Rapaport Magazine

On the cutting edge

India’s tech revolution has brought automated polishers, state-of-the-art imaging machines, and a surge of productivity to the local industry.

By Melvyn Thomas

Years before the wonders of the internet and mobile phones came to India in the mid-1990s, two brothers scripted a revolutionary tech story for Surat’s diamond industry. Utpal and Janak Mistry were both top engineers — electrical and mechanical, respectively — at what is now the Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology (SVNIT) in Surat.

With the support of a few diamantaires working in Surat’s Diamond Nagar area, who had no formal education but who were eager to bring a technological revolution to the industry, the Mistry brothers made their breakthrough.

In 1991-92, the duo developed the first Electro-Mechanical Econo Bruter, a diamond shaping machine that became a huge hit. Three years later, they created the world’s first auto-bruter, and for the first time, diamond polishers could see live video of a sparkling diamond on their DOS-based computers.

Utpal Mistry got the idea of connecting the DOS-based computer with a video graphics card while he was searching for works of literature in the college library. Since ISA-based connector cards — the type he needed — were not manufactured in India, the diamond barons aided the brothers by importing them from overseas.

Because they could now zoom in on a diamond’s image, karigars (diamond artisans) could give the stones more precise shapes. The auto-bruters were so successful that every major diamond-unit owner in Surat started experimenting with these machines on a large scale. This was the turning point for the Mistry brothers and for the diamond industrial revolution in the city, leading the siblings to found the Lexus Group in 1992.

Big changes in 30 years

In the mid-1970s and ’80s, Surat’s diamond industry was taking baby steps. Cutting and polishing was mostly a manual process. There was a time when the diamantaires would break the rough diamonds using a knife and a hammer; many times, they would lose the broken diamond pieces and wouldn’t bother trying to find them, thereby missing out on potential profits.

The karigars from Gujarat’s Saurashtra region — where many of the diamantaires who helped establish the Surat industry came from — have a good eye for planning rough diamonds and are adept at cutting and polishing them. However, the emery wheels — known as saran — were hand-operated in those days, which meant the workers might process fewer than three pieces of diamond per day.

Almost three decades down the line, state-of-the-art software and sophisticated machinery have transformed Surat’s diamond industry from traditional to tech-savvy. In the last 10 years, diamantaires in Surat have invested heavily in digital methods of allocating, planning, sawing, bruting, shaping, polishing, grading and branding their stones. The average diamond company has an annual turnover of more than INR 50 billion ($672.5 million) and spends some $3 million to $5 million each year on the latest technology so it can stay ahead of the competition.

A plethora of devices

Lexus has designed a sizable number of such devices and software, among them its X-ray Dia-Tomography inclusion-mapping technology, which produces a precise 3D model of rough stones up to 1,000 carats and is accurate to within 10 to 30 microns (0.010 to 0.030 millimeters). Other innovations include its automatic bruting and girdling machines for diamonds weighing 0.2 to 1,000 carats; its patented Digital Adaptive Light Scope (DALS), a powerful microscope that offers reflection-free illumination of the stones under it; and Cutwise Live, a small desktop device that lets jewelers examine a diamond’s optical performance under different lighting conditions.

One revolutionary product Lexus developed recently with fellow diamond-tech firm Octonus is the Galahad Compass. Billed as the “3D digital printer for a diamond,” it offers digital assistance to polishers so that even novices can produce expert-quality faceted stones, according to Lexus.

In the wake of Covid-19, the industry has been using artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud-based big-data analysis to offer customized goods and photo-real or virtual interfaces for showcasing diamonds. Cutwise has been a useful tool in this area. Manufacturers can place diamond design options on the Cutwise cloud platform so clients can view high-quality videos and photos and select their preferred cuts. The clients can later preview the polished stone’s optical performance on Cutwise’s presentation platform, which includes all of the diamond’s information. This means buyers get to specify in real time what they want the end product to look like before the rough goes to the factories in Surat for planning and cutting.

A new look for factories

The atmosphere at factories has changed along with the technological shifts. Large diamond companies such as Dharmanandan Diamonds, Venus Jewels, Shree Ramkrishna (SRK) Exports, and Shree Hari Krishna (HK) Exports have manufacturing facilities in the heart of Surat’s Katargam and Varachha diamond districts, and these are arranged like large corporate offices. There is no more squatting on the floors; diamond karigars can be seen planning and polishing diamonds on raised tables with computer screens and high-tech machinery.

The switch to more precise diamond cutting has had its upsides and downsides. In earlier times, rough was cheap, and the guesswork of the karigars meant clients didn’t always know their stones’ optimal yield. Now, buyers halfway around the world can see in advance what they can get, and it has affected cutters’ profits.

“Three decades ago, when...diamond technology was not invented or introduced [yet], the profit margins were as high as 30%,” recalls Hitesh Patel, managing director at Dharmanandan Diamonds. “Now, with the latest high-tech diamond [equipment] in use, our profit margins have shrunk to less than 3%.”

Still, he appreciates the efficiency. “Production has increased manifold. A diamond that took two months to become a sparkling gem is now ready for consumers in a matter of 10 to 15 days. The technology is such that it can accurately predict the exact 4Cs of the diamonds before [they are] planned or marked.”

Dharmanandan’s manufacturing facility is spread out over some 7,500 square meters in the center of Katargam. The company’s annual turnover is $800 million, and it spends $3 million on high-tech solutions per annum. It even has an in-house R&D facility, where it has developed its own diamond technology and software since 2006.

Because many small-scale diamantaires can’t invest in costly technology, some companies offer a pay-per-carat (PPC) option that lets these diamantaires pay a fixed amount for processing diamonds on the latest equipment. This gives small businesses a technological edge that lets them compete with the cutting and polishing standards of the big units.

SRK Exports is one of the most technologically advanced diamond crafters in the world. With a 5,000-strong diamond workforce, SRK expanded into the jewelry segment in 2003, taking its total annual turnover to INR 94 billion ($1.26 billion).

Among its innovations are the Digiplot feature, which can determine a diamond’s depth and map out inclusions; Footprints, which lets customers trace their diamonds’ journey from mine to market; and its in-house SRK Grading System (SGS), a comprehensive set of grading criteria that’s certified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

In fact, SRK holds several ISO certifications. It is also a member of the US Green Building Council (USGBC).

“Diamond technology [entered] the diamond industry due to the visionary mind-sets of our fathers,” reflects SRK director Shreyans Dholakia. “With just one click from the office computer, I can see the entire journey of the diamonds, from rough planning to the finished sparkling gems. With technology at our side, the customers around the world get flawless diamonds.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - September 2021. To subscribe click here.

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