Friday, November 23, 2007
I discovered my calling by happenstance. In the summer of 1970, I was standing on a street corner in London with a few days to kill before returning to college in the Midwest.
Some kid walked up and asked me if I was an American too, and what should we do today. I had no idea. He said let’s go see the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels.
No argument from me. I was clueless that it would make such an impact on me. I think the Tower was free, but I’m sure we had to pay and queue to see the jewels. Turns out we saved the best for last.
First we saw creepy cold dungeons, miles of armaments and chain mail, then gold and silver beyond belief. A few hours of history lessons later, three stories underground in a huge cylindrical vault, pie-sectioned behind glass, there they were.
No pictures were allowed. And, you had to keep moving. If you wanted to stand and gawk you could only do so from about 4 feet away over the heads of passersby. Or, you could pass by once more and then, bye-bye.
I recall being totally wowed. The Cullinan I blasted huge rainbows on all of us, shining beams of colored light up to the ceiling. It was cut from the biggest rough diamond crystal ever found in the world.
They say it was the size of a grown mans fist. Over 3,000 carats in the rough, and its rumored that parts of it are yet unfound. A legendary diamond - from the best source in South Africa, cut by Joseph Asscher the world's most renowned cutter.
Even though the rough was cut into over a dozen gems, the Cullinan I remained as the world's biggest diamond. Its sister the Cullinan II was not much smaller. Today, both these Cullinan’s remain as the star attractions of Queen Elizabeth’s entire collection.
What do you suppose the Cullinan is worth?
The Cullinan was found in the ground in a mine. I’d guess that finding this size diamond was in nobody’s plans when they started that mine. After all, diamonds that size were completely unheard of.
The mine probably would've kept on going, even if they’d never found this diamond. So let’s just call this particular diamond’s cost zero – chalk it up to good fortune, blind luck, a push, a gimme.
Then it was given to the King. I don't know the details, but it’s a safe bet that the mining company got some kind of quid pro quo. Why trade something for nothing?
The King commissioned Asscher who reputedly received 15% of the total finished weight, in the form of the smallest diamonds – as his share in kind.
Then the jewels were painstakingly set by His Majesty’s jewelers with enumerable other precious gemstones - such as the infamous Black Prince Ruby - into the Queen’s crown and other accouterments.
I see a pattern. No money changes hands. Nobody ever places a value on this thing. So what’s it all worth?
To me the Cullinan is absolutely one-of-a-kind, head-of-its-class, best-in-show, and beyond-the-pale. In the diamond world, it doesn’t get any bigger and better – physically or meta-physically.
If diamonds have any value at all, then the Cullinan I alone – a colorless, only slightly included diamond that weighs well over 500 carats – ought to be worth a freaking fortune. Its even shaped like a nest egg.
But, nobody is selling and nobody is buying.
Is it priceless or is it worthless?
Who could afford it anyhow?
If priced too high nobody will want to buy it. If the price goes any lower its an insult to the Throne.
If you had the Cullinan in your hand, what do you think you could get for it? Nothing. In fact, maybe less than nothing. Its history is set in the British Crown.
The value of it all still intrigues me.
Friday, November 16, 2007
What is the meaning and value of something "similar"?
When I think of valuable art, I always think of Picasso. He’s the most famous and prolific artist in my lifetime. He shares my birthday. And, he’s even interesting from a diamond cutter's point of view.
You see, Gabi Tolkowsky almost has me convinced that Pablo invented Cubism only after seeing the fabulous Cullinan's faceted worldview in his own minds eye.
In any case, Picasso made a fortune in his own lifetime. That’s almost unheard for an artist. Sure, Van Goghs go for millions today, but Vincent couldn’t afford the rent if you know what I mean.
Pablo on the other hand made plenty of dough and was a big celebrity, a living legend.
I actually saw him interviewed on a TV special about forgery, in particular art forgery. In fact, fake Picasso’s. It seems a certain big time museum owns a Picasso that a self-confessed art swindler swears is really a fake.
Big conundrum: Professional Experts versus Professional Thief. Who can you believe these days?
So they asked Picasso. And he said, “How would I know? I’ve made piles of art. It’s all over the world. Some of it is signed and some of it not. I can’t remember all of it”.
Then he added, “If it was sold as a Picasso and taken as the real deal, then that's what it is. Why interfere?”
I think its fair to say that the difference in value between “similar to” let alone “same as” were teetering on a very fine line in this case.
But, you know as well as I do that it would have been humungous!
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
What's the difference in value between a
One Dollar Bill and a $100 Bill?
Both of them are printed on the same weight paper of the same dimensions, using the same ink in the same colors that won't bleed, made at the same locations by the same people, who speak the same language, earn the same wages, and pay the same damn taxes.
Both bills are backed by the same government with Zero hard assets. The only discernible difference between the $1 bill and the $100 is two extra zeroes. You'd think they'd have absolutely the same value.
You'd be very wrong!
