Der Diamant The diamond
and the art of diamond cutting
The diamond and the art of diamond cutting
In the mystical city of Pondicherry, there are many peculiarities and none of them seem to be randomly located in this oasis of the Indian world. India itself is the origin of many achievements of our present cultural world. There are arguably five ancient cultures that have most shaped our global society today: the cultures of India, China, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece. The intellectual world of ancient India was on a level that we can only dream of today. Revolutionary inventions such as the wheel, the most intelligent games such as chess, the most impressive cultural monuments and a philosophical depth and diversity second to none. India has given birth to two of the six great world religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. But even in daily life there are many distinctive things that originate in India, such as tea. One of these things is the diamond. In ancient and medieval times, every diamond was an Indian diamond. The first rough diamond to appear outside India was discovered in Brazil in 1729.
Pondicherry, a city state, i.e. a so-called “Union Territory”, occupies a special position in India. In colonial times, it was not under the English, but was the only place in India that was a French colony. French culture has not only shaped the cityscape of Pondicherry, but also the composition of the population, the religious affiliations, the mix of languages.
But Pondicherry’s great trademark is undoubtedly its philosophy. Sri Aurobindo, who lived in Pondicherry during his great creative period, is the great reformer of classical Indian philosophy and Hindu thought, who managed to bridge the gap between the ancient way of thinking and expressing and today’s modern way of looking at our world. He has thus managed to give modern Indians a living access to their philosophical and religious roots, something no other modern culture can claim. The mainstream western religions, such as Christianity, lack this bridge and so understanding must be replaced by faith in these religions. Taoism, of course, has it the easiest. He does not need a bridge that translates the ancient texts into modern thought. Taoism is the only world religion that has managed to keep the originality of knowledge and experience free of a mental superstructure, which, since it does not exist, does not have to be translated into modern terminology.
Pondicherry is thus the home of the connecting point of ancient Indian philosophy and religion with the modern Indian intellectual world. In the shadow of this achievement, a number of large and small projects have sprung up in the greater Pondicherry area, one of which is the UNESCO-sponsored Auroville Society Project. Another, much less noted, is the diamond-cutting company Aditi Diamonds, which is probably at the forefront of diamond-cutting in India today.
The love story between man and diamond is so old that we can no longer trace its origins. It was probably love at first sight: because a rough diamond crystal is often of such beauty and elegance that it radiates an irresistible charm. If it is a well-formed octahedron, its perfection sometimes raises doubts as to whether it is really a random product of nature.
It was not until the fourteenth century that man acquired the necessary knowledge to be able to work the diamond. Since diamond is the hardest material we know, nothing could defeat it until then. That is why, until a few hundred years ago, every diamond was a rough diamond, and all writings and traditions from antiquity and the Middle Ages only ever refer to rough diamonds.
Until a few centuries ago, diamonds were only found in India. In early antiquity, diamonds were also only known there. It was not until the time after Alexander the Great that they reached the Mediterranean from India. For this reason, most of the history of the diamond takes place in India.
There is enough written material from the period 500 BC to 500 AD to give an idea of the enormous social role the diamond played in ancient India. It is highly interesting to read the old Sanskrit texts. In the process, it becomes clear in many cases where the peculiarities of the diamond trade come from, which are actually inexplicable in the context of today’s world.
