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DIAMOND CUTTING

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Originally appearing in Volume V16, Page 199 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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DIAMOND CUTTING.—On account of its extreme hardness, the treatment of the diamond in preparation for use in jewelry constitutes a separate and special branch of the lapidary's art. Any valuable gem must first be trimmed, cleaved or sawed into suitable shape and size, then cut into the desired form, and finally polished upon the faces which have been cut. The stages in diamond working are, therefore, (1) cleavage or division; (2) cutting; (3) polishing; but in point of fact there are four processes, as the setting of the stone for cutting is a somewhat distinct branch, and the workers are classed in four groups—cleavers, setters, cutters and polishers. 1. Cleaving or Dividing.—Diamonds are always found as crystals, usually octahedral in form, though often irregular or distorted. The problem involved in each case is twofold: (1) to obtain the largest perfect stone possible, and (2) to remove any portions containing flaws or defects. These ends are generally met by cleaving the crystal, i.e. causing it to split along certain natural planes of structural weakness, which are parallel with the faces of the octahedron. This process requires the utmost judgment, care and skill on the part of the operator, as any error would cause great loss of valuable material; hence expert cleavers command very high wages. The stone is first examined closely, to determine the directions of the cleavage planes, which are recognizable only by an expert. The cleaver then cuts a narrow notch at the place selected, with another diamond having a sharp point; a rather dull iron or steel edge is then laid on this line, and a smart blow struck upon it. If all has been skilfully done, the diamond divides at once in the direction desired. De Boot in 1609 mentions knowing some one who could part a diamond like mica or talc. In this process, each of the diamonds is fixed in cement on the end of a stick or handle, so that they can be held firmly while one is applied to the other. When the stone is large and very valuable, the cleaving is a most critical process. Wollaston in 1790 made many favourable transactions by buying very poor-looking flawed stones and cleaving off the good parts. In the case of the immense Excelsior diamond of 971 carats, which was divided at Amsterdam in 1904, and made into ten splendid stones, the most elaborate study extending over two months was given to the work before-hand, and many models were made of the very irregular stone and divided in different ways to determine those most advantageous. This process was in 1908 applied to the most remark-able piece of work of the kind ever undertaken—the cutting of the gigantic Cullinan diamond of 30254 English carats. The stone was taken to Amsterdam to be treated by the old-fashioned hand method, with innumerable precautions of every kind at every step, and the cutting was successfully accomplished after nine months' work (see The Times, Nov. ro, 1908). The two principal stones obtained (see DIAMOND), one a pendeloque or drop brilliant, and the other a square brilliant, were given 72 and 64 facets respectively (exclusive of the table and cullet) instead of the normal 56. This process of cleavage is the old-established one, still used to a large extent, especially at Amsterdam. But a different method has recently been introduced, that of sawing,' which is now generally employed in Antwerp. The stone is placed in a small metal receptacle which is filled with melted aluminium; thus embedded securely, with only the part to be cut exposed, it is pressed firmly against the edge of a metallic disk or thin wheel, 4 or 5 in. in diameter, made of copper, iron or phosphor bronze, which is charged with diamond dust and oil, and made to revolve with great velocity. This machine was announced as an American invention, but the form now principally employed at Antwerp was invented by a Belgian diamond cutter in the United States, and is similar to slitting wheels used by gem The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure for 1749 states that diamond dust, " well round and diluted with water and vinegar, is used in the sawing of diamonds, which is done with an iron or brass wire, as fine as a hair."—Ed. the old hand method is already replaced in part by an improved device whereby the diamond is held by adjustable claws, on a base that can be rotated, so as to apply it in any desired position. By this means the time and trouble of repeated re-setting in the clop are saved, as well as the liability to injury from the heating and cooling; the services of special " setters " are also made needless. The rapid development of mechanical devices for the several stages of diamond cutting has already greatly influenced the art. A very interesting comparison was brought out in the thirteenth report of the American Commissioner of Labour, as to the aspects and relations of hand-work and machinery in this branch of industry. It appeared from the data gathered that the advantage lay with machinery as to time and with hand-work as to cost, in the ratios respectively of r to 3.38 and 1.76 to 1. In other words, about half the gain in time is lost by increased expense in the use of machine methods. A great many devices and applications have been developed within the last few years, owing to the immense increase in the production of diamonds from the South African mines, and their consequent widespread use. History of Diamond Cutting.