Call it either grace or irony. But scattered throughout western Australia’s mammoth but so far mediocre diamond output, consisting mostly of industrials selling for under $10 per carat, are a few fancy pink stones that have commanded up to $60,000 per carat. “We’re talking pink with a capital ‘P’,” says Hank Frydman, a fancy-color diamond specialist who operates out of New York’s Diamond Trade Association. “
To date, these small consolations probably don’t add up to more than a few thousand carats (in the rough!) of the Argyle mining venture’s 25 million carat-plus annual production. Nonetheless, Australia is already significantly touting any other rival source of fancy pink diamonds such as Brazil or Tanzania. Indeed, some diamond people act like Australia is the Great Pink Hope for these covetables.
This explains why the company has been combing its caratage with fine-tooth thoroughness, singling out the pinks for preferential treatment. As a result, few of these precious roughs wind up in the assortments Argyle sells on the open market (most of its production is channeled through De Beers). Instead, the company has been having them cut, then selling them at invitation-only auctions in Antwerp. At the third of these sales in November 1987, London jeweler Laurence Graff paid $3.5 million for all 30 lots—double the sum of all the second-highest bids!
Given the kind of money that Argyle pinks bring on the open market, it is hardly surprising to hear it rumored that the Aussies, already pretty adept at burning sapphires, are now putting the heat on their diamonds too.
Even so, pink diamonds from Down Under are likely to remain needles in huge haystacks. But once-in-a-while production is certainly better than once in a blue moon. Besides, the Australian pinks possess startling attributes, like deep body color, that justify the stir they are making.
That Australia’s diamond deposits should be blessed with above-average amounts of pink rough is not entirely surprising, given the fact that the majority of its stones are in the pink-prone brown (as opposed to yellow, or cape) family. What is surprising, however, is the high percentage of her pinks that merit the distinction of being called “fancy” color. This is the Gemological Institute of America’s highest grade for natural-color diamonds. Most pinks from other localities rarely make it above GIA’s lower and bottom rung diamond color ratings of “light” or “faint.” A few manage to earn a second-best designation of “fancy light.”
Yet early in 1985, when dealers submitted 152 Australian pinks for in-depth GIA scrutiny, nearly all earned the grade of “fancy.” That’s astounding, considering the fact that those 152 pink diamonds studied over three months time represented more pinks, regardless of grade, than GIA ordinarily sees in a year. (For more on this study, we highly recommend Stephen Hofer’s article, “Pink Diamonds from Australia,” in Gems and Gemology, Fall 1985.)
No doubt, some of the 40 or so Australian pink diamonds shown to us by New York fine gems specialist Ralph Esmerian, R. Esmerian Inc., were among those sent to the GIA. The color we saw struck us as indisputably ‘fancy.” In fact, we were amazed at their saturation of color. One did not have to squint to see pink or use charitable euphemisms like “pastel pink” when talking about them. “Barring one or two stones from elsewhere, the finest Australian pinks are as close to red without being red that diamonds have come,” says dealer Alan Bronstein, Aurora Gems Inc., New York.
As for those with less than the finest red or pink, gemologist Hebert aptly describes them as “smoky purplish pink.” The use of “smoky,” dealers explain, is meant to convey the impact of the color modifier gray or brown, almost always present in Australian pinks. Such modifiers are a drawback for some connoisseurs used to purer colors. “At their best, Australian pink diamonds still don’t possess the true raspberry color of the finest stones found centuries ago in India,” one dealer notes.
Small Chips off Big Blocks
One of the biggest disappointments about Australia’s pink diamonds is their size. Nearly all that we have seen are melee, averaging around 10 points. Yet, the roughs from which these stones come are often fairly large. But due to their highly imperfect nature, as much as 90% must be cut away just to derive one decent polished stone. One dealer told us of a 2.5-carat rough that yielded only a 31-point diamond. “And even this stone was still rejection,” he adds.
Because most Australian pinks are small, and their color deep, their imperfections are generally more tolerable than if found in lighter color or white diamonds. But jewelers with trained eyes are likely to notice common faults with these stones, usually cleavage-induced cracks or etching lines that impart a rough or pitted texture to areas of the stone. Gemologists have taken to using the word “frosted” to describe the appearance of these areas.
Despite their size and clarity problems, Australian pinks have still created a profound commotion in a very short period. To us, they are truly admirable stones. But dealers like Bronstein are right to worry that the fuss made about Australian pinks may encourage false expectations on the part of dealers and jewelers who are not versed in fancy-color diamonds. “Attention paid to Australian stones may result in a preference for dark pink,” Bronstein explains. “Such a preference totally ignores the fact that this color is never found in larger stones.”
Prices currently being paid for Australian pinks tend to confirm Bronstein’s fears. According to Bronstein, prices for purplish-pink Australian pink melee has been running at between $1000 and $2000 per carat—two to four times its price two years ago.
If such prices for melee sound shocking, perhaps those quoted to us for Argyle’s finer-color half caraters, $30,000 per carat, will seem a bargain by comparison. Extremely rare stones of 1 carat or more have coaxed as much as $75,000 per carat from dealers. Obviously jewelers are going to have to pay more.
How much more? Well, that’s hard to say. Ever since a 95-point, red diamond fetched a mind-boggling record sum of $880,000 equal to $926,000 per carat at a Christie’s auction in April 1987 (after being offered at a least one of the most prominent bidders the preceding autumn for $120,000 per carat), prices for all fancy-color diamonds have been on a rampage. Say what you will about this auction-inspired price euphoria for half-carat color diamonds. It has been a big boon to the cause of Australian pink diamonds.
Please note: this profile was originally published in 1988 in Modern Jeweler’s ‘Gem Profiles: The First 60’, written by David Federman with photographs by Tino Hammid.
The 0.70-carat heart-shaped Australian pink diamond shown in the header image is courtesy of R. Esmerian Inc., New York.