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"Damond Cutter - This Profession Will Stay Alive Further On"

11 january 2009

How popular is the profession of diamond cutter today? Will this profession survive in the world of new technologies and computer equipment? We asked Ruven Paikin, a professional diamond cutter and 30-year experienced gemologist, who is currently in charge of production operations at ALMOD, a newly opened diamond factory in Namibia, to answer these and other questions. Ruven graduated from the Gemological Institute in Israel. In 1968, when he was just 13 years old, he and his parent emigrated from Latvia to Israel. While being trained to become a cutter he studied gemology and in the second half of the 1980s Ruven started to manage production process all by himself.

Do you now feel yourself as a professional in your business field?

It is impossible to know everything in this profession, so you have to learn something every day. Even with my long experience spreading over 31 years I do not know everything about it. By the second millennium, during the past 7-8 years the cutting process was computerized, which made the work much easier.

What was the attitude of your generation of diamond cutters towards this computerization of cutting craftsmanship?

For a person of my age, this massive introduction of computer technologies turned to be a very difficult kind of transition. The diamond cutters of my generation, those who did not try to move forward, were lost for this profession.

How many years did it take for you to believe in yourself and feel as a full-set professional, while working as a diamond cutter?

I think it took 15-20 years for me to grasp the profession as a whole and to master the entire process. The diamond process has many aspects and appears to be rather complicated. The time came when I was able to buy rough, lay it out and complete the full cycle of processing as well as to perceive all the types and shapes of stones. Only then I felt I could process 20 types of stones. I felt I could buy rough on my own, evaluate it and lay it out and accept finished products. Only then I felt in command of this profession.

To my view, the diamond cutter profession is probably the most difficult occupation if it takes up to 15 years to learn this business, isn’t it?

May be it looks like this because I belong to a first generation in this profession. It took some time for me to pass every stage of it. Cutters belonging to a second generation, as for instance in the case when a father-cutter is followed by his son, will feel it easier to cover all the stages in a shorter period of time. The diamond cutter profession is not at all popular around the world. It’s a narrow profession. Up to now there is no higher educational institution anywhere, which could teach this art for 4 or 5 years. In the 1980s, Israel had a high vocational school for diamond cutters which used to train 20 thousand students. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were several vocational schools in Russia – a diamond cutting school and a diamond grading school – including the vocational schools at the Kristall Factory. However, today everything unfortunately went apart. There remained only a few educational institutions. But alas, there are no more such wide-scale educational centers as before. In Europe, there are no more large rough-processing companies because everything is gradually shifting to India, China, and Vietnam – the countries of cheaper labor force.

Is this profession slowly dying in Europe and Russia?

In Europe it is dying together with the industry, but not as a profession. It will stay alive further on. When labor force in Israel was cheaper, the greater part of cutting facilities was transferred from Belgium to America and Israel. Then cheap labor was offered by India and all the production started to shift there. Already at that time China was boasting of cutting costs ten times lower compared to Israel. Today, the cutting business has migrated mainly to Asian countries. The number of diamond cutters in Israel, Russia and other European countries is being diminished, but it is growing in Asia and Africa. Moreover, with more competitive pressure currently felt in India a greater number of cutters are moving to China and Vietnam forcing India to take its new projects to Africa. Unfortunately, Russia is facing the same process – higher salaries are pushing costs upwards.

Who is prevailing in this profession? Women or men?

Of course, this is mostly a men’s job and they are prevailing in it. However, opening our production facility in Namibia we recruited more women, although this is just one stage in shaping up production; it seems to us that women have more patience and assiduity, but in the future it will be mainly men. Initially, we thought our work in Africa would be like our work in China. But women in China and Thailand have quite different mentality. And this is not an easy profession to sit in one place for several hours scrutinizing hundreds of times one and the same stone while grinding it by a machine tool. However, there are more female- suiting occupations in our business like for instance evaluating and grading – the things named as quality control in Russia.

Windhoek, Namibia