In fact, no matter what price the US Dollar may command in foreign capital markets, whether recklessly high or dangerously low, the $100 dollar bill is precisely 100X more valuable than a $1 bill!!!
You can take that to the bank!
But, WHY? They are exactly the same thing!!!
Sort of. While there doesn't seem to be any tangible difference between these same-in-every-material-way pieces of paper, there is indeed a vast difference in their use and value.
Some may say its all based on illusion, only attributable to massive self-delusion and major marketing efforts. But, I doubt its quite that simple.
I'd argue that it's because the US Dollar is an extremely successful Brand. There is great value in the fact that people agree on its power and integrity.
One thing I know is certain. Its guaranteed that if you collect the whole set you'll become a very rich person. Living a very satisfied life. And, its all based on TRUST. It says so in writing - right there on the back.
Last time I checked TRUST was just one of many non-quantifiable "emotional" values. Go figure.
So let me ask you this... what do you suppose is the real value of "similar to"?
Monday, August 27, 2007
It's always important to understand the meaning of peculiar trade jargon. The following list simply defines some common diamond terminology.
American Gem Society (AGS)
American Gem Society (AGS) is an association of independent retail jewelers and suppliers that is dedicated to proven ethics, knowledge and consumer protection.
American Gem Society Laboratories (AGSL)
Established in 1996, the AGSL is the leading gemological laboratory renowned for specializing in diamonds and setting the highest standard for cut grading.
Bar Channel Setting
In a bar channel setting, individual metal bars separate each gemstone. To lock a gem in place, the metal is molded around it.
In a bezel setting, a metal rim secures a gemstone in place by the girdle. The bezel setting guards the gemstone from damage, yet does not block light from entering the top of the stone and creating brilliance.
Total brightness of light reflected from the surface and from within a diamond.
Commonly referenced as the size of a diamond, carat is actually a standard unit of measure that defines the weight of a diamond. One carat is equivalent to 200 milligrams. Two diamonds of the same carat weight may appear to be different sizes depending on how well the diamond is cut. Diamonds cut to retain precious extra weight are usually smaller in diameter than a well cut diamond of the same weight.
The center stone is the central, dominant stone in a piece of jewelry with multiple stones.
In a channel setting, ridges in the metal create a channel to hold the gemstones in place.
Gemstones are frequently sent to a laboratory for independent grading and verification against a master set of gemstones according to industry-wide guidelines.
A characteristic that makes every diamond unique is the inclusion of tiny traces of other elements or gasses that may have been trapped inside at the time the diamond was formed. These inclusions are nature's fingerprints and each diamond's birthmark. The clarity scale measures the number, size and location of these within a diamond. The most valuable and rare designation is flawless (FL).
Many diamonds appear colorless, but may actually contain very faint traces of yellow or brown. The less color a diamond has the rarer and more valuable it is. The color scale describes the degree of body color, from D (completely colorless) to Z (dark - but not fancy colored).
The crown is the area of a gemstone above the circumference – including the table, eight main facets and twentyfour brilliant facets. Light is projected to the observer through the crown in the form of brilliance, fire, and sparkle.
The culet is the tiny facet at the point of the pavilion, or bottom, of a diamond. The culet is used by cutters to center all faceting of a diamond as well as to protect the point.
Cut refers to the shape, style and finish of a diamond. The quality of the cut determines how well a diamond will reflect and refract light. The more perfectly cut – the more brilliance, fire and sparkle.
All percentage measurements are based on the diameter of the gemstone being 100%. The depth percentage is simply the height of a gemstone, measured from the culet to the table, divided by its diameter.
The flat polished surfaces on a gemstone. These surfaces act as both windows and mirrors in a diamond – allowing light to pass through and/or reflect. A round, brilliant-cut diamond has 58 facets.
The quality of each facets polish and symmetry, the condition of its girdle, and the overall precision of the cut determine a diamond’s finish.
The spectral colors of light reflected and refracted from within a diamond through its crown. Fire is maximized by cutting all 58 facets of a round brilliant diamond to the correct proportions.
Some diamonds glow when exposed to ultraviolet light. This is often very faint blue, but may occur in other colors. Subtle fluorescence that is not visible under normal light conditions does not affect the value of a diamond.
Gemological Institute of America (GIA)
GIA is the leading educational institution in the jewelry industry.
Gemological Institute of America – Gem Trade Lab (GIA-GTL)
An independent gemological lab recognized as a top authority on grading all types of gemstones.
The girdle is the thin band around the circumference or widest portion of the diamond. This edge is secured in jewelry settings and protects the diamond from damage.
A head is the part of a mounting that sets and holds the stone in place.
Head Size Range
The carat weight range of a gemstone that can be mounted into a setting's head.
Inclusions are trace minerals, fractures, and other characteristics that make up the unique internal fingerprint of a gemstone. Inclusions are created during the gem’s formation within the Earth.