—The East Indian diamonds, many of which are doubtless very ancient, were polished in the usual Oriental fashion by merely rounding off the angles. Among church jewels in Europe are a few diamonds of unknown age and source, cut four-sided, with a table above and a pyramid below. Several cut diamonds are recorded among the treasures of Louis of Anjou in the third quarter of the 14th century. But the first definite accounts of diamond polishing are early in the century following, when one Hermann became noted for such work in Paris. The modern method of " brilliant " cutting, however, is generally ascribed to Louis de Berquem, of Bruges, who in 1475 cut several celebrated diamonds sent to him by Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy. He taught this process to many pupils, who afterwards settled in Antwerp and Amsterdam, which have been the chief centres of diamond cutting ever since. Peruzzi was the artist who worked out the theory of the well-proportioned brilliant of 58 facets. Some very fine work was done early in London also, but most of the workmen were Jews, who, being objectionable in England, finally betook themselves to Amsterdam and Antwerp. Efforts have been lately made to re-establish the art in London, where, as the great diamond mart of the world, it should peculiarly belong. The same unwise policy was even more marked in Portugal. That nation had its colonial possessions in India, following the voyages and discoveries of Da Gama, and thus became the chief importer of diamonds into Europe. Early in the 18th century, also, the diamond-mines were discovered in Brazil, which was then likewise a Portuguese possession; thus the whole diamond product of the world came to Portugal, and there was naturally developed in Lisbon an active industry of cutting and polishing diamonds. But in time the Jews were forced away, and went to Holland and Belgium, where diamond cutting has been concentrated since the middle of the 18th century. It is of interest to trace the recent endeavours to establish diamond cutting in the United States. The pioneer in this movement was Henry D. Morse of Boston, associated with James W. Yerrington of New York. He opened a diamond-cutting establishment about 186o and carried it on for some years, training a number of young men and women, who became the best cutters in the country. But the chief importance of his work lay in its superior quality. So long had it been a monopoly of the Dutch and Belgians that it was declining into a mere mechanical trade. Morse studied the diamond scientifically and taught his pupils how important mathematical exactitude in cutting was to the beauty and value of the gem. He thus attained a perfection rarely seen before, and gave a great stimulus to the art. Shops were opened in London as well, in con-sequence of Morse's success; and many valuable diamonds were recut in the United States after his work became known. This fact in turn reacted upon the cutter abroad, especially in France and Switzerland; and thus the general standard of the art was greatly advanced. Diamond cutting in the United States is now a well-established industry. From 1882 to 1885 a number of American jewelers under-took such work, but for various reasons it was not found practicable then. Ten years later, however, there were fifteen firms engaged in diamond cutting, giving employment to nearly 150 men in the various processes involved. In the year 1894 a number of European diamond workers came over; some foreign capital became engaged; and a rapid development of diamond cutting took place. This movement was caused by the low tariff on uncut diamonds as compared with that on cut stones. It went so far as to be felt seriously abroad; but in a year or two it declined, owing partly to strikes and partly to legal questions as to the application of some of the tariff provisions. At the close of 1895, however, there were still some fourteen establishments in and near New York, employing about 500 men. Since thenthe industry has gradually developed. Many of the European diamond workers who came over to America remained and carried on their art; and the movement then begun has become permanent. New York is now recognized as one of the chief diamond-cutting centres; there are some Soo cutters, and the quality of work done is fully equal, if not superior, to any in the Old World. So well is this fact established that American-cut diamonds are exported and sold in Europe to a considerable and an increasing extent. In the Brazilian diamond region of Minas Geraes an industry of cutting has grown up since 1875. Small mills are run by water power, and the machinery, as well as the methods, are from Holland. This Brazilian diamond work is done both well and cheaply, and supplies the local market. The leading position in diamond working still belongs to Amster-dam, where the number of persons engaged in the industry has trebled since about 1875, in consequence of the enormous increase in the world's supply of diamonds. The number now amounts to 15,000, about one-third of whom are actual cleavers, cutters, polishers, &c. The number of cutting establishments in Amsterdam is about seventy, containing some 7000 mills. Antwerp comes next with about half as many mills and a total of some 4500 persons engaged in all departments, including about seventy women. These are distributed among thirty-five or forty establishments. A majority of the workers are Belgians, but there are many Dutch, Poles and Austro-Hungarians, principally Jews. Among these numerous employees there is much opportunity for dishonesty, and but little surveillance, actual or possible; yet losses from this cause are almost unknown. The wages paid are good, averaging from £2, 9s. 6d. to £2, 17s. 6d. a week. Sorters receive from 28s. to £2; cutters from £2, 9s. 6d to £3, 6s., and cleavers from £3, 14s. upwards. With the recent introduction of electricity in diamond cutting there has been a revolution in that industry. Whereas formerly wheels were made to revolve by steam, they are now placed in direct connexion with electric motors, although there is not a motor to each machine. The saws for slitting the diamond can thus be made to revolve much more rapidly, and there is a cleanliness and a speed about the work never before attained. (G. F. K.)
End of Article: DIAMOND CUTTING
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