Black diamonds may clash with the transparency and brilliance that natural white diamonds are always associated with, yet, thanks to visionaries and the open-mindedness that develops in the course of time, the perception of these diamonds has shifted. The gems are now assuming center stage in the designs of jewelers and winning over the hearts of consumers.
The king of black diamonds himself, renowned jeweler Fawaz Gruosi, who championed the inky stone at De Grisogono, was initially unimpressed by the gemstone. In the 1990s, he purchased a large lot of black diamonds for which he paid “almost nothing.” He then locked them in a safe clueless about what to do with them and why he even bought them in the first place.
One day, Mr. Gruosi placed the diamonds on his desk together with a white pearl next to them, and he was enchanted. “Like magic, I saw how the contrast with the white suddenly made the diamonds come to life!” Mr. Gruosi remembers, “this is how my first black diamond jewelry, a ring set with 120 black diamonds and a white pearl came about.”
The fascination with black diamonds appears to originate from the mystery that shrouds them. Contrary to common belief, “natural fancy black diamonds are very rare,” explains a Gemological Institute of America spokesperson. “The majority of natural color black diamonds owe their hue to numerous minute dark crystals or clouds of graphite, magnetite, hematite or native iron.” The GIA distinguishes between gem-quality black diamonds and carbonados, “a polycrystalline diamond material composed of randomly oriented cuboidal microcrystals,” which generally appear as black, gray or brown.
Further mystique is infused by the legends of a curse surrounding one of the largest diamonds ever set in jewelry: the 67.5 carat Black Orlov diamond. Known as The Eye Of Brahma because it was allegedly stolen from a Hindu idol, the black diamond cast its dark spell on whoever touched it. The last one, a certain Princess Nadia Vyegin-Orlov from whom it took the name committed suicide. Nevertheless, the stone set in an exquisite diamond necklace fetched $352,000—three times its low estimate—at Christie’s in 2006. Rahul Kadakia, Christie’s International Head of Jewelry, observes that “the Black Orlov has served as a benchmark for black diamonds and is well known not only for its notorious provenance but also for its large size at 67.49 carats and its unique gunmetal color.”
As with all diamonds, black diamonds are not created equal. “Black diamonds are traditionally less valuable than white diamonds because they are in many ways imperfect with inclusions and generally uneven coloration. However, if a larger black diamond has even coloration, it becomes rare and therefore more prized, but would still only have a value less than that of a white diamond of a similar size and quality,” comments Tobias Kormind, Managing Director of Europe’s largest online diamond jeweler, 77 Diamonds.
“Black diamonds represent power, strength and rebellion,” says Brazilian designer Ara Vartanian, who loves to set them upside down with the pointed tip protruding upwards to enhance their “architectural structure” in avant-gardist designs, also mixing sapphires, emeralds and rubies.
American designer Colette has chosen the diamonds as a key element of her designs. “Although they are a fully saturated stone, they still have the unique sparkle that you can only get from diamonds, which is why I often choose them over other black stones like spinel or onyx.”
Demand for the stone is only increasing. London-based jewelry designer Liv Luttrell, who specializes in bespoke commissions, has noticed that clients are stepping away from “the traditional rule guidance that dictates whether a stone is the ‘right’ color and look to different values such as drama, originality and individuality.”
Designer Emma Clarkson Webb has been receiving requests for engagement rings featuring the diamonds or the so-called ‘salt and pepper’, a mixture of white diamonds with fragments of black inclusions in them. “They are slowly becoming a more attractive choice for an engagement ring stone being more affordable and accessible. You can also get a larger stone for your budget which is definitely appealing,” Ms. Webb comments. “Clients see the beauty in these special and unique stones which vary so much in color and are such great alternatives to the traditional classic white diamond.”
The sustainability-centered brand Missoma has chosen these diamonds as a signature feature in its latest collaboration with designer Harris Reed, as it felt that black diamonds are an “extraordinary material” exuding “drama and opulence.”
However, being much harder than their colorless peers, black diamonds are tough to cut. “Cutting a black diamond is not an easy job,” explains Mr. Gruosi. “If you need one hour to cut a white diamond, you need five to cut a black one,” he adds. Furthermore, recalling a particular experience, he says “I cannot forget how long it took me to decide how to cut a 587 carat rough diamond and to find the right diamond polisher. Eventually, we used the very traditional Mogul diamond cutting technique to create the final piece—a sort of little mountain, raised with a lot more facets than usual.”
Last year, British singer Myleene Klass commissioned 77 Diamonds to create a bespoke engagement ring featuring a head-turning 7.63 carat black diamond. “The design and creation of the precious ring involved the skills of nine professionals, from those who sourced the diamond to the expert ring setters and polishers working in our Mayfair workshop,” recalls Mr. Kormind.
Amedeo Scognamiglio notes that men seem to be particularly attracted by these diamonds because of their “tougher look and more artisanal feel.” He has often been commissioned to design men’s engagement rings featuring the stone.
It is a sentiment shared by Ara Vartanian, who has also been designing black diamond engagement rings for men. However, reflecting on the diamonds for women, Mr. Vartanian believes that they have a subtle power: “Clients know that they are wearing something precious, yet understated, without the intense shine of a white diamond. So they are perfect for those who still enjoy wearing diamonds but don’t want to draw too much attention.”