Program Speaker: Scott Sucher on the marvelous world of diamonds
Text by Nancy L. Attaway
Master facetor, Scott Sucher took the Guild on a trip through the marvelous world of diamonds. He explained how diamonds are formed in volcanic pipes that reach one hundred miles into the Earth’s core. At those depths, temperatures rise to 2500 degrees F., and the pressure becomes a million pounds per square inch. Tremendous heat and pressure create the birthplace of diamonds, a crystalline, transparent form of carbon and the hardest substance known. Scott discussed where diamonds were found, how they were mined, and the history and mystique relating to many of the famous diamonds known in the world.
Scott listed the areas on Earth where diamonds have been found. He said that Borneo was the first place recognized to yield diamonds. There, a small number of diamonds were sifted from alluvial deposits, but the kimberlite pipe was never found. Diamonds were soon discovered in India. India remained the world’s sole source of diamonds until about 1730, when diamonds were discovered in Brazil. India is considered to be the cradle of the diamond industry. Diamonds are mentioned in Indian manuscripts dating back 2000 years ago. Some of the world’s legendary diamonds, including the Koh-i-Noor, the Great Mogul, the Hope, and the Nizam, were all mined in India.
Scott related that gold prospectors in Brazil found diamonds in alluvial deposits as they sifted the gravel for gold. In 1850 and 1851, production rose as high as 300,000 carats annually from the diamond-rich deposits in Bahia. The first diamonds were discovered in Africa in 1866 in the alluvial deposits of the Orange and Vaal Rivers. Rumors were spread about the inferiority of African diamonds to maintain the viable market for Brazilian diamonds.
Scott explained how diamond mining in Africa ranged from sifting through alluvial deposits with a few tools to enormous open-pit and deep underground mining operations, where the hard rock kimberlite formations were blasted to extract diamonds. The ore is sorted through a crusher and spread out on a grease table. The diamonds stick to the grease, and the remaining rubble is flushed. One hundred tons of ore is mined for every carat of diamond. The yellow weathered kimberlite, called yellow ground, is shallow and extends one hundred feet down. The blue and pristine kimberlite, known as blue ground, was found beneath the yellow ground and went to one thousand feet. The Premier mine, the Finsch mine, and the Venetia mine, all famous mines, were major kimberlite pipes.
Scott’s slides showed where, along the western coast of Africa, miners sifted through sandy beaches of alluvial deposits and dredged the nearby sands beneath the ocean for diamonds. In Namibia, one yard of beach has yielded 2700 carats of diamonds, and over 90% of them were high quality, gem grade. The industrial grade diamonds are weaker from cracks and inclusions, and they are broken and eroded away from tumbling downstream in rivers from the volcanic host rock before they reach the ocean. Zaire, Angola, and Botswana also have produced diamonds. The Jwaneng open pit mine in Botswana ranks as one of the most valuable diamond mines in the world.
Scott said that, in recent years, important diamond deposits were found in Russia, Australia, and Canada. Diamond mining began in 1957 in Russia, and there are about 1,000 known kimberlite pipes in the extensive Siberian Platform. At 12.5 million carats annually, Russia stands as the fourth largest producer of diamonds.
Diamonds were discovered in streambeds in the Kimberly region of Australia in 1971 and were traced back to the weathered remains of a large, hard rock, lamproite volcano. The lamproite pipe was developed into the Argyle mine, a vast open pit operation that at one point produced 40% of the world’s diamonds. Fancy pinks and champagne diamonds have been mined at the Argyle mine.
Most of Canada is underlain by cratons, a likely source for diamonds.
More than 450 kimberlite pipes have been located in Canada alone, and more
than 100 of them reside in the Northwest Territories. Major diamond production
by Dia Met unearthed millions of carats of diamonds in the Northwest Territories.
The potential for more diamond discoveries in Canada remains great.
Glaciers from Canada carried diamonds in the ice as they spread downward into the midwestern part of the United States. Diamonds were found in the lamproites near Murfreesboro, Arkansas in 1906. The locality has been designated the Crater of Diamonds State Park. Diamonds were also located in the kimberlite clusters along the Colorado/Wyoming state line. The mine at Kelsey Lake, Colorado opened in 1996 and produced up to 100,000 carats annually, but closed a few years later.
