Diamond Cutting Industry and Art, by G.F. Kunz-- on precious stones and jewelry, from the Nov 24, 1895 LA Times


The Los Angeles Times, November 24, 1895, p. 23:



Diamond Cutting in America--
How Rough Diamonds are Marketed--
London the Center for Rough Diamonds--
Antwerp for Diamond Cutting.


    The diamond-cutting industry in Holland was formerly confined to a comparatively few Jewish families in Amsterdam, the traditions of the art being handed down from father to son for generations.

    Indian gems were cut up to about 1725, when the Brazilian diamond mines were discovered.

    The Dutch made a favorable treaty with Portugal, whereby almost the entire output of the mines came into their hands, and prosperity shone upon the diamond-cutters.

    In the beginning of the present century, however, diamonds became so scarce, through the primitive way of working the mines, and the increased demand, that all the diamond-cutting establishments, both in Amsterdam and Antwerp, came to a standstill, and the cutters had to adopt other occupations for a living.

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    At that time the eminent banking firm of Hope & Co., London, arranged with the Portuguese government to take all their rough diamonds at the fixed price of 45 francs ($9) per carat, while they sold the polished diamonds at 160 francs ($32).
    Fearing that, through the depression and subsequent abandonment of all the diamond works, the art would be lost for Holland, and their monopoly would then be useless, Hope & Co. selected seven young men whom they apprenticed at their own expense with some old diamond-polishers.


    On the discovery of the Cape diamonds in 1869-70, a new ear opened for the diamond trade. Quantities of rough diamonds came suddenly to London, but there were no work-people to cut them, at least not enough there, nor in Amsterdam and Antwerp, even with reinforcements from the old hands, who had long since abandoned the trade.

    The South African diamonds were first discovered in the surface gravel, and were obtained at little expense, hence they could be sold cheaply, but as the public was yet under the spell of the old prices, a large margin of profit was realized. This naturally caused many to leave other occupations and learn the diamond trade.
    Everyone bought rough diamonds, and was in haste to have them cut. To get ahead of the old merchants, these new-fledged diamond merchants bribed the work-people, and so a rate of compensation was established whereby the workmen received princely wages.

    In order to keep all these advantages, the work-people formed a union, with the rules: First, not to work for less than the then ruling high pay; and second, not to take any new apprentices, not even their own sons, to learn any of the three different branches of cleaving, cutting and polishing.
    For several years these rules were vigorously enforced. Still, a few workmen held aloof from the union, and these made some apprentices at a premium of from f.1500 to f.2500 for a cleaver and somewhat less for the two other branches of the trade.
    After these fat years were passed, then arrived the lean years. Rough diamonds rose in price, owing to the large capital required to mine them. The speculation in polished diamonds fell off, the union could not be kept together, and wages gradually declined, so that the ordinary work-people now only make a living, though the best of them are still paid like artists, as some of them really are.


    Twenty-five years ago the wholesale diamond merchants of Amsterdam did not exceed eight in number; but the development of the African mines so increased the trade that within the past decade several diamond exchanges or clubs have been established as headquarters for the transaction of business.
    One of these, the "Handelsbond," has eight hundred members, and owns a fine building, with rooms so arranged with respect to light as to facilitate the sale of gems. Others, known as the "Adams," the "Golconda" and the "Koh-i-nur," are generally thronged with brokers and merchants, as are the neighboring coffee-houses. The male members of these clubs are called courtiers, and the female brokers cortesans.

    At present there are between fifty and sixty large diamond-cutting establishments, employing some thirty-five hundred polishers, but no longer at the princely wages of from $80 to $200 a week, which were paid when the African mines first began to produce so largely, and goods of the second and third quality brought much higher prices. Today they only receive $15 to $40 a week, and some even less. There are ten thousand people engaged in diamond-cutting in Holland.


