The Fate of the Cullinan Gem

C.C. in Pall Mall March 1 1908

The Fate of the Cullinan Gem

C.C. in Pall Mall March 1 1908

The Fate of the Cullinan Gem

C.C. in Pall Mall

THE fate of the Cullinan gem is still in the balance, and debate has been fierce whether the King’s great gem is to be cut and polished or left in its present condition. When the Koh-i-Noor was cut it dwindled from 186 to 106 carats, and this loss of 80 carats still creates a doubt among experts whether the result justified the loss, for weight in a diamond is a paramount consideration. The Orientals, true lovers of gems, trim a stone according to its native shape, and sometimes leave it altogether in the rough. Why not, one asks, leave the Cullinan diamond as it is?

Another consideration is that the work of cutting and polishing can hardly be done in this country, because we have not the necessary appliances, nor even the skilled operators necessary for the task. In London very few diamonds are cut, the cutting being practically confined to colored stones. Where a Hatton Garden cutter employs twelve men the Amsterdam people employ five hundred operators. They are specialists in this delicate work, and have the best and latest instruments used by the lapidary in his art. It will probably take these experts two years to accomplish the task, in dealing with such a gem as the Cullinan ; but goodness only knows how long it would take in London. In the first place, a special factory would have to be built, special machines bought, and, at the end, skilled cutters from Amsterdam would have to be employed. This being so, it seems worth while to pay a visit to Amsterdam and see the industry at its height, chat with its devotees, and see all the operations in full swing.

How often the history of human invention has been enriched by unexpected accidents! The art of cutting and polishing diamonds was first introduced in the fifteenth century. The honor of having invented the rival systems, which are to a great extent identical, is claimed by some authorities for Herman, of Paris, and by others for L. de Bergin, of Bruges. The discovery is supposed to have been the result of an accidental rubbing together of two stones, which upon subsequent examination revealed the fact that both had been slightly abraded.

The earliest type of cutting is known as the “table,” the gems being manipulated so as to present large fiat surfaces or “tables.” This gave place to what is known as the “rose,” an old-fashioned style which is still in evidence at the present day, though this method of treating the stones^ has been also discontinued. The principal feature of “rose” cutting is that the facets are so formed as to make the stone oval on the top instead of presenting the fiat surface with which every one nowadays is familiar. No matter how good the quality of the stone, a “rose”-cut diamond never presents the same amount of fire and sparkle as a stone of similar quality “brilliant” cut. This favorite or brilliant form, so called from the increased life and fire which it gives^ to a stone, was invented during the reign of Louis XIII. of France, Cardinal Mazarin being the first man credited with the possession of a stone so cut. So much for the history of the invention ; now for the practical facts, and incidentally the history of every diamond that goes through the mill.

On their arrival in a rough state

from the various mines, diamonds are very carefully sorted for size and quality, unless this operation has already been performed on the premises of the mining company. Parcels of stones are then distributed among the various brokers, the majority of whom have special customers for certain classes of diamonds. Hatton Garden, as is well known, is practically the world’s diamond market, and hither come buyers from Amsterdam and Paris, the only centres in which diamonds are cut in any quantity.

Amsterdam, the centre of the industry, is now the headquarters of the Diamond Workers’ Union. This union, which is the wealthiest trades union in the world, controls and regulates the wages of practically every diamond-cutter in existence, for two years ago it brought the great diamond workers’ strike to a successful conclusion. The great majority of workers are Jews; and in order to become a member of the union, and so be eligible for employment, the would-be diamond-cutter is called upon to find three sureties, each of whom must be a substantial and trusted member. So strong is the organization, that any member who gives cause for complaint, and is expelled, is absolutely debarred from obtaining employment in his profession elsewhere As is the case with cashiers and bank clerks, the workers are so accustomed to handling property of enormous value that the idea of appropriating any of the diamonds does not seem to occur to them.

On visiting a diamond-cutting establishment, one of the principal features with which the visitor is impressed is, in fact, the apparent lack of precaution taken against dishonesty on the part of the workers. When the men enter a diamond-working establishment in the morning, each receives from the proprietor or manager a stone or parcel of small stones as the case may be, that is first carefully weighed, and instructions are given as to how many carats the man or woman must return when the work they are entrusted with has been accomplished. Every process in con-

nection with diamond-working necessitates a loss in weight, so the operator must carefully study each crystal before commencing operations, in order that he may avoid exceeding the loss in weight limit imposed. By this system of making every worker responsible individually, it can easily be ascertained, by comparison of the quality of the work and the percentage of weight lost, whether a particular workman is treating the material to the best advantage.