Kimberley Process (KP)
The United Nations, all diamond-producing countries and non-governmental have adopted an international agreement known as the Kimberley Process (KP) to prevent traffic in “conflict” diamonds. Over 99% of the world’s rough diamonds are documented with Certificates of Origin to ensure that they come from conflict-free sources.
This term describes the absence of cross-graining or included crystals within a diamond. Diamonds have 12 polishing grains formed in an octahedron. You can only polish across one at a time to achieve adamantine finish. If the grains are crossed, twisted or knotted, then achieving a superlative polish becomes impossible.
The first two numbers of a diamond’s measurement represent its maximum and minimum diameter in millimeters. The third number represents the depth of the diamond from its culet to its table.
The pavilion is the bottom portion of a diamond, which extends from the girdle to the culet. In a classic round brilliant the pavilion consists of eight main and sixteen brilliant facets.
Polish is the term that describes the external finish of a gemstone. Because diamonds are the hardest substance known, they are capable of taking the highest level of polish known as adamantine. Poorly polished diamonds do not achieve this level of finish.
In a prong setting, metal prongs are cut to fit the diamond's girdle, and then pushed securely down over the gem’s crown facets.
Proportions are the set of measurements used to describe the various angles and percentages of a finished gem diamond. They define the footprint of the diamond relative to its size. It is well known that very particular proportions create the best visual results in a diamond.
Round Brilliant Cut
Round is the shape with the highest degree of symmetry. That is why round diamonds have always been considered top performers. The brilliant cut has 58 facets. This cut makes the best possible use of light for utmost brilliance, fire and sparkle.
Commonly called "sparkle" - and known scientifically as dynamic contrast brilliance - scintillation refers to the tiny flashes of light when the diamond, the light source, or the observer moves. Scintillation is affected by the number, size, and position of all facets, as well as the quality of their polish.
A piece of jewelry that is set with only one gemstone is often referred to as a solitaire. The gemstone itself is also often referred to as a solitaire.
Symmetry describes the overall shape of a diamond as well as the alignment, shape and positioning of all its facets. Perfect symmetry greatly enhances a diamond’s ability to reflect and refract light.
System of Warranties (SoW)
In order to curb any potential for illicit trade in diamonds passing through troubled areas, a System of Warranties ensures that KP diamonds cannot be tampered with during transit. A written statement must accompany diamonds and diamond jewelry, to guarantee they are from legitimate sources.
The table is the largest facet of the diamond, located directly on the top. The table is the window through which we see most of a diamonds magic.
The width of the table divided by the diameter of the diamond gives us the table percentage.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
A jeweler named Solomon used to say something that I thought was very wise...
"If you wear nice jewelry you'll look better, if you look better you'll feel better, if you feel better you'll enjoy your life more, if you enjoy life more you'll be healthier, and if you're healthier you'll live longer."
You do the math.
Saturday, June 30, 2007
To be beautiful a diamond must be bright, colorful and sparkle like crazy - period the End.
The best cut diamonds balance all three factors. If one predominates, then the other two will suffer or simply go away in our visual perception. When all three are equal, then and only then - we'll see them all. That's the nature of the human eye.
We can isolate and feature any factor by controlling the light source. Whether our lighting is by candle, bulbs or the Sun, the visual impact depends entirely on the focus and intensity of that light.
Candlelight is superb. Its low-level "pinpoint" flicker highlights all three of the factors of diamond beauty at the same time. It dramatizes diamond's capacity to return more light than anything else in the room - brightness. Its tiny flame fuels distinct separation of light into highly visible spectral prisms - colorfulness. Its motion excites sparkle.
It may seem counter intuitive, but a great way to show-off brightness is actually on an overcast day - intense very highly diffused light. The diamond will appear bathed in soft light - reflected back to your eye in a bright and soothing manner. Such lighting masks both prismatic effect and sparkle.
It's equally ironic that my favorite place to reveal all the colors of the rainbow in a diamond is under a shade tree on a clear and sunny day - intense multiple pinpoints of light. Each drop of light that rains between the leaves, will display its own visibly distinct rainbow in the diamond. As the wind blows, the dancing leaves stimulate dramatic sparkle.
As for direct sunlight, I've been taught to avoid it like the plague – it’s too intense and obnoxious. Direct sunlight causes overexposure. That's why they invented sunscreen and Ray Bans!
Put a diamond in direct sunlight and it'll hit your eye with the intensity of a flashbulb. I'm not lying. Don't stare or your eyes and brain will go ape. Close-up the glare will block a clear and distinct view of your diamonds performance. But I guarantee you, at arms length you'll catch amazing flashes of color and brightness that can be overwhelming.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
“Performance” is the newest buzz word in diamonds. Literally, it's what the diamond is supposed to do. It should come as no surprise that it already means different things to different people.
Does performance matter to you? It certainly should. To me, that’s what it’s all about.