        Antwerp has been rapidly becoming one of the greatest diamond-cutting centers. While in 1870 there were four mills and 200 diamond workers, in 1893 there were seventy-eight mills and 4000 workers, and diamonds are annually cut to the value of f.12,000,000.
    London comes third in importance; here the diamond-polishers, brokers, importers and dealers in rough diamonds must number about one thousand persons.
    St. Claude and adjoining cities in the Jura Mountains in France have several diamond-cutting establishments that employ in various capacities about one thousand people. Paris comes next with several diamond works; these will reach about five hundred individuals. Geneva and Berlin each possess a diamond-cutting shop, at each of which, perhaps, one hundred people are employed; and, finally, Hanau, the jewelry center in Hesse, Germany, where much goldsmith's work is done, and where a few years ago were established two large diamond works and four or five small ones, all operated by steam power, which employs about five hundred persons.
    At Idar and Oberstein about one thousand more are similarly engaged, giving a total of above sixteen thousand five hundred persons occupied in the diamond industry in Europe.

    In 1887 the De Beers mining combination was effected at Kimberly to regulate the output, and so prevent a fall in prices such as was feared under the competition then beginning to be felt among the mining companies. Since then, the annual output has been carefully regulated each year to meet the needs of the world, and prices have, consequently, remained firm.

    Since the opening of the South African mines 48,000,000 carats of diamonds have been produced, valued at 60,000,000 in the rough, or more than 600,000,000 when cut. During the past twenty-five years a duty of 10 per cent. has been paid on about $175,000,000 worth of cut diamonds imported into the United States.


    After the diamonds have been collected in proper-sized parcels at the mines by the various mining companies and licensed buyers, they are shipped by mail steamers direct from the Cape to London, which, until two years ago, was the greatest market in the world for rough diamonds.
    These parcels were frequently sold within one or two days of their arrival in London. When the owners reside in South Africa, and the price expected is not realized, the parcels are sealed while the transactions are cabled, and the transaction is often closed within twenty-four hours.

    On the arrival of the mail steamers, buyers from Amsterdam, Paris and Atwerp visit London to make purchases. The stones are then cut; exceptionally fine ones are sold separately, and the others in parcels according to size and quality.

    A clever trick was resorted to during some negotiations in 1889 by Cecil Rhodes, the Napoleon of the diamond world and the organizer of the mining combinations. A fellow director, Barnato, made an offer for the entire stock on hand, which Rhodes agreed to, provided all should be weighed together, saying that he would like to see a bucketful of diamonds. They were all put into a pail, which they nearly filled, and as the market had no supply during the three months required to separate the stones again, according to grades, the price was sustained, and the company tided over the difficulty.

    In January of the present year the Antwerp and Amsterdam dealers endeavored to break the English control of the rough-diamond market by offering a higher figure than the English syndicate had bid for a three-months' option on the entire output. The English syndicate then made a higher offer for the whole product of 1895, and a sale to them took place of over $17,500,000, the limit fixed for the output this year.


    One of the curious phases of the Amsterdam diamond-cutting industry is the extent of the trade in diamond waste. Most of this material comes now from the cleavers.
    Formerly, when diamonds were still very expensive, cleavers did not deign to set to work upon a stone unless it was mainly of fair quality, and most of it could be turned out as valuable diamonds. But now, through the great competition in price, nothing may be rejected.
    If a piece of boart contains but one good corner, though not more than one-eighth of a carat in weight, and, consequently, less than half that weight when polished, it must be turned to account; and if this little available portion lies in the center of the stone it can only be reached by a great deal of cleaving, which will unavoidably produce many splinters and much dust.

    Cleaver's waste is of several kinds, generally sold in a lump to dealers. First, there is the boart, or the remnants of stones from which small corners have been taken off; these realize the full market price of boart. Out of the other waste are picked the few splinters yet fit to be worked into rose diamonds, next the long-pointed splinters, which, when inserted in a handle, are used for points in engraving upon stone, glass, etc. After these come the smaller bits, some of which may also be used for engraving and the stronger ones for boring holes in porcelain, glass, etc.
    The smallest material of this kind is generally stamped into powder, and employed in polishing diamonds and in the arts.
    Some of the coarser pieces, when smooth, are used for slabs, in which holes are drilled, and they are sold for wire-drawing, being much harder and more durable than any other substance for this purpose.

