The Laser Man Of New York City

Or, how to operate a diamond-cutting industrial laser in the middle of Manhattan.

The Laser Man of New York City is a hasidic man named Louis Gestetner. He works by himself in a small room of a large tower at 580 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, for a company called Ritani. He stays there all day and shoots diamonds with a laser. He is good at this, has done it for years and years.

Maybe 15 or 20 years ago, before he was the Laser Man of New York City, Gestetner cut diamonds the way others cut diamonds. He hit the diamonds hard with a piece of metal that looked like the heel of a shoe. That pushed a piece of diamond against the diamond that would be cut. This was the best way to cut diamonds.

One day Gestetner went to St. Louis, where he met with representatives from the Northrop Grumman Corporation about owning and operating a large military laser. At one point he went to the men’s room across the hall. That evening the representatives came and stripped him of his security badge. When he asked why, they told him he was caught on camera wandering the halls. They told him, Get on the next flight home! But Gestetner got the laser, which was not nothing.

Gestetner is at the front line, makes the first cuts to the diamonds. He puts the diamonds in the machine and the machine tells him the way the best way to cut the diamonds. The machine determines what cut to a large uncut diamond will yield the most small diamonds, which means the most money. Sometimes the machine is not right, but usually it is. Ritani says this is the only laser like it in the city.

This is important work. The machine cost maybe $1 million, but you can lose many millions more through imperfect cuts. The machine looks like an oven, can hold up to 28 diamonds. The cutting takes maybe 20 minutes. Afterward Gestetner color codes all of the diamonds with Sharpie. This is to remind him of which diamonds have already been cut. He adds some Wite-Out to the diamond, too, because the laser may refract and crack the diamond otherwise. The laser is much more expensive, but the operation would collapse without Sharpies and Wite-Out. He smokes an e-cigarette in the room.

When he is done with the diamonds, they go to a room full of men who make smaller and smaller cuts, until the diamonds are the diamonds you will wear. There is a man in the room who sings a gorgeous song in Hebrew. Ritani sells the diamonds on the internet.

The work seems good. But accidents happen. They are “cutting diamonds, not potatoes.” Once a $50 million purple diamond cracked and was only worth $40 million. That was a bad day. But what can you do? You lose some sleep, cut some more diamonds the next day.