Diamonds: Orchids of the Gem World

Fancy Colored Diamonds:
In 1817 a French mineralogist named R.J. Hauy wrote “Gems are the flowers of the mineral kingdom-fancy colored diamonds are the orchids.” Fancy colored diamonds have been recognized as exquisite and rare for some time, but it’s only been in the past few years that using fancy colored diamonds for engagement rings has become a hot trend.

Demand for these orchids of the gem world have increased due to press coverage of celebrities who own them. Jennifer Lopez received a $1.1 million pink diamond engagement ring from Ben Affleck. Basketball star Kobe Bryant gave his wife, Vanessa, a $4 million purple one. Even Hilary Clinton has gotten into the act with a canary stone. Don’t want a ring? Supermodel Christy Turlington made a fashion statement with her canary diamond belly stud.

We all know that colorless diamonds are graded by cut, clarity, carat weight and the absence of color. The perfect stone is one with maximum brilliance and little or no trace colors. Cutting the stone properly is paramount in ensuring those qualities. The diamond cutter shortens the path of light as it is reflected in the stone. Because the diamond is colorless or nearly colorless, the clarity is important.

Any inclusions will be easy to detect. The carat weight is also extremely important. The larger the stone, the harder it is to find, and the greater the value.

With fancy colored stones, the diamond cutter concentrates on enhancing the color of the stone. As a result, he wants to lengthen the path of the light so that it picks up and deepens the color. The clarity is less important with fancy colored diamonds because the color of the stones can hide inclusions. Carat weight for these stones is also extremely important. Colored diamonds are much more rare than colorless ones as the size of the stone increases; thus, they’re much more expensive.

Colored diamonds, which come in yellow, red, pink, purple, blue, green, black and brown, come in nine grades of color, a system developed by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). The low grades are “Light” and “Faint,” the middle grades are “Fancy” through “Fancy Intense,”and the top grades are “Fancy Deep” and “Fancy Vivid.” The most rare and most valuable fancy colored diamonds are red. A 5.11 carat red diamond is rumored to have sold for $8 million.

All fancy colored diamonds aren’t that expensive. Yellow diamonds are the most common of the colored stones. In 2002 the Chicago Sun-Times quoted a gemologist at Solari & Huntington Fine Jewelry as saying he sells a two-carat natural fancy yellow diamond ring for $11,900. No matter what colored diamond you’re thinking about buying, remember to ask for the origin of color report from the GIA. Diamonds can be treated by adding foreign elements and irradiating them. Some of those colorless diamonds that are treated had serious occlusions before the coloring process.

Price tag sound too rich for your blood? There is an alternative. Today’s technology makes laboratory-created diamonds possible. One company, Gemesis grows its stones in Russian-made machines. The machines weigh 8,000 pounds and costs as much as $50,000 plus. The diamonds are made by using graphite or other carbon sources as the “seed” of a real diamond. Separating them is a metal solvent with a “secret recipe.” They’re placed in a ceramic cube in the center of the machine and subjected to as much as 2300 degrees Fahrenheit and pressure as great as 850,000 pounds per square inch. Carbon atoms break off, travel through the solvent, and bond the diamond seed. Then crystals grow around it one layer at a time. It takes time, but not as long as it does in nature.

A diamond doesn’t always grow. About ten percent of the time it fails.

When one does grow, it takes 2.5 to 3 carats of rough diamond to make a .75 to 1.25 carat diamond after cutting. But once cut, even jewelers have a hard time distinguishing if it is a natural or created diamond. After all, chemically and physically, it is a diamond. Only very sophisticated machines can identify that the stones were created by detecting the presence of nickel, one of the ingredients in the metal solvent used to grow it. Gemesis sells its 1-carat yellow diamonds for $3,250.

Another company, Lucent Diamonds, located in Lakewood, Colorado, employs different technology. Partnering with Apollo Diamond of Boston, it uses a process called chemical vapor deposition. Lucent workers have only produced small stones of less than a half-carat with the process, but they’re working towards manufacturing larger ones.

Want something “really” different? Lucent Diamonds now makes “memorial diamonds.”It uses cremated human or animal remains for its source of carbon. You donate the source. It can produce a special half-carat blue diamond for you from the ashes of your loved one or pet for only $6,000. What a bargain! Someone must be buying them, but perhaps that’s not what the normal bride would want on her left hand ring finger. Maybe you want a right-hand ring.

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