Johnny Kneller, an Expert on the Exceptional, Dies at 75

SourcingFeb 01, 2022

Johnny Kneller, an Expert on the Exceptional, Dies at 75

He was a close friend and business partner of Laurence Graff, who described him as “the greatest diamond dealer I have ever known.”

Large-stone expert Johnny Kneller, a lifelong diamantaire and partner of Brian Gutkin and Laurence Graff at Safdico, died Jan. 20 at the age of 75. (Photo courtesy of Yves Alexis)
Antwerp—Johnny Kneller, a man who “lived and breathed diamonds all his life,” succumbed to cancer on Jan. 20.

He was 75.

Kneller was born in 1946 in Prague, then in Czechoslovakia. He was the son of diamond trader who specialized in large stones.

Kneller grew up in Antwerp and followed in his father’s footsteps, eventually becoming an expert on big diamonds and polishing “countless” important rough stones, according to information provided by his son-in-law, Yves Alexis.

This includes the 603-carat Lesotho Promise, the 709-carat Peace Diamond, and the 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona

“He really loved the stones,” Alexis said. “[He loved] the material, to see the color, appreciate the cut, life and sparkle.”

Kneller was also one of the first diamond manufacturers to forge a “true alliance” with an extremely well-known high-end jeweler—Laurence Graff.

The two formed their partnership in the late 1990s, with Kneller bringing the high-end jeweler in as a partner at Safdico, the diamond manufacturing firm Kneller and Brian Gutkin started in the ‘80s. 

In a statement shared with National Jeweler, Graff described Kneller as his best friend and business partner. The two were friends for five decades and traveled the world together for their diamond manufacturing business.

Graff said Kneller was a great partner with a vast, almost unparalleled knowledge of both rough and polished diamonds. 

He had a “uncanny” way of finding exceptional gems, whether rough or polished, that ended up in Graff stores around the world.

Outside of the diamond business, both men also shared an interest in fine art. Graff said while Kneller had knowledge of art history that spanned decades, he was a collector of contemporary pieces.

The two had regular Sunday morning chats about diamond mines, production and manufacturing, as well as what works of art were up for sale. 

“I will miss him immensely,” Graff said. “I loved him as family. A special intellectual, reserved, kind and considerate man, he lived and breathed diamonds all his life. For me, he was the greatest diamond dealer I have ever known.” 

Kneller is survived by his wife, Delly; two daughters, Katya and Julie; and six grandchildren. 

Michelle Graffis the editor-in-chief at National Jeweler, directing the publication’s coverage both online and in print.

The Latest

AuctionsMar 29, 2023
10.57-Carat Purplish Pink Diamond Expected to Sell for $35M+

Sotheby’s will auction the diamond, which it says is “arguably the most significant pink diamond to ever appear at auction,” in June.

MajorsMar 29, 2023
Blue Nile to Close Fulfillment Center, Lay Off Workers

The retailer, recently acquired by Signet Jewelers, will lay off 119 employees in July.

WatchesMar 29, 2023
See All the New Patek Philippe Watches for 2023

The Swiss watchmaker introduced 17 new models at Watches & Wonders Geneva.

Brought to you by
Full Disclosure at Your Fingertips

Distinguishing natural diamonds from laboratory-grown stones – now more available than ever – has been difficult for jewelers. Until now.

MajorsMar 29, 2023
Mark Henry Jewelry Offering Complimentary ‘Masterclass’ on Sales from Peter Smith

As part of the promotion, Smith will share his sales expertise during a 90-minute training session.

Weekly QuizMar 23, 2023
This Week’s Quiz
Test your jewelry news knowledge with this short test.
Take the Quiz
EditorsMar 28, 2023
I’m Enchanted With Parmigiani Fleurier’s Perfect Travel Watch

At Watches & Wonders, the Swiss brand unveiled a follow-up to last year’s Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante.

CollectionsMar 28, 2023
Helzberg’s New Lab-Grown Diamond Collection Earns SCS Certification

The “rêve” collection’s engagement rings and wedding bands are geared toward “sustainability minded customers.”

