The world bids farewell to yet another giant in the diamond industry.
At 84 years of age, Sir Gabriel ‘Gabi’ Tolkowsky ends a 6-decade long career and leaves behind him a legacy that has forever reshaped the art of diamond cutting and polishing.
Sir Gabi was the great-nephew of Marcel Tolkowsky, who was best known for his discovery of the precise calculations for cutting a perfectly round brilliant, introducing the world to a mathematical formula that used 57 facets in the cut of a stone; an achievement of epic proportions resulting from his renowned obsessive nature combined with generations of family knowledge about the craft.
He was born into the 6th generation of a family of diamond cutters in Tel Aviv in 1939 – including his uncle Marcel, credited as the inventor of the round brilliant cut. He was trained in the craft by his father Jean (also a master cutter) and at the age of 16, was even trusted with the monumental task of polishing a 100-carat emerald-cut diamond.
In 1975, he began working with De Beers for whom he developed the Flower Cuts collection.
He founded his company Gabi S. Tolkowksy & Sons in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1995, where he later created the Seashells Cuts collection.
During 1980s, Sir Gabi was secretly commissioned to cut the “Unnamed Brown”, a 755.5-carat brown stone unearthed at the Premier Mine in South Africa. An underground workshop, free of vibration, was constructed to ensure no damage came to the stone as it was meticulously whittled into a 545.65-carat Golden Jubilee Diamond, which remains the largest cut and faceted diamond in the world – outweighing even the Cullinan I, which had held the title since 1908.
In an interview with Jeweller Magazine, he said about the stone, “I looked at it during the day; I looked at it at night. I looked at it during the day, and at night it looked at me! I couldn’t sleep, because I was looking for answers.” The finished stone was completed in 1990 and later became part of the Thai Crown Jewels.
In 1986 De Beers exhumed a 599-carat rough in South Africa and the mining giant selected Sir Gabi to lead an expert team of scientists and technicians to transfigure the historic rough into what would become the world’s largest D Flawless stone, or as it later became known, as the 273.85 carat Centenary Diamond. The rough was so fragile and so valuable, that no heat or laser could be used in the initial cutting process.
Drawing from techniques developed during the polishing of the Centenary and the Golden Jubilee Diamonds and from the De Beers Flower Cuts, Sir Gabi created the Gabrielle cut, known as the first ‘triple brilliant’ and which was later sold throughout Europe, Asia, and the US.
In 2003, the master was presented with the title Chevalier de L'Ordre du Roi Leopold II (Knight of the Order of King Leopold II) for his services to the diamond industry. Current and former employees at the AWDC who have known Gabi personally said that his aura always invoked a “friendliness and warmth”, adding that “he was always known for being approachable and humble though being such a monumental figure” in the industry.