Cutters and connoisseurs have been trying to quantify diamond beauty for a long time. It's not easy - perhaps next to impossible. Quantity and Quality don't generally share the same axis on any of the graphs I've ever seen.
After years of research, the GIA developed a very complex set of metrics to simply define the building blocks of beauty in a round brilliant diamond – brilliance, dispersion, and scintillation. The AGS continues to advance their performance-based methodology by also modelling the variants of beauty in fancy-shaped diamonds.
Both of these labs independently discovered that any given diamond’s “performance” is not constant. Significant changes occur just by moving the diamond or by subtle shifts in lighting conditions. Even the pupil-size, shoulder-width and clothing of the viewer can make a noticeable difference.
Not to be out-done, entrepreneurs have already brought to market various counter-top machines designed to analyze and compare diamonds based on their “performance”. Computerized snapshots delivered by these sales tools are still subject to interpretation. Despite their obvious g-wiz factor, there is honest disagreement over the validity of each tools ability to accurately define diamond beauty.
Lucky for us that beauty isn't purely scientific – it’s still an expression of art. Mere words and pictures may never convey the full magic of diamonds. To prove it to yourself, simply go look at some diamonds!!!
You will discover that diamonds do indeed “perform”! They are natural light shows. The best cut diamonds are dynamic works of art – literally 3D motion pictures. They are marvels to behold.
When you put such a diamond on its proper stage – adorning her – it will brighten up her life. It will dance in every light! It will twinkle like a little star! It will radiate all the colors of the rainbow! If you open up your heart and mind, it may even sing your special song of love!
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Rule #3 - If you want to buy a diamond you should apply the following two rules.
Rule #1 - To appreciate the value of diamonds, you have to actually look at them.
Rule #2 - To understand the full value of a diamond, you have to know what to look for.
I've devoted my professional life to adding-value to that precious and uniquely mysterious gemstone called diamond - first as a cutter and teacher, then as a brander of superlative craftsmanship and performance.
It literally breaks my heart whenever I think that short-term greed might seriously undermine the value of the collective efforts of an entire trade.
On-line sellers are clearly not adding-value to diamonds! The prevailing “internet model" of selling diamonds is far from being new; it's probably one of the oldest and simplest forms of business behavior we know. Its called taking a free ride.
After the creators, innovators, entrepreneurs and other honest hard-working folks have made a product and brought it to market; they are very often blind-sided by disingenuous free-loaders who proudly proclaim an ability to do the "same thing cheaper".
How hard is that? Especially after a large supporting cast has already done the real job of creating desire: supplying, educating, romancing, selling and satisfying the customer. I finally have to call it like I see it… BS!
The Internet rewards unfair competition. Caveat emptor, "similar to" is not the "same as"!! Most on-line diamond sellers do not research, produce, or build new standards, products, or markets.
Diggers literally sweat diamonds out of the ground. Cutters and manufacturers develop the newest technologies and practices. Jewelers maintain necessary inventories, showrooms and professional staff to properly show and sell diamonds to an otherwise under-served public. The major gemological labs, supported by independent retailers and their customers, verify the highest standards of quality.
On-line sellers that do not maintain "bricks and mortar" businesses are merely padding their pockets by riding the coat tails of all the "middlemen" listed above and then cutting them out of the equation.
If you ask me, the cyber-bandits are syphoning off an unearned portion of the market’s wealth. They don’t own the diamonds they list for sale, nor do they share other typical costs of business such as bearing an equal burden of taxation.
The bottom-line is that every diamond they discount directly devalues all existing and future diamonds.
No one benefits but them.
We are all in the diamond business together... diggers, cutters, jewelers and consumers alike. That's right. It's precisely why every time the value of diamonds is threatened it's a disservice to all of us. We are collectively robbed of the fruits of our labors and investments. Quite simply, when the price of diamonds goes down, everyone who already owns one suffers and those who may wish to find more diamonds or create prettier diamonds are further discouraged.
I firmly believe that diamonds are still too cheap! Think about it, those controversial "blood diamonds" might never have emerged if revenues from legitimate trade in diamonds were large enough to support adequate and sustainable jobs, governance and services in the world's diamond-producing countries.
Understanding value. The pricing of diamonds has long been commoditized, based on the 4C's - color, clarity, carat weight and cost. These are all the factors that tell you the features of what a diamond is. And that’s the information that goes on most certificates.
But, now we know it’s all about what a diamond does. The latest buzzword is "performance". That's the benefit of exceptional cutting. Think about it this way – no horse trader would ever buy a thoroughbred sight unseen and then only by the pound! No way. He’d want a horse that he can see winning the race!
The only reason to cut a diamond at all is to make it look more beautiful!!! If that weren't so, we'd all just buy our diamonds in the rough because that would be the biggest bang for our buck. Wouldn't it?
Its now perfectly well understood that the best cut diamonds make the color look better, the clarity look better, and the size even look bigger because they shine from edge-to-edge with the most brightness and fire.
