MAY 2014 – They are nature’s beauty, captured forever like a frozen flower, vibrant and alive. The rarest of gifts.’ Diamond specialist-jeweller Yair Shimansky’s description of coloured diamonds perhaps most succinctly sums up the current global fascination with these most elusive of gemstones.
Yes, diamonds are a girl’s best friend… and these days, the coloured variety are an investor’s and private buyer’s best friend, too, increasingly being seen as more desirable than their clear counterparts. ‘Some natural coloured diamonds have more than tripled in value over the last fi ve years, and are showing no signs of slowing down,’ says Shimansky. A large part of their value lies in their rarity – only one in more than 10 000 diamonds is a genuine, natural ‘fancy’ coloured diamond with an intense, equally distributed hue – but that’s not the whole story.
Certainly, says Shimansky, the big coloured diamonds are fetching stratospheric prices. The stones are holding their value with collectors and investors for reasons ranging from rarity to the desire of wealthy investors to diversify their portfolios with tangible assets as a hedge against volatile equity markets. But, he adds, this is one luxury product where the map doesn’t necessarily match the ground. ‘While a flawless red diamond is the scarcest stone you’ll find [just a one-carat red could set you back a cool US$1-million], it is the pink that are the most coveted,’ he says, explaining that the celebrity affinity for these rose hued beauties is what has earned them top rung on the popularity ladder. Among those celebrities blinkered by rose-coloured glasses is Jennifer Lopez, whose six-carat Harry Winston pink diamond engagement ring – given to her by former fiancé Ben Affleck – is worth over US$3-million. Enrique Iglesias also chose a rose when he proposed to Anna Kournikova – the professional tennis player sports an 11-carat pear-shaped pink-diamond engagement ring that is worth in the region of US$6-million. Victoria Beckham, too, is the owner of a magnificent pink – a 17-carat emerald cut diamond that has pride of place among the many ‘engagement’ rings given to her by David Beckham.
But, while the glamour set may try their very best to obtain the most spectacular pink diamond, their search is, for the most part, in vain. One of the fi nest pinks ever found is the whopping 23.6-carat diamond that sits in the Williamson Brooch, designed by Cartier and given as a wedding gift to Queen Elizabeth II. However, the Queen of England’s flawless pink falls over a carat short of the most expensive jewel ever sold at auction – an intense pink diamond weighing in at 24.78 carats. First sold by prominent US jeweller Harry Winston more than 60 years ago, it was held in a private collection until Laurence Graff OBE, owner of world-renowned Graff Diamonds, bought it for US$45.6-million at a Sotheby’s auction in Geneva in 2010. Now called the Graff Pink, its owner describes the stone as ‘the fi nest pink diamond I have seen in the history of my long career. It is so exceptionally rare, so magnificent, I doubt if there will ever be a pink diamond to compare.’
Graff owns a number of notable coloured diamonds, including the spectacular Wittelsbach Diamond, which he bought in 2008 for £16.4-million. Today, after repolishing, the fancy deep blue diamond weighs 31 carats. Another of his acquisitions is the Windsor Yellows, bought on auction in Geneva in 1987. Formerly owned by the Duchess of Windsor, the pair of fancy yellow pear shape diamonds weigh 51.01 carats and 40.22 carats respectively. Graff also owns the largest square emerald-cut fancy vivid yellow diamond in the world. The 221.81-carat rough diamond was discovered at South African alluvial mine in 2008. Now cut, it weighs 118.08 carats and has been named Delaire Sunrise. None of these, however, quite match up to Graff’s Peacock Brooch, which is priced at US$100-million. It comprises 1 305 diamonds in all, including a number of valuable coloured diamonds that total 120.81 carats. The star of the show is the 20.02-carat pear-shape fancy deep blue diamond centrepiece, which can be detached and worn separately.
There’s no denying then that the current obsession with coloured diamonds has put their investment value in a different league to white diamonds. But how do you value these stones? In contrast to white diamonds – where the entirely colourless are the rarest and clarity is the most important indication of the diamond’s value – with fancy diamonds, the greater the intensity of their hue, the rarer, and more valuable, the stone.
