A Diamond From Your Loved One?

It’s always tragic to lose a loved one, whether it’s a friend, a family member, or even a pet.  How we memorialize those we have lost is something that’s best left to the individual to decide, but several companies are now offering the opportunity to create diamonds from the cremated remains of the deceased.

There are only two companies currently producing memorial diamonds.  One is in Switzerland and one is in Russia.  To make these diamonds, they need access to the cremated remains (or “cremains,”) from the deceased.

blue diamond The process requires a minimum of one pound of cremains, as the company needs to be sure that they have enough carbon to make the diamond.  Sometimes, a bit of extra carbon is added, if necessary.   The cremains are treated with chemicals to remove certain impurities, as the closer you get to pure carbon, the better your results will be.

Cremains often contain trace amounts of boron, which can turn the finished diamond a shade of blue.  Other impurities can impart other colors to the finished diamond.

The carbon is then put into a special machine, along with a very tiny “seed” diamond.  Everything is then subjected to intense heat and pressure, and for six to eight weeks, the carbon is exposed to 870,000 pounds per square inch of pressure at some 2500 degrees Fahrenheit.

The larger the diamond requested, the longer it takes to grow.   When the diamond is finished, it comes in raw form, and will have to be both cut and polished.  After that, it can be placed in any setting the customer desires.

As this process is new and not widely available, it is not cheap.  Prices start at roughly $3000 for a 0.3 carat diamond.  They go up dramatically from there, depending on the size requested.  The Swiss company, Algordanza, recently had a request for a 2 carat diamond, for which they quoted a price of nearly $50,000.

Some people find the notion of turning remains into a diamond to be a sentimental one.  Others are not entirely sure they like the idea.  This is the sort of thing that may take a while.

It’s worth noting, however, that some customers have been requesting the service for the cremains of their pets.  That seems like the sort of thing that American consumers might find a bit more to their liking.

It remains to be seen if other companies are going to start making diamonds from cremains.  The equipment is expensive, the process is labor intensive and there may not yet be enough demand to justify anyone else entering the market.

On the other hand, if demand increases, then competition will likely increase, as well.  This will also have the added benefit of reducing prices for the finished diamonds, as market pressures will probably keep the prices down.

When there are only two companies in the world that do something, they can largely ask however much they want.  When there are dozens, the prices will be lowered a bit…

…but not too much.  The finished product is, of course, a diamond, and there’s always a baseline price for those.

Is It Real or Fake?

Diamonds are expensive.  They’re not exactly rare, but if you don’t have the money to buy them, you’re going to find that they’re scarce around your house.

What isn’t rare are scammers, or people who would like to sell you fake diamonds at the price of real ones.  You get a fake, and they get your cash, and that’s not a good combination.

diamondsA lot of fake diamonds are pretty convincing these days.  We’re not talking about manufactured diamonds, which, while man-made, are genuine diamonds.  We’re talking about stones made from cubic zirconia, or glass, or any one of a number of other shiny substances that may look nice at first glance but which are not actual diamonds.

If you’re shopping for diamonds and you want to be sure you’re getting the real thing, then you should take the time to become familiar with those qualities that make diamonds unique.

Below are a few tips that can help you determine if the stone you’re looking at and possibly thinking about buying is real or fake.

  • Check the setting.  This isn’t a matter of looking at the stone itself, but rather the piece of jewelry in which the stone is mounted.  If you’re looking at loose diamonds, this won’t help, but if the diamond is mounted in a ring, bracelet, brooch, or earring, it can help.

    Real diamonds are expensive.  That means that they are going to be mounted in expensive settings.  If the diamond is mounted in a piece of jewelry that is gold plated or silver, it likely isn’t real.  Real diamonds are far more likely to be found in gold or platinum settings.  That’s not to say that no one has ever set a diamond in a silver setting, but it would be pretty unlikely.

