Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How long does it take to cut a diamond?

About 10 years ago our company first posted on our website that it "takes 4 times as long to cut Hearts On Fire diamonds than it does to cut ordinary round brilliants". Ever since then, that phrase has become ubiquitous on websites throughout our industry.

I'm comforted to know that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", but strangely enough the fact is that almost no one knows how long it takes to cut a typical round diamond.

Here's the deal. Although the time varies depending on the individual stone, on average it takes one of our master artisans roughly a full day (8 hours) to finish a one carat Hearts On Fire or Dream diamond by hand - which is approximately 4X as long as it takes to automatically cut most diamonds.

Robotic machines cut most one carat round brilliants in about 2 hours - one hour for the top and one hour for the bottom. A diamond cutter/mechanic typically monitors 16 of these machines during an 8-hour shift. This results in increasing production per worker from 1 to 64 diamonds a day!

The problem is that automatic equipment is - how else can I say this - automatic. Its does things mechanically. Quite literally a robot cannot see, feel, or hear the diamonds it cuts. That's why critical distinctions of proportion, polish, and symmetry aren't possible and the beauty of these diamonds invariably suffers.

PS - An easy way to spot a machine-cut diamond is by it's thick girdle edge. The thickness is necessary so that the machine can easily hold the diamond for the entire cutting operation. It also adds extra weight at the girdle, which is no more desirable for the overall beauty of a diamond than it would be for the proportions, performance and beauty of a human being.

Friday, September 26, 2008

In Memoriam: A Master

In mid-July Leonard Ludel passed away. At 95 years young, he was still my mentor. Leonard was the founder of the American School of Diamond Cutting.

He taught that you must never call yourself a Master Diamond Cutter. This is an honorific bestowed on you by others. Well, I’m here to tell you that Lenny was a Master.

The main reason for his mastery was that Lenny practiced what he preached. Lenny preached that one person can make a big difference and that your actions speak louder than words. He had no fear or use for a status quo that thwarted progress, saying “I have always been a humanist and always will be."

Lenny was a 3rd generation diamond cutter who believed that the art of diamond cutting would die out if limited only to those with family history in the industry. He actively sought to share his arcane knowledge - to bring new life blood and vitality into the mix. For this faux pas he was ostracized by the industry at first, but in the end his contributions proved to be significant.

Founding the American School of Diamond Cutting was just the beginning. Lenny had a genuine soft spot for underdogs; our classroom overflowed with diversity – American’s of all sorts – Native, Japanese, Mexican, Portuguese, Dutch, African, Irish, Catholic, Jew, Protestant, atheist, blonde, brunette, redhead, high-school aged, college grads, pacifists and Vietnam Vets.

In my case, Lenny said he picked me as an apprentice because of my acumen in straight pool – 5th in the Big Ten (1st runner-up in the loser’s bracket). Forget about the academic stuff! Normally considered the hallmark of a misspent youth, my ability to bank a shot cross-side or straight-back, apparently convinced him I had the “hand-eye coordination” and “sense of geometry” to become a decent diamond cutter. I gotta tell you that was one interesting interview.

But only part of his enduring legacy was the teaching of old-fashioned, hands-on, bare-knuckled, nose-to-the-grindstone craftsmanship to outsiders like me. He self-published the first book in America to spill the trade secrets of diamond cutting to the general public, How To Cut A Diamond: A Diamond Cutters Handbook (1985).

Lenny's actions continued to help and inspire others even after his official career ended (
Record Courier). And, to this day many of his students carry his passion forward by pioneering, mastering and teaching new methods of cutting, grading, and selling fine diamonds.

Rest in Peace Lenny, you've earned it. We'll do our best to make the world more copacetic in your absence.