Since the age of 69, Chuck Wilson has been on a mission to replicate 29 of the world's most famous diamonds, including the Hope Diamond and the Star of the South. Now, 14 years later, the 83-year-old gem aficionado from Loveland, Colo., has logged countless hours at his grinding wheel and counts 22 cubic zirconia replicas in his collection.
With only seven replicas to go, Wilson told TheDenverChannel.com he's confident that he can complete his labor of love. "Hopefully, I'll live a few more years to do this," he said.
When a reporter asked him why faceting diamonds is "his thing," Wilson answered, "I'm proud of what I do. People look at my work and say, "How did you do this?"
"Everybody can't do it," he added. "It's something that takes a little skill and patience –mostly patience. And, it takes a long time."
How long, exactly? Well, Wilson's replica of the 245-carat Jubilee Diamond took two years to complete.
The task of imitating a famous diamond starts with a schematic rendering of the original. This includes all the facets, angles and measurements. Then, he uses a chunk of cubic zirconia. Cutting the CZ material on a band saw attains the basic shape. Then, the faceting begins with a series of ever-finer grits of industrial-grade diamonds bonded to a grinding wheel. The process slowly hones away the excess material.
"It's all about angles and indices," said the octogenarian as he demonstrated his skill on a Facetron machine, a device his uses for cutting facets – or flat planes – on a gemstone. "It takes a lot of looking; each facet you have to grind a little bit and look. Grind a little bit and look. It takes a lot of time, patience and expertise."
Each finished replica is a mini masterpiece. Although Wilson is proud to exhibit his growing collection at gem and mineral shows, his work is not for sale and he couldn't guess what the collection is worth.