  • The sandpaper test. Diamonds are the hardest substance known.  That means that you cannot scratch one with anything other than another diamond.  A genuine diamond won’t be much affected by sandpaper, as the diamond is harder than the sand.  A fake stone, such as cubic zirconia, on the other hand, will show scuffs and scratches.
  • cubic zirconiaHold the diamond in the light.  Does it sparkle?  Diamonds have a unique sparkle, and inside the stone, you’ll see gray and white colors, but no others, as rainbow colors will be reflected outside the stone to other surfaces.  If you see rainbow colors within the stone, it’s likely a fake.
  • Know your source.  This one seems obvious, but if you’re buying a diamond and spending a lot of money on it, you should take the time to do some research and buy from a reputable dealer who deals in diamonds all the time.  If you’re shopping with someone where you think it’s necessary to rub the stone with sandpaper in the first place, perhaps you’ve chosen a less-than-ideal merchant.

Buying a diamond is not something that most people do on a whim.  It’s an expensive proposition and one where you can easily lose your money to a swindler if you’re not careful.  Take the time to choose your merchant carefully and you’ll likely find yourself in a better position to get a stone that’s the real thing.

 

 

Can a Diamond Be Too Big?

When it comes to diamonds, most people probably think that bigger is better.  After all, tiny diamonds are quite common and diamonds over 1 carat in size are comparatively rare.

Once you get beyond 5 carats or so, we’re talking about unusually rare diamonds and the price per carat goes up dramatically after that.

lesedi la ronaSo as a rule, it would make sense to most people that a really large diamond would be extremely valuable, and that someone would be willing to pay a lot of money for it.

That’s what the Lucara Diamond Corporation thought when they found the diamond they call the “Lesedi La Rona,” or “Our Light,” in the native language of Botswana.

This diamond weighs in at 1109 carats.  For an idea of how large that is, the stone is roughly the size of a tennis ball.  It’s also the second largest diamond ever found.

That would seem to be a big deal, and you’d think that people would be lining up to buy it.  They were, actually, but the bidding topped out at $61 million, which was short of the $70 million reserve price that the company was hoping to receive.

As a result, the company is trying to decided what to do next.  One of the most common suggestions is that the diamond, which is in its rough, uncut natural state, be cut and polished to a smaller size.

Lesedia la rona
This diamond is the size of a tennis ball

More buyers might be interested in a such a sizable stone if it were in a condition more suitable to jewelry, but the company is a bit hesitant to make that move.  After all, as it is, the stone is the second largest in the world.

If it were cut to a smaller size, it might be seen by potential buyers as being somewhat less remarkable.

There are other issues concerning cutting the stone.  Cutting extra-large diamonds is an imprecise science, despite improvements in technology over the past few decades.  It will take a long time and a lot of expense to cut the stone, and there’s no guarantee that the result will be aesthetically pleasing, nor is there a guarantee that the stone will not have some significant flaws in it.

Others are suggesting that Lucara simply hang on to the stone for a few years and sell it at a later date.  That might work, but the problem with that is that technology for finding large diamonds has improved considerably, and the company could be taking the risk that a larger, and more desirable stone might be mined in the next few years.

Were that to happen, the Lesedi La Rona would suddenly become less remarkable and in turn, less marketable.

An 1100 carat stone is itself too large to be useful as jewelry, but buyers might want it simply as an artifact.  Some jewelry company could also buy it, cut it into a number of smaller stones, and sell them off as part of a piece of history.

Regardless, at the moment, the stone is effectively the world’s most valuable paperweight, which is an odd situation for the owner of the world’s second largest diamond.

It’s Time for Diamonds

Diamonds are lovely.  They sparkle, they shine like nothing else, and they attract attention.  If you like something with a little sparkle, a diamond is a great way to get that.

Diamonds are expensive, however, and if you are going to spend a lot of money on diamonds, you want to make sure that they are seen.  That way, other people can enjoy them, too.

Cartier Ladies Pasha diamond watch
Cartier Ladies Pasha diamond watch

Oddly enough, some ways of wearing diamonds don’t allow you to show them off.  Earrings, for example, can be hidden behind your hair.  Some types of necklaces might be hidden by your hair or your collar, depending on what you’re wearing.

On the other hand, a watch with diamonds is something that most people will find hard to miss.  First of all, most diamond watches are made from precious metals, such as platinum or gold.  Second, most watches with diamonds don’t just have one or two diamonds, but instead may have dozens of them.

