Except for a fluorescent light at the end of the corridor, the room is dark. A man sits bent over in a cubicle. In front of him, a cast-iron disc covered with diamond dust rotates with a whirring sound. It’s way past midnight. With a pair of pliers called a dop, he holds a diamond as big as a fingertip to the rotating surface. Tenths of a millimetre at a time, it polishes away the matt surface to bring out the maximum lustre.
A steady hand is called for: a little off-target and it’s goodbye to thousands of francs. If diamond cutters are having a bad day, they don’t touch a single stone. Actually, they work to their own rhythm, sometimes 14 hours at a time, sometimes not at all for a week. It makes no difference whether it’s light outside or not: the blinds stay closed around the clock.
“Daylight contains too many blue components and would distort the natural colour of the diamonds,” says Ori Rachminov, who directs the fortunes of A. A. Rachminov together with a cousin and a third partner. Beyer’s Goldsmith’s Department also purchases its diamonds from the leading international dealer for supreme quality diamonds.
The wonder machine
Behind the windows of a dusty and utterly nondescript house in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, the values created are reckoned in millions. Just a few streets away, at the second most important diamond exchange in the world (they have been in a neck-and-neck race with the Belgian city of Antwerp for decades), the cut diamonds are sold, insured and prepared for transport all over the world.
What exactly happens to the rough diamonds from southern Africa, Russia or Canada is no longer determined by eye, but by the Sarine computer, named after its Israeli inventor. “This machine costs a fortune, but it’s worth its weight in gold,” Ori Rachminov explains. The raw stone disappears into a slot in the wonder machine and reappears as a three-dimensional image on the screen. Every scratch, every discolouration, every imperfection is revealed by magnetic resonance. A colour simulation shows how the rough diamond can be cut to optimum advantage.
Cutting with intuition
“Sometimes there are dozens of possibilities. Then you have to calculate which option gives the best result for the end product,” the diamond expert explains. The Rachminovs handle high-carat diamonds every day. But only once a year do they come across this calibre of diamond weighing several hundred carats, like the one displayed on the screen. In the end they chose to divide it into 20 diamonds: weighing between 30 points and 30 carats. Calculated total value: 16 million francs. Once an option has been chosen, a finger-sized cast of each hypothetical end product is made, a kind of blueprint that shows every facet. But even that’s not written in stone. “If our diamond whisperers have the feeling that they should take a different path in order not to endanger the stone, or if they think they can get even more out of it, they follow their intuition,” says Ori Rachminov. Or as Carlo Mutschler, head of the Beyer Goldsmith’s Department, puts it: “The stones talk to the cutters and tell them what to do.”
On "flawless", the phone rings
Mutschler has been to Israel several times at the invitation of the Rachminovs. The business relationship that began twelve years ago at Baselworld has long since grown into a close bond with an unshakable basis of trust. Whenever the Rachminovs get a magnificent “flawless” specimen and the cutters have done a good job, Mutschler’s phone rings. He grins: “If a diamond is graded Triple X, i.e. if it is excellent in cut, symmetry and polish, we will definitely consider whether to purchase it.”
As with the huge rough diamond that they’re currently working on in Israel, which sends Mutschler into raptures. “It is the best material you can have in a diamond. It’s pure white – at this size, that’s verging on the miraculous.” Whether Mutschler will be able to bring a piece of it back to Zurich is not yet certain. That’s up to an internal committee at Beyer to decide. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” Mutschler says confidently. In the meantime, a new day has dawned in Ramat Gan, the diamond cutter puts his work aside and goes to sleep, while Ori Rachminov is glued to his mobile phone. He has a few potential customers for the dazzling treasures from the darkened room.
Text: Matthias Mächler
Pictures: A.A. Rachminov