An old-fashioned test for a suspected stone was to place it on an anvil and strike it with a hammer, under the idea that the true diamond would either embed itself in the anvil or fracture the hammer. TITs test, however, is a fallacy, and many extremely valuable gems have been ruined in this way, as a stone can be readily split in a direction parallel to the eight-sided figure in which it crystallizes. A peculiarity observable in raw diamonds, but found in no other gem, is that the sides of the regular eight-sided faces and edges are often curved instead of being perfectly flat, a fact which materially assists experts when called upon to pass an opinion upon rough crvstals submitted. That it was possible to engrave upon gems with diamond points was known to the ancients, and it is by this means that the present splitter is enabled to divide a diamond.

When undertaking the splitting of a stone, it is first submitted to the most careful examination, in order that the process of splitting may be so arranged as to eliminate, if possible, any flaws that may occur in the interior, as any crack or mark in a finished stone detracts very considerably from its market value. When the splitter has determined his lines of cleavage, he proceeds to make a small nick in the diamond with the aid of his diamond-point, the stone to be split having previously been inserted at the required angle into some special cement. Having made the preliminary cut, the splitter then inserts into it the edge of a steel knife, and placing the

stump containing the diamond, still embedded in the cement, upon some solid surface, he gives rhe knife a blow with a steel instrument. The effect is to split the stone along the line of cleavage.


A curious feature of this part of the process of diamond-working is that a stone which is impure in color, or shows traces of yellowness, sometimes has a “fright,” as the result of the blow and fracture, and upon examination one half is found to have turned pure white. Such a piece of luck from the owner’s point of view, however, is of rare occurrence, and is presumably due to the accidental splitting off of a discolored portion of the stone, which by the reflection of the light caused the entire stone to appear of a darker color.

Another curious fact, and incidentally a proof of the minuteness of the work at times undertaken by a diamond-splitter, is the fact that he is sometimes called upon to divide diamonds into such tiny portions that twenty-five will scale only a single carat, a carat weighing only four grains. Here it may be said that the splitter is paid by the carat. The smaller the stones to be split, the higher the comparative remuneration. The rate of pay for splitting stones so that eight go to the carat is one pound a carat ; the scale of prices for working stones of various sizes is determined by the union, a competent splitter being capable of earning about six pounds per week.


When a diamond is to be sawn— and this process is only available in the case of large stones—instead of split, it is fixed in a hinged holder, and adjusted in position so as to rest on the top edge of a circular toothless saw which revolves at the rate of five thousand revolutions per minute. At the commencement of a cut a steel-bladed saw is used to make a slight incision, the severing of the

stone being afterwards accomplished 86

by means of a saw of special metal, similar in appearance to brass. A thinner blade can be constructed of this metal than it is possible to make from steel, consequently the diamond loses less in weight than it would if cut through with a steel blade. Moreover, the other metal is more pliant. When sawing a stone by machinery, no pressure is applied beyond the weight of the stone, and that of its hinged metal support ; and at the end of the two days occupied in severing a two-carat stone the loss in weight averages two and a half per cent.


In all operations connected with cutting or polishing diamonds, the loss in weight is one of the first considerations, as a stone decreases in value tremendously in proportion to its actual weight. Indeed, the old Indian cutters, when working a large stone, made the facets in such a manner as to study the weight, and weight alone, the eventual shape and brilliancy of the stone being totally ignored.

The best-known example of this ancient Indian type of cutting was the Koh-i-noor in its original form as presented to the late Queen by the East India Company. So heedless had the cutters been of any other consideration that the famous stone, around which so many tragic events had centred, was in actual appearance little more attractive than a lump of glass.

The Kih-i-noor was re-cut by Coster, of Amsterdam, who came over to London specially to carry out the work in 1852. The re-cutting, as we have said, decreased the weight from T86 carats to its present weight of 106 carats. Many, however, consider that it was not re-cut to the best advantage.

It is upon the propertv possessed by the crystal of refracting and dispersing rays of light that the diamond relies for its beauty. To enhance this peculiarity, the facets must be so devised as to reflect any light falling upon them from one to another as much as possible. The present roundbrilliant form of cutting answers this requirement better than any other

known method, and has therefore been universally adopted by the “trade.”


