As walkers for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk for the Cure passed by our store last weekend, and pink balloons lined the street, I thought of the perfect coordinating topic–pink diamonds.
Did you know that diamonds come in different colors? Red is the rarest and most expensive color of diamond. Yellow and brown are the most common. Pink diamonds come mainly from a famous mine in Western Australia–the Argyle Mine. It is the world’s largest supplier of naturally colored diamonds.
Diamonds are made of pure carbon and, with no structural anomalies or chemical impurities, they are colorless. But trace elements like nitrogen can create a yellow or brown hue to diamonds. Structural anomalies in the crystal structure can lead to a pink, red, green, or blue hue. Diamonds exhibiting structural anomalies, however, are quite rare, accounting for about 2% of all diamonds.
Irradiation, whether natural or man-induced, will change the crystal structure. Early in the 1900s, experiments were conducted with irradiating diamonds. At first, the diamonds were radioactive and could not be worn. Now we know how to irradiate diamonds safely. Most blue and green diamonds on the market today have been irradiated by man. Naturally irradiated diamonds, like the Hope Diamond, are incredibly rare and valuable.
Sometimes fancy colored diamonds are annealed, which is a heating process that can alter the crystal structure. Many bright yellow, orange, or pink diamonds have been both irradiated and annealed. So a natural pink diamond, like the ones from the Argyle Mine, are very expensive. Recently, an Argyle Pink Diamond necklace( with 909 pink diamonds totaling 34.81 cts) and ring(with a 0.48ct fancy vivid pink diamond center) sold for $890,000.
Pink diamonds are a good complement to last weekend’s walk for the cure to breast cancer. But, while pink diamonds are both beautiful and valuable, finding the cure to breast cancer is priceless.
A ring has signified union and commitment for thousands of years. But when did a diamond become part of the equation? Prior to 1870, around the time diamonds were discovered in Africa, diamonds were too rare and expensive for most of us. They were seen as a symbol of status and wealth, not love and commitment. There is a well documented case of the Archduke Maximillian of Austria commissioning a diamond engagement ring for his bride, Mary of Burgundy, back in 1477. But most brides of the time had a simple band.
It was not until the late 1920s that a diamond engagement ring first became popular. DeBeers, the company that monopolized the diamond market for decades, was eager to market its increasing supply of diamonds to the middle class. When the U.S. economy faltered in the 1930s, demand for diamond rings fell dramatically. DeBeers responded with tempting advertisements showing movie stars wearing diamonds. They tried to educate the public by introducing the 4 C’s. (Color, Cut, Clarity, Carat) Then, in 1947, their “A Diamond is Forever” campaign launched the idea that giving a diamond when you propose ensures a marriage that will last forever.
By 1965, eighty percent of all new brides had a diamond engagement ring. At first, most brides sported a solitaire ring, a style popularized by Tiffany and Co. But in the 1970s more engagement rings had accent diamonds along with a center stone. Now it’s common to see many diamonds in an engagement ring. Today’s rings average over 1 carat total weight in diamonds.
What’s next for the engagement ring? Some say that the trend is to substitute a sapphire (or other colored stone) for the center diamond. But I have a hard time believing diamonds will ever lose their stature. Diamonds really are forever.
Diamonds seem to come mostly from Africa or Russia or Canada. But prior to the 1800s, diamonds came from India. And Shah Jahan, the same Mogul ruler who commissioned the Taj Mahal, was the owner of some of the world’s largest and most precious diamonds. He reigned from 1628-1658 and, during his reign he possessed famous diamonds such as the Koh-i-Noor, the Orlov, and the Hope Diamond. Of course, they may have looked different in the 1600s than they do today. Diamonds have often disappeared and then disguised by being re-cut. The famous ones have a colorful past–even if they are colorless.
1) Koh-I-Noor (Mountain of Light)
The Koh-i-Noor had many homes before reaching its current resting spot in the Tower of London. When the Mogul empire was taken over by the Persian, Nadir Shah, in 1739, this diamond and many others were passed to him. When he was assassinated in 1747, the diamond went to the King of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the King had to surrender the diamond to Ranjit Singh, founder of the Sikh Empire, in order to avoid death. And then Singh had to give up the diamond to the British East India Company, who claimed it for Queen Victoria.
