The Tolkowsky name is legendary in the diamond business, and synonymous with expertise and precision. The firm bearing its founder's name is still active today, run by the seventh generation of this illustrious family. Over the years, various family ancestors have been responsible for major breakthroughs and innovations in the craft, and have been a part of cutting some of the most important diamonds in the world. The Tolkowsky dynasty began in the early 1800s with Abraham Tolkowsky, who was a talented diamond and precious gem cutter and dealer. He was well connected, and became a recognized diamond dealer to European nobility. He moved his family from Bialystok, Poland to Antwerp to work in what had already become the center of diamond trade in Europe at that time. Several of his nine children would work with him in the family business. His sons Samuel and Maurice would establish themselves as professional diamond cutters, and would eventually carry on the family's growing legacy.
Abraham always stressed the importance of the technical side of their trade to his children. In 1840, Maurice Tolkowsky, along with another famous diamond technician, invented the earliest diamond bruting machine. This would set the stage for the creation of many never-before seen diamond cuts, and would also significantly reduce the amount of time needed to complete a finished stone, while improving rough yields. Maurice's brother Samuel was a founding member and the first elected chairman of the Antwerp Diamond Exchange.
Maurice's nephew Marcel Tolkowsky had learned how to cut diamonds by the time he was nine years old. Later in life, however, he was more inclined towards mathematics and engineering. True to his family's technical traditions, he began to study diamonds from a mathematical perspective. For his 1919 Ph.D. thesis in mathematics at the University of London, he produced a landmark book called Diamond Design. His two-dimensional model was designed to consider the three factors determining light in diamonds: fire, brilliancy, and sparkle.