On more than one occasion I’ve met with situations where the value of a commodity is known but the beauty it contains is not.
Over the years I’ve travelled aboard ships as Artist-in- Residence. My classes always begin with the foundation of colour studies. One of the passengers came to art class wearing a stunning diamond ring. The jewel must have been at least 2.5 karats. Upon mentioning the dazzling spectrum colours this gemstone reflected, she was absolutely flabbergasted: she had never before seen them! However, she certainly knew its value in the marketplace.
See what we mean? Speaking of colour, people often think right away of flowers. But, there’s also the rainbow - - -that mysterious phenomenon which displays how the mixing of primary and secondary colours creates a spectrum. When the ship cuts through the waves on a sunny day, at the crest you can see myriads of spectrum sparkles. Even closer, just squint and look through your eyelashes. Voila! more rainbows.This spectrum of course is also present in prisms and crystals.
Diamonds have a particular meaning for me, being the son of a diamond-faceter and grandson of a diamond-faceter and cleaver. Here is a picture of my father:
The craftsmen who create such brilliance from a raw gemstone are not “diamond cutters”. That’s a misnomer. It should be “diamond faceters”. The original “diamond cutters” were the cleavers.
Both my grandfathers, and my father (see photo) were diamond-faceters. However my maternal grandfather also practised the now-rare skill of diamond cleaving. How do you cleave a diamond? With steely nerves.
A rough diamond is enclosed in a piece of sealing wax, layered with shellac. Then it’s stuck on a “dob” (a wooden stick), which is fastened onto a clamp. Depending on the size of the rough diamond, and how many stones have to be cut from it, the cleaver marks the ‘veins’ (each diamond has a unique growth pattern) with pen and Chinese ink. This is followed by carving a small cut or ‘guide groove’ into the marked lines. To accomplish this, another diamond must be used (diamonds are the hardest gemstones).
Very carefully, and after sometimes weeks of contemplation, the master cleaver hits the wedge with a mallet. One mistake and the rough diamond splinters into a multitude of fragments – a disaster for all concerned!
So you can see why we say that diamond cleaving is a “rarely practised profession”. It demands a steady hand, patience, good eyesight and steely nerves - - besides of course skill and know-how. (And today, computers guide the sawing of the diamond.)
Next, comes the faceting. And there are numerous types of diamond shapes, the most popular being a “Brilliant” cut (shown here). If faceted correctly and of good quality, the gem will have the same dazzling effect as the diamond of my student aboard ship. In my boyhood, I often watched my grandfather at work. I would stand on a chair looking through a small window in the door (the little window was ostensibly for visitors, but really for the boss to keep an eye on things).
Under no circumstances was a diamond-cleaver to be disturbed. He would need all his privacy and solitude to contemplate his task. Patience, skill and a calm mind was required, in what was to me, a‘magical domain’. Few know the long voyage a diamond takes from ‘rough’ to ‘brilliant’, from discovery in the bowels of the Earth or riverbed, to final destination on finger, neck, ear or nowadays, a nose. Signing off, Henri