In our look at occupations within the diamond industry thus far, we have identified a few of the many professional men and women whose efforts help to bring these beautiful gifts of nature to the surface of the Earth. From the initial prospecting, to the development and eventual mining of a diamond deposit, literally thousands of people work towards the same goal. Although there are several different ways in which rough diamonds are sold, they almost always undergo a similar preliminary processing before sale. Occupations within a rough diamond sorting operation are what we will look at this week.
Sorting rough diamonds is a fundamental part of selling them. Whether a producer sells through a fixed contract sight system, an open-market tender or auction, or a hybrid of the two, every rough diamond producer will first sort the diamonds. Some rough diamonds are sold run-of-mine, meaning they are presented in the same sizes, shapes, colors, and clarities as they are mined. However, even these types of sellers must first sort the rough in order to know what the correct selling price should be.
Sorting rough diamonds aims to address two critical issues for the seller. Firstly, it establishes a value for any particular parcel of goods. Whether this value is ultimately used as a proposed final selling price, or sets a reserve price in a tender, it is perhaps the most important variable to the seller. Secondly, it helps break down the run-of-mine diamonds into much more homogenous parcels. In the manufacturing industry, most cutters tend to specialize in certain types of diamonds. For example, some may have a particular niche for flat stones, others for brown colors, etc. By sorting the diamonds into narrower parcels, the seller can target their sales to the end user of the goods. The buyer will, therefore, be willing to pay a higher price for the specific assortment, since he intends to use it all in his own manufacturing processes, instead of using perhaps a portion, and selling the rest in the secondary market.
Diamond sorting is an occupation that takes months to learn, years to gain expertise, and perhaps decades to master. The job of a diamond sorter is to quickly identify diamonds based on a host of different classifications, such as size, model, shape, color, clarity, and fluorescence. In many sorting operations, sorters tend to specialize in certain areas, like size, for example. If a sorter is only exposed to certain size ranges from a limited mining operation, he or she will not get the opportunity to see the vast range of diamonds than can come from different mines in different parts of the world. Only a rare few specialists can identify different productions from different regions, and this comes from the experience of working all over the world.
Senior sorting staff often plays a key role in quality control. Sorting is commonly done in numerous stages. Junior sorters breaks down a parcel into broad components, and a quality control sorter checks their work to ensure that it follows the correct specifications before they can proceed. In larger operations, this may require a large team of quality control sorters. These large outfits often utilize diamond-sorting machines that are getting more and more sophisticated as the technology advances. These machines often do the ‘grunt’ work of separating smaller sizes before sorters take over. The final quality control work is often the job of the sales staff, which ultimately has to present the finished parcels to their clients for negotiations.
Rough sorting can be a complex operation, with many moving parts which all need to be monitored. This monitoring is the job of a stock controller, or a small department of stock controllers. This person’s job is largely administrative, ensuring that all the diamonds are accounted for at any given time. At the end of each day, the stock controller must ensure that all of the diamonds that were put out for sorting make their way back into the safe or vault for safekeeping overnight. They must also ensure that proper storage and handling procedures are maintained at all times, to ensure integrity of the asset. Another key function of the stock controller is to organize and handle the incoming and outgoing shipments into the sorting facility. In multi-mine operations, this can be a regular occurrence.
Rough diamond sorting generates a significant amount of data. This comes in the form of pricing, size frequency distribution, and value per size class, which all change from period to period. Rough operations often employ a small team of data analysts, whose job is to identify changing trends, and liaise with sales staff and senior management to communicate price and composition changes in the production. These analysts tend to be educated in mathematics or statistics, as the evaluation of the data can be complex and tedious.
Security plays a big role in diamond sorting. Sorting floors are dynamic, with many people and moving parts, and diamonds periodically switching hands. This is a high-risk part of the process for the producer, and security is ever-present to ensure compliance with procedures, and monitor the actions of all the staff. Some operations go to great lengths to reduce the risk of employee theft. Sewing up pockets on men’s shirts, preventing people from shaking hands, and putting tape over ones shoelaces are just a few of the things that some security departments have employed to reduce the opportunities for people to steal rough diamonds.
The employee-employer relationship in rough sorting is usually a mutually beneficial one. For the employer, it can be time consuming and costly to hire and train staff in a specialized industry. For staff, their skills are not easily transferable or useful in other fields. As a result, many staff in diamond sorting tends to remain with their employers for long periods of time. The compensation is usually high compared to other fields, and both parties have good reasons to remain together.
Once diamonds are sorted into saleable parcels, the job of the sales team begins. I will talk about rough sales next week.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity. No one should act upon any opinion or information in this website without consulting a professional qualified adviser.
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Diamond industrialist Ehud Arye Laniado is a man passionate about diamonds. From his early 20s in Africa and later in Belgium honing his expertise in forecasting the value of polished diamonds by examining rough diamonds by hand, till today four decades later, as chairman of his international diamond businesses spanning mining, exploration, rough and polished diamond valuation, trading, manufacturing, retail and consultancy services, Laniado has mastered both the miniscule details of evaluating and pricing individual rough diamonds and the entire structure of the diamond industry. Today, his global operations are at the forefront of the industry, recognised in diamond capitals from Mumbai to Tel Aviv and Hong Kong to New York.