Pear-shaped and marquise-shaped diamonds are not frequently seen, as they are only cut from crystals originally of eccentric shape, and are never as effective as a true brilliant.

Curious as it may seem, the discovery that a diamond would cut a diamond was first not used to improve, but merely to create stones of fanciful shapes, like the heart-shaped diamond possessed by the late Duke of Burgundy.

The actual work of cutting is comparatively a crude process, the cutter confining his attention to smoothing away unduly sharp edges or corners left by the splitter. This is done either by hand or machinery.

In order to realize the skill and accuracy with which the setter must arrange the diamond each time, it is necessary to examine a very small, well-cut brilliant under a powerful glass, and remember that the stone has been tilted in material about the consistency of putty at exactly the correct angle to form each individual facet.

The recent rise in the price of diamonds is due, to some extent, to the increase in the wages of the workers ; in fact, considering the labor and expense of production, it cannot be wondered at that very small diamonds hardly repay the cost of working.


When the cutting and polishing has been completed, the gems again visit Hatton Garden, where they are disposed of through the brokers to manufacturing jewellers. Quite recently an exhibition of freak and curiously cut diamonds was to have been seen at a gallery in Bond Street. Such stones have no fixed value, as is the case with normal productions ; in fact, they seldom come in the market at all.

One of the most exquisite examples of fantastic cutting is a tiny model of a street lamp, executed by the late Mr. J. Dreese, who achieved a great reputation for the designing and creating

of such curiosities. In the centre of the diamond-paned lamp a diamond splinter has been set, which is so cut as to catch the light falling upon it and give the impression that the burner is actually alight day and night. This little novelty is now the property of His Majesty the King.


The cutters work in large, exceptionally well lighted rooms, and, when daylight is not available, have a large spherical gas globe filled with water placed between their work and an incandescent burner, so as to intensify the illumination. As the diamond is deeply embedded in cement, it requires adjusting at a different angle for each cut; and having smoothed away one face sufficiently, the worker softens the cement by holding it in the flame of the Bunsen burner. This can be done without fear of injury to the stone, as a diamond is only combustible at a very high temperature, and is totally unaffected by such comparatively small heat as that given out by an ordinary fire or gas burner.

A little incident which emphasizes the truth of the old adage about familiarity breeding contempt, and also illustrating the confidence reposed in the workers, occurred during the writer’s first visit. While one of the cutters was exhibiting two fair-sized diamonds for inspection a bell rang; the operator promptly pocketed the diamonds, put on his coat, and went out to lunch. Each of the diamonds was worth about one hundred pounds.


A remarkable feature about a diamond factory is that there do not seem to be any diamonds about. Upon entering a polishing floor there is nothing in the appearance of the simple machinery or the long rows of white-smocked workmen to suggest the stupendous aggregate value of the material under treatment, the character of the work-rooms being as prosaic as it is possible to imagine.

Cut stones are weighed out every morning to each individual polisher. These men work at long benches with

their backs to the range of windows. Each has in front of him a horizontally rotating wheel, the surface of which is kept supplied with a mixture of diamond dust and oil. The dust is obtained by crushing bort, or the still less valuable partially formed crystals known as carbonadoes.

Polishers are paid by the carat according to the size and class of material to be worked, their average earnings being five or six pounds per week. The polishers in turn employ the setters; one man can set for from three to six polishers simultaneously. The duty of the setter is to readjust the diamonds as the polishing of each facet is completed.

First of all the rough-cut stone is placed in a “dop”—a metal cup containing a quantity of special solder and fitted with a stem. The solder in

the “dop” is heated until workable, by means of a lamp ; it is then withdrawn and placed in a wooden holder, stem downwards, so that the diamond may be pressed into position. The adjusting of the stone at exactly the right angle is a matter that requires great skill. When this has been accomplished, the setter smooths and moulds the hot solder with his bare finger, before cooling the “dop” and handing it back to the polisher to cut a fresh facet upon the wheel.

And the result, worth anything up to a hundred thousand pounds, may grace the brow of a queen. It may engender a feud of rivalry between high society dames, and enter on a long career of romance and envy. It may go to color history for centuries to come or it may disappear between the cracks of a floor and never come to light for generations.

If you are uncharitable, intolerant, if you lack generosity, cordiality, if you are unsympathetic, small, you cannot expect that generous, large-hearted, noble characters will flock around you. If you expect to make friends with large-souled, noble characters you must cultivate large-heartedness, generosity, charity and tolerance.