The jewelry industry is mourning the passing of Sir Gabriel (Gabi) Tolkowsky, one of the most accomplished diamond cutters of all time. He was 84.
Most famous for cutting the Centenary Diamond from a 599-carat rough stone, Tolkowsky dedicated his life to releasing the beauty inherent in each precious stone he encountered.
The Tel Aviv-born Tolkowsky represented the sixth generation of master diamond cutters, which included his great uncle Marcel Tolkowsky, the inventor of the ideal-cut round brilliant diamond.
In July of 1986, the De Beers Group called Tolkowsky to its London headquarters to assess and appraise the 599-carat rough gem it had just recovered from South Africa’s Premier Mine.
Tolkowsky said the diamond instantly changed his life.
“When I took it in my hands, it married my hand,” he recounted in a 1999 documentary by EMS Productions. “It was part of myself… it gave me so many thoughts that I changed as a person.”
“I was always occupied with all sorts of diamonds, but this one,” he said, gesturing as if the stone was in his clenched fist, “it changed me, because in one shot I became part of it and it became part of me.”
At the time, Tolkowsky didn’t know that he would be called on a year later to take on the task of cutting the stone.
“When asked to cut it, I fell into my shoes,” he said.
The process of cutting the Centenary Diamond became a three-year labor of love.
The first phase — to remove by hand 20 carats of surface flaws — took an excruciating 154 days. After that was accomplished, Tolkowsky submitted 13 sketches of possible cuts to the De Beers board. Eventually, they agreed on a modified heart shape.
According to an account by leibish.com, the cutting and polishing of the Centenary Diamond took place in a specially designed underground room at the De Beers Diamond Research Laboratory in Johannesburg, South Africa. De Beers ensured that the room was insulated from mechanical vibration and temperature variation, to minimize any influences that might interfere with the cutting of the stone.
When Tolkowsky’s work was done, the stone weighed 273.85 carats, with a D color. It was rated both internally and externally flawless, with a total of 247 facets. According to leibish.com, the Centenary Diamond is the largest modern fancy cut diamond in the world, and the only one to combine old cutting methods with sophisticated, modern cutting technology.
Unveiled in 1991, it was later displayed at the Tower of London, according to debeers.com.
Among Tolkowsky’s other high-profile accomplishments was the cutting of the Golden Jubilee Diamond, a 545-carat brilliant cushion-cut diamond, which the master cutter expertly crafted from a 755-carat rough gem. The polished gem presents 148 facets and displays a yellow-brown hue.
In 2002, Tolkowsky was knighted by the Belgian government for his contribution to the diamond industry.
Credit: Screen grab of Gabriel Tolkowsky via Youtube.com/EMS FILMS Ton Okkerse. Centenary Diamond courtesy of The De Beers Group.