Scott stated that the earliest evidence of diamond cutting came from Venice in 1330. At that time, Venice was the trading capital for goods entering Europe from the Far East. The earliest documentation of diamond trading in Antwerp was from 1447. Fashioned diamonds began to appear in Europe after 1380. The European techniques for cutting diamonds soon became standardized and have changed little. One diamond is used to brute or shape another diamond. The techniques of cleaving and polishing diamonds has been a secret closely held within the diamond guilds. Jam-peg machines were used, where the cutter set the cutting angles on the top and bottom of a cone and “eye balled” the angles. Iron laps were used that measured thirty-six inches across. The oldest diamonds cut were irregular shapes, as the stones were cut to match the original shape of the rough. A thread with diamond grit was used to saw a diamond, and it took eight years to make one cut. Modern diamond cutting methods now use lasers and diamond-coated saws and bits. The development of the standard round brilliant cut evolved from cutting the point off a hexoctahedral pyramid-shaped diamond.
Among the important events and increasing contacts between Europe and the Middle East and South Asia were the travels of the famous procurer of gems, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. Tavernier, who lived between 1605 and 1689, documented his many travels in Les six voyages de J.-B. Tavernier en Turquie, en Perse et aux Indes in 1676. He visited several major diamond mines and described many large diamonds, including the Great Mogul, the Great Table, and the Shah. As a merchant, he returned with many diamonds, including a blue one (later to become the Hope). Tavernier’s drawings and notes of these diamonds have been studied by historians and gemcutters alike. Scott studied one of the very few copies of this historical manuscript in preparation of his faceting the replicas of the world’s famous diamonds.
The list of the world’s great diamonds of history comprise an amazing collection. These famous diamonds are large in size and have an additional claim to fame, such as their history, cut, or color. Included in the list of great diamonds are the Hope, the Regent, the Sancy, the Tiffany, the Koh-i-Noor, the Orlov, the nine Cullinans, the Dresden Green, the Kasikci or the Spoon Maker’s Diamond, and the Centenary. The Great Mogul was re-cut into the Orlov and set in the Russian crown. The Great Table was re-cut into two stones and set into the Iranian crown. The Florentine disappeared around World War I.
The 45.52-carat Hope diamond evolved from the French Blue, also known as the Tavernier Blue, that was brought back from India by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in 1668. It originally weighed about 110 carats and was re-cut from an irregular form into a heart shape of 67 carats. It was slated to be set into the French crown jewels as part of the Order of the Golden Fleece, but it was stolen during the French Revolution, was spirited away to London, reappeared as a slightly smaller stone, and was subsequently acquired by the Hope family. It was believed by some that a curse resided within the diamond, that terrible misfortunes would befall its owners. It was later sold to Cartier, who sold it to Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean. Upon her death, it was acquired by Harry Winston, who bestowed it to the Smithsonian Institution, where it currently resides. The Hope diamond, naturally colored by boron, phosphoresces orange under ultraviolet light.
The 140.5-carat Regent is a cushion-cut, water-clear diamond with a faint blue tint. The original stone weighed 410 carats, was found in India in 1701, and was brought to England for re-cutting. The stone was originally known as the Pitt, but it was sold to the regent of France in 1717 and set in the crown. It was stolen during the French Revolution, but it remained in France and was used as collateral to finance ensuing wars. It is now displayed in the Louve.
The 55.23-carat Sancy is a pale yellow pear shape diamond whose origin
in India has been lost. It can be traced to a French diplomat, Nicolas
H. de Sancy, who lived in the sixteenth century. The diamond changed hands
via loans for wars and eventually became part of the French crown jewels
but was stolen during the French Revolution. The diamond changed hands
from one royal to another in Europe, was purchased by a Bombay merchant
and sold again, and finally ended up in the hands of William Waldorf Astor
in 1892. It was eventually sold to the Banque of Paris and now resides
beside the Regent in the Louve.
The 128.54-carat Tiffany originally was a 287.42-carat bright yellow octahedron that was discovered in the early days of mining diamonds in Kimberly, South Africa about 1877. The rough diamond was shipped to Paris, where famed American gemologist, George F. Kunz, working for Tiffany at the time, supervised the cutting. The result was a 128.54-carat canary-yellow cushion cut with ninety facets. Nitrogen imparts the natural yellow color. Tiffany purchased the stone and brought it to New York.
The most famous of all the diamonds is considered to be the Koh-i-Noor, meaning Mountain of Light. It has the longest history. Indian legend claims that the diamond was once the forehead ornament of a statue of the son of Surya, the sun god in Vedic mythology, that it was mounted on the statue of Shiva as his third eye. Documented history began in 1304, when the diamond was said to have weighed over 600 carats. It passed through many royal hands of India and became part of a story about a royal who hid the diamond in his turban, revealed later by a member of the court. The British acquired the Koh-i-Noor in 1849, by which time the stone weighed 186 carats. It was presented to Queen Victoria, who had it re-fashioned into an oval brilliant of 108.93 carats. The Koh-i-Noor is currently mounted in the queen mother’s crown and is on display in the Tower of London.