How can anyone properly judge a diamond's value without seeing it first as well as comparing it - up close and personal - to others?
Thursday, May 24, 2007
I’ve been traveling a lot lately, from sea to shining sea. So, this morning I had the good fortune of waking up to a gorgeous mountain view of Honolulu complete with a world-class rainbow.
Slowly emerging from a drowsy jet lag, I was reminded to get back to my favorite part of the story about the colors associated with diamonds – the seven visible colors of the light spectrum – our good friend Roy G. Biv from grade school – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.
As I said, the 4C’s tell us what a diamond is. What is less obvious is what a diamond does.
Until very recently, certificates and grading reports only described the physical features of a diamond. The advent of new “performance” based diamond quality analysis now tells us the direct benefits of certain cutting styles and standards.
The reason we cut diamonds at all is to enhance their beauty – literally to make them shine.
In antiquity if a rough crystal was a certain shape, the cutter delivered a finished diamond of roughly (sic) the same shape. It was more shiny and smaller after being cut and polished, but his goal was always to keep it as big as possible.
We can only imagine the penalties suffered by cutters who delivered diamonds that were deemed too small, because even the most important diamonds were cut by unheralded masters who remain un-named to this day.
It is no small irony that the world’s museums are full of examples of diamonds cut expressly to “save weight” – domes, egg-shapes, flats, lozenges, cushions, and the like. Very few round diamonds, that’s for sure.
Today we know that round diamonds produce the best results in terms of light performance, quite simply because rounds have the highest level of symmetry. It’s a physical fact that all diamond shapes with lesser degrees of symmetry will “leak” some precious light.
Yet, the battle still rages over whether or not to compromise beauty for extra weight. Quality versus quantity. Its an age-old dichotomy.
What is meant by light performance? I'm not just talking about light return. But, I'm also not suggesting that it's rocket science either. Simply put, in order to be beautiful a diamond must be bright and colorful and sparkle like crazy. More importantly, these three elements of beauty should be well-balanced.
Like most elegant equations it's relatively simple, but like most mathematics it can get pretty tricky. If a diamond is too bright and sparkly, it will not be colorful enough. If it is too colorful it will not be bright enough. If it is too sparkly it will become fuzzy.
We’ve been taught to think diamonds should be white (as in body color) and bright and sparkly. What happens when we see colors of the rainbow? We are led to believe the diamond looks too dark. But, we now know that the best cut diamonds have the ability to transform clear light into its component parts - brightness, sparkle and a blazing display of rainbows.
This brings me to,
Rule #2 - In order to appreciate the full value of a diamond, you have to know what to look for.
Monday, May 14, 2007
I’ve been talking about colorless and near colorless diamonds – those tinted by the more common colors. I also said that diamonds can come in almost every other color of the rainbow. These are called fancy colors.
Until recently fancy colored diamonds have been traded or held only by aficionados, brokers and connoisseurs. These diamonds are extremely rare. Even in the lightest shades – think G color – a pale blue, pink, green, and/or violet can command astronomical prices.
For the average consumer, only the intense and vivid yellows and cognac browns are remotely affordable. Even the brown-series pinks are so rare that the Argyle Mine in Australia has an invitation-only tender for less than 100 stones per year. Less than 1/10th of 1% of Argyle’s diamonds are pinkish and production is dwindling – diamonds are a non-renewable resource.
Collectors are still the primary market for all the fanciest colors. Purples are so rare, that there is virtually no data available on them because their owners have kept them such a well-guarded secret. There are only a handful of known reds. Almost ten years ago a 0.95 ct brick-red diamond sold at auction for $1,000,000 per carat. That is still a ton of money.
As much as I’d like to say that the fancy colored diamond marketplace is all about the rarity of the color, it’s always a big mistake to think that supply is the only determinant of price.
Another factor affecting price is demand – or in this case I’d like to call it taste. For example, to the best of my knowledge pink diamonds are rarer than blue ones. But, pink – especially pale pink – just doesn’t look very good next to most people’s skin. It looks washed out. On the other hand (sic), blue looks stunning, and it is often thought of as royal. So, blues sell more quickly and for more money.
And, then there are the bragging rights. Years ago a fancy color diamond broker told me that the major buyers of his diamonds were mostly from the Persian Gulf. Blue was the super hot ticket. Blue was the color of that rarity we call water. Blue had historical and religious meaning. But, if the blue diamond wasn’t big enough – let’s say only 5 carats – then it simply wasn’t noteworthy of collecting. Ironically, no one else in the world could afford them, so these gorgeous diamonds went begging for quite some time.
Whether colored, near-colorless, or colorless – we’re still talking about what a diamond is. But these days, the story is all about what a diamond does… stay tuned.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
If you think defining and describing colorless has been hard, just wait until you take up the rest of the alphabet. It's fun, but it can get tricky.
Did you ever sit there and think to yourself, I’m going to spruce up my life, I’m going to paint my mailbox G, drive me a big old G color car, in my G color suit, wearing a G-wiz watch, thinking I’m a G-man!?
