Till recently, the most one could hope for color-wise from a pink diamond was a shade reminiscent of cotton candy or bubble gum—then only as long as the gem stayed loose. Once mounted, stones usually went from pink to pinkish. Because fancy pinks tended to lose their looks when set in jewelry, they were of interest mainly to collectors.
All this changed in the early 1980s when Australia started to produce deep pinks that held their color when used in jewelry. Suddenly, the diamond world was seeing fancy diamonds with hues that inspired comparison to raspberries, even red grapes—whether set or loose. In no time at all, pink diamonds became a jewelry, as well as a collector’s, item. As they did, the color-strength standard for this gem rose considerably.
But here’s the rub.
Since Australia’s diamonds tend to be small, the new color ideal applies only to stones of 2 carats or, generally, far or less. When it comes to diamonds over 2 carats, pastel pinks are still pretty much the best one can expect. As a result, says a prominent Fifth Avenue precious stone dealer with a soft spot for fancy color diamonds, “The trade now has a double standard for pink diamond beauty.”
That double standard has baffled dealers asking, “Why do Australia’s pinks small pinks look so much darker than everybody else’s big pinks?” While final answers to this question can’t be given yet, some geologists think they lie in the unique composition of Australia’s diamonds.
Australia vs. Elsewhere
Imagine for a moment you are peering through a microscope into a conventional pink diamond typical of those found in Brazil, the Central African Republic and South Africa, the prime sources for these gems prior to the discovery of Australia’s mammoth diamond deposits. As you look, you’ll begin to notice random subtle lines running parallel to each other which commend diamond expert Stephen Hofer of Colored Diamond Laboratory Services, Miami, likens to “pink needles in an ice cube.” These lines are known to gemologists as “graining,” evidence of structural deformities (similar to knots in a piece of wood) that are common to a diamond’s crystal structure.
Now gaze harder, and you’ll see pink emanating from these grain lines. Indeed the diamond’s inside will appear as distinct pink-pulsing grain lines separated by areas of colorlessness. “The cutter’s job is to position facets relative to these grain lines so that they will impart the maximum amount of color to the stone when looked at in the face-up position,” Hofer comments. “Unfortunately, that’s a difficult task with most conventional pink diamonds.”
Next, suppose that you have replaced the conventional pink diamond with an Australian stone. Instead of distinct and widely spaced grain lines, you’ll find a profusion of them so dense that it is hard to tell them apart. Hofer compares their bunched-up appearance to that of “a tightly packed box of toothpicks,” then continues, “There’s such a broad blending of grain lines they almost seem like brush strokes.”
All this partial grain lines threw as if it pinked up to color saturation that is as impressive as it is unprecedented. What’s more, because Australia’s pink diamonds routinely boast a color strength that verges on purple, they have ignited equally unprecedented enthusiasm among cutters and jewelry manufacturers for fancy pinks. In the past year, for the first time, two American diamond firms, the Du-Pink Collection in Los Angeles and Sartaj Diamond Inc. in New York, have begun to advertise pink diamonds as a specialty. Others would like to follow suit—but it takes connections to ensure a steady flow of pink rough. Du-Pink, for instance, regards the name of its Australian diamond source as top-secret. Nevertheless, the hunt is on. And no wonder.
The Agony and the Ecstasy
With hues the deepest of their kind ever seen in diamonds, Australian pinks lend themselves to cutting in any shape, even the round brilliant, without color loss. What they lose—and in a big way, too—is weight. According to Raffi Tal of Du-Pink Collection, Australian roughs “give only half the salvage (20% to 30%) of other diamonds and usually take twice as long to cut.”
Yields are slight because the roughs tend to be infested with piques, fractures and cavities that impede cutting to the point where stones require special wheels for grinding. Thankfully, the fiendish difficulties of cutting Australian pinks are offset somewhat by being able to cut them into round-brilliants. Since this is the most popular diamond shape, especially in the melee and smaller sizes which account for the lion’s share of Australia’s output, it assures more sales. In fact, the recent small stream of deep-hued, round-cut pinks has helped to propel this fancy color out of obscurity, at least as far as jet-set jewelers go.
But whether fancy pink diamond jewelry will ever find a home in mainstream stores is open to debate. Prices are already so high that few jewelers are inclined to experiment with these goods, leaving them instead to carriage-trade retailers such as Tiffany and Harry Winston. If they do decide to take a chance on pinks, mainstream jewelers stock much less expensive stones with strong overtones of brown—the only secondary color, other than gray, that can bring the price of pinks back down to earth.
People with limited budgets who want pure pinks will have to settle for washed-out Australian melee available for as little as $300 per carat. Melees with rich, vibrant color (approaching that of red) will easily cost 10 times as much—and be lightly piqued to boot. If such prices shock you, wait till you try dickering for ½-carat pinks. Lately, asking prices for better but far from top grades have been starting at $25,000 per carat; fine ones easily command twice that amount.
Feeling faint? Wait till you hear fair accomplices for merely decent 1-carat stones: $75,000 per carat and up. How far up? Well, Raffi Tal claims to have sold a magnificent 1-carat Australian pink for $300,000 per carat. Admittedly, that’s a truly extraordinary price. More typically, his finer 1-carat stones fetch in the vicinity of $100,000 per carat. But you get the point. Fancy pinks of size and substance—in this case, 1 carat or more—cost a small fortune. And that fact of life won’t change unless future mining in Australia uncovers larger pockets of pink. Since that’s not likely to happen, expect to be asked prices for these rarities that leave you breathless.
Please note: this profile was originally published in 1992 in Modern Jeweler’s ‘Gem Profiles/2: The Second 60’, written by David Federman with photographs by Tino Hammid.
The 2.9-carat pink diamond shown in the header image is courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. It was donated by S. Sidney DeYoung.