Granted, you won’t see exceptionally large diamonds on a wristwatch.   But a watch band or a bezel has a lot of real estate for a maker to slip a little bit of sparkle in there.  You can put anywhere from 20-40 diamonds around a bezel.  You can put a dozen more on the face of the watch as hour markers.

patek philippe grand complications
Patek Philippe Grand Complications

We’ve even seen watch bracelets with hundreds of diamonds on them.  Granted, they’re mostly very small diamonds, as a watch isn’t really suited to large stones.  On the other hand, if you have hundreds of diamonds, even tiny ones, on a watch bracelet, people will notice.

That’s a lot of sparkle, and if you put a watch bracelet with hundreds of diamonds under a good light, it will be hard to miss.

Obviously, if you’re buying a watch with diamonds, you will necessarily be spending a lot of money.  Prices can range widely, depending on the brand, the other materials in the watch and the size and quantity of diamonds involved.

Chopard Imperiale rose gold
Chopard Imperiale rose gold

In most cases, however, you will be talking about prices in excess of $10,000 and sometimes in excess of $100,000.

On the plus side, you will likely be investing in a timepiece from a company that is already renowned for making quality watches.  The diamonds are there for a little extra pizazz.

A number of luxury watch brands make watches with diamonds on them.  Some, like Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet, are watch specialists who offer a few models with diamonds in their lineup.

Others, such as Chanel watches, are primarily fashion brands that also offer watches as part of their overall product offering.  Chanel is probably best known for their Number Five perfume, but they also make a number of other things, including clothing, jewelry, and some very fine wristwatches that can often be found with a lot of diamonds on them.

You should take extra care if you buy a watch with diamonds, as the stones can occasionally work loose with time.  This isn’t the fault of the watchmaker, but is just part of the natural process of wear.  The diamonds in the watch are harder than the metal that is holding them in place, and that metal will wear over time.

It’s always a good idea to have your diamond jewelry, including watches, checked by a jeweler on a regular basis to ensure that your diamonds remain secure.

The Mystery of Black Diamonds

It’s well known that the majority of diamonds are known as “white” diamonds, though they’re actually clear.

Diamonds do come in other colors, however, and demand for those tends to be high, as do the prices you will pay for them when you buy them in a store.  There’s a reason that colored diamonds are expensive – they are rare.

black diamond ringWhile diamonds come in pink, blue, yellow, brown and green, those colors comprise a very small portion of the millions of carats of diamonds that are mined each year.

There’s another color of diamond that turns up naturally, and they have only recently started to become popular – black diamonds.

Black diamonds are naturally occurring stones, and they are made from the same material as any other diamond – carbon.  In this case, some graphite has gotten into the mix, and the resulting stone, known as “carbonado” has some interesting qualities to it.

It’s more difficult to cut and polish than a white diamond, which can make them difficult for jewelers to work with.  They’re also rare to the point where demand exceeds supply, and that has led various companies to use heat and radiation treatments to cause white diamonds to become black ones.

They’re not technically black, as they turn a very dark shade of green, but these man-enhanced diamonds to appear to be black to the naked eye.

Naturally occurring black diamonds are known as Natural Fancy, and they are both exceptionally rare and exceptionally expensive.  You likely won’t find them at just any jewelry store.

The artificial ones, on the other hand, are relatively common.  They are also a lot more affordable.  People like them because they can offer good contrast with white diamonds, and the two colors often look stunning when paired together in a necklace, a ring, or a pair of earrings.

black diamondsThere is one significant aspect of naturally occurring black diamonds that should be noted – they do not reflect light as a white diamond does.  That can, under certain lighting conditions, give them somewhat of a dull appearance, rather than the flashy, sparkly appearance that people expect to see in a diamond.

You should take care when buying black diamonds, as the difference in price between the artificially produced ones and the naturally occurring ones can be dramatic.  If you insist on getting Natural Fancy black diamonds, look for examples that have been GIA certified.  GIA will not certify enhanced diamonds, so if they’re certified, they are the real thing.

