Improved methods developed by Institute Prof. Yehiam Prior for sawing diamonds with lasers may lead to the eventual automation of the entire industry and to routine production of unusually shaped, custom-designed diamonds. The advance overcomes a key obstacle that has until now prevented lasers from being employed more extensively in diamond processing.
Despite their speed and flexibility, lasers are today used only as a last resort on diamonds that cannot be sawed by conventional, mechanical means because of the larger percentage loss of the stone's weight. However, the improved methods developed by Prof. Prior of the Chemical Physics Department have reduced that loss by more than half, making laser sawing, in many cases, comparable to the mechanical process.
In addition to being extremely fast, lasers can be used to cut diamonds into virtually any shape, irrespective of the orientation of the stone's underlying crystalline structure. This allows the cutter to obtain the largest possible gem from a raw stone and to design unusual shapes, such as a Star of David. With mechanical sawing, the direction of sawing is limited by the natural crystal axes of the stone.
Prof. Prior is also collaborating with other Israeli researchers in a study that may ultimately lead to the development of a diamond-processing industry based totally on lasers and computer-aided design. The idea, he explains, is to make available the technology whereby a person can "computer design" a diamond and transfer this information to a laser that would cut and shape the raw stone.
Prof. Prior, whose research is funded by the Israel Diamond Institute, holds the Sherman Chair of Physical Chemistry.