In the Indian scripture “Ratnapariksa” (Judgment of Gemstones), dating back to the 5th century, the author gives, among other things, an insight into the history of the creation of diamonds: “Because of the great power attributed to the diamond by scholars, the diamond must be treated first (among gemstones)….: the eight great deposits of the diamond are: Saurashtra (Himalayas), in Matanga, Paundra, Kalinga, Kosala, the banks of the Vainya and the Surpara. ….if a diamond is formed anywhere in this world, perfectly transparent, light, of beautiful colour, with very equal faces, without scratches, without stains, without blemishes, without crow’s feet, without signs of fracture-even if it is only the size of an atom, it is in truth a gift from a god, provided the corners and edges are well formed…. whoever …. wears a diamond, with sharp points, without stains, without any flaw, grows every day, as long as his life lasts, something happy: children, wealth, grain, cows, livestock…”
The diamond was of such importance in ancient India that its properties and magical powers were researched to the last detail. Everything was precisely documented and used in social life in a very targeted way. For example, the colour nuances of the diamond were divided into four basic colours and assigned to the four main castes. The four main castes in Indian society are the same today as they were 2500 years ago: The Brahmins (the priests, scholars etc.), the Kshatriyas (the warriors), the Vaishyas (the businessmen), the Shudras (the lower caste, mostly peasants and workers). In the ancient scriptures, diamonds are classified into the same four caste groups according to their colour: “The diamond has four colours according to its caste. The diamond that has the velvety lustre of mother-of-pearl, of rock crystal, of moonstone, is a Brahmin. The one that is a little red, monkey-brown, beautiful and pure, is called Kshatriya. The Vaishya has a shining, light yellow colour. The Shudra shines like a shining rapier: according to its lustre the connoisseurs make it the fourth caste.”
Corresponding to the four colours of the diamonds, which were assigned to the four basic castes of India, their luck-bringing qualities, i.e. their inner values, were also aligned analogously: The diamond of the Brahmin caste was naturally the most valuable, as this is the highest caste. The Kshatriya, i.e. the brown one, brought all the good qualities of a warrior: courage, physical strength, etc. The Vaishya, the diamond of the merchant caste, brought wealth and the Shudra, the diamond of the farmer caste, brought agricultural prosperity.
The Ratnapariksa reports:
“The king who, according to what has been said, wears a beautiful, brightly sparkling diamond, possesses a power that triumphs over all other powers and becomes the lord of all the neighbouring land…. Whoever wears a Kshatriya diamond will be perfect in all limbs, brave, great, invincible, terrible to his enemies.
Courage, physical and mental freshness, happiness, skill, wealth, these are the fruits one reaps while wearing a Vaishya. Great gain, abundance of riches and grain, kindness and favour, that is what you get when you wear a Shudra. One also pays a high price for a Shudra if it bears good signs. But this caste is powerless in the absence of good signs.”
The comments on the Shudra regarding price and good signs refer to the fact that the Shudra caste is actually the lowest caste. Nevertheless, a shudra is also relatively expensive because it yields good returns when the signs are good, that is, when the octahedral crystal has eight straight faces, twelve sharp edges and six pointed corners.
Further, the author of Ratnapariksa writes:
“The danger of early death, snakes, fire, enemies, diseases, recede far as soon as a house is the abode of the four castes.”
So those who could afford to own diamonds of the best quality in all four colours were immune to all general misfortunes. Obviously, the effect of the individual diamonds is potentiated when they appear in the complete set.
The importance of diamonds in ancient Indian society was so great that there was a separate profession: that of the “mandalins”, the diamond appraisers. Even today, much depends on the decision of the diamond valuers in the large diamond institutes. The layman cannot imagine the significance of these institutes. There is simply a lot of money at stake. Whether a stone is still flawless or only vvs1, and whether it still gets the colour river D or only river E, can already account for 40 % of the sales value. The neutrality of the expert is often under a lot of pressure. And with many institutes, the objectivity of the assessment is simply not guaranteed. We therefore only recommend expert reports from the GIA, HRD, DPL and IGI institutes.
An insight into the power of mandalins in ancient India is given by a millennia-old Sanskrit text: “A diamond should be such that the edges, the faces, the points, the surface, the head, have the qualities sought. You have to weigh it on the scales first and then determine its price… may all Muni (= girls, ladies-in-waiting) hear, as far as the diamond experts are concerned. Call the mandalin, whose job it is to set the price. The one who recognises a diamond as a native one and as coming from one of the eight mines, or as a foreign one, coming from other Dvipa, that is a mandalin. Species, colouring, lustre, shape, size, qualities, origin, nuance, price, these are the eight basic values to be judged. Diamonds are sold in the following areas: Akara, Purvadeca, Kashmir, Madhyadeca, Ceylon and the Indus Valley. If someone does not belong to one of the four castes, if he has mutilated limbs or other bad signs, he must not become a civil servant and even less be admitted to the number of mandalins.