Diamonds are lovely things, and that’s true of all of the colors in which they come.  While most people still prefer white diamonds, colored ones do have their appeal.   A black diamond is rather extreme as colored diamonds go, but it’s a great way to make a statement.

If you’re on a budget or aren’t really interested in buying investment-grade diamonds, then the artificially colored black diamonds will work fine for most buyers.  They’re still quite attractive, and they are far more affordable than the natural ones, putting them within the budgets of far more people.

At a glance, they’re still very pretty and they will still be great conversation starters.  Most people won’t know (or care) about the difference.

The Fog of Conflict-Free Diamonds

Thanks to a 2005 movie called Blood Diamond, people around the world are now aware that there is more to those lovely stones than just carbon.  Diamonds have value, and everything with value has the potential for being compromised via greed.

The problem with diamonds specifically is that many of the world’s diamonds come from war-torn countries in Africa, and when you buy diamonds from such places, you may inadvertently be helping to fund some political causes that are a bit unsavory.

You also might be funding child labor, or helping to keep a tyrant or despot in power.  Obviously, most people have no interest in funding such things, and most diamond buyers just want a stone that looks nice in their ring, necklace or bracelet.

Still, a booming business has popped up in the past few years – companies offering to sell “conflict-free” diamonds.  These are said to be diamonds that are sourced from places that do not have the war, labor issues, or political entanglements that most people would rather avoid.

These companies claim that the diamonds that they sell are only sourced from “safe” places, and that you can rest easy by buying from them.

Of course, if you buy from them, you will likely pay a premium price for your diamond.  After all, it can cost a lot of money to ensure that the diamonds come from a safe place.

There have been systems in place since 2003 for making sure that people know where their diamonds are coming from, such as the Kimberly Process.  The problem with that, and with the business model of selling conflict-free diamonds is that everyone knows that conflict-free diamonds command a premium.

Everyone knows that conflict-free diamonds are in demand.  Everyone knows that people will not willingly buy a diamond that comes from a place where the money from the purchase may be used to fund people who aren’t very nice.

What that means for diamond buyers is that every person in the supply chain has an incentive to make sure that there isn’t any trail that links their diamonds to conflict.  That doesn’t mean they have an incentive to handle or sell only conflict-free diamonds; it just means that they have a tremendous incentive to make sure that if they do handle diamonds that are sourced from a questionable place that you don’t find out about it.

There are places where you can buy diamonds that are absolutely conflict-free, such as those that are sourced from Canada.  Everything else is somewhat foggy, unfortunately, as it’s easy to create a new paper trail for what is essentially a rock.  Most naturally occurring diamonds don’t have any marks on them, as do man-made ones.  You’re pretty much at the mercy of the seller as to the source.

What does this mean for the buyer?  If you’re concerned, you should buy only from sources that are unquestionably legitimate.  You do need to be aware that even companies that are sincere in their quest to sell only conflict-free diamonds may not be able to guarantee it.

Diamonds are lovely.  It’s a shame they’re often tied to war, but it is what it is.

$13 Diamond Ring Worth Hundreds of Thousands

We all dream of finding something that’s worth a fortune while scouring through flea markets, garage sales and second hand stores, but most of the time, that’s all such thoughts are – dreams.

Sometimes, however, dreams come true, and that is certainly the case for an anonymous couple from Great Britain.  Sometime in the 1980s, they purchased a ring for £10 (about $13 today) at a “car boot sale” in England.

This is a local event where a number of individuals sell things out of the trunks of their car in a parking lot.  A man bought the ring, which both he and the seller assumed was a piece of costume jewelry, for that price, and they both thought that the large “diamond” in the center was a fake or a reproduction.

The man’s wife, who liked the ring, wore it daily for decades.  Recently, they had it inspected by a jeweler, who told them that the diamond appeared to be real and that it might be worth “quite a bit of money.”

That is indeed the case.  The diamond, cut in a cushion shape, is a 26.27 carat white diamond, thought to have been originally cut in the 19th century.  No one really knows its origin, as the owner has long forgotten anything about the person from whom he acquired it.

