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Dreams - Gabi Tolkowsky

Jul 7, 2000 10:16 AM   By Martin Rapaport
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Master diamond cutter Gabi Tolkowsky was at the Las Vegas JCK show to unveil his newest creation — the Zoë Diamond Cut. Martin Rapaport and Tolkowsky got together to rap about the beauty and emotion of diamonds as well as cut.

Martin Rapaport: Do you create a new cut every year?

Gabi Tolkowsky: I create new cuts all the time and I reveal them when I want to.

MR: And what's interesting and special about the new Zoë Diamond Cut?

GT: The Zoë Diamond Cut is conceived in a way in which its mathematical parameters combined with its volume factor are different from any other previous cut. It's a round shape. It's covered with 100 facets. Its table is surrounded by nine facets. Its girdle is polished with 96 facets. The whole concept is based on increasing the journey of light inside and from the surface of the diamond. We have to increase the light return which the eye perceives. This creates the psychological and physiological reaction which gives humans the “shiver,” or what we call, the emotion described as “beauty.” To do so, we have to enhance the facets, so that light is refracted and distributed inside the diamond and light reflects from the surface of the diamond. The surface facets are reflecting one into the other inside the diamond. It's as if you have a mirror in front of you and a mirror behind you. You will see the entire line of mirrors which, through perspective become smaller and smaller without end. This is exactly what happens inside the diamond. Every facet, if well cut and correctly placed within precise parameters, will play with the ray of light which reflects from one towards the other. It also reflects its own image into the other facets and vice versa. So, it's an eternal motion of images that are moving inside the diamond. This is effectively the real truth of what we see in a diamond, light and images.

I was a very lucky man cutting the Centenary Diamond. For three years while cutting and polishing the Centenary Diamond, I could see my eyes and face reflecting from inside the diamond because of its size. That means, it was not only light, it was the image. Of course my face is light, but the image of what I was and what was all around me was reflecting from every facet inside the diamond. I realized that this should be the case with any diamond, whether it's a 10-pointer, or 200 carats. That is what I'm trying to do with diamonds — increase and enhance the journey of light that carries the image inside and on the diamond to give it more emotional impact because this is the psychological part of what we call the emotion of beauty.

MR: So, it's the internal reflections of light within the stone?

GT: Internal reflections of life.

MR: Not just light but life?

GT: Because what you see is a perpetual movement inside the stone. It's not only that light moves inside the stone, it's everything around the stone that moves inside the diamond.

MR: So, the stones are sort of grabbing parts of this universe?

GT: Yes. The stone is a transparent mirror. It swallows everything that is around. When it is cut according to the right parameters, as long as there is light, it is going to play with it forever. As long as there's even a fraction of light, it will continue to play with everything that is around it.

MR: The ancient Indians believed that diamonds have a soul. Do you think diamonds have a soul?

GT: We can go further. Every stone probably has a soul in its own language, which we cannot perceive because we are humans. A diamond is a unique individual. You can't have a twin. If this is the case, it means that it has its own characteristics. I can't say that it is a spirit because I can communicate only in human terms. But what I can say is that it has an impact on me and others. You can prove that each one is unique because you can show the diamond to someone who will look at it and walk away and say “wow.” The same person can look at another stone, walk away from that one and go back to the first one and say “wow.” It means the impact, the conversation of the diamond with that person has a very particular characteristic to it. So, is it language? Is it spirits? It's difficult to express. What you can say is that you can sit down with a diamond and look at it for ages without ever becoming distracted by something else. At some point, you will get an emotion just sitting and playing with it. You can see so many things in it.

MR: What kind of things will you see in it?

GT: You'll see light of course and combinations of images and motion that are all around you. You want motion because life is motion. Work is a very intense motion for human beings. It makes a person feel that he's alive for a purpose. So, if he has something in hand which is proving it to his eye, to his brain, to his body, to his spirit, to his imagination, it can only be a positive subject.

MR: A lot of people say of course that the cut of a diamond is very important. I imagine you believe that to be true as well.

GT: I believe that the respect given to a diamond and to discoveries that are made while you cut a diamond make it more intense, and more beautiful. This is a true fact. But what I'm scared about are the two sides of the subject. One side says the diamond should be cut as well as possible. The other side says “it is the best.” If you describe something as the best, then it can't be better. If everybody reaches the point of doing the best, then the only remaining basis of competition is price which makes diamonds a price commodity. So, I cannot believe that we came to the level of saying this is the's not true. It is very dangerous to bring beauty down to the level of a commodity. If we do that, we've lost the game.

MR: What game did we lose?

GT: We've lost the game of telling the fabulous story of diamonds. Why do we sell diamonds? Why does a human being need a diamond? Does he really need it? He has the pleasure of looking at it and getting the “shiver.” He gets a companion. He says it's so fabulous that “I can't stop looking at it.” “I keep it because it reminds me of my grandfather because he gave me this stone.” “Look at this color...look at the light, look at the motion.” Everyone will tell you something different. I think it would be fabulous if we diamond people learned something from the consumer, instead of the consumer learning from us. The reason people are buying diamonds is not simply because they spend a few thousand dollars. The reason is because they are attracted by the mysterious beauty...the motion of the diamond. The “shiver.” If we are going to turn this beauty into a commodity, then the beauty won't have a say anymore.