As soon as there is a mandalin, the Sura, the Daitya, the Uraga, the Graha immediately withdraw and do not come to the centre. This is not to be doubted. You have to have a mandalin of such qualities. But it is not easy to find one, even in heaven, the place that keeps such a treasure; that the buyer, who has respectfully requested his experience, offers the chief mandalin a seat, fragrances, garlands of flowers; that the expert, first consulted, carefully examines the qualities and the faults, then secretly announces the price by a show of hands.
It could happen that the seller fixes the price of his stones without knowledge. They do not form an obstacle for the leader of the mandalins. One proposes a low price for a high-value stone, a high price for a low-value one, out of fear, confusion, greed; misfortune is always on one’s lips. … there are traders who demand an excessive price with reference to a property. For them, there are neither faults nor qualities. The mandalin must check this. All mandalins, as connoisseurs of the Ratnashastra, remain invariably impartial arbiters; but there are many who are guided in pricing by place and time. Sometimes one can find one who is familiar with the text and meaning of the Shastra and able to appreciate all the stones. He alone can be relied upon, if one is at hand, in the care of price fixing.
There are mean people who make fake diamonds. Those who know the Shastra can discover it by tasting stone, striking and scratching …”
Since it was not until Alexander the Great’s campaign that the first diamonds from India reached the Mediterranean, experts puzzle over whether the export of diamonds from India might have been forbidden before that time. Some historians also suggest that the diamond was used for taxation in ancient India. If this is the case, then the taxes of the higher social classes (nobility and merchants) may have been set in diamonds.
Early Indian culture at its height was far ahead of the contemporaneous Egyptian culture. The wheel, for example, was invented in India, not in Egypt. The ancient Indian philosophy of the Vedas and Upanishads is so profound that even Schopenhauer said, “there is nothing more comforting than reading the Upanishads”.
It is difficult to believe that the prominent position of diamonds in ancient Indian culture was merely based on simple superstition. Even more so in a country like India, which explored the world of mysticism and occultism with so much energy and dedication. A superstition may last for one, two or at most three generations, but not for several thousand years and not with such a pervasive effect.
So there must be something more behind the diamond phenomenon than just pure superstition. On the one hand, there are certainly psychological factors such as the human being’s inbuilt striving for perfection. The precisely crystallised octahedron rough diamond probably stood like nothing else as a symbol for perfection par excellence. Then the fact of its hardness and invincibility. Apart from psychological reasons, socio-political reasons may also have conditioned the role of the diamond. In addition to psychological reasons, socio-political reasons may also have determined the role of the diamond. There was probably a need for a symbol of value or status for kings and nobles – perhaps also for a kind of parallel currency that combined a lot of value in a small space.
As for the belief in the occult powers of the diamond, the Indians, like us, assumed that parallel to the physical world we know, there are other worlds that remain largely hidden from our mental knowledge. The ancient Indians were specialists in the exploration of these worlds. In the end, we only perceive a certain part of what exists. Probably a far greater part of everything remains hidden from our perception and knowledge. And that the diamond occupies a special position in this part of creation, which is hidden from us, seemed at least likely. As already mentioned, there is hardly a material on earth that has as many superlatives as diamond: it is the hardest material; the material with the highest optical refractive index; it is the best conductor of heat there is. And a whole series of other superlatives line up on the chain of the diamond’s special features. The fact that a substance from so many different areas unites superlatives shows that it is a very special material. And that in the areas that remain hidden from us, the diamond has equally outstanding qualities cannot be refuted, at least.
