Diamond Cutting for Hobbyists: Getting Started

With study, care, and the right tools, hobbyist gem cutters can add diamond cutting to their repertoire. Get started with these tips from expert cutters.

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HomeLearning CenterJewelry and LapidaryDiamond Cutting for Hobbyists: Getting Started

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Question: I've been faceting colored gemstones for five years. This hobby is even more fun now than when I started. Now I want to try my hand at diamonds. I have a few questions first. Is learning diamond cutting possible for a private hobbyist? Where do I even start to study this? Also, is it possible for an ordinary guy like me to get a hold of gem-quality diamond rough without getting caught up in the De Beers thing?
diamond cutting machine - Bruges
An octahedral diamond crystal being cut in two at the Diamond Museum in Bruges, Belgium. Photo by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner. Licensed under CC By-SA 2.0.

Answer: With study, care, and the right tools, diamond cutting is not out of reach for hobbyist gem cutters.

Diamond Cutting Books and Equipment

Diamond Cutting by Basil Watermeyer                     The Techniques of Master Faceting by Gerald Wykoff

In my opinion, the best books for you to start with are Diamond Cutting by Basil Watermeyer and The Techniques of Master Faceting by Gerald Wykoff. The Watermeyer is exclusively about diamonds, of course. The Wykoff has a great chapter on faceting diamonds.

Diamond cutting is not impossible on standard faceting equipment, but it's a formidable task requiring a good deal of care and study. You can start with a typical hobby faceting machine designed to cut colored stones. However, it's easier with a diamond cutting scaife machine. These are larger in diameter (about 10 or 12 inches) and run faster (2600 rpm vs. about 1100 rpm) than faceting machines. You would cut on a cast iron lap made up as a dry wheel. Wykoff gives some instructions on preparing one of these. Essentially, it's diamond grit in Elmer's Glue or similar.

diamond cutting
Diamond cutter. Photo by Laura. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Aside from having the right machinery, the most important factor for proper diamond cutting is orienting the stone correctly to grind and polish with the grain. Diamond varies in hardness according to polishing direction and orientation. The easiest way to start learning would be recutting damaged diamonds, since the first cutter already determined the proper orientation. Otherwise, you have to study the stone to determine the crystal axes and orient the facets accordingly. A facet placed on the hardest plane will be nearly impossible to grind or polish. This is why professional diamond cutters sometimes "swindle" (cut slightly off the correct angle or elevation) some facets, depending on the orientation of the crystal.


Roy Kersey

Diamond Rough and Crystallography

If you want to learn diamond cutting, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of studying and learning the crystallography of the diamond rough itself. Having been trained as a diamond cutter, I can tell you the majority of the training time was spent on the study of the crystal and its various forms and structure. Isometric in system and octahedron in shape (for ideal cutting), the diamond can at times offer a great many surprises. Directional hardness, as Roy mentioned, is just one.

Diamond rough is not as hard to get a hold of as you might expect. Most that is available now is coming from Africa, Brazil, and even the United States.

Ron Campbell, Central Coast Gem Lab

Diamonds (State Line Kimberlite Field, Colorado-Wyoming border area, USA). Photo by James St. John. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

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