When I traveled to Russia for the International Diamond Cut Conference (IDCC) in 2004, I was fortunate enough to meet up with Gabi Tolkowsky, one of the world's most renowned diamond cutters and the sixth generation of the Tolkowsky family to make his name in the trade.
We met in the customs area of Sheremetyevo International Airport and we caught the taxi bus to the hotel. Seated next to him we had an opportunity to discuss various matters about diamond cutting in South Africa and his time spent in South Africa and we made an interesting discovery.
In the late 1980's, I made several trips back to South Africa. My father Ben was doing some polishing work for the De Beers research lab in Johannesburg, South Africa. They requested that he polish syndite, a synthetic diamond material which is used for industrial applications, into very thin pieces with a high polish surface. This was a complicated process, but he had developed specific techniques and machinery that could do this. In polishing these thin slices for them, one of the biggest challenges was to stop the pieces from breaking, which proved very difficult.
During our discussion, Gabi told me that in the late 1980's there was a company in Johannesburg that was polishing the syndite he needed to help him cleave the Centenary diamond**. He went on to tell me that when he received the whole pieces he would break them into smaller pieces as he needed them for "skerp" which is the Dutch word for sharp edges and which is used to make clean cut grooves (Kerf) in the diamond. He was amazed that he had traveled halfway around the world only to discover that it was my father, Ben, who had been preparing the materials for him. We laughed at that fact that while Ben was trying to keep the pieces whole, he was breaking them into smaller pieces when he received them!!**Tolkowsky is responsible for polishing all of De Beers exceptional diamonds. The Centenary started off as a 599 carat rough diamond. It took 3 years from 1988 – 1991 to polish the rough and resulted in 273.85 carat diamond. It is acknowledged as the largest top color, flawless modern cut diamond and is certified as D flawless with excellent finish and symmetry grades.