The art of cutting diamonds does not come from India, it comes from Germany. It began in one of the most advanced cities in Europe in terms of craftsmanship: Nuremberg. Nuremberg, with its craft guilds and its citizens’ thirst for research, was in many ways superior to the other European cities. Nuremberg not only produced the famous gingerbread, but also tinplate and pencils, for example.
Historians often claim that the art of cutting diamonds began in Paris, or that it developed in Europe primarily in Paris. However, this is not quite correct. The first written mention of diamond cutting in Europe comes from Nuremberg. For example, there was already a “guild” of diamond cutters there in 1375. There are no written records of diamond cutting activities from Paris or any other European city at this early date.
With the possibility of processing rough diamonds into gemstones, diamond cutting gained a completely new dimension. In those days, there were almost no limits to the pompousness and need for prestige of European noble houses. And so Paris was naturally one of the most profitable places to sell the new products. So it is not surprising that the first written record that refers to diamond cutting in Paris mentions a diamond cutter named “Herman”. The record is dated 1407. Apparently it was a Nuremberg diamond cutter who had moved to Paris and made his great career there.
Until then, diamond grinding was still an art that took place without a grinding wheel. The diamond grinding board, which came from India, had in the meantime been replaced by an advanced technique in Nuremberg. A table top was “impregnated” with diamond powder and the diamond to be cut was rubbed over it. This method was costly and lengthy, but led to success. In principle, there is no difference to the current procedure. The diamond crystals scattered in all different grinding directions grind the diamond rubbing in a soft direction over the table top and create a facet.
A very decisive breakthrough in the art of cutting was achieved much later by the Flemish diamond cutter Lodewyk van Berquem from Brugge. Van Berquem built on the knowledge from Nuremberg that diamonds could be ground with their own diamond dust and developed the diamond grinding wheel. Since that time, since the second half of the 15th century, not much has changed in the grinding technique. What was added at a later stage was the sawing of the diamonds and the reaming of the round bar. But the technique of cutting or faceting the diamonds is exactly the same today as it was at the end of the 15th century.
Funnily enough, the diamond cutting shop in Pondicherry was founded and run by a German who was born in the greater Nuremberg area. It all began with a handshake deal in Zurich in January 1980, when a small diamond-cutting factory in southern India changed hands for DM 10,000. A Swiss diamond cutter had given up his plans to set up a cutting workshop in India and wanted to salvage what could be salvaged from the failed project. The deal included two abandoned grinders, a few sanding pliers, dops and other small equipment that were rusting away in Pondicherry, India. Included in the price was also a quick course in diamond cutting, which then took place in the Swiss’s Zurich cutting workshop, on the renowned Bahnhofsquai.
The reason for the business was not to gain a foothold in the jewellery industry. It was the love of philosophy that drew the later founder of the Niveau élevé brand to India, to the land of the Vedas and Upanishads, and specifically to Pondicherry. The abandoned grinding mill was only meant as an entry point to the exit, as a means of survival in the distance. A return to Germany was not planned.
But then everything changed. 15 years later, the two cutting machines had become more than 100 and the once already written-off cutting shop produced more than 1000 diamonds per day. In the following years, production was even expanded, reaching a peak of up to 3000 diamonds per day.
Originally, brilliants or jewellery diamonds were not even part of the product range of the unique diamond cutting company. The grinding shop started in the technical sector. It initially produced diamond tools for the watchmaking and jewellery industries, hardness testers for the metalworking industry and test diamonds for Indian research. Coming from a technical-academic background, the German was top-fit in the basics of chemistry and knew the latest in atomic models and crystal lattices. Thus, he very soon assigned the very specific outer shell of the diamond to the crystal lattice structure, and thus to the atomic structure, and was thus able to distinguish from an amorphous appearing squeezed Rombo-dodecahedron-
diamond to the tetrahedral atomic lattice structure of the carbon atom. Basic research in India, which was carried out at the time at the Nuclear Research Center Mumbai and the Nuclear Research Center Kalpakkam, had a great need for high-pressure diamonds. These were diamond cones with a small flattened tip. This generated pressures of several tonnes on an area of half a square millimetre. In research centres all over the world, these diamond anvils were used to compress noble gases, above all radon, to such an extent that it assumed a solid aggregate state. In this state, it was then examined with X-rays and all possible conclusions were drawn about the structure and composition of individual atoms.
