The iconic South African artist’s largest exhibition in Africa in over a decade
A Jeweller's Insight
A sneak peak at Shimansky’s diamond and jewellery workshop in Cape Town
I've never understood the 'doe-eyed for diamonds' expression, but after embarking on an all access tour at Shimansky's diamond and jewellery workshop in Cape Town, I learned that much like a fine wine or a literary masterpiece; jewellery making is an art form in its own right.
Turns out, even just polishing a diamond is a full time job; and the more I learned about the process, the more I realised that buying diamonds in South Africa can be incredibly fascinating.
Behind the scenes of diamond buying
The first encounter we have as we enter the sparkling world of Shimansky is a workman delicately constructing a U-shape out of platinum; an ideal cradle for a semi-precious stone, platinum is incredibly durable and doesn’t tarnish or corrode easily. I asked about the polishing machine and found out that they use a special kind of wax to give the metal its smooth shine.
As the workman fashioned the cradle, I wondered aloud, “How long does it take to make a diamond ring?”
Our guide informs us that a classic solitaire (a ring with one single diamond) may take six hours to make, whereas something more intricate may take up to 18 hours. Diamond manufacturing is no high school drop-out industry - each of the jewellers who master Shimansky’s designer jewellery train for three to five years, during which they work as an apprentice; the majority are even born into the industry.
We moved onto the cutting room, where master craftsmanship and intimidating machinery seem to have made a happy marriage. One workman was busy cutting metal with an old-fashioned dentist's drill, and much like a tourist trying to coax a smile out of the Queen’s Guard, I tried to distract him from his precision with an intense stare, but he wasn't bothered at all.
In another room, another member of the Shimansky team was polishing diamonds using a Sarin machine with copper blades and diamond dust. This process demands continuous monitoring, and it can take from six to eight hours.
During a pit stop over a glass of wine, our guide goes on to explain the importance of cut, clarity, colour and carat, and the tremendous effect that all of these factors have on the value of a diamond; certainly points to consider when buying a diamond.
What's the point in a diamond if it doesn't sparkle?
The cut of the diamond is the most important of the four C's, and the benchmark-cut is based on the optics of a diamond designer named Marcel Tolkowsky. This Belgian engineer calculated the ideal angle at which the semi-precious stone claims ‘its most vivid fire and its greatest brilliancy’, meaning that perfect cut with which the diamond retains its ability to reflect the most light. If it’s cut too deep or shallow then light escapes out the sides or the bottom, leading to a loss of brilliance.
Apparently, all diamonds are compared with a master set at internationally recognised laboratories. Diamonds are then classified and checked for inclusions and blemishes using a 10x magnifying glass.
As we exit the workshop and transition to the jewellery showroom showcase, the sudden sparkling culmination of all of these processes is that much brighter. We stoop over a Scope viewer (magnifying glass) to observe a Shimansky Eight Hearts super ideal cut diamond, which displays a perfect eight-heart pattern when viewed from the bottom, and a perfect eight-arrow star when viewed from the top.
Our tour guide tells us that this is how one can tell that the diamond has been cut to perfect proportions. I was dazzled by the spectrum of rainbow colours and the way that light shone from every angle.
We also observed blue and violet tanzanite necklaces and earrings, a semi-precious stone unique to Tanzania and that’s softer than the diamond.
So, while I can say that a diamond is still yet to be this girl's best friend, the Shimansky workshop tour certainly cultivated some intrigue, and increased the value of a diamond in my mind.
Visit the Shimansky flagship jewellery showroom at the V&A Waterfront. Entrance will cost R50/p.
By Lisa Nevitt
Read more information about the Cape Town Diamond Museum.