I doubt it, because G is not a color. It is a degree of not being colorless.
Thanks to modern gemology D E F are now classified as colorless, G H I J are called near colorless, the range between each letter grade gets broader as we go down the scale to Z. It's really pretty simple.
Remember, I was talking about the more common diamond colors - yellow, brown and grey? Any of these can be graded G if the tint is slight enough to fall within a range. That means some G’s might “warm” the ice, and others may look a wee bit “tan”. That’s OK. But it can seem confusing, especially when you’ve been thinking that your choice is between White vs. Yellow. It gets more obtuse when people start trying to compare colors on certificates.
Now we know that all G’s aren’t the same, even if they're graded by the same grader. If we take the same G around to several independent laboratories, then what do you suppose might happen? I'm guessing the chance for differences of opinion would go up.
No matter what anybody says though, every single expert I ever met agrees that the only way to know what you like is to go look at some diamonds (refer to Rule #1 below).
In order to appreciate the value of diamonds you have to actually look at them!!!
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
What is the best color?
The “best” is the benchmark for any classification system. Ironically, in diamonds the best color is no color. Not just because it’s very rare. For us it symbolizes purity – literally and figuratively.
Diamond is pure carbon. Any color in a diamond is the result of minute differences in original crystal formation. For instance, when traces of nitrogen enter the mix, it makes yellow. And when the crystal lattice is mis-aligned it produces browns.
Colorless is pure. It is in a class of its own.
A short aside on the value of the best...
In the 1970’s the world’s economy experienced shocks like gas-rationing, 18% prime interest rates, $900+ per oz gold, and $65,000 for a one carat “D” color flawless diamond… at wholesale!
That’s right, $65,000 per carat for a one carat. By 1980, after things settled down, that same diamond sold for $15,000. Ouch! Some speculators really got hurt. But that’s still 3X the price it sold for in 1975. For most folks, holding on to their diamonds was a good thing.
For US jewelers the run up in prices was a market on fire - a time to cash in. High-end diamonds that had been stocked for years started fetching unheard of prices when sold as “collectables” to money managers and speculators.
The rules of the game changed very quickly. Investors demanded only the best – D E F colors, Flawless to VS in clarity, one carat and above. This required independent verification. The GIA blossomed overnight. Every diamond that was even remotely close to the best got certified! The very best got sold right away.
Meanwhile back at the family store, the best jewelers had to offer Joe Q. Public was a G, SI1, one carat. Sound familiar? It should. That’s been the sweet spot of the “best deal” for diamonds ever since.
Starting in 1980 - for over 25 years - your local jeweler has been telling everyone who will listen that “you can’t see the difference by eye” especially when the diamond is mounted so “why pay more?”
Is it any wonder that people now believe that's what they really want?
Monday, May 7, 2007
There are two very distinct types of color associated with diamonds.
The first, which is what most often comes to mind when you look at a diamond, is the color of the diamond itself. I like to think of this color as what the diamond is.
The other, which is what distinguishes the best cut diamonds, is the rainbow of spectral colors as light exits the diamond. Think of that as what the diamond does.
What color is a diamond?
Interestingly enough diamonds actually come in almost all colors of the rainbow. They can be blacker than coal to colorless as pure water – from opaque to crystal clear. Each color has a certain degree of rarity in nature, and to a great extent that is reflected in its value.
Our tastes and preferences for color also dramatically affect a diamond’s real value. Diamonds are especially prized when they are colorless. The extent to which otherwise colorless diamonds show any amount of the 3 most common colors – namely yellow, brown and grey – decreases their appeal and value to us. When these colors are intense, however, it is an entirely different story. More on that later.
As you might expect various systems emerged to describe diamond colors.
I first learned the old-time miner’s language that included terms like the top-color being called “Jaeger”, short for the Jaegersfontein Mine in South Africa that produced the highest percentage of these lusted after diamonds. There were also colors called Wesselton and Premier, for similar reasons.
South Africa was known as the Cape (of Good Hope). The truth is that diamonds from the entire region tend toward yellow, so “Cape” became synonymous with yellow in a diamond. Further clarification included illusionary modifiers like “top-silver”, which described a diamond that “faced-up” silver-ish rather than white from the top.
To make a long story shorter, after a series of retail methods failed to consistently classify even the best color, first as A Quality, then AA Quality, then AAA, then AAAA, approaching ad infinitum, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) finally adopted “D” as their top color choice on lab reports. They reasoned that it sounded “scientific” and that no self-respecting salesman would ever stoop to such language.
That’s not exactly what happened next…
Thursday, May 3, 2007
I just returned from the American Gem Society’s annual Conclave. It’s a great time for re-energizing, visiting old friends, making new acquaintances, and especially learning about the latest news in and around our trade.
The emphasis is always on basic and continuing education. The AGS is the only organization I know of in the industry that requires all its members to take a re-certification exam every year to be in good standing.
