Interactive: A diamond's journey: On the cutting edge

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updated 6/26/2009 7:58:35 PM ET 2009-06-26T23:58:35

From the African mines to the hands of skilled cutters and polishers in India, the diamond makes yet another crucial stop while on its mine-to-market journey. It is here in Surat, India, that the rough stone is made to reveal its brilliance.

Whether you live in the United States or Japan, if you buy a diamond ring today, there is a good chance the stone was crafted in India.

An estimated 92 percent of the world's diamonds are cut and polished in Surat, an industrial city in western India.  The cutting and polishing of these diamonds for the global market have helped create close to 500,000 jobs in the city, according to a recent Times of India report.

That is nearly half as many jobs as India's entire information technology industry. Bangalore, the symbol of India's knowledge economy, may be a global buzzword, but the fate of India's rural poor depends more on industrial cities like Surat.

Many say the first diamond was discovered 4,000 years ago in the shining sands of an Indian riverbed in the Golconda region (modern-day Hyderabad). Adventurers made similar discoveries in South Africa's dusty veldt in the 19th century.

Savvy marketing then turned diamonds a crucial symbol of middle-class courtship, a "girl’s best friend" and symbol of eternal love. 

India’s ties with the gemstone have continued down through the ages.

Today, India dominates the polishing business, although the country produces no raw diamonds of its own.

It is the highly skilled yet cheap workforce that has made India one of the major players in the industry, contributing to the country's rapid economic growth. Jewelry exports are projected to hit $20 billion next year.

India spends $10 per carat on the polishing and cutting of diamonds, against China's $17 and South Africa's $40 to $60. India wants to cash in on this competitive edge to maintain its position as the world's largest diamond-cutting and -polishing center. 

However, most of these diamonds currently pass through diamond-selling centers in Israel, Belgium and elsewhere before ultimately reaching India.

The Indian government has been trying to ensure a continuous flow of rough diamonds through companies like De Beers and Rio Tinto Group.

Even though there are many companies that are clients of De Beers, Indian diamond merchants cannot procure the best stones directly from rough-producing nations or even big companies like Alrosa of Russia.

Many Indian exporters are hoping to change that by actively pursuing their objective of direct procurement of rough diamonds from mining companies in Russia, Canada, Angola and Ghana. This will not only cut costs, but will help India become a diamond trading hub instead of just a manufacturing hub.

Some Indian traders fear they will be left with small stones while the bigger, better stones will be polished in the producing countries of Africa, or as is the case now, in Antwerp, Belgium, and New York.

At the same time, diamond-producing nations are no longer content with just mining the rough diamonds. They want to cut and polish them, too. African cutters may now cut into India’s profits.

The Indian diamond trade, dominated by the close-knit Palanpuri Jain community, is now eyeing bigger, pricier stones. Surat companies are now setting up branches in New York and Tel Aviv, Israel, and learning from cutters in Belgium and Israel. Indian diamond merchants are also trying to secure a foothold in the lucrative Chinese market, where the burgeoning middle class is developing a taste for diamonds. Indian merchants are setting up workshops in China to gain a foothold in the market.

Apart from India, cutting and polishing of diamonds take place in South Africa, Belgium, China, Israel, Russia and the United States. Cutting a rough diamond takes great skill. It is an integral step in the four Cs used to measure a diamond's worth.
Clarity refers to the clearness or purity of a diamond. It is determined by the number, size, nature and location of internal and external imperfections. The Gemological Institute of America determines the clarity scheme.

Color can range from colorless to yellow, with slight tints of yellow, gray or brown. Fancy colors are rare, making the stone more valuable. The GIA-certified set of master stones and/or a computer that accurately grades the color of a polished diamond determines the color.

Cut refers to the proportions, finish, symmetry and polish. These factors determine the fire and brilliance. Well-cut diamonds sell at a premium; poorly cut diamonds sell at discount. The cut of the diamond can be determined by use of the Dia-Mension system, a computerized method that takes accurate measurements.

Carat is the unit of weight. A carat is further subdivided in 100 points (0.01 carat = l point). One carat is equal to 0.20 grams. The value per carat increases with size because larger rough diamonds occur less frequently.  In other words, two half-carat diamonds taken together will not cost as much as one one-carat diamond, as the one-carat stone is rarer.


Source: The Diamond Source

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