Monday, August 31, 2009

Are More Facets Better?

If you can't bring the best round diamonds to market, why not make them different - by simply adding more facets for example?

Because, as a rule they don't deliver any extra brilliance.

Can we say "dead as a doorknob"?

Maybe not, but let's make no mistake about it - the 58 facet modern round brilliant has a very long and impressive pedigree of development. And, it's not merely some shaggy dog story!

In fact, the most current research shows that extra facets generally create less facet contrast. This shows up as less sharply defined brightness, fire and sparkle! And, these are supposed to be the classic elements that define diamond beauty.

Although many variations and permutations have been explored over the past several centuries, the modern round is the paramount style of cutting. So much so that it's the basis of most other shapes as well; including ovals, pears, marquises and heart shapes.

The reason is simple. It works!

The look of the classic round is extremely desirable and appealing. That's why over 80% of all diamonds sold are cut in this style. That's why it's still the best way to say I love you. That's why it commands and holds the highest value.

Does that mean other styles are no good. Of course not! Tastes differ. There are always those who seek new alternatives.

As luck would have it, computer models have recently made it much easier to experiment with new styles. Cutters need no longer travel blind, running the risk of totally trashing extremely precious raw material. This is a very good thing!

But, it's also new territory. The jury is still out. It's far too soon to know for sure which styles will die on the vine of marketing hype, or get real legs and true staying power in terms of both beauty and value.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

100% Light Return???

In trying to have the last word on the importance of the Cut in defining a diamond's appeal, many sellers promote magic numbers - like "100%" light return.

Buyers beware!

That notion is far too simplistic.
I find that "light return" percentages are rather meaningless for many reasons. A mirror returns 100% of the light shined on it. Is it as beautiful as a diamond? Nope!

There are various methods used to measure so-called light return. Mostly it is done by “virtual modeling” of the diamond. These models are defined by exterior measurements of a stone which are then used to create a computer model, which in turn is subjected to light ray-tracing analysis (
AGS and GIA and DiamCalc).

Others simply use only “face-up” lighting, pixel-counting methods and/or undefined numeric scales (
Brilliant Scope and Isee2). But we already know that "100% light return" is definitely not the Holy Grail of diamond beauty - even if it were possible to achieve.

Ironically, the pictures that are offered as "proof" of 100% light return are a case in point. You should ask yourself why there are various shades of red/pink and black/grey and even white in these types of photos (Fire Scope and Ideal Scope).

Don't they actually highlight different and/or varying degrees of "light intensity"?
How drastically will they change when the diamond is tilted to one side or the other - as is the reality in everyday usage?

The look of a diamond changes dramatically whenever the position of the diamond, the light and/or the observer is changed. It should be easy to understand that viewing a diamond exactly perpendicular to its table is only a rarefied or "special" case.
What do you suppose happens to the picture whenever you view a diamond from any other angle?

One thing everyone knows for sure, every gem diamond is a 3-Dimensional and dynamic work of art. No one can capture diamond beauty in a single photo. Any photo is a mere snapshot of the full-motion picture of potential diamond beauty.

Perfection has always been a moving target. To be sure, lots of research has been done during the 300+ year development of the modern round brilliant. Cutters have always striven to do their best. Gemologists and other scientists have resolved to understand the complex math and physics.

And, of course, consumers have always voted for their preferences with their pocketbooks.

Suffice it to say there is no international standard defining appropriate light return. But yes, in a well cut diamond the majority of high intensity light that enters the diamond should return back to the viewer.

A diamond designed to return even 100% of low level light wouldn't be very desirable.

In general, the major trade labs have recognized that “light return” is a misnomer and the use of it alone is misleading in analyzing the overall “light performance” of high quality diamonds.

It has been shown that a small amount of "leakage" is not only unavoidable: it actually creates positive contrast effects that are quite visually pleasing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Hope, The Truth & The Justice

The Hope
The Hope Diamond is one of the most famous diamonds in the world. Guess why? It’s big. It’s blue. It glows bright red under black lights. And, it has history.

The Smithsonian Institute just announced that it is celebrating 50 years of owning the Hope. In honor of this milestone, they are sponsoring a contest to select a new design for the setting surrounding the Hope.

Well, it’s not really a contest. The Harry Winston Company, namesake of the donor who bequeathed the Hope to the National Gem Collection, was commissioned to submit all three new designs.

The public has only been asked to choose which one they like best.

My vote goes to re-cutting the Hope itself!!! Why? Because, it’s high time that this most precious of all gems be seen in its best light.