MR: You don't think people would shiver without beauty?

GT: You will not be able to value beauty. The value is very personal for everyone. If you're going to try and sell beauty based on price competition then everybody is going to say their cut is the best. What will define the price of the stone or who is going to sell it?

MR: Tell us about your father.

GT: My father was Jean Tolkowsky. He was the first man to install a polishing operation in Palestine in 1933. To polish diamonds, he had to use a bicycle to turn the polishing wheel because there was no electricity. He did it together with his cousin. The two of them went to Palestine from Antwerp in 1932 and started cutting diamonds for Mr. Daskal who was one of first men to bring larger diamonds into Palestine. Many of the first diamond people in Israel were my father's pupils. I learned my trade from him and I am proud to have had such a rare opportunity.

MR:What is the history of the Tolkowsky cut?

GT: You must understand that at the beginning of the century, diamonds were sold only to the wealthy — usually not to privates, but to family jewelers who were creating jewelry for very wealthy people. They wanted the best, the most beautiful. Diamond cutters in Antwerp at the beginning of the century were making efforts to cut diamonds as beautifully as possible. At that time my great grandfather, Maurice Tolkowsky, together with the famous Flemish diamond technician Mr. Rams, had already devised the bruting machine to achieve a high standard of roundness.

All the boys in the Tolkowsky family went to the factory, including Marcel Tolkowsky, Ed Tolkowsky, and my father Jean Tolkowsky. They learned to cut diamonds. They were only nine or ten years old. Later, Marcel became a mathematician; he studied at London University, and he had a mathematical approach to diamond cutting and he wrote his famous study regarding the parameters which are still respected today.

MR: Is the Ideal cut ideal?

GT: What is the Ideal cut? Ideal is a description that is used — like a commercial — to sell diamonds. It's no different from Tolkowsky. All round stones — such as Hearts and Fire, Hearts and Arrows, Ideal, Very Good, Excellent, 000 — are based on Tolkowsky's theory with slight differences in table size or crown angles, but frankly speaking, it's all about the same subject: maximizing the refraction and dispersion of light — it does not describe beauty only, it also describes function.

MR: Are stones cut to ideal specifications, or around those parameters, in your opinion, more beautiful than other stones?

GT: I don't think so. Diamonds can be cut in different ways for the rest of the existence of humanity. Every time a new cut is created and is respected, it is a new beauty. If you have a new beauty, you can compare one to the other and ask somebody “Do you like it? Which one do you like more?” This way you fulfill people's desire for a variety of cuts. If you are going to make only one cut, and you're going to call it the best, the ultimate, what more can you ask for?

MR: So different stones can be cut different ways, but they can be equally beautiful?

GT: That's right. Different shapes, different symmetries, different sets of facets, different styles, different approaches can all make people say this is a beautiful diamond.

MR: Are round diamonds as a shape, in your opinion, more refractive or beautiful than pear shapes or other shapes?

GT: No. I would never say that. For one hundred years we closed our eyes and went with what was easy. A circle with an axis in the middle is an easy way of calculating parameters. You don't change the parameters; you just go in and copy them around the circle. The round is not a natural shape because in the mine you don't find round rough. You find every other kind of shape. If you want the perfect circle you have to round the stone mechanically. As a joke you can say that human beings made a mistake — any other shape is a natural shape, but round should be called a fancy shape. When the round became a commercial item, what did we see then? We saw Lazare Kaplan taking the round, stretching it and making it an oval. Fabulous oval cuts. What did he do to the oval cut? He put the brilliant cut on the oval, with some alterations. What did we continue to do? We took the pear shape, the marquise, the heart shape and the trilliant and we did the same. But we have never studied effectively to find out if we are providing the maximum refraction and dispersion of light with different shapes. Nobody has come along until today saying that what we are doing is right or wrong.

Let's take the Gabrielle Diamond Cut as an example. I have devised another way to look at fancy shapes. I have my Gabrielle fancy shapes and people like them. People like them because they are very elegant, very beautiful. So, we can say rounds have the potential to remain a beautiful stone no matter how you vary the cut. Fancies have the same possibilities. This is a good reason for optimism. It builds up a tremendous future.

MR: When you say maximize refraction and dispersion, that seems to be the essence of cutting a diamond.

GT: Mathematical calculations.

MR: Is there any way to calculate these things properly?

GT: There are a lot of things you can use today. I believe that we are now on the verge of a huge evolution. The evolution is that we can assess many elements that we couldn't assess before. The visual and mathematical elements, the crystal itself with its colors, with its clarity, with its size, with its shape.