The diamond is going to be sold at auction by Sotheby’s in London on June 7.  “This is an extremely rare find,” said Jessica Wyndham, head of the auction house’s jewelery department. “We’re used to people coming in with pieces from their personal collections but this was exceptional.”

car boot diamondIt’s easy to understand how the ring avoided attracting attention for many years.  It was set in a silver ring, and the cushion shaped stone was cut in such a way as to optimally reflect the sort of light sources that were common 150 years ago, but not so much the sorts of light sources that we have today.

“With an old style of cutting, an antique cushion shape, the light doesn’t reflect back as much as it would from a modern stone cutting. Cutters worked more with the natural shape of the crystal, to conserve as much weight of the crystal rather than make it as brilliant as possible.”

While it is hard to put an exact figure on the value for the stone, it is expected to bring somewhere between $325,000 and $450,000 when it is sold at auction.

That’s a pretty good return on a $13 investment, even taking into consideration the amount of time that has passed.

UPDATE: The auction has been completed, and the final sale price was roughly twice the amount the diamond had been expected to yield.  The final selling price was £656,750 ($847,667.)

Ordinarily, diamonds such as this one are purchased by private collectors who wish to remain anonymous.  In this case, the buyer was a company within the industry, though Sotheby’s did not disclose the name of the company that purchased it.

The old “cushion” cut is different from the way diamonds are cut today and as a result, the stone does not show the brilliance that one would see in a modern stone.  There’s less shine and sparkle to it, but that’s indicative of how jewelers cut diamonds in the nineteenth century.

Since diamond mining was still in its infancy at that time, diamonds were relatively rare.  While the origin of the stone and its original owner have been lost to history, jewelers suspect that the original owner was someone who was either a member of royalty or was extremely wealthy.

While the future of the diamond is unknown, it is anticipated that the company that now owns it will have it recut into a more modern shape.  While this will reduce the size of the cut diamond, it will dramatically enhance its brilliance and will likely increase its value dramatically.   A spokesman for Sotheby’s said that they thought that the recut stone could potentially sell for “a multiple of today’s price.”

Not bad for a $13 purchase.  The sales price included a 20% buyer’s premium.

 

 

Diamond Handbag Sells for $377,000

How much are you willing to pay for a handbag or a purse?  $50?  $100?  How about $377,000?

That was the price for a Hermes handbag sold recently at an auction in Hong Kong.  Of course, Hermes handbags sell for thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands, on their own.

This one was different, however, as it was covered in diamonds and boasted 18 karat gold hardware.  The bidding was said to be “intense” and went on for some 15 minutes before the bag found a happy buyer.

Hermes bags aren’t for everyone; they’re mostly sought out by the people that even rich people regard as wealthy.  Not all of them are adorned with gold and diamonds, either.  The company only makes about two bags a year like this, and the waiting list, even for a handbag with a six figure price tag, is some six years long right now.

hermes diamond handbagThe bag sold in Hong Kong was created in the mid-1980s for singer and actress Jane Birkin.

While such handbags certainly attract attention when they’re sold, we can’t help but wonder – who buys them?  What do you do with them?  It’s unlikely that the buyer is going to carry the bag around in public, as doing so would represent a significant threat to their investment.

It’s also likely that the buyer, who was unidentified, is male, only because items like this are purchased for investments, rather than as functional fashion accessories, and people who tend to invest in such things are statistically more likely to be men than women.

This isn’t the first such Hermes bag to reach the Stratosphere in price.  The Christies auction house sold a similar bag for $300,000 last year.  That bag was said to have fewer diamonds and less gold, though once you’re in that price range, the Hermes name alone is likely enough to keep the price up and the number of diamonds and the amount of gold on the handbag likely has little to do with the final price once the auctioneer declares the item over.

We think that diamonds, while lovely, are best suited to being placed in an environment where they can be enjoyed on a regular basis.  Generally speaking that means putting them in jewelry, and using them in modest amounts that keep the price affordable.

More importantly, you don’t want to have so many diamonds in a single piece of jewelry that the owner is too intimidated to wear it.  Diamonds are meant to be worn and are meant to be seen.

What’s the point of owning diamonds if you’re only going to store them in a vault somewhere and never even look at them?

That, in our mind, is a waste of a beautiful thing.