You might think that sounds sacrilegious or perhaps I’m just joking. But, you’d be wrong. I’m serious!!!

Like most well-known diamonds the Hope is famous for both fact and fiction. It is the biggest blue diamond around. But, its history is also replete with myth, guile and hype.

The Truth...

Mystery surrounds the very origins of the Hope. The earliest record of any blue diamond big enough to have produced the Hope was provided by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier - gem dealer, world traveler and raconteur extraordinaire.

His stone, supposedly plucked from a Hindu idol’s eye in India, became known as the “Tavernier Blue”. It weighed approx. 115 carats and was sold to King Louis XIV in 1668.

The Sun King took full power of his throne upon the death of Cardinal Mazarin, whose name is widely associated with the first brilliant style diamond cuts.

The King had his royal jewelers re-cut his blue diamond for better brilliancy, yielding a shield shaped diamond weighing approx. 69 carats. His great grandson Louis XV later had the “French Blue” set prominently in his jewel the Order of the Golden Fleece.

In late 1792, as Revolutionaries deposed the monarchy, the Royal Storehouse in Paris was ransacked by thieves and the French Blue disappeared forever.

However, in 1812 just shortly after the 20 year statute of limitations expired, a large blue diamond was spotted in London. This stone later showed up in the collection of Henry Philip Hope and has been known as the Hope Diamond ever since.

Nobody knows exactly how and when he came to own it, but the Hope Diamond finally saw the light of day weighing a bit over 45 carats.

After Henry Hope died, his treasured diamond passed among his family. It was eventually sold by Cartier to the Washington DC-based, hard-rock mining heiress and socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean.

Unlike Mr. Hope who kept his gem collection private and under wraps, McLean wore her diamond everywhere.

The media couldn’t resist the temptation to fan the flames of the Hope’s cursed history, especially when Evalyn’s son died in a car wreck, her daughter committed suicide, and her husband died insane.

But, she never lost her love for the diamond.

In 1947, Harry Winston purchased the Hope as part of the McLean estate. An unabashed promoter of jewels and gems, Harry trotted the Hope out on many occasions as part of his Court of Jewels, which traveled throughout the US, Canada and Cuba.

Eventually he “gave” it to the Smithsonian, with a deed that bequeathed ownership in 1/10 interest per year until the Institute gained full ownership in 1967.

Can we say “tax-deduction”?

The Justice...

The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) published a fascinating article about the relationship between the French Blue and the Hope in its Spring 2009 Gems and Gemology.

Juxtaposing a recently uncovered lo-tech lead casting from the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle and hi-tech GemCad and DiamCalc diamond modeling software, they have created a compelling argument that the Hope was in fact re-cut from the French Blue.

We can pretty much guess why the French Blue was re-cut: to hide its origin. Even so, we still don’t and probably won’t ever know for sure who did the deed.

But we do know the end result. With no disrespect to the diamond itself, in my humble opinion it’s a hack job.

And, that’s a rotten shame. The Hope deserves to be treated better than that!!!

Throughout its long history the Hope has been a reflection of the life and times of its owners and surroundings.

When does it get the chance to shine brightly all on its own? When does it finally get justice?

Those same techniques used by the GIA can now be employed by the most skilled diamond cutters of our day to create the ultimate design for the diamond itself.

The Hope could be one of the top performing diamonds in the world – known for its brilliance and fire, not just its color and size.

Of course, it will become smaller. But that's OK. Its value will increase tremendously because it will look Brighter, Bolder, Better and more Beautiful than any other Blue diamond on Earth!!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I thought my diamond was forever?

If diamonds are the hardest gemstone, then how's it possible for a jeweler to tell me that my diamond now has a dangerous chip?

The truth is that even the very best diamonds can chip or break. They can also be split or cleaved.

How? Why?

As hard as they may be, diamonds still have "hard" and "soft" directions determined by their crystal structure. That's the essential reason why diamonds can be sawn and ground away with diamond dust. It's how they can eventually be shaped, cut and polished to perfection. It's tricky, but its what keeps us diamond cutters busy.

Diamonds are indeed the hardest mineral known, however they can be brittle. The Mohs hardness test – which ranks hardness from 1 (talc) to 10 (diamond) – is a "scratch test". Diamond can only be scratched by another diamond, it cannot be scratched by any lesser ranked minerals.

The difference between hardness and brittleness could* be illustrated by using a vice and a hammer.

If you put a diamond between the jaws of a vise and were able to apply steady pressure, then you could close the vise completely and when you reopened it the diamond would be safely imbedded in the steel. Its that resistant to pressure and much harder than the steel.

