100 Years of the ‘Tolkowsky Brilliant’: Antwerp continues to look at the future
One hundred years ago this year, Antwerp diamond cutter Marcel Tolkowsky published his thesis on the perfect round cut for diamonds: the Tolkowsky Brilliant. One century and numerous technological advances later, the brilliant as it was conceived in Antwerp remains the most popular cut worldwide. Technology continues to advance in Antwerp, setting the stage for the most innovative solutions in diamond cutting the world over.
Gabi Tolkowsky is the sixth generation of Tolkowsky diamond cutters in Antwerp, going back to his great-grandfather Abraham Tolkowsky in the 1800s. He himself is one of the world’s most renowned diamond cutters, having cut such magnificent pieces as the 273.85 carat Centenary Diamond and the world’s largest faceted diamond, the Golden Jubilee.
“It has been my honour to work on those projects with passionate, highly driven people”, says Gabi Tolkowsky. “My diamond story has taken me all over the world, but it has its roots in Antwerp. I was born in Tel Aviv where I was introduced to my father’s diamond cutting business from a very young age. When our family moved back to Antwerp, my father started teaching me his craft. The machines we used then were almost primitive compared to the high-tech equipment diamond cutters use today. But the job has remained largely the same. A diamond cutter’s work has always been to serve the diamond, to uncover its beauty.”
“Beauty is extremely personal, but its effect is universal. True beauty is a haven of peace. When you are touched by true beauty, you find wonder and tranquillity. Antwerp, as a city, is very much aware of that. You can see it in the centuries-old architecture and art that dates back to medieval times. Antwerp protects that beauty and preserves it for future generations but, at the same time, we’re not afraid to introduce modernity. They can exist side by side.”
“Antwerp’s relationship with diamonds dates back to the 15th century. I think that centuries of tradition are a good basis for innovation and that’s why many of the great names in diamond cutting have worked in Antwerp. My great-uncle Marcel Tolkowsky was one of those incredible minds. As a young boy, he grew up in the business that had been founded by his grandfather, father and uncle. But he was also a mathematical genius. He left Antwerp for London to complete his doctorate about the perfect model for a round diamond with 57 facets, which he believed was the optimal shape to catch and refract light and show off the diamond’s colour and fire. Since then, many have tried and failed to improve upon his model. It still stands today, even though the tools used for diamond cutting have been greatly improved.”
Technology and creativity as a tool for future success
“Technology allows us to attain a level of efficiency that was never possible before. These days we can cut diamonds more quickly and with far greater precision and this is important for a city like Antwerp that’s at the forefront of the diamond industry worldwide. But we must avoid getting caught up in mass production for its own sake. Nowadays, a fully automated robot can turn any rough diamond into a perfectly round brilliant; but that doesn’t mean we have to do it for each and every stone. We can look at the rough diamond, turn it around in our hands and try to work out how it would look like at its most beautiful. And then we use the tools at our disposal to let its beauty shine through, just like Marcel Tolkowsky did in 1919.”
“That, I think, will be the challenge for Antwerp as a global diamond centre. We need to keep looking for the beauty in each individual diamond. The modern technologies available to the current generation will help them to do so even more.”
One hundred years ago, Antwerp was the backdrop and the inspiration for Marcel Tolkowsky to conceive his ideal cut. Since then, the city has remained a breeding ground for innovation and technology, at the forefront of the global diamond business: