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Jewellery How to Buy Coloured Diamonds

How to Buy Coloured Diamonds

How to Buy Coloured Diamonds
By Yanni Tan
August 02, 2016

While fancy coloured diamonds have been making the news for fetching record prices at auctions in recent years, they still remain rather mysterious to many jewellery lovers. We shed some light on their rise in popularity, and the basics of buying them.

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If white diamonds are a girl’s best friends, then fancy coloured ones must be her closest confidantes—for they are the rarest of the rare in the world of gemstones, and way more expensive and treasured than their white cousins. In fact, out of every 10,000 gem-quality diamonds, only one has a fancy colour.

Estimates put fancy coloured polished diamonds at one in 10,000, and 1 in 25,000 exhibits a fancy intense colour. A fancy intense blue diamond, which is more valuable than yellows or even pinks, is one in 30 million diamonds. In addition to this incredible rarity, there are a host of contributing factors that play a key role in the current surge in interest in coloured diamonds and their tremendous value today.

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More widely available and attractively priced are fancy yellow diamonds, featured strongly in Tiffany & Co’s collections, including the Keys range.

Few gemstones in history were so iconic, rare and beautiful that they were given a name, and fancy coloured diamonds feature dominantly in this pantheon of greats. You might have heard of the world’s most famous, and infamous, diamond: the 45.52-carat fancy dark greyish-blue Hope Diamond, first purchased from Cartier by American heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean in 1910, and is now displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

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When Evalyn Walsh McLean bought the Hope Diamond from Cartier in 1911, it came mounted in a pendant surrounded by diamonds, and suspended from a diamond chain.

A legendary yellow is the 101.29-carat fancy vivid yellow Allnatt Diamond, which was discovered in a South African mine around 1880. Its first known owner, English businessman Major Alfred Ernest Allnatt, entrusted it to Cartier in the early 1950s to be set into a brooch. One coloured that is considered priceless is the largest and finest green diamond ever found, the 40.7-carat Dresden Green, which dates back to the 1700s and is now displayed at the Albertinum museum in Dresden, the capital city of Saxony in Germany where it derived its name.

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Étourdissant Cartier high jewellery ring, featuring a 3.45-carat fancy vivid blue diamond as the centre stone.

Other well-known gems include the extremely rare 5.11-carat Moussaieff Red; the massive 59.6-carat Pink Star (formerly known as the Steinmetz Pink); and a 14.82-carat orange diamond, believed to be the world’s largest in that colour, simply named The Orange.

While fancy coloured diamonds have always been prized through the centuries, several high-profile, record-shattering sales of top diamonds in the past few years have again thrust this small group of gems into the limelight.

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The largest fancy vivid blue diamond to appear at auction, the 14.62-carat Oppenheimer Blue sold for a record-breaking $57.5m at Christie’s in Geneva in May.

Last November, Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau paid US$48.4m for a 12.03-carat fancy vivid blue diamond at a Sotheby’s auction in Geneva for his daughter, and named it the Blue Moon of Josephine after her. It was the most expensive diamond ever sold, regardless of colour, and fetched the highest per carat price. The previous day, he had spent US$28.5m on a 16.08-carat fancy vivid pink diamond auctioned by Christie’s, and called it Sweet Josephine. The previous world record for the most expensive diamond was held by the 24.78-carat fancy intense Graff Pink diamond, sold in 2010 at Sotheby’s, for US$46.2m to London jewellery dealer Laurence Graff.


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Far exceeding estimates is this ring set with a 4.08-carat fancy vivid orange diamond, which sold for HK$19.28m at Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction in April.

If you are wondering why it seems that fancy coloured diamonds seem to be more pervasive now than ever, it’s a simple case of supply rising to meet demand. 

“The recent commercialisation of yellow diamonds coupled with unique campaigns by Tiffany & Co, the attractive marketing of ‘champagne’ and ‘cognac’ diamonds, and the realisation of pink, purple, blue and other fancy coloured diamonds have spurred a growing appetite for end-consumers,” Karan Tilani, director of the World of Diamonds, explains. “Fashion has also strongly influenced consumer preferences, with individuals getting bolder to flaunt a diamond that isn’t of a pure colourless grade. “In response to soaring demand, mining groups release larger percentages of fancy coloured diamonds from their reserves to keep up with the trends.”

Coloured Diamonds10.jpgWhen Evalyn Walsh McLean bought the Hope Diamond from Cartier in 1911, it came mounted in a pendant surrounded by diamonds, and suspended from a diamond chain.

He adds that the introduction of innovation software, for example in mapping technology, has yielded in a higher proportion of fine-quality sparklers churned out by mines. “This includes diamonds with better clarity grades and of more desirable colours. In addition, technology has contributed to faint fancy coloured diamonds being able to retain their colours even after the cutting process.”

Despite this perceived increase in availability, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Asia and chairman of international jewellery in Asia, Quek Chin Yeow, says that there is still an extreme scarcity of large and fine fancy coloured diamonds. “Although the Blue Moon of Josephine was discovered in 2014 in South Africa, I think it is probably the only blue diamond over 10 carats discovered over the past 10 to 15 years.”

Gemmologist Tay Kun Ming, who runs the gemstone sourcing and retail arm of Far East Gem, which includes a gem-testing laboratory and a training institute, gives an example of the diminishing supply: “Rio Tinto’s Australian Argyle mine, which is the dominant producer of pink diamonds, has shifted its operations from open-pit mining to underground mining since end-2015. The cost of this shift has attributed to an increase in prices. On top of that, the underground mining operations are estimated to carry on until 2020, after which its future is not yet decided.”


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The Aurora Green, which was up for sale at Christie’s in Hong Kong in May, is the largest natural fancy vivid green diamond in the world at 5.03 carats.

The auction house experts are reluctant to discuss pricing of top-quality, large fancy coloured diamonds, for these are so rare that each one has to be judged on its own grading and merits.
Sotheby’s Quek says prices of important blue diamonds sold at auctions have doubled over the past three to four years, but adds that top diamonds of other rare colours like pink, orange or green offered at auctions have been so few and varied in size and shape that it is impossible to chart price trends.
In general, for “normal” fancy coloured diamonds, Tilani estimates that the yellows and browns have appreciated very slightly over the last decade, while pinks and blues are commanding skyrocketing prices.

Far East Gem’s Tay elaborates: “The prices have gone up by 150 per cent since 10 years ago. We sold a 0.54-carat fancy vivid purplish pink diamond from Australia’s Argyle mine in 2010 for about $154,000 per carat. Today, the asking price of a similar stone is about $240,000 per carat.”

Apart from the rarity of fancy coloureds driving their investment returns and therefore demand, Quek also brings up the aesthetic rewards of owning and wearing something one-of-a-kind, and the emotional significance of buying it to commemorate a key event: “the yield in this respect is quite different from that of an investment portfolio’s”.

He says their current popularity is due to the fact that the consumer market is more educated and sophisticated now than ever before. “It was only in the 1990s that the Gemological Institute of America started to grade fancy coloured diamonds into the different colour grades. Previously, a blue was just a blue. I’ve come across a collector who bought coloured diamonds from the 1970s, one of which was a blue that we tested and found it to have a fancy intense blue grade.”

The top collectors are also continuously acquiring “gemstones that are extremely exclusive and one of a kind”, says Vickie Sek, deputy chairman and director of jewellery at Christie’s Asia. “Coloured diamonds are one of the gemstones our clients look for, but only pieces that are highly saturated in colour in the vivid and intense range.”


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Sold for US$31.8m at a Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction in April, this 10.10-carat fancy vivid blue De Beers Millennium Jewel 4 set the record for the highest price ever paid for a jewel at an Asian auction.

Fancy coloured diamonds hail from Australia, Brazil, South Africa, India, Canada, Russia, several African nations, and even Borneo. White diamonds are colourless to light yellow, and described based on the industry’s D-to-Z colour-grading scale. Beyond Z, the yellow diamonds are considered fancy coloured diamonds, as well as diamonds that display any other colour face up. Although pinks and blues seem to be favourites, red, green, purple and orange are rarer, while colours like brown, black and grey are also fancy colours.

The value of white diamonds in the D-to-Z range usually decreases as the yellow becomes more obvious, but the opposite is true for fancy coloured diamonds: the more intense the colour, the more valuable.

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The historic Allnatt Diamond, which was discovered in a South African mine, was named after its first known owner Major Alfred Ernest Allnatt, who owned it during the 1950s.

In assessing fancy coloured diamonds, Far East Gem’s Tay says that the standard 4Cs are also used, although the information is interpreted slightly differently. “The rarer the colour, the lower the carat size you would expect. For pinks, you would generally see 0.2 to 0.7 carats, and even then a 0.2-carat pink is impressive.

“For white diamonds, you would grade only in the tone of colour (say, lighter or darker shade). In coloured diamonds, you have to look at hue (type of colour), tone (light or dark), saturation (intensity), and primary colour with or without a secondary colour. The purer the colour, the rarer. Colourless diamonds have only one colour grade, for example, G colour. For coloured diamonds, the grading system is more complex; you can potentially see a fancy deep brownish greenish yellow, fancy yellowish greenish grey or fancy grey-blue. A fancy grey-blue looks different from a fancy blue-grey. The highest grade is fancy vivid.”

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The extremely rare 15.38-carat Unique Pink sold for US$31.6m at Sotheby’s in Geneva in May, earning it the honour as the most expensive fancy vivid pink diamond ever sold.

According to Tay, fancy coloureds usually display a poorer clarity as compared with white diamonds due to the sheer rarity of coloured diamond roughs. “It is best to try to buy a diamond that is eye-clean. In general, pink diamonds tend to be more included than a blue diamond.”

The last C is Cut, which Tay says affects the colour of the diamond. “Sometimes if the colour of the diamond rough is light, the cutter will make the diamond pavilion deeper, which draws out the colour and therefore improve its colour grade. Rather than searching for a perfect cut, look for a cut that appeals to you—it’s like looking at art.”



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