Gemstones: A Girl's Best Friend shows up in a new joint

The most memorable diamond I've ever seen was worn by Parveen, an Iranian woman who sat across from me at a dinner party; it was not large, perhaps barely a half-carat, but I had to ask about it, because the stone showed astonishing brilliance while at the same time shot glints of colour, and displayed both effects not just under overheard halogen, but in the dimmest corner. You could see that discreet size from across the room.

These three qualities are very difficult to cut into one stone so that all are evident. Cutters also think about maximizing the size of the finished product, so it's usually a tradeoff. Her diamond was rare, utter perfection.

Niwaka rings

Her partner had chosen the ring in Japan, at the renowned house Niwaka of Kyoto. I was not surprised: Japan has long been an avid diamond market and the Japanese aesthetic tends toward smaller stones of exceptional quality. 

Readers who appreciate diamonds know about the 4Cs, and also that for ages, diamond prices were regulated by a cartel. In the last twenty or so years, De Beer's dominion has waned, but pressure to keep prices up continues; no one in the industry wants to turn gem-grade diamonds into commodities.

Buyers are averse to "blood" or "conflict" diamonds, and vendors scramble to offer acceptable product. I recently cautioned a blogger who entered an affiliation with well-known Internet brand "because of their ethics" to be careful. Any "certified fair trade" diamonds sourced from Africa should be viewed with skepticism; the vaunted Kimberly Accord process has been proven flawed.

In a short Salon article, "The myth of conflict-free diamonds", Katie McDonough summarizes the complexities and links to a full report in Foreign Policy (registration required to read). McDonough's last word is "buy synthetic", but it isn't mine, because of how badly even the costliest CZs wear in a ring or bracelet—but for earrings, sims offer a carefree alternative.

You have two options for wearing the gem with a clean conscience: buy Canadian such as Canadamark, or choose the new lab-grown diamonds, like those from the Diamond Foundry. Canadian diamonds are mined in Nunavit, in the conventional way, but Diamond Foundry (and at least eight competitors) make them in labs.

Diamond Foundry, one of CNBC's Top 50 Disruptors of 2016, call their stones "real diamonds" because the earth's process is replicated in their plasma reactors. They are neither CZ nor moissanite (whose sellers often attach the term "lab-created" to their ads, too). You can read about the process here.

That's only part of the picture; cut is king. Diamond Foundry's home page refers to "living legends of the diamond industry" as creators of their cuts, and stewards. Who knows who actually cuts your diamond, but it isn't essential. See the stone, see if it sings like Parveen's.

Prices for DF loose diamonds run around 20-25% lower than those listed by well-known online vendors, and less compared to high-end branded diamonds, though I have compared only a few popular cuts and sizes.  

The DF site features some enticing, innovative design by artisans who create pieces set with the diamond of your choice, from tiny to titanic. The styles are alluring compared to the usual fussy baubles and manufactured crap product featured by online diamond jewellers.

April Higashi on Diamond Foundry
If you chose the elegant silver and 18k yellow gold bracelet by April Higashi, you'd pay $US 1, 650 for the setting, then select the diamond you want for an additional fee. I will take a .5ct G VS1 for $1, 377 and la-di-da.

I would love to order a DF stone and take it to the diamond merchants where I work for their assessment, but it would be costly because of nonrefundable customs fees and the hit I'd take on currency exchange for the return. But my knickers are in a twist to get the scoop; if you own a Diamond Foundry stone or if you're a jeweller working with the product, please comment with your take. You can also see DF diamonds at selected stores, presently only in California, but I expect the network to grow.

Meanwhile, industry blogs and press are playing it close to the spangled vest, using descriptors like "atomically identical to their earth-forged counterparts", and emphasizing the benefits of a worry-free twinkler. No one is asking, "But wait, are these diamonds good value? Will the price drop like the iPod's? In ten years, will we indeed have diamonds on the soles of our shoes?"

If I had my sample DF stone (this round 1.03 ct. G colour VS2 clarity, Very Good cut) I would ask Isaac the diamondaire to assess Diamond Foundry's quality and price, $US 5, 290 compared to Blue Nile's similar stone for about $1, 000 more). I would ask, Will lab-created diamonds hold their value? Would it be wiser to drop another grand on the mined diamond, or to take the discount now?