Brought to you by
Bringing Over 130 Years of Diamond Expertise to Modern Grading

De Beers Institute of Diamonds provides the very best in diamond verification, education and diamond services.

EditorsMar 28, 2023
This New Rolex Day-Date Tells Time … and Affirmations

A new word appears on the dial each day of the week.

IndependentsMar 28, 2023
D.C. Jeweler That Honored 50-Year-Old Gift Certificate Closes

Bensons Jewelers closed for good Feb. 24, impacted in part by the decline in foot traffic downtown since the onset of the pandemic.

MajorsMar 28, 2023
Swarovski Names New GM of North America

Kolja Kiofsky has been with the crystal and jewelry company since 2010.

AuctionsMar 27, 2023
Jewels to Shine in Upcoming ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood Auction

The Kruse GWS Auctions sale will include the replica “Taj Mahal” necklace Elizabeth Taylor made with Avon as well as a costume piece Marilyn Monroe wore.

MajorsMar 27, 2023
Pandora Promotes GM to Chief of Retail Operations

Massimo Basei is moving up, while Chief Commercial Officer Martino Pessina is stepping down.

Events & AwardsMar 27, 2023
Registration Is Open for the HardRock Summit

AGTA GemFair and the Denver Gem & Mineral Show also will have a presence on the show floor.

AuctionsMar 24, 2023
Piece of the Week: The $5.8M Patek Philippe ‘Sky Moon Tourbillon’

Sold by Christie’s Hong Kong, this masterwork of complications now holds the record for most expensive watch ever auctioned online.

FinancialsMar 24, 2023
Movado Predicts Declining Sales Amid ‘Volatile’ Retail Environment

The watch company expects first-quarter sales to fall as much as 15 percent due to inflation and tough comps.

Lab-GrownMar 24, 2023
Lightbox Promotes General Manager to COO

Adam O’Grady, general manager of the Lightbox Lab, has taken on the new role and will report directly to Lightbox CEO Antoine Borde.

WatchesMar 23, 2023
Which Brands Do Watch Enthusiasts Love Most? Chrono24 Takes a Look

The watch marketplace gathered data from 1.3 million collectors, highlighting the most popular timepieces and exploring value appreciation.

GradingMar 23, 2023
GCAL Introduces 8X Cut Grade for Proprietary Cuts

Patented and specialty cuts now can receive an 8X Proprietary Certificate, which can be customized to include a company’s brand and logo.

Events & AwardsMar 23, 2023
Diamonds Do Good Names 2023 Award Recipients

The organization said it will recognize those who exemplify the idea that doing good is good business.

CollectionsMar 22, 2023
Messika’s 2023 Campaign Pairs New Jewelry With Vintage Cars

Kendall Jenner once again is fronting the French brand’s campaign, joined by model and dancer Alton Mason.

Events & AwardsMar 22, 2023
Hari Krishna Exports Hosts Gala Amid UN Water Conference

The CEOs of Signet, Helzberg, and GIA spoke on a water conservation panel, and had lakes named in their companies’ honor.

Policies & IssuesMar 22, 2023
See Kwiat’s Bracelet for World Water Day

Sales of the sleek sterling silver and diamond design will go to nonprofit organization charity: water.

AuctionsMar 21, 2023
Marlene Dietrich’s Van Cleef & Arpels Bracelet Going Up for Auction

Expected to earn up to $4.5 million, the “Jarretière” bracelet is the star of Christie’s “The Magnificent Jewels of Anne Eisenhower” sale.

ColumnistsMar 21, 2023
Squirrel Spotting: Customer Retention Mindset—The New CRM

With jewelry sales coming down from their pandemic highs, retailers need to do all they can to retain existing customers, Peter Smith says.

Events & AwardsMar 21, 2023
ASJRA’s May Conference Examines ‘Iconic’ Jewelry Companies

Jewelry historians, authors, and experts will explore the works of Tiffany & Co., Oscar Heyman, Verdura, and more.

IndependentsMar 21, 2023
Borsheims Executive Jennifer Johnson Retires

Johnson joined the retailer in 1987, establishing its first human resources department.


This site uses cookies to give you the best online experience. By continuing to use & browse this site, we assume you agree to our Privacy Policy