This year’s theme was “Take the Vow” – directly linking romance and jewels. That may seem like a no-brainer, until you consider that jewelry can fulfill our basic needs as well as our most frivolous desires and extravagant luxury fantasies.
Admittedly, I’m a glutton for all the “technical” information and forums, but I’m increasingly curious about why diamonds in particular command the greatest and most enduring overall appeal of all gemstones.
On one hand, are we so strongly bonded to the physical material itself, just because of all its superlative properties? Is this attachment truly innate? Or, on the other hand is it more sentimental - an acquired taste, if you will? Is our fascination simply a cultural artifact, passed down through legend and driven by marketing? I don’t know.
Either way, the power and the magic of diamonds remains very real and alive.
I invite your comments.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Great question, you'd think there would be a quick and easy answer. But, no.
The term "ideal" has often been used to describe only the best cut diamonds, but it’s also been confused and abused over the years. After 300 years of experimentation and refinement, experts now agree that there's more than one simple way to describe the cut of a round brilliant diamond.
Although he never used the word "ideal" in his proof of Diamond Design (1919), Marcel Tolkowsky argued that a very tight range of proportions – based on Table Percentage = 53%, Crown Angles = 34.5 degrees, and Pavilion Angles = 40.75 degrees – produces optimal fire and brilliance in a finished gem diamond. Like most basic mathematics and physics, his numbers have withstood the test of time. They still hit the "sweet-spot" of most modern ideal standards.
After teaching 1000’s of gemologists about these “ideal” proportions over many years, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) did not issue proportion-based cut grades on their diamond reports. However, they did recently introduce a performance-based grading system for cut that defines five levels of cut quality - Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor - with the top two grades being the most prevalent.
For the past decade, the American Gem Society (AGS) has pioneered and strongly endorsed the use of “ideal” in conjunction with a consumer-friendly numeric scale of 0 - 10 (with “0” being Ideal) to quantify multiple factors affecting cutting quality. Their Zero Ideal Cut Grade is based on an overall combination of ideal light performance, ideal proportions, and ideal finish – which includes ideal polish and ideal symmetry. This top grade represents just 3% of round diamonds in the marketplace.
There are diamonds that also exhibit extra “ideals" when viewed in various viewing devices. Some show ideal patterns of optical symmetry when you view diamonds directly under specialized filters and lighting environments. Others generate ideal computer-generated numbers, scales, images and guides that compare one "virtual" diamond with another.
But, diamond reports and viewing devices will only ever tell you so much. In the final analysis, I always recommend looking at any diamond you may consider owning. That’s what all the experts I've ever met do.
Why? Because, diamonds are dynamic 3-D works of art! They express their beauty in motion. Their true nature and appeal is impossible to reveal with a mere snapshot. It should not come as a big surprise to find that they often look very different in reality than they do “on paper”.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
It’s well known that it takes a diamond to cut another diamond, because diamond is the hardest substance in our world. That is the scientific truth. But, there’s a bit more to it than that.
Generally speaking we think that to cut is to stab, slash, slice or snip. The fact is that diamonds are cut – or as my friend Gabi Tolkowsky would say, fashioned – more like splitting, sawing, lathing, sanding and polishing wood.
Most rough diamond crystals are first split into two “workable” pieces. Traditionally, this was done with a hammer and blade in a process called cleaving. Cleaving is very much like splitting wood along its grain. Diamond can be split along one of its “grains” – parallel to the octahedral face – by placing a blade in a pre-carved notch – called a kerf – and striking it as you would a wedge. Today, however, diamonds are typically sawn in two along a different "grain" - parallel to a cube face - with either a phosphor-bronze diamond-dust encrusted blade or with a pulsing laser beam.
Next, the diamond is shaped. This form of cutting is called bruting, because it is forced against all grains. This is done with the gem diamond centered on an eccentric-chucked lathe. The diamond is then turned round by rubbing it against another diamond-topped cutting tool. Elliptical shapes like oval, pear and marquise are formed the same way by tapping the lathe off-center. Any straight-edged diamond - like emerald cut, square cut, and/or princess - is always shaped on a flat grinding wheel that is charged with diamond dust.
You know the old saying "nose to the grindstone"? Well, where do you think that came from? The final stage of diamond cutting is faceting. All facets on a diamond are ground and polished on a flat cast iron lap or wheel that is shaped like a record turntable and coated with super-fine diamond dust. Each facet is cut by placing it at the correct angle against the wheel with one of the diamond’s twelve grains - dodecahedral faces - held perpendicular to the spinning direction of the wheel. One and only one of these 12 grains will cut well for each facet position.
Having to know the exact location of each grain in a diamond is what separates a diamond cutter from all other stone cutters. Diamond will cut anything else, like butter, but it will only cut another diamond in very particular directions.
