Jubilee of De Beers Consildated Mines passed off quietly
in 1948, the massive post-WWII growth and expansion of
the diamond industry had barely begun, while several important
sources of diamonds, including the Premier Mine, were
still closed, while others remained to be discovered.
Forty years later the annual output of diamonds exceeded
100 million carats and sales of rough diamonds reached
around $5 billion.
11th, 1988, the centenary celebrations of De Beers
took place in Kimberly and a banquet was held to
close the Kimberly Mine (aka the "Big Hole").
An audience of four hundred people, including representatives
of several national governments of diamond-producing
countries and dignitaries from various sections
of the industry, listened to the welcoming speech
of the chairman, Julian Oglivie Thompson, totally
unprepared for his final sentence: "We have
recovered at the Premier Mine a diamond of 599 carats
which is perfect in color - indeed it is one of
the largest top-color diamonds ever found. Naturally
it will be called the Centenary Diamond."
|No more fitting
way of celebrating 100 years of achievement by De Beers
could have been devise than the discovery of such a diamond
and nowhere was it more likely to have been recovered
than at the Premier Mine. Over the years this extraordinary
mine has produced several outstanding diamonds of the
most superb color, which have been cut into famous gems:
The Cullinan in 1905; the Niarchos in 1954; the Taylor-Burton
in 1966 and the Premier Rose in 1978. Now that the second
millennium has ended, it is interesting to reflect that
only nineteen gem-quality diamonds larger than the Centenary
rough have been found during its course. The Premier Mine
itself has produced nearly three hundred stones weighing
more than 100 carats, and a quarter of the world's diamonds
weighing more than 400 carats.
| The Centenary
was found on July 17th, 1986 by the electric X-ray recovery
system at the Premier Mine. Only a handful of people knew
about it and all were sworn to silence. In its rough form
it resembled an irregular matchbox with angular planes,
a prominent elongated "horn" jutting out at
one corner and a deep concave on the largest flat surface.
The shape of the stone expressed problems in cutting with
no apparent solution.
| The man
chosen to evaluate the Centenary was Gabi Tolkowsky, famed
in the diamond industry as one of the most accomplished
cutters in the world. His family had long been in the
diamond trade and it was his great-uncle, Marcel Tolkowsky,
diamond expert and mathmetician, who published a book
in 1919 titled "Diamond Design", which for the
first time set out exact ways of cutting the modern round
brilliant cut. Gabi Tolkowsky himself was the creator
of five new diamond cuts, revealed in 1988, which concentrate
on maximizing brilliance, color or yield - or a combination
of all three from off-color rough diamonds previously
thought difficult to cut profitably into conventional
round or fancy shapes. Named for flowers, the cuts are
largely based on unorthadox angle dimensions. The overall
proportions as well as the use of more facets around the
pavilion increase brilliance and improve visual impact
when viewed face-up.
|When he first
saw the Centenary, Tolkowsky was astounded by its exceptional
purity. "Usually you have to look into a diamond
to appreciate its color, but this just expressed itself
from its surface. That is very rare," Tolkowsky said.
He knew the protruding "horn" would have to
be removed as well as other "asperities," as
he called them, which interfered with the stone's basic
shape. At the same time, Tolkowsky realized that the diamond
would be difficult to polish because its shape did not
offer an obvious approach. Usually a diamond will suggest
two or three shapes to its cutter but the Centenary was
more generous - if more baffling - by providing several
possibilities. In the end Tolkowsky submitted his appraisal,
saying that the diamond must be kept intact to produce
one singe large modern-cut diamond.
|He was asked
to cut the Centenary, and late in 1988 Tolkowsky, two
master cutters - Geoff Woolett and Jim Nash - together
with a handpicked group of engineers, electricians and
security guards set to work in a specially designed underground
room in the De Beers Diamond Research Laboratory in Johannesburg,
South Africa. It was crucial that the room, like the special
tools needed for faceting, should be stable and strong;
nothing must rattle, everything must be tight, there should
be no mechanical vibration or variation in temperature
around the cutting table.
|For one whole
year while the right tools and technical conditions were
created, the Centenary remained unaltered and untouched.
Tolkowsky examined the stone until he knew every fissure
and crevice of it. Using the most sophisticated electronic
instruments he gazed deep into the crystal structure.
"From the moment I knew I was going to cut it,"
he said, "I became another man. A strange man. I
was looking at the stone in the day, and the stone was
looking at me at night."
first step before the diamond could be faceted was the
elimination of large cracks from the edge of the stone
running a considerable depth inside it. He decided not
to saw or cut with a laser because both methods would
heat or vibrate the diamond. Instead, he turned to the
time-honored method of kerfing by hand. It took Tolkowsky
154 days to remove about 50 carats which otherwise would
have been polished to dust. At the end was a roughly-shaped
rounded crystal about the size of a bantam's egg, weighing
about 520 carats. After that was an endless process
of drawing and measuring as possible shape designs began
to emerge. In all, thirteen different designs were presented
to the De Beers board, with the strong recommendation
they should chose a modified heart shape. Once this
recommendation had been accepted, the final process
of faceting the Centenary began in March, 1990. By January,
1991 it was nearing completion.
cutting was completed the Centenary weighed 273.85 carats,
measured 39.90 × 50.50 × 24.55 mm, and had
247 facets - 164 on the stone and 83 around its girdle.
Never before had such a high number of facets been polished
onto a diamond. In addition, two flawless pear shapes
weighing 1.47 and 1.14 carats were cut from the rough.
Amoung top-color diamonds the Centenary is surpassed
only by the Cullinan I (aka the Star of Africa) and
the Cullinan II, which were cut from the Cullinan crystal
before modern symmetrical cuts were fully developed
in the 1920's, making the Centenary the largest modern
fancy cut diamond in the world and the only one to combine
the oldest methods - such as kerfing - with the most
sophisticated modern technology in cutting. The Cullinan
diamonds are actually near-colorless, but qualify as
white diamonds. The GIA color grading letters D, E and
F qualify as colorless, and the Centenary is the best
of the three - a 'D'. This spectacular gem, which has
become the ultimate example of those qualities was shown
to the world for the first time in May, 1991. Mr. Nicholas
Oppenheimer, then Deputy Chairman of De Beers rightly
declared "Who can put a price on such a stone?"
confirming that it was insured for around $100 million.
the Centenary Diamond has since been sold is a mystery.
The De Beers Group's policy is not to dislose such information
so that the anonymity of its clients is protected. Some
day the Centenary will probably resurface, perhaps at
auction, or in a museum display housing some country's
crown jewels. Gabi Tolkowsky has since cut another large
gem of note, the Pink Sun Rise, a 29-carat pink diamond
with a facet pattern similar to the Centenary's. Also
cut the largest faceted diamond in the world - the Golden
Jubilee. Sources: Famous Diamonds by Ian Balfour, The
Nature of Diamonds by George E. Harlow, and the De Beers
the autumn of 2001, I found Gabi Tolkowsky's mailing
address on the internet, and decided to write to him.
He lives in Antwerp, Belgium, which comes as no surprise
as as this is the diamond cutting capitol of the world.
Among the questions I asked him was whether he had heard
about the Centenary Diamond selling or not. In his reply
he told me he had heard the rumor, but no one had confirmed
it to him.
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