mines. Two new long-life mines have recently opened, and many more are in the early stages of development. The diamond story in Canada has yet to be written, and perhaps policy makers can learn from the successes and failures of the previous years.

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Diamond Portraits – Lodewyk van Bercken

The invention of the scaif, is credited to the legendary Lodewyk van Bercken. His invention gave cutters a practical tool to begin faceting diamonds, unlocking their hidden beauty. Today's modern polishing still uses the same concept van Bercken developed more than 500 years ago.

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Diamond Portraits: Joseph Goldfinger

Most people accept that Ian Fleming named the villain in his 1964 James Bond novel after architect Erno Goldfinger, who lived down the street from Fleming. However, a devout few still believe that Goldfinger was actually the product of Fleming's chance encounter with legendary diamantaire, Joseph Goldfinger, whom he met on a fact-finding trip to Charterhouse St. Joseph Goldfinger would later become known as "Mr. Diamond," and many credit him with putting the Israeli diamond industry on the map. 

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