Just as with other industries there are varying levels of skill and craftsmanship employed in diamond cutting. The highest degree of skill is in the total hand-crafting and finishing of the stone by a master cutter. The cutter literally feels, sees and judges how well every single facet is cutting. This is cutting the "old-fashioned" way. It definitely yields the most beautiful results. If you ask me, it’s the way all diamonds should be cut.
Of course, there is also an assembly-line method of production which speeds things up and increases the volume of diamonds that can be processed worldwide. This style of cutting has semi-skilled cutters performing single operations over and over again at a high rate of speed while obviously compromising critical aspects of accuracy. There is also a fully automatic method of computerized cutting which is most often used for smaller diamonds. Believe it or not, this characteristically achieves the least consistent and reliable results, mainly because the computer never physically "sees" the work. The entire process is mechanical.
As you might have guessed by now, only the simplest and earliest form of diamond cleaving is actually possible in the back seat of a Mercury. Yet this is the image that most people conjure up when they visualize the diamond cutting process. Such is the power of successful TV advertising from almost 40 years ago!
Friday, April 20, 2007
Let’s start out with some really simple definitions. We can explore each in more detail later on, but it’s always nice to have a common foundation.
Cut makes a diamond shine. The best cut diamonds are cut for maximum beauty – not for excess weight. They must have the best proportions and finish to maximize the play of light. Their color looks better, their clarity looks better, and they often look larger for their “size”, because the best cut diamonds shine from edge-to-edge with brilliance and fire. And, on top of all that, they sparkle like crazy.
Color is the shade of the diamond itself. This is distinct from the spectral components of light that should radiate from any well cut gem diamond.
Clarity is how clean it is. Most diamonds have natural identifying marks. On very rare occasion they have no inclusions. The value of diamonds is significantly higher for those with nothing visible to the naked eye.
Carat is a weight – not a size! One carat is equal to 1/5th of a gram. One point is 1/100th of a carat. Carats are expressed like money - 1.50 ct. is one carat fifty points or 1 ½ carats. Size is the measurement of the diamond’s diameter in millimeters (mm). Many one carat diamonds measures less than 6.0 mm in diameter. The best cut rounds measure much wider at 6.50+ mm in size.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
There are lots of places that you can find information about my favorite subject - Diamonds.
Literally mountains of information, everything from the common Big 4C's - color, clarity, carat weight and cost; to that arcane Little Tiny C - the culet, is readily available on-line. But, let's face it... information isn't knowledge.
It seems to me that lots of information is actually the same old stuff being tweaked and rehashed. That's not what I want to do. My vision is focused on helping folks see through the clutter. I'm a firm believer in point of view. As Gil Scott-Heron used to say... "if you don't stand for something, you'll go for anything."
That doesn't mean I don't want to hear from you, and it doesn't mean that I won't post your comments, and it doesn't mean that I won't respond. Because I will.
It means that after 35 years in the diamond trade - after learning something new about these wonderful gems almost every single day - I want to share some of my professional thoughts and personal opinions with a wider audience.
Field notes from a Diamond Geezer!
Thursday, February 1, 2007
Maarten de Witte is an original member of the team that set out to revolutionize the way diamonds were bought and sold with the creation of Hearts On Fire the Worlds Most Perfectly Cut Diamond®. He began his career in diamonds over 25 years earlier as a pioneer apprentice at the American School of Diamond Cutting – the first fully accredited trade school of its kind in the U.S. – eventually becoming its Director.
Diamonds may seem a strange attraction for a boy from Illinois, but Maarten perfected his art and pursued his aspirations from a hometown base in Urbana. In 1983, he earned admission to the prestigious American Gem Society, first as Registered Jeweler, then as Certified Gemologist for more than the past 20 years. Along the way, his academic interest in the diamond trade led to a BA in African History as well as an MS in Minerals Geography from the University of Illinois.
At Hearts On Fire, Maarten quickly earned a top sales position on the team that launched the first consumer branded diamond in the US. Since that time, Maarten has demonstrated and lectured on the art of fine diamond cutting throughout the US and around the world. He has authored and implemented in-store, regional and national sales-training seminars, has served as technical editor of numerous marketing initiatives and newsletters, and played the lead role in creating the award-winning Hearts On Fire consumer video – the Heart, the Art, the Fire.
Maarten’s favorite achievement is being known as the Diamond Wizard. On the Hearts On Fire website – www.heartsonfire.com – he engages consumers in personalized dialogue, providing factual and anecdotal information about diamonds while answering their wide range of questions.
“I believe that there are many factors which affect diamond beauty and value. True magic only occurs when beauty is pursued and expressed with intense emotion. We are passionate about perfection. It’s the difference you can see in all our diamonds.”
Posted by maarten at 4:07 PM
About The Diamond Wizard
Maarten de Witte is an original member of the team that created Hearts On Fire, the World's Most Perfectly Cut Diamond®. He began his career in diamonds over 25 years earlier as an apprentice at the American School of Diamond Cutting – eventually becoming its Director. more
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