Robert Shipley Sr. was one of the most influential figures in modern gemology and his academic achievements helped establish a consumer market for diamonds. Shipley, the founder of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) established the standardization of diamond grading, at a time when diamonds were just becoming a mainstream consumer product for middle class America. Shipley would establish the systemization and language of diamonds that remains the industry standard.
Iconic Tiffany & Co. is among the most recognizable brand names in the world and one of the most valuable retail jewelry companies. A 2015 brand survey ranked it as the 66th most valuable brand name in the world, with a brand value in excess of $6 billion. Surprisingly, however, the company did not get its start in jewelry nor was it even called Tiffany & Co. The company began operating in 1837 as Tiffany & Young, a stationary and fancy goods emporium in lower Manhattan founded by Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young. It wasn't until Charles Tiffany took control of the company in 1853 that he shortened the name to Tiffany & Company, and established the firm's emphasis on diamond jewelry.
Most people in the diamond industry immediately recognize the name Cullinan as belonging to probably the most famous rough diamond in history, and several of the most famous polished diamonds in the world today. They are likely also familiar with the Cullinan mine in South Africa, which has produced some of the most magnificent diamonds in history, including the Blue Moon which diamond industrialist Ehud Arye Laniado was fortunate to have been a part of. But few of us know much about Sir Thomas Cullinan, the namesake of both the mine and the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found.
The Tolkowsky name is legendary in the diamond business, and synonymous with expertise and precision. The firm bearing its founder's name is still active today, run by the seventh generation of this illustrious family. Over the years, various family ancestors have been responsible for major breakthroughs and innovations in the craft, and have been a part of cutting some of the most important diamonds in the world. The Tolkowsky dynasty began in the early 1800s with Abraham Tolkowsky, who was a talented diamond and precious gem cutter and dealer. He was well connected, and became a recognized diamond dealer to European nobility. He moved his family from Bialystok, Poland to Antwerp to work in what had already become the center of diamond trade in Europe at that time. Several of his nine children would work with him in the family business. His sons Samuel and Maurice would establish themselves as professional diamond cutters, and would eventually carry on the family's growing legacy.
Exactly when humans discovered that diamonds were the only material that could be used to polish other diamonds is in dispute. However, we do know that early attempts to polish diamonds were crude, and often relied on simple tools. Hand driven bow drills and leather straps dipped in diamond powder were the only tools available, and the time-consuming effort of polishing a diamond was often a task given to slaves and servants. Not surprisingly, the earliest examples of diamond jewelry mostly featured rough diamonds, perhaps with just a small amount of polishing to smooth out surface imperfections. This all changed with the invention of the scaif, credited to the legendary Lodewyk van Bercken. His invention gave cutters a practical tool to begin faceting diamonds, unlocking their hidden beauty. Today's modern polishing still uses the same concept van Bercken developed more than 500 years ago.
The diamond industry has a storied history. It has been built by influential people, both past and present, who have left their indelible marks on a business that captivates consumers around the world. Over the next several weeks, we will highlight some of the achievements of these people, people from all walks of life, who have helped to lay a foundation for all of us. Perhaps we might learn something from their accomplishments that might help others to shape the industry moving forward. For an introduction to our list of famous people in diamonds, we will start with Cecil Rhodes, the founding chairman of De Beers.
Sergey Ivanov, President of ALROSA, said that diamond manufacturers in Russia would not be able to survive without government subsidies. The abolition of a 6.5% export tariff in September 2016 is a major contributing factor, he said, but so too are declining polished prices and increasing rough prices, which have driven much of the midstream to the brink. Diamond beneficiation in Russia has a history almost as long as mining itself, and some regions of the country are entirely dependent on diamond polishing for their economy.
South Africa has a very long and important role in the history of diamonds. It was there, in the 1860s, that diamonds were discovered on the banks of the Orange River. The resulting diamond rush, and the establishment of De Beers' foothold on diamond mining, transformed the industry, helping to develop diamonds as a viable commercial product for more than just the world's elite. At one point in time, almost all of the world's diamond mining activity took place in South Africa. While the nation is still an important producer of diamonds, its role has diminished. Today South Africa is the world's fourth largest diamond producer by value, according to Kimberley Process statistics.
In the diamond industry, we often hear that the cost of rough diamonds is disconnected from the price of polished diamonds. Many of us wonder how that is possible, especially since the largest cost component of polished diamonds is rough.
Diamonds are both an object of splendor and one of the ultimate physical stores of value. Adding natural diamonds to anything is not only a great way to enhance its appearance, but also a way to convert it into an appreciating asset. Here is yet another list showing some of the most interesting ways designers are incorporating diamonds into their product lines - this time we are focusing on music & fashion.