It has been in England ever since 1848. But it was re-cut during Queen Victoria’s reign and, as a result, lost about 43% of its mass. Queen Victoria and later Queens of England have worn the diamond in either a necklace, a brooch, or a crown. The last person to wear the diamond was the Queen Mother, mother of Elizabeth II. The current queen has never worn it, perhaps because of an ongoing controversy with India over which country should possess the gem.
2) Hope Diamond
The Hope has, perhaps, the most colorful history of all. It actually started out as the Tavernier Blue, owned by a French diamond merchant who obtained the deep-blue diamond from the Mogul Emperor, Shah Jahan. When the merchant presented the stone to Louis XIV, the French King had to have it. In 1673, it was recut into a heart, and was thereafter called the French Blue. Louis XIV wore it in a cravat pin. It was held by French royalty until the French Revolution, when the Crown Jewels, including the French Blue were put on display to the public in the National Treasury located in Paris. In 1792, looters stole the Crown Jewels and the French Blue disappeared.
In 1839, a beautiful deep-blue diamond surfaced, owned by Henry Philip Hope, a prominent London banker. The stone wasn’t the same heart shape, but it was suspected to be the French Blue in still another re-cut form. (It was not until 2005, when a computer model study was conducted on the stone, that this suspicion became certainty.) The Hopes owned the stone until 1901, when it began an 11 year nomadic life, eventually ending up in the hands of American socialite, Evalyn Walsh McLean. When she died in 1947, Harry Winston bought her entire jewelry collection and, in 1958, he gifted the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian. This diamond is one of the most visited exhibits at the museum.
It is thought that the Orlov Diamond was once part of a much larger stone, again unearthed during the reign of Shah Jahan. But, by the mid-1700s, the diamond was possessed by an Armenian diamond dealer called Safras. Catherine II, Empress of Russia, invited Safras to St. Petersburg, with the intention of buying the diamond. But the deal was never finalized, and Catherine didn’t get her diamond until her lover, Russian nobleman Grigory Orlov, negotiated a deal with Safras. Orlov’s name became forever tied to the gem, even though the gem didn’t permanently tie Orlov to Catherine. Ultimately, the diamond was set into Catherine II’s Scepter, where it remains to this day as part of the permanent display at the Kremlin in Moscow.
For those of you who like numbers, the Koh-i-Noor is 105.6 carats. The Hope Diamond is 45.52 carats and the Orlov is the largest, at 189.62 carats. Just to give you an idea of size, the Hope Diamond is about the size of an unshelled walnut and the Orlov is shaped like one half of a hen’s egg.
Much of my information came from a wonderful exhibit called “Diamonds are Forever: The Incredible Journeys of World-Famous Diamonds and the People Who Owned Them”, showing through April 19th at the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures in Tucson, Arizona. But there are also many websites and books devoted to these famous diamonds.
So many women these days have jewelry they never wear. It’s too big, it’s too small, it’s not my style, it has too many bad memories. Hearing their stories always makes me sad. I understand the reasons but I don’t understand the waste.
I’ve never met a person who didn’t value putting things to their best use. We all tell our story of a ratty old sweater we finally had to throw out because it just had too many holes in it. We scrape the inside of the peanut butter jar. We like candles that burn to the end of the wick. My mother even cuts old bath towels into dust rags and, when they get too unsightly to dust with, they become my father’s rags for the garage.
So when jewelry isn’t getting used, it’s time to repurpose it! One way to do that is to bring it in to Dearborn Jewelers for a remodel. Not long ago, a customer came in with the wedding ring from her first marriage, a pair of diamond studs from her high school graduation, and two opal rings she no longer wore. We talked about what she would want, and then sketched out a pendant for herself and one for each of her two young daughters to receive when they get a bit older.
Nick, the master bench jeweler, was able to use, not only the stones, but also the metal from the old jewelry to create some unique, one of a kind pendants for our customer and her daughters. She wears hers often and loves it. And, certainly, it is beautiful. But one of the reasons she loves it is because it comes with a story of taking something useless and transforming it to something treasured. How might you create a new treasure?