'At Work' is a weekly column that takes a peak at people with unique professions, their living patterns and the changes the calling has seen in the years.

“The life of a diamond lies in its every cut,” says Jynesh Kumar, as he points out to a visible crack in a round diamond. “The ones with a yellow tinge are the worst,” he adds. Mr. Jynesh has been in the diamond industry for almost five decades now, cutting diamonds, assorting loose and uncut diamonds, polishing and mounting them on fancy and traditional jewellery pieces.

While only around three per cent of the diamond available in the industry is used in designing jewellery, those who cut, polish and evaluate diamonds feel that Chennai is an ideal place for their trade.

“The quality of diamond in Chennai is far better and purer than the commercial varieties that other cities specialise in,” says Mr. Alkesh Shah, who has a degree in gemology from Bangkok and presently assorts diamonds for a dealer here. He says that most diamonds with little ‘ black spots' or ‘jeerum (cracks)' go unsold in the city although they fetch reasonable prices in other parts of the country.

The job itself has undergone many transformations over the years.

Damodar Lal Varma, who has been polishing and assorting diamonds in Chennai for the last 45 years, feels the profession was more personalised before it underwent major technological interventions. “Initially we would get to cut, shape and assort a diamond piece all on our own, but now every worker gets to cut and polish only a certain facet, for better precision and faster work'', he says.

“A lot of us learnt to understand the value of diamonds in the old way through knowledge that was handed down. But today the cuts, designs and inclinations are scanned and mapped out by computer to determine the best finished weight and the highest finished clarity,” Mr. Kumar says.

However, the ability to discriminate between various sorts of diamonds remains an asset which is much in demand among those who work with diamonds. Rajiv Jain who has been assorting diamonds for two years now points out that it takes years and a “lot of concentration and grasp” before one even starts to recognize the 58 facets of a diamond.

“A fresh entrant in this field starts with around Rs.10,000, but with an experience of 6-7 years, he can easily earn Rs.60,000 to Rs.70,000,” he adds.

Considering the expertise and experience required to get noticed, many in the industry feel the profession is a businessman's gain but not a labourer's. “Only a few people get recognition here. The rest stay at the same place, doing the same work all their life,” says A.Narasimhan who assorts and polishes diamonds in Sowcarpet.

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