And while at it, I'd order an assortment of cuts, colours and sizes of both types to see if he could sort the mined and lab stones accurately. Or is it indeed, as DF's website says, "a diamond is a diamond is a diamond"?

The lab-grown feature would have to be disclosed if you sell the diamond—but, since they are so new, would they be even desirable on the resale market? I can't find anyone's opinion on record, but I'm sure the dealers are talking about it.

The appreciation of a one-carat or less, good to very grade diamond isn't significant, so don't buy one mainly as an investment, and remember that in time, diamonds show wear, which affects value.

Big blue record-setter
Investment diamonds do exist; they are finest-quality large stones, and if you really want to go for it, of fancy colour. Last May, Christie's sold the Oppenhemier Blue shown above to a private collector for over $57M, setting the world record for most expensive jewel sold at auction.

We knew of a Florida company whose marketed big, fine coloured diamonds to clients who wanted highly liquid assets that could be carried easily; you figure out who that proposition attracts. An investor can even buy PinkCoin, a kind of deluxe Bitcoin backed by coloured diamonds.

A middle road is the purchase of secondhand diamonds, from a reputable vendor. Yes, who knows where and how the stones were mined, back then? Like dating a person with some history, you just have to choose to accept what you get now.  Honest dealers will disclose the provenance if they know it. (Not always so at auctions; read my two-part post, if shopping those.)  

At Beladora, Nancy Revy and her team will give you the straight goods, provide an opportunity for you to try on your piece, and help you make a decision if you can't pick. Here are two standouts from each end of the price range.
Stepping out!
First, a 2ct step-cut E ring (and the E colour really shows in this cut, because the light doesn't bounce around as it would in a brilliant) surrounded by baguettes. The ring is not one for my lifestyle or budget, but I had to show you. (Price, $24, 500; comes with GIA certification.)
Deco posh pinky
I would, though, wear an Art Deco (ca. 1920) platinum-set diamond pinky ring, tomorrow. The total weight is only .50ct, and the small diamonds, because of the cutting style back then, will not be as brilliant as modern ones, but I prefer a piece that echoes the charm of the era. The price is $2, 400.

As Marilyn Monroe sang, "Square-cut or pear shape, those rocks don't lose their shape." Here is a look at mine (ring, not shape, you minx!)

Victorian heirloom 
This is a Victorian (ca. 1910) cluster ring of diamonds surrounded by onyx, old mine cuts that flash fire over a hundred years later. I hope the piece will be worn (not too soon) by some wonderful young woman in our family, perhaps not yet born, in her time during the hundred years to come.














6 comments

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

I do love a diamond and have several rings and two pairs of studs.
Your posts are always so informative and I always take away a nugget of knowledge when I read them.

The studs are half a carat each from Japan VVS1, sparkles like they are on fire...I never knew that Japan had such a love of quality stones and even the appraisal is in Japanese!
Canadian diamonds are very popular and I like that they are ethically mined...one of my rings is from the Art Deco period and it might be a blood diamond...but I feel no guilt wearing it... like the fur coat my Great Aunt Tirzah gave me from the 1940's.

LauraH said...

Such an interesting post. Although not in the market for diamonds, mined or lab grown, I was fascinated by the details and information you included along with those lovely pieces. Have to say your ring is the knock out, love the striking contrast of the onyx band, I've never seen anything like that...stunning.

Mardel said...

I have long harbored complexly mixed feelings on diamonds. May never suss it out completely. I am intrigued by the information you provided. And your ring is lovely.

Duchesse said...

Mardel: I have always liked diamonds, but my admiration depends on many factors, and jewellery design is paramount. I dislike the marketing hype that tries to cast them as requisites for certain milestones. And I'm pleased that now, with Canadian diamonds (and possibly these lab-grown ones), the ethical concerns are removed.

Lynn L said...

I understand the terrible issues with blood diamonds, and I am so glad that I inherited rings that have been used for engagement rings by both sons so we avoided that concern. They were probably not ethically mined, but after 100 years I can't feel guilty. But are there similar issues with other gems? I would really like a small pair of emerald earrings, but have held off not only due to cost but also concern about mining.

Duchesse said...

Lynne L: In a word, yes; see this article for a summary:
http://www.cntraveler.com/stories/2011-09-09/gem-mining-ethical-issues-smart-shopping

See also Brilliant Earth's statement about the source of its emeralds:
http://www.brilliantearth.com/ethical-green-emeralds/