Coloured diamonds are atomically and structurally identical to a clear diamond. Their colour is produced by chemical impurities or structural defects in the crystal lattice work of the stone, introduced when the diamond was formed millions of years ago. Nitrogen produces a yellow and brown colour, while boron gives the stone a blue hue. Green diamonds are caused by natural radiation, while pinks get their colour from changes to the electron structure. Currently there are 27 officially recognised colours, including blue, black, brown, green, orange, pink, purple, red, yellow and white. Brown diamonds are the most common, followed by yellow diamonds, and the latter are only considered valuable if they are especially vibrant. The rarest colours are vivid yellow diamonds, saturated pinks, blues and greens, and reds. Of course, just like white gems, the larger the fancy, the more it is worth. The cut is also key and can influence the colour grade of the diamond and thus raise its value. If the diamond is large and very valuable because of its colour, the manufacturing process – the cutting and polishing – can take months as cutters work to get light through the stone so that it really lives.
When it comes to costing, the fi nest fancies have no set price. Just like fine works of art, their true value is only determined when they’re sold at auction. Research shows that over the past 12 years, coloured diamonds have increased in value by almost 1 000%. The Pink Star, a 59.6-carat oval-cut fancy vivid pink diamond sold at a Sotheby’s Auction in Geneva last November for US$83.2-million. The Orange, a 14.82-carat beauty believed to be the largest fancy vivid orange diamond in the world, was sold by Christie’s in Geneva for US$35.5-million. At US$2.4- million per carat, it was a world-record auction price for a diamond. And as this magazine went to press, a 13.22-carat fancy vivid blue was expected to fetch between US$21-million and US$25-million. The richest source of rare blue diamonds in the world is the Cullinan Mine, situated in the town of Cullinan, 40 kilometres east of Pretoria. The former De Beers Premier Mine, now owned by Petra Diamonds, just this year announced the recovery of a 29.6-carat blue. The mine’s illustrious history has also seen it produce some of the world’s most magnificent diamonds, including the Cullinan in 1905, the Niarchos in 1954, the Taylor-Burton in 1966, the Premier Rose in 1978 and, most recently, the Centenary, in 1986.
With so many quality stones originating in South Africa, it’s no surprise that the country also has some top diamond specialist jewellers. Shimansky has sold numerous famous diamonds to well-known stars, including a 47-carat emerald-cut diamond necklace bought by Hollywood actress Charlize Theron to celebrate her Oscar win in 2004. Yair Shimansky has also opened the Cape Town Diamond Museum next door to his flagship V&A Waterfront showroom, where visitors can view replicas of some of the most famous diamonds discovered in South Africa.
You’ll have to travel to The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, though, to see the world’s most famous blue diamond. Originally called the Tavernier Blue and weighing a staggering 112 carats, it was reportedly mined in India and taken to France by a merchant traveller, who sold it to King Louis XIV. The King had it cut it into a pear shape, nicknamed Le bleu de France. It disappeared during the French Revolution then, years later, resurfaced in the form of a smaller 44.50-carat gem that became known as The Hope Diamond. Reportedly cursed, it was owned by a number of prominent Americans before Harry Winston donated it to the Smithsonian. Also part of the gem collection at the Smithsonian is the famous Tiffany Diamond. The exquisite 128.54-carat fancy is one of the largest yellow diamonds ever discovered and was used in promotional material for Audrey Hepburn’s 1961 classic, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Hepburn was by no means the first to promote a fancy diamond. Marilyn Monroe shot The Moon of Baroda, a 24-carat pear shape canary yellow, to instant stardom when she wore it in a publicity photo shoot. For her efforts, she won an award from the Jewellery Academy, inscribed with the words: To Marilyn Monroe, the best friend a diamond ever had.
With such a history of star appeal, it’s no wonder these dazzling beauties are so sought-after. They’re rare treasures from the earth indeed – and worth celebrating.