Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

The heart of Graff

Revered for its one-of-a-kind jewels and meticulous craftsmanship, the UK-based maison is a force to be reckoned with — and the artisans in its London workshop are the ones who make the magic happen.

By Livia Primo Lack

Image: Graff.

Behind the doors of 29 Albemarle Street in London lies the workshop where luxury jeweler Graff has been creating exquisite pieces of wearable art for over 60 years.

Just around the corner from the company’s New Bond Street boutique, the workshop fits in seamlessly with the surrounding white-columned buildings. Little would one know that just a few floors below ground level are rooms filled with some of the world’s most remarkable gemstones and jewels. The guardians of these treasures are expert craftsmen from around the globe who are continuously at work on new pieces.

“The creation of a Graff jewel is a joint endeavor, and there is a real sense of camaraderie in the workshop,” says Sam Sherry, the atelier’s general manager. “It’s an exciting environment, because you never know which jewel you will be working on next.”

Floor by floor

The entire London townhouse is dedicated to fabrication and manufacturing, with each floor devoted to a different part of the process. There is the design level, a setting section, a floor for mounting stones, a polishing hall, and a room solely focused on computer-aided design (CAD) for complex pieces such as secret watches.

On every floor are Graff diamond specialists wearing white lab coats and sitting in front of futuristic-looking machinery. The 3D printers in the workshop are the same models that make medical-grade equipment such as hearing aids, while the lasers and drills are identical to those used for dental work.

But perhaps even more impressive than the instruments are the individuals who assemble each final design by hand. The Graff workshop — the largest of its kind in Europe — trains its apprentices completely in-house from the age of 16. Those lucky enough to enter the apprenticeship program learn mounting, polishing, setting and CAD technology. Around 10% of the workshop staffers are apprentices under the mentorship of master craftsmen in specialist fields. Indeed, Graff has multiple generations of goldsmiths creating and learning together; one employee who has been there for 55 years works alongside his grandson, and another has two sons in the business.

“Some of our most-skilled artisans began their careers at Graff over 35 years ago,” says Sherry. “It really is a job for life.”

A history of famous diamonds

Ever since Laurence Graff founded the company in 1960, it has remained a family-run business; four members of the Graff family work there today. Graff himself went from humble beginnings in east London to a bench job in the city’s Hatton Garden district, and is now one of the world’s leading diamantaires. He has handled more important diamonds than almost anyone in recent history.

“When I came for my interview nearly 18 years ago, [director] Raymond Graff handed me what looked like an oversized model of a brilliant-cut diamond,” recalls Sherry. “It was the size of a paperweight, and he asked me if I thought I could handcraft a mount for it. When I looked confused, he passed me the certificate: It was a perfect 80-carat diamond.”

Among the company’s most recent claims to fame was the record-breaking 302.37-carat Lesedi La Rona diamond. The Graff founder brought the original rough home to the workshop in 2019. After hundreds of hours — a total of 18 months — the jeweler presented its masterpiece: the world’s largest square emerald-cut diamond. It is also the largest diamond of the highest color and clarity that the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has ever certified.

Working with record-breaking stones is nothing new for the Graff maison. The brand has been a custodian of many of the world’s most celebrated gems. In 1974, only a few short years after its founding, Graff acquired the house’s first great stone, the 47.39-carat Star of Bombay. He bought the emerald-cut yellow diamond, which originated in India’s Golconda mines, from a European dealer selling it on behalf of a noble Indian family.

Only the best

That story was just the start. Now, thousands of carats of diamonds pass through the workshop each day, arriving from the four corners of the globe for Graff’s artisans to laser-cut, shape, facet and set. South African-based Safdico, Graff’s procurement and polishing division, is responsible for sourcing the majority of these stones.

The brand uses only the top five colorless diamond grades — D through H — and each diamond passes through the hands of a Graff family member for approval before becoming part of a design. Since each piece of high jewelry is one of a kind, stones must often go to a specialized team of diamond cutters in Israel that makes sure the diamond fits the particularities of each complex CAD design.

“Graff is the top of the spectrum in terms of size and quality,” declares Sherry. “It’s a family business, and we are a family in the workshop.”


Facts and figures ● More than 40 people work on the Graff workshop’s manufacturing floor, ranging in age from 22 to 63.

● The company’s biggest diamonds include the square emerald-cut, 302.37-carat Graff Lesedi La Rona and the heart-shaped, 157.80-carat Infinity diamond.

● Graff’s history with pink diamonds goes back to the 1980s, when the Argyle mine in Australia first unearthed an assortment of rare pink stones. Laurence Graff bought every single pink diamond from the mine’s first yield and used them to create a single flower brooch, which the sultan of Brunei bought within an hour of its completion.

● One of the most remarkable pink diamonds the company has manufactured is the pear-shaped, 5.63-carat, fancy-vivid-purplish-pink stone it cut from the 13.33-carat Graff Lesotho Pink rough in 2019.

Making of a masterpiece Fresh from the workshop, Graff’s latest high-jewelry diamond necklace embodies the brand’s flair for marrying craftsmanship with the latest technical expertise. Featuring over 96 carats of diamonds — including rare D-color, internally flawless marquise cuts — the design was a true labor of love. Design director Anne-Eva Geffroy wanted the focus of the piece to be the softness and fluidity of how the diamonds would fall across the neckline. Of course, things that appear simple are often the most complex to achieve, and creating the floating, weightless diamond feel became a fight against gravity itself. In the end, what made this design possible was the invention of a brand new joint system via CAD. It consists of an especially fine mount to ensure that the central marquise stones radiate perfectly from the neckline, staying in their intended place and shape no matter who the wearer is. Thanks to the CAD technology, the necklace took only one month to produce — a magnificent feat for a piece of this size and grandeur.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - February 2022. To subscribe click here.

Comment Comment Email Email Print Print Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Share Share