    A great deal of waste also comes from the cutters. During the cutting a variety of splinters and fine fragments is thrown off; hence, the waste material furnished by cutters, and to some extent by the cleavers, is the sweepings, of which there are again two kinds.
    First, "bak fulles," the residue of the bak or box upon which the friction of the two diamonds occurs, a mixture of minute diamond particlea and scrapings of cement; second, "table fulles," or sweepings of the floor of the shop.
    All these pass through complicated processes of cleaning by dexterous and experienced hands. At first nothing is seen but black, dusty fragments of the cement used to fit the diamonds on the handles, with here and there a glimmering bit hardly visible to an inexperienced eye. The buyer, however, knows how to treat it by sifting, burning, and boiling in nitric acid, so that out of this black mass is brought a fine snow-white powder, mixed with minute fragments diamond used for stamping.

    An extensive trade is done in these different kinds of waste, and it is exported from Holland to various parts of Europe and America for technical purposes. Over two hundred persons in Amsterdam gain their living as dealers in diamond-waste and sweepings.


    The subject of diamond-cutting in the United States is worthy of consideration. Since 1868 more than $175,000,000 worth of diamonds have been imported into the United States, of which about $15,000,000 [almost surely a typo; should say $150,000,000] worth came in the eleven years between June, 1882, and June, 1893. Of these the original rough stones could not have cost more than one-half.
    If the stones had been cut in this country, it would have given employment ot 5000 men for the past twelve years, at the average yearly wages of $1000. The difficulty in establishing the diamond-cutting industry in this country is the inability of dealers to obtain the rough stones at first hand, and the fact that diamond-cutting is an old, established industry, and in many ways waste is prevented by a more economic system of working.

    In the years of 1882 to 1885 a number of American jewelers opened diamond-cutting establishments, but the cutting has not been profitably carried on in this country on a scale large enough to justify branch houses in London, the great market for rough diamonds, where advantages can be taken of every fluctuation in the market and large parcels purchased which can be cut immediately and converted into cash, for nothing is bought and sold on a closer margin than rough diamonds.

    During 1893 diamond-cutting was carried on in the United States by fifteen firms, each employing from one to twenty men, the total number amounting to from 100 to 150 cleavers, cutters, polishers, etc.

    Henry D. Morse of Boston was the pioneer diamond-cutter of the United States. He can justly be called the American diamond-cutter par excellence, and the best cutters in the United States today received their training under him.
    But educating young Americans, both men and women, to his art was not his greatest work. He showed the world that the art which had so long been a monopoly of the Hollanders was degenerating in their hands into a mere mechanical trade. His treatment of the diamond gave a great stimulus to the industry both in the United Statea and abroad. Shops were opened here and in London in consequence of his success.

    He was one of the few who studied the diamond scientifically and taught his pupils that mathematical precision in cutting greatly enhances the value as well as the beauty of the gem. His artistic eye, sound judgement and keen perception enabled him to carry the art ot a perfection seldom, if ever, attained before.
    In his shop a machine for cutting diamonds was invented which did away, in great measure, with the tediousness and inaccuracy of the old manual process. Thanks to his labors, we now have among us some of the best cutters in the world, men who can treat the diamond as it should be treated to develop its greatest beauty.

    The fact that so many fine stones were recut here after he started his wheel led to a great improvement in cutting abroad, especially in the French Jura and Switzerland, where both men and women are now employed in the trade, and, as a result, the diamonds sold today are decidedly better cut than those of twenty-five years ago, before Mr. Morse turned his attention to the work and showed to all the world that diamond-cutting is properly an art, and not an industry.

    Note: Largely self-educated mineralolgist and numismatist Dr. George F. Kunz (1856-1932; his degrees were honorary) was employed by Tiffany & Company for 53 years, and became Vice-President of Tiffany's in the early 1900's. After his death, his books and papers became part of the US Geological Survey Library.

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