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Adieu Gabi ~ Our Diamond World Loses A Giant

Sir Gabriel (Gabi) Tolkowsky, one of the most accomplished diamantaires of all time, has passed away at the age of 84. Knighted by the Belgian government in 2002 for service and contributions to the jewelry industry, Sir Gabi was trusted with fashioning some of the world’s most iconic diamonds.

Family Legacy

The expertise in Sir Gabi’s family field extends to his uncle Marcel, a mathematician who calculated the optimal geometric proportions for the round brilliant cut in 1918. He received training in the art of planning and crafting diamonds from his father Jean.

Among Sir Gabi’s notable achievements are the Golden Jubilee Diamond, a remarkable 545 carat cushion cut with 148 facets displaying a captivating yellow-brown hue – fashioned from a 755 carat rough crystal – and the innovation of modern new polishing styles, including the flower cut and sea shell cut, among others.

Gabi Tolkowsky Creations
Flower and Sea Shell cuts, along with the Centenary and Golden Jubilee Diamonds

A Labor Of Love

His signature work, however, began in 1986 when DeBeers’ called upon him to assess a 599 carat colorless rough diamond recovered from their Premier Mine in South Africa. The process of converting it to polished form, entrusted to him a year later, was a three year labor of love.

The first part of the journey was the careful removal of 20 carats of surface blemishes. Once complete, Gabi created 13 sketches of imagined end results for the spotless rough crystal, from which a modern heart-shaped design was selected. The actual shaping and polishing took place within a special underground chamber at the DeBeers’ Diamond Research Laboratory in Johannesburg, South Africa. To ensure optimal conditions for the meticulous styling, great care was taken to insulate the room against mechanical vibrations and temperature fluctuations that could potentially disrupt the master’s delicate work.

When the job was done, Gabi had fashioned the 273.85 carat Centenary Diamond, a robust heart-shape with 247 facets and the world’s largest modern styled D color, internally and externally flawless diamond. The successful planning and crafting of the Centenary propelled Gabi to monumental status in the diamond world.

I was always occupied with all sorts of diamonds, but this one, it changed me, because in one shot I became part of it and it became part of me.

Sir Gabi Tolkowsky

“Jargon that means nothing”

Sir Gabi was known to champion descriptive terms for diamonds, rather than technical, to better convey their forever symbolism and beauty to the everyday person. He promoted ethical, honest descriptions which could be easily understood and, where possible, stir emotions.

I do not cut a diamond. The word ‘Cut’ means in English: make an opening or a wound in something, with a sharp tool such as a knife or scissors… As a professional diamond-cutter I would say: “Divide.” We divide a diamond if necessary (cleaving, sawing, lasering). As a professional diamond-bruter I would say: We “Fashion” a shape. We fashion its form. As a professional diamond-polisher I would say: “We fashion” a shape or its form, and we polish the surface by applying the “Style” of a “design” with precise “facets” or “Mirrors.” Should our terminology be “technical” or should it be “Descriptive?” And what are the meanings of Finish, Make, Proportions, Cut Grading, Finish Grading, Major Symmetry, Minor Symmetry? This is jargon that means nothing to consumers.

Sir Gabi Tolkowsky
Credit: InStore Magazine

A haven of peace

Despite his enormous status, crafting iconic diamonds displayed in Tower Of London and bestowed with the title Chevalier de L’Ordre du Roi Leopold II , Sir Gabi was always approachable and humble. A kind and thoughtful person, he was generous with his time and opinions, and keenly focused on creating beauty in the world. For Gabi, diamonds represented more than history and symbolism. He considered them catalysts for expression and evolution.

Approaching beauty is a normal human evolution. It allows people – men and women – to express themselves according to their cultural environment. As a matter of fact, beauty is not only an artistic reaction, but also a way to wish, hope and dream. Beauty is a haven of peace.

Gabi and Angi
Sir Gabi and this author in Antwerp, Belgium, 2009

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