Sir Gabriel “Gabi” Tolkowsky, the legendary craftsman whose skill at cutting diamonds was matched only by his passion extolling them, died on May 29. He was 84.
Tolkowsky was a “pioneer and a master craftsman who understood the wonder of diamonds like few other people,” said a statement from De Beers Group. “Gabi combined artistry, expertise, and passion to create some of the most beautiful and famous polished diamonds in history.”
Born in 1939 in Tel Aviv, Tolkowsky was raised in a prominent diamond-cutting family; his great-uncle Marcel was a mathematician who invented the famed “ideal cut.”
Exposed to the industry from a young age, Gabi soon made his own name. One of his first innovations was developing flower cuts for De Beers, out of odd shapes and colors that no one wanted, he said in a 1999 video profile.
In 1989, Tolkowsky was handed what any cutter would consider the ultimate challenge—a 599 ct. stone. At the time it was one of the largest pieces of rough ever found. Tolkowsky headed the team turning it into polished.
The resulting 273.85 ct. modified heart-shape—dubbed the Centenary—took nearly three years to create, including two years of preparation and one year of cutting. Tolkowsky called it the “smiling diamond,” and it is still considered one of the world’s great gemstones.
He later created another famous gem, the 545.7 ct. Golden Jubilee, which was given to King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand in honor of the 50th anniversary of his coronation.
“The first thing I do when I hold a diamond is I look at it and ask it, ‘What would you like to become?’” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2009. “It answers: ‘The most beautiful.’ I answer: ‘You will be.’ That is the challenge.”
It was a task that sometimes took over his life, he admitted: “[You] get up in the morning, and have the diamond in your brain. Drive without knowing you’re driving. … The whole time the diamond’s in your brain. It’s in front of you, the whole time. It’s in front of your eyes, behind your eyes, in your heart, in your stomach, all over the place. It conquers you, hypnotizes you. You are a slave.”
Tolkowsky made news in 2000 with an idiosyncratic but characteristically charming idea: He used the pattern of a diamond to create music. “Imagine a blind person being able to appreciate the beauty of a diamond by listening to it,” he said, adding that the melodies that resulted make “you sit down and dream.”
That same year, the Belgian government presented Tolkowsky with the Knighthood Chevalier de L’ Ordre du Roi Leopold II for his service to the diamond industry.
“Diamonds are joyful, jewelry is joyful—it is loving,” he said after being knighted. “I cannot think of anything sad when I look at diamonds. This is a joyful announcement suitable for a joyful trade. I am only disappointed that I didn’t get my white horse.”
Tolkowsky’s zest for his work made him a popular and often beguiling speaker at industry events. As he discussed the magic of gems, his talks would often veer into poetry
“Every single diamond is effectively an individual that will attract every human’s senses,” he told Jeweller magazine in 2021. “Each one of them is a unique beauty.… Beauty is not only an artistic reaction but also a way to wish, hope, and dream. Beauty is a haven of peace.”
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