I also believe that we have been the victims of conservative symmetry. We cannot yet imagine that there are other symmetries, but they are going to appear. It may be mathematics that will help us understand that we can have other symmetries. If we have other symmetries, are we going to cut diamonds according to what we know today, or are we going to change our approach? Will it happen today, or in five years? We must accept that a diamond should always produce an emotion. Describe it as beauty, or shiver whatever you like. What you should describe is the emotion that makes people want to have a diamond as a companion.

MR: Is it possible that certain stones of the same color and clarity and the same shape are better than others?

GT: Well, it is possible to say this stone will please the eye better than the other. It's not better. It pleases the eye better because there is more dispersion and refraction and more brilliance and fire so you could say that this one is cut better.

MR: Some people have said there is a discussion between the American Gem Society and the GIA. American Gem Society has pretty much taken the track that it's like climbing a mountain. The closer you get to the Ideal Cut, the better the stone. The GIA has taken the position that you have a mountain with many peaks. Therefore, it's possible that the AGS Ideal Cut is a very nice stone. It's possible to have another stone with a 60 percent table that is also just as nice, maybe even nicer. In fact this combination is possible because of all the different variables in cutting diamonds. Different combinations give you different results and therefore it's possible to have different table sizes all giving you different peaks of pleasure. What do you think?

GT: I don't think anything about what they say. I think about why they say it. You don't have the entire story. It reminds me of the story of the Tower of Babel. Human beings want to climb higher and higher to prove that they will discover reality, but they will never find it. They will find surprises. It is possible that the scientist and the geologist together will find out that it is better to cut a tulip shape into the stone rather than on the stone. We don't know.

We are carrying as a matter of fact, a very heavy inheritance of habits and developments over a very short time, because nobody was interested in this subject until after the Second World War, which was 50 years ago. The first 25 to 30 years of that period were used to develop the potential of producing more stones, because the number of people that wanted diamonds increased. The capital that needed to be invested in the study of cut was not available. People said, “What do we have to know about it? Let's cut diamonds and sell them.” So machinery was built. All kinds of investments were made in trying to find a way to produce diamonds faster and cheaper.

Then suddenly, we realized there is another element. The public started to become educated about the 4C's. Huge amounts of money were spent on marketing. Then the public started to become choosy. For the second 25 to 30 years, money was put into studies. A diamond is 2 billion years old. It has been studied for 25 to 30 years and people say I know everything? I can't believe it. We still need more time and we still discover very interesting subjects. What is sad is that many people say there is no future in the diamond trade, and I say the future is much bigger now than ever. This is the positive fact. I can say I would like to live another 200 years because I could discover more things. We must continue saying that diamonds are positive, joyful, and for the pleasure of humanity by perpetuating the emotion of beauty.

MR: There are apparently two things that happen in the cut of diamonds. There is a certain amount of light that comes out through the table of the stone, which I guess, is commonly referred to as life. Then there's a certain amount of light that comes out of the side; the crown of the stone which creates the rainbow effect. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, would you say?

GT: Yes. There is something that we have to recognize as the individual characteristic of each diamond. We said that it's a transparent mirror. If you look at the crown of the diamond, why is there a crown? It's to let light enter the stone at a certain angle. Why is the crown split into so many facets at different angles? It's because while they let light into the diamond thanks to their transparency, they also act as impact-reflective mirrors to reflect light around the stone. This creates the “crown of light.” If you look at the diamond you'll see an “aura” — a “crown

of light.”

In the center of the diamond you have brilliance which is generated because the pavilion facets are cut according to precise angle measurements. They refract the light and project the light back towards the eye, like a mulitcolored beam of light. White light goes in and colored light comes out. Fire! Who can say what is more important? Is the center more important and what about a large diamond with a fabulous crown of light? Who can say if every eye perceives things the same way? There are so many details and elements for so many different stones, for so many different human beings.

You impose standards because you need some regulation. Those regulations are only for a particular timespan, until we discover and understand more. I would like to see somebody write a history book which describes the final results of today's research on refraction and the journey of light within round polished diamonds. Perhaps only the basics: When did we start understanding and when did it have an impact on our evolution? You will find out that we started not that long ago. The knowledge we possess is very limited because the time that we have spent on the subject is still too short.

MR: What was it like cutting the Centenary Diamond?

GT: One day I was optimistic and I would say, “Oh I have it in my hand, I know what to do!” Then the next day it just looked at me and said “You, know nothing!”

MR: And you looked at the stone for how long before you started?

GT: Months. I just studied it. I looked at it during the day; I looked at it at night. I looked at it during the day, and at night it looked at me! I couldn't sleep because I was looking for answers.

MR: What was the most fun you've had with diamonds? What has made you the happiest?

GT: It was the last stone I did for my granddaughter — Zoë, she is my princess. This is my incredible satisfaction. It's a ball of fire. Zoë in Greek means “eternal light.”

MR: Is there anything else you would like to say?

GT: I just hope that we will all continue to promote the emotional side of diamonds. I know we all have to talk about business and business is business. I am a businessman myself, but we would not be able to live in this trade if we didn't remember the emotional side.
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Tags: GIA, Israel, JCK, Jewelry, Lazare kaplan, Polishing, Regulation
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