The 189.6-carat Orlov is a faintly bluish-green diamond associated with the Great Mogul diamond. The connection is their similar appearance and shape, like half a pigeon’s egg, and that the history of the Great Mogul ends about the time that the history begins for the Orlov. The Great Mogul was discovered in India in the mid-seventeenth century and weighed over 787 carats. Legend claims that the diamond was once in the eye of a statue of Vishnu in a Hindu temple. The story continues with a French soldier who stole the diamond, sold the stone, and it finally ended up in Russia as part of the Russian imperial scepter. Count Orlov, a lover of Catherine the Great, acquired the stone for her, and she endowed the diamond with its name. The Orlov and the Imperial Regalia are housed in the Diamond Fund collection of the Kremlin State Museums.
Thomas Cullinan opened a kimberlite mine that produced a quarter of the diamonds greater than 400 carats. It was named the Premier mine. The original Cullinan rough appeared in 1905 only nine meters down the pit, and it weighed an astounding 3,106 carats. It was sent to London as a gift to King Edward. The task of cutting the Cullinan was given to the Ascher firm in Amsterdam. A special two-handled cleaving blade was built for the job. It yielded nine stones: Cullinan I is a 550.20-carat pearshape; Cullinan II is a 317.40-carat cushion cut; Cullinan III is a 94.40-carat pearshape; Cullinan IV is a 63.60-carat cushion cut; Cullinan V is a 18.80-carat cushion cut; Cullinan VI is a 11.50-carat marquis; Cullinan VII is a 8.80-carat marquis; Cullinan VIII is a 6.80-carat oblong brilliant; and Cullinan IX is a 4.80-carat pearshape. The Cullinan I, known as the Great Star of Africa, was mounted into the redesigned British royal scepter. The Cullinan II, known as the Lesser Star of Africa, was mounted into the British imperial state crown.
The 41-carat rounded pearshape Dresden Green diamond is the only large naturally colored green diamond in the world, colored by natural radiation. The earliest documentation of it came from a letter of sale dated 1726. The Dresden Green was mounted in an Order of the Golden Fleece in 1742 but was re-mounted in a hat ornament in 1768. The Dresden Green was taken to Moscow after World War II and was returned to Dresden in 1958. It is currently on display in the Albertinum Museum.
The Kasikci or Spoon Maker’s diamond is a double-rose pearshape that weighs 86 carats. The story that surrounds this diamond relates that the stone was discovered in a garbage dump by a fisherman, who sold it to a silversmith, a spoon maker. The stone became the focal point of a vast dispute that involved several merchants and was commandeered by the sultan to end the dispute. It currently resides in the treasury of the Topkapi Palace Museum.
The Centenary diamond, discovered at the Premier mine in 1986, weighed 599 carats in the rough. It was described as an irregular crystal of the finest water. Its name acknowledges the one hundred year celebration of DeBeers. Famous diamond cutter and designer, Gabi Tolkowsky fashioned the stone. The special cutting design with 247 facets gives the 273.85-carat Centenary diamond its wonderful brilliance and fire. The Centenary diamond ranks as the largest modern-cut, top-color, flawless diamond in the world.
The Shah Jahan Table Cut diamond measures 44.6 mm by 33 mm by 3.6 mm and weighs 56.71 carats. It is one of several diamonds that are credited to match the Great Table diamond viewed by Tavernier. However, two other similar diamonds in the Iranian crown jewels are better matches for the Great Table diamond. The Shah Jahan Table Cut diamond has two drill holes on one side that allow the stone to be sewn on a garment or a turban, a feature common in gems that were shaped for use and worn by Moguls.
The Florentine was a 137.27-carat yellow pearshape thought to have been owned by Charles the Bold in the fifteenth century after the Battle of Nancy. Tavernier reported seeing it during his travels to India. The Florentine diamond was also known as the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s diamond and the Austrian Yellow. It was last owned by the Hapsburg Dynasty. Its present whereabouts remain a mystery.
Scott Sucher’s admiration and enthusiasm of the world’s famous diamonds
definitely shown through his presentation. His explanations of geology,
mining, and cutting as they relate to diamonds was easy to understand.
The stories he told that surrounded the famous diamonds included real people
and historical events, as well as courtly intrigue and legends that wrapped
the stones in mystery. The unique allure these diamonds have had is truly
remarkable, proof in that, with wars, revolutions, and the changing fortunes
of man, the desire to own them became an obsession. These diamonds captivated
the hearts and minds of many people for centuries of time. To describe
the magic, Fred Ward said that, “Diamonds are stars we can hold in our
hands.” It was no wonder that Scott Sucher worked so hard to render his
selected group of replicas that represented the world’s famous diamonds.