 

More Diamond Fun Facts

Most people think they know a bit about diamonds, and here’s what the average person will likely tell you that they know:

  • Diamonds are gemstones, used in jewelry.
  • Diamonds are the hardest known substance.

One of those statements is true, but the other one is not.  Diamonds are the hardest known substance, and the only thing that can scratch or harm a diamond in any way is another diamond.

That part is true.  The part that is not true is that most diamonds are used in jewelry.  In fact, diamonds of sufficient quality to be used in jewelry are actually somewhat scarce.

Not all diamonds are gemstones.

There’s a mine in Botswana that mines some 15 million carats of diamonds every year.  But most of them end up being used in industry, and only a small percentage of them find their way to a jewelry store.

Most diamonds are too small, or have too many defects, or are unattractive colors, such as brownish yellow.  To be used in a piece of jewelry, a diamond has to be of a certain size, have a nice color to it, and have relatively few defects, or inclusions, that might affect its ability to reflect light.

What happens to all of the diamonds that don’t make the cut?  Some are used in drill bits, others are used in phonograph needles, and many of them are used to cut or polish other diamonds, since they’re the only thing that will work.

Not all diamonds are the same shape.

There are about eight different shapes of diamonds that are commonly seen, though the Round Brilliant shape is the one that most people associate with the gemstone.   Today, they only make up about half of all diamonds sold in jewelry, with other cuts sharing the other half of sales.

Not all diamonds are white or clear.

Most diamonds that you see for sale are clear or “white,” as they’re known.  That’s not the only color, however.  Diamonds also come in yellow, brown, blue, pink, and red.  Even we were surprised at that, as red diamonds are apparently exceedingly rare, and many people who have dealt in diamonds professionally for their entire careers never see one.

Pink and blue ones are also quite rare, and quite desirable, so if you want one of those, be prepared to spend a lot more money on them.

How are the shapes chosen?

The shapes of diamonds are determined by a complex process that diamond cutters have learned from years of experience.  Some diamonds are best cut into multiple stones, while others are best left as a single stone.  The shape of the raw diamond helps determine the shape of the finished product, as do the defects that may be present in the stone.

Cutting away less desirable parts of the stone may leave the remainder suitable for gemstone use, but doing so may force the cutter to use one particular shape, rather than another.

Diamonds are rare.

Diamonds aren’t particularly rare; hundreds of millions of carats of diamonds are mined annually.   On the other hand, highly attractive gemstone quality diamonds are rare, and that’s why they’re expensive.

 

 

Diamonds to Be Used in Electronics?

While diamonds are best thought of as luxury items to be worn as jewelry, most people are at least vaguely aware that diamonds also have use in industry.

diamond transistorsThe bulk of the diamonds found are not suitable for use in jewelry, as they’re either too small for such use or they have defects of some kind.  Most are just too small, but small diamonds have uses.  For example, most phonographs use a diamond-tipped needle to play record albums.

Diamonds are also used in industrial drill bits, as they are exceptionally hard and diamond-tipped bits are quite good at helping to drill through hard rock.

These sorts of uses have been around for a long time, but now, scientists are experimenting with using diamonds in transistors.

Most transistors are made from silicon, and silicon is a very plentiful substance, making it cheap to use.  That’s good, since the processor chip in your computer might have millions of transistors within it.

The problem with silicon transistors is that there are certain environments where silicon does not perform well – tremendously hot environments or environments where heavy radiation is present.

These are areas where silicon is weak, but they’re also areas where industry could use devices that have transistors in them.  Because of that, scientists in Japan are experimenting with using man-made diamonds in transistors.

Diamonds are very hard, of course, and they are also resistant to both heat and radiation.  Early experiments have been promising, though building integrated circuits from diamonds is still likely a number of years away.

Scientists must first find ways to bond other materials to the man-made diamonds and then find ways to bring the costs down through economies of scale.  These things can take years, or even decades to do.  The first transistor radios, made in the 1950s, were very expensive and unaffordable for the average consumer.  It took about fifteen years before the price came down, and eventually, transistors became so cheap that they’re found in nearly all electronic devices today.