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Many diamonds in the rough

If you make a mistake at work, your boss will probably be very annoyed with you. If Jeannine Pilon makes an error, it’s instantly worth thousands of dollars.

If you make a mistake at work, your boss will probably be very annoyed with you. If Jeannine Pilon makes an error, it’s instantly worth thousands of dollars.

Pilon, now 38, was born in Sudbury and started her professional life doing hospice work — caring for people who were dying.

Then she moved up to Yellowknife with her then-husband, had a baby and decided she wanted to do something a more positive and creative.

She heard about a diamond-cutting course when she attended a trade show.

Pilon had always been artistic: She drew, sewed and had painted a huge mural on her son’s bedroom wall.

Pilon did well right away. Staff from Arslanian Cutting Works came in weekly to look over the students’ work, and liked Pilon’s so much she was hired before completing the four-month course.

Once on the job, Pilon began a three-year apprenticeship under a master cutter, then wrote an exam to be fully certified.

She only works on diamonds that have already been through several stages and tradespeople, including a marker who marks where a stone will be cleaved into two (as most rough diamonds yield two stones), a sawer who cuts it and a bruter who creates the round shape of the stone.

“My job is to make it as pure and clear as possible,” says Pilon. Using her wheel — which looks like a turntable — and holding the diamond in a tool called a tang that can be adjusted to get the angles perfect, she “blocks” the stone by creating eight facets on the top and eight on the bottom of the diamond. She constantly looks at the stone through a jewellers magnifying glass.

Pilon then moves on to brillianteering, which involves cutting 57 tiny, perfect facets.

Each diamond takes between 15 and 45 minutes to complete, but Pilon will often spend half the day blocking and another half brillianteering.

The work is tedious and dirty: Pilon is covered with carbon at the end of the day and showers as soon as she gets home. It’s also stressful.

Overcutting lowers the value of the diamond, and making too many mistakes can mean you’ll soon be working on less valuable stones.

Because of the recession, Pilon was laid off last summer.

Since then, she’s been doing freelance work, including demonstrating the cutting process to the public in Yellowknife and at the Vancouver Olympics.

It’s a cleaner version of her old job, and one where she can wear some of her own diamonds. She has eight stones, but never wears them all at once. “I’m not dripping with them.”