Diamond cutting and polishing is perhaps the area where technology has changed the industry the most. The first diamond scaif was invented in the 1400s and the technological improvement has not stopped since. Today’s manufacturers use cutting edge tools that increase yields, worker productivity, and profits. Even the way rough is sold is influenced by these developments, since the calculations of polished yield from a rough stone needed to be adjusted upwards because of this advanced machinery. Let’s take a look at some of these amazing machines, which continue to change our industry.
Diamond planning machines have seen explosive development over the years, and especially in the last decade. There are a number of companies exclusively in the business of improving the power and scope of these tools, with new enhanced versions released regularly. It is now possible to have a detailed, three-dimensional image of any diamond, complete with a map of internal inclusions, gletzes, and color saturation. These machines rely on the input of a polished diamond price book, and use the information to plan out the most profitable polishing options for the manufacturer. They come in portable sizes for rough buyers and traders, as well as in larger versions for the factory floor. Some models have the ability to laser etch the stones, to assist in the sawing and cutting process. Some can even measure the internal stress of the diamond, and use that information to further optimize the cutting plan. Industry leaders like Ogi Systems, Sarine, Lexus, and Sahajanand are a few of the companies working on this technology for the industry.
Albert Einstein established the theoretical foundations for lasers in 1917, and the first laser was introduced by Theodore Maiman in 1960. Since then, lasers have developed in quantum leaps, and are now the only standard in diamond sawing. In fact, some companies have even developed rough planning machines that also do the laser cutting in one step. The advantages of laser cutting machines are significant, as they greatly reduce human error, are repeatable, and reduce weight loss to as little as 1%, compared to +5% from earlier, conventional methods. They can also reduce the risk of breakage in high-tension stones. Laser machines now offer the benefit of doing more than just sawing. They can also do preliminary shaping and bruting, and can do pie-cut sawing as well, which allows the user to cut only part of the way into a stone when manufacturing more complicated diamonds. I once had the opportunity to see a large stone (+100ct) that was heavily piqued and of very poor quality. With the implementation of advanced planning and sawing technology, the stone yielded more than 20 individual polished stones that were all D Flawless. This would have been impossible to imagine a few decades ago.
Bruting is how the shape of the diamond is first determined. By rotating two diamonds against each other in opposite directions to ‘carve’ out the stone’s final shape, the bruter plays a very important role in determining the yield of the finished gem. This used to be a very laborious process that required a great deal of patience from the operator. Today, automation and CAD software make this a much faster job, with increased accuracy. Automatic bruting machines also expand on the number of shapes that can be created, including pears, marquises, ovals, hearts, and even proprietary shapes, which can be uploaded into the software.
Automatic faceting machines are slowly displacing workers in some segments of the industry. These machines can do the time-consuming work of polishing facets onto a stone more efficiently than most skilled polishers. They also have the advantage of being able to work with multiple stones at the same time, and can operate 24 hours a day without a break. When a human being polishes a diamond, he or she must regularly take the stone off the polishing wheel to examine his progress, and make changes as needed. Automated machines are pre-programmed with the exact specifications needed, and so can quickly adjust the diamond’s position with minimal downtime. These machines have also been implemented in cutting other types of gemstones, and have made some gems much more economically viable to facet.
In the past, when a diamond was finished being polished, it would immediately be sent to a grading lab. Today, though, manufacturers have machines that can measure numerous different characteristics of the stone before it goes for certification. This gives the cutter the opportunity to re-cut a diamond if analysis shows that it isn’t quite perfect, and can cut down on insurance, grading fees, and transportation costs if a diamond has to make more than one trip to the lab. It has also improved the overall quality of manufacturing industry-wide, by increasing the volumes of perfectly cut stones for consumers. Light performance machines can measure the brilliance, fire, sparkle, and light refraction performance of diamonds before they are sent for grading. GIA offers a piece of software known as Facetware, which allows detailed measurements of a stone to be done. This means that the manufacturer can predict the exact cut proportions in advance, and re-cut where necessary. Most of the other major grading labs have followed suit. This software is also capable of analyzing partially-cut stones, so that the polisher knows that they are on the right track to deliver a superior cut diamond.
Interestingly, despite all the advances in cutting technology, the scaif is still the primary tool used to facet a diamond, although the worker no longer needs to spin the disk with a hand crank or foot pedal! Jewelry making is a blend of advanced technology and old-world artisanship. I will look at how technology is impacting jewelry making 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.