I first started stone cutting when I was 14 years old (several decades ago!). At that time, I was creating cabochons, and primarily working opal. This continued through college. When my classmates were watching “Charlie’s Angels,” I was cutting, and a 26 carat opal paid for my Maui honeymoon.
During my junior year in college, I had found a gentleman by the name of Dave Cavolo in Phoenix who was just a few years older than me. He had his own shop, earning a living faceting stones and making jewelry. It took me almost a year to convince him to teach me faceting, but he finally relented. Once my classes were over, I ended up trading an opal necklace I had created in exchange for an old Ultra-Tec machine he had laying around, and I was off on my own faceting.
I entered Air Force pilot training shortly thereafter, and with my bride and new-found wealth ($12,000 a year), I decided to start faceting replicas of famous diamonds out of cubic zirconia (CZ). The groundwork for this inspiration came from the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Arts in Elmhurst, Illinois (www.lizzadromuseum.org). This museum was a 20 minute drive from where I grew up, and I was a regular visitor ogling their display of quartz diamond replicas. Two decades later, I had the equipment, money, and ability to fabricate my own. Little did I know I would have the opportunity to display my work in their museum!
Information about famous diamonds in 1980 was scanty and difficult to come by. There was a series of articles written in the Lapidary Journal (www.lapidaryjournal.com) on how to cut famous diamonds, and I initially used these as reference materials. Unfortunately, I had cut 8 or 9 replicas before I realized that the information given was not entirely accurate. I decided right then that it was time for me to perform my own research.
Due to my previous experience using bad data, I decided to go to the original sources to conduct my own research. For my Hope replica, I called the Smithsonian Institution (www.si.edu) and talked to the curator who obligingly provided me with the information I needed. Information for the Florentine diamond replica came from an original manuscript written by Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a traveling jeweler and merchant who wrote about the stone in the mid-1600’s. I was fortunate that one of seven original copies of his book in the United States was in a library only an hour's drive away. My subsequent replicas were much better, and by 1983, I had a collection of 16 CZ replicas.
For the next 20 years, I didn't add anything to the collection because the Air Force was sending me to over 30 countries, I was spending a lot of time traveling for extended periods, and what time I had at home was spent with family. The interest was still there, however, and I continued to casually research readily-available data, as well as to offer workshops and write a short instructional guide, Shopper's Guide to Gems, for people who wanted to know more about gems (how to buy them, how to assess quality, etc.). During this very busy time in my life, there remained at least half dozen stones that I still wanted to create, but I didn’t have the time to devote to their primary research and creation.
This all changed after I retired from the Air Force. I started writing a series of articles for the Lapidary Journal on creating famous diamonds and had given talks to various organizations in several states. My articles and presentations were then posted and referenced on the Internet.
In December 2003, I received a phone call out of the blue from a producer for the Discovery Channel. He wanted to create a show dealing with famous diamonds, and had researched the various topics on the Internet. My research and work was cited fairly extensively by then on the Internet, and he saw that my name kept popping up on various Web sites (You can Google Scott Sucher famous diamonds to duplicate his search process). After a five-day search, the producer was finally able to locate me.
Over the next 2-3 weeks, his idea gradually morphed to where he wanted to create a show using forensics as much as possible to determine the genealogy of the Hope diamond. I said that to do that, he would have to coordinate with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. to have the stone removed from its setting so I could take pictures to model the stone. He said “No problem,” and hung up. I thought to myself, "Well, here's a project about to die a quick, natural death; surely my reputation isn't that good!" But a week or so later, he called back and said “OK, they’ll unset the Hope for you.” (It took several minutes for me to breathe again!)
Now that there was Smithsonian buy-in, I knew that I alone didn’t have all the necessary knowledge to do everything required for the program. This was an extremely important project, with people world-wide that would find our results very interesting, and it needed to be done with rigorous scientific methods via a team approach. I contacted a friend of mine, Steve Attaway, an engineer with Sandia National Laboratories and an expert in computer modeling. His wife, Nancy, is an outstanding faceter, internationally recognized for her work (www.attawaygems.com). Both Steve and Nancy are very active in the faceting community through such organizations such as the New Mexico Faceter's Guild. I knew that our combined experience and capability would enable us to do the job.
Filming started in February of 2004 and gave me the opportunity to hold and study the unset Hope diamond over a four hour period. Steve used the photos I took of the unset Hope and analyzed them using at least three computer programs to build a CAD model of the Hope. There were several more photo shoots throughout the year as the program took shape, and Steve and Nancy were also able to handle the Hope in December of that year. Our findings were documented in the Discovery Channel program “Unsolved History: The Hope Diamond” that first aired in February 2005, and also were circulated in news reports all over the world.
My association with the Discovery Channel and Smithsonian opened up many opportunities for me to perform more in-depth research on other famous diamonds. Asscher Diamonds in Amsterdam (www.asscher.nl) was instrumental in assisting me with research on the Cullinan diamonds, as were individuals at the Tower of London and Royal Collections (www.royal.gov.uk), and the Crown Jeweler for the British Crown Jewels. Coster Diamonds of Amsterdam (www.costerdiamonds.com) sent me one of their two glass models created in 1851 of the Koh-I-Noor diamond before it was recut. The Natural History Museum in London (www.nhm.ac.uk) loaned me one of their two plaster models also created in 1851 of the same stone, and research on this was complete by October 2006 (Sucher et al, 2008). The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto (www.rom.on.ca) provided much-needed assistance in my research on the Great Table, Darya-I-Nur, and Nur-al-Ain diamonds.
No source has been neglected in my quest for historical accuracy, and my efforts and findings are made possible only through the assistance and cooperation of these many fine museums, organizations, and individuals.