What was needed were high-pressure diamonds, only about 3 mm in size, which should be as hard as possible and which should have as high a parallelism as possible between their base and the “anvil surface” at the top of the cone. The problem with the parallelism of the two surfaces was quickly solved. If you hold a high-pressure diamond in a laser beam, the light beam is deflected by the surfaces of the diamond, which are not completely parallel. At a distance of 20 metres, the angle between the base and anvil face of the diamond then produces a measurable deflection of the laser beam, indicating a deviation in the parallelism of the diamond of less than one ten-thousandth of a millimetre. Using this method, it was possible to achieve parallelism in high-pressure diamonds with a deviation of less than one five-thousandth of a degree in Pondicherry. The highest possible pressure resistance was achieved by cutting the diamonds in a crystal lattice direction in which the largest possible number of carbon atoms were located in the pressure direction of the high-pressure diamond. Thus, in the early 80’s, the Pondicherry grinding plant was able to supply diamond anvils that could produce pressures never before achieved. The Indian researchers were thrilled! They outdid even the Americans in their research results and won international prizes in the field of their research. The small diamond cutting shop in Pondicherry was only about 10 men strong at the time and had technically become the world leader in cutting industrial diamonds!
But the production of special tools with diamonds required too much attention and could not really be standardised and expanded, and so in 1986 the decision was made to switch production to jewellery diamonds. With the high technical standard of the cutting workshop, it was possible to cut brilliant-cut diamonds very quickly, which even in small sizes could guarantee the customer a maximum deviation of the angles of the upper part of less than ¼ degree. Again there was enthusiasm, this time from the watch industry. And so it came about that larger and larger numbers of pieces were commissioned in Pondicherry, and eventually up to 3000 brilliant-cut diamonds were cut per day.
But this too soon led to the realisation that production, this time mass production, was no longer in harmony with the original aims of the work. And so the cutting workshop was downsized again, they began to refuse outside orders and concentrated on what is really fun: the art of cutting diamonds and producing top quality diamonds from what is probably the most interesting material there is for their own jewellery production and for the German-Indian company’s own sales.
Thus, not only diamonds were cut, but also special cuts such as the “Fire-Rose” and others. There is probably hardly a diamond cutting company that has gone through such a wide range of fields. Tool diamonds, diamonds for research purposes, special cuts, mass production of precision diamonds, and ultimately the development of our own brilliant-cut varieties. The technical level of the grinding shop is at the highest level. Not only does the company operate its own diamond sawmill, it also saws with lasers. With Sarin and Nano-Sarin machines, each rough diamond can be calculated by a computer programme and marked immediately to achieve the optimum yield of raw material with the best cut quality. The cutters at Aditi Diamonds, many of whom have been in operation for over 30 years, are now able to produce by hand, with a 10x magnifying glass, small diamonds as small as 1 mm in diameter to a facet length tolerance of less than three hundredths of a millimetre. In recent years, Aditi Diamonds has therefore also cut many special cuts such as “Hearts & Arrows” diamonds. The grinding workshop, which is one of the roots of the Niveau élevé watch brand, can now venture into completely new areas never entered by other grinding workshops thanks to its knowledge, wealth of experience, skill and precision. For example, seven new brilliant-cut variations with special light patterns were developed for the Niveau élevé brand, built in the rhythm of twelve, the rhythm of time.
The diamond, a material which probably combines the most physical superlatives, which has one of the deepest roots in the ancient culture of India, which stands for perfection, beauty and value, is thus the ideal medium to express in our watch brand what we want to pass on. We are proud to master this material in our own unique way.