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Israel's History in Pictures:Jewelry Making

Jewelry-Making in the Holy Land: A wise profession for a peripatetic people.
First Publish: 6/8/2013, 8:51 PM

Making Rings (Cigarbox Col)
Making Rings (Cigarbox Col)
INN:CC

Jewels were always the currency of travelers.  Gemstones were more reliable than currency and lighter than gold bullion. Even today, some investors are smitten with a "refugee mentality," financial experts recently told The Wall Street Journal. "If the world gets a computer virus," one explained, "and suddenly you need to move $10 million in 48 hours, gold will set off metal detectors and too much cash gets cumbersome, but you slip on a $5 million ring and a $5 million necklace and you've got no problems."

Tragically, that scenario repeated itself  throughout Jewish history.  According to some accounts, prior to the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 a rumor spread that many Jews swallowed diamonds and gold in order to take their wealth with them. Thieves killed many and sliced open their stomachs in their search for treasure.  The Holocaust is fraught with tales of Jews attempting to use gems to buy their escape.

Diamond polishing (1930, Library
 of Congress)

Diamond cutting on lathes (1939, Library of Congress)


 

Inspecting diamonds (1939,
Library of Congress)


Since the 15th century, diamond cutting was a traditional Jewish craft, Wikipedia reports. That's when a Jewish diamond cutter in Belgium invented the scaif, an essential tool for polishing.  The first diamond polishing plant was opened in a Jewish town in Eretz Yisrael by Dutch refugee experts. By 1944 the industry employed 3,300 workers in 33 factories in Palestine.

Today, Israel is one of the world centers for preparation and sale of diamonds