Gemstones have always fascinated me. My mum has always worn beautiful jewellery, and she acquired her love of it from my grandmother. My whole family was very widely traveled thanks to my grandad's travel agency (see my last but one post for pictures) and they'd often come back with a gem from some far-flung place and have it set into a ring or pendant. As a result, I have inherited some sparkly bits myself, including one diamond ring with a very strange origin... which I may or may not share at some point.
Diamonds have not had the best reputation in recent years, though. The troubles in Sierra Leone, where an illicit trade in stones funded conflicts and bloody war, meant that many people swore off new diamonds unless they knew exactly where they'd come from. But now things have improved and Tiffany buys their diamonds from Sierra Leone, while De Beers seems to own half of the world... or at least Africa, South Africa and Canada.
I learned a little about De Beers when I attended the masterclass I mentioned two posts back, given by Diamond Manufacturers last week. The same day I flew out to Amsterdam for five days of parting (fun!) and running (less fun!). But given that Amsterdam used to be the diamond-cutting centre of the world, it was pretty appropriate!
The masterclass itself was really interesting. We learned about the '4 Cs' of diamonds: cut, colour, clarity and carat weight. From looking at two similarly cut stones with different depths and seeing how one sparkled much more than the other, to comparing the two above for colour - one a less valuable yellow diamond, and one a colourless (or near colourless) stone. What's interesting, is that deeply coloured diamonds are very sought-after - we always hear of celebrities having a door-knocker sized yellow or pink diamond - but yellow tinged ones are most definitely not.
There was much peering through the jeweller's loup as well. We were shown two versions - one with very small inclusions, so towards the middle of the scale of desirability - and one with lots. The latter are the kind of diamond you might get in Argos - hold it up and peer inside, and you'll see lots of white marks, smudges, flaws. The guys at Diamond Manufacturers don't touch these with a bargepole.
Of course, it's pretty rare to find a flawless diamond, and it will only get harder and harder to find new ones. Most of those owned by the Queen and described in my King's Ginger blog post a few weeks back are flawless. The other famous stone that I've always wished I could see is the Taylor-Burton diamond. An astonishing 69 Carats, D coloured (the lowest possible) and absolutely flawless, pear-shaped diamond, it was a worthy gift for one of the most beautiful women in the world. It was acquired at great cost and effort by Richard Burton for Elizabeth Taylor in the late 1960s, after first losing an auction to Cartier and being sold it back for an inflated price (on the proviso that Cartier could display it for a while in their store. Thousands and thousands flocked to admire it in that time!). But nothing was too much for him where she was concerned.
Wearing it was rather a palaver though, it must be said. The first time she wore it in public was at Grace Kelly's 40th birthday, and it had to be specially flown from New York to Nice in the company of armed guards paid for by Cartier and Burton. Talk about hassle... worth it though, I reckon. She didn't have it that long - after Burton and Taylor divorced for the second time in the 70s, she sold it for $5million, and used the money to fund a hospital in Botswana.
Elizabeth Taylor also had a 33-carat, emerald-cut knuckle-duster known as the Krupp Diamond ring, which was her first present from Burton in 1968, and the one she wore almost every day for the rest of her life... even while filming.
The glittering tray of diamond rings that Diamond Manufacturers brought along didn't contain anything quite as large and flashy, it must be said. But they were still lovely!
The point of the whole exercise was, obviously, to try and promote the company a bit more informally. The CEO, Vashi Dominguez, got into the diamond trade through a lot of hard work and persistence. He's one of those people who was always going to be successful, opening his first electrical shop in Tenerife when he was practically a child, before deciding his future lay in precious stones. But it's not easy to get into a historically closed and rather incestuous trade like diamonds, and it took him years of travelling to Antwerp (now the capital of cutting after Amsterdam's authorities shot themselves in the foot with taxes and so forth) and essentially begging, wooing and charming his way into the business. It's an inspiring story with a positive ending, and after doing wholesale for a while, he now focuses on consumers but dealing with diamond mines direct, cutting costs dramatically. And I do mean dramatically. Almost too good to be true, if I hadn't been at this talk and met them! I have a ring (the one with the aforementioned story) with a smashed diamond - which surprises people since they're meant to be as hard as... well, diamonds. But they are also extremely brittle, and one whack in the wrong place - whether I dropped it, fell on it or smacked it against something, I have no idea - and the stone is ruined. Mine is pretty small, less than 0.3 of a carat, but I got quoted £300 to have it replaced in a jeweller in my town. Vashi quoted me £40. I will be going in to talk to them in the next few weeks and I'll feed back!
This is one of Diamond Manufacturers' pink sapphire and diamond eternity rings, as compared to my 1940s blue sapphire and diamond ring - a gift from my mum for my 30th. I think the latter was an engagement ring, but it was made bigger (not by me). Which do you prefer? I think I can guess what you'll all say, but the first one is lovely nonetheless.
If you're a chap looking for an engagement ring, and you don't want to go vintage, then please do check out Diamond Manufacturers. They do a reasonably priced ring design service, which, when you consider the savings on the stones themselves is extra affordable, everything is guaranteed and you know you're not getting some rubbishy Elizabeth Duke diamond, full of flaws and worth almost nothing (if you've ever wondered how those things are so cheap, that's why). And they're all ethically sourced.
The diamonds of the world are running out, though. One new mine, discovered in Canada is waiting to have work started by De Beers, but in the next handful of decades, we may well run out completely. They can therefore only get rarer and more expensive as time wears on, mine could end up being my pension in this era when bricks and mortar can't be relied upon any more. Treasure your diamonds if you have some already and look after them... but do make sure you have at least one in your life if you don't yet. Marilyn was right, you know.
Lots more info on the site if you're interested: http://www.diamondmanufacturers.co.uk/.
Wishing you a sparkly day,