If you placed the diamond on top of the vise and smashed it with a hammer, there is no doubt in my mind that you would be well on your way to creating a nice little pile of diamond dust.


I must also tell you that wherever there is an edge, there's always risk and danger!

The sharper (or more acute) the angle of any edge, regardless of how hard it is, the more susceptible it is to damage. Think about a razor's-edge as opposed to the edge of an axe. Both are steel, but the razor edge is much easier to nick or break.

That’s the primary reason cutters put a "girdle" or protective edge around the circumference of polished diamonds. It turns an otherwise acute edge into two blunt angles, thereby reducing the risk of chipping.

It is common practice for diamond setters to place any thin girdle edges, or knife-edges or small chips underneath a prong. The idea is to add protection to a weak spot as well as to hide unsightly blemishes. It's most often a good practice.

The downside is that pre-existing flaws may not be uncovered until much later, and sometimes they'll "grow" bigger because the prong itself – acting as a wedge – has caused further damage.

There is a silver-lining in learning that your diamond has sustained damage. Now is the best time to find out if it should be repaired just to fix the damage, or maybe it's worth fully recutting to better standards which quite possibly will make it more durable and much prettier and more valuable.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Why would a consumer want a branded diamond?

This question seems to be coming up a lot lately.

It deserves a complete and thorough answer.

There is a revolution taking place in the way that diamonds are being bought and sold.

The excitement is spreading from the grassroots to the very heights of our industry - from the consumer to the sales associate clear on up to the Diamond Trading Company.

It is called diamond branding. And, for lots of reasons it’s here to stay.

Why do people desire diamonds at all?

Diamonds are extremely emotive and highly prized. Every diamond presents an amazing kaleidoscopic view of our world. They are the ultimate talisman. They are an exceptionally beautiful and meaningful way to pledge love and commitment. They are milestones of important life passages. Commemorating the past, present and/or future - diamonds are timeless.

Diamonds connect us to one another as well as to the ages.

How have diamonds been sold?

Diamonds have become dangerously commoditized. Their beauty is most often described in a sterile jargon of rarity factors: the 4C’s - Color, Clarity, Carat and Cost. This information is neither full disclosure nor complete knowledge.

As a consumer, how can you know if a particular diamond will look Brighter, Bolder, Bigger, Better and more Beautiful than any other diamonds?

Price has become the lowest common denominator. Armed with certificates and price lists, consumers stumble through an exasperating gauntlet of internet sites, TV shopping networks, outlet malls, in-flight magazines, upstairs offices and discount retailers in their search for the biggest bang for the buck.

Even in the best cases, flashy big ticket items are typically sold by highly experienced experts and professionals using only arcane lingo. Despite the information overload, the diamond business remains scary and intimidating to modern consumers.

How sad is that?

Why do people desire brands in general?

People buy brands for a host of reasons that primarily make shopping easier and more satisfying. Everyone knows that generic items are worth less. We also know that people spend less if they are uncertain and afraid. Successful brands take away that fear and uncertainty.

Brands are held to the highest standards. Brands represent consistency of quality. Brands are continually tested by popular acclaim and approval. Brands build trust. Brands provide a comfort zone. Brands are familiar. Brands bestow bragging rights.

Above all, brands offer consumers peace of mind.

What are the secrets of diamond branding?

Successful diamond brands, like all good businesses, are created the old-fashioned way. They are painstakingly constructed from the ground up. They are born of innovation. They forge ahead one step at a time. They are built by hard work. They are built by focus. They are built by adding real value.

They are distinguished by having a unique story to sell. They are fueled with passion. They push people’s desire buttons. They thrive on consistency. They thrive on healthy partnerships. They thrive on raving customers. They are sustained by reinvestment.

Who reaps the benefits?

The promotion of brands makes the pie larger for all. More brands mean better choices and opportunities. A predatory price-driven diamond market does not guarantee a bright future for anyone in any way.

Retailers already have a rich tradition of branding their stores through partnership with leading jewelry and watch brands. Diamond brands provide a strong distribution network that allows more consumer access to actually seeing and handling the merchandise they wish to own.

Brand shepherding protects the value of consumers’ investment over time. Specialized sales training, product knowledge and compelling retail theater ensure informational and consistent hands-on presentations, resulting in meaningful and memorable shopping experiences for consumers.

Last but not least, diamond brands are good for diamonds!

Diamonds come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Inside each stone is inherent beauty. This beauty can only be realized through proper cutting. All diamonds deserve to be handled with the utmost pride, care, reverence and joy.

Innovative brands assure us there will always be just the right diamonds to suit anyone's taste.