N.Y. DIAMONDS #26 Summer 1994
Fact and Fantasy of Fancies
By Alan Bronstein
The French expression used in the diamond trade for fancy colored diamonds is 'couleur fantaisie.' Naturally colored diamonds, attractive to us for their mystical, alluring beauty and rarity, are a fantasy. They are one of nature's greatest masterpieces.
The mystique that surrounds these unusual stones dates back to when man first discovered diamonds. Because of their rarity compared to clear white diamonds, the finest fancy colored diamonds often have landed in the treasure chests and jewelry boxes of the royalty of India, Europe and the Middle East.
Folklore and history have traced the movements of the blue Hope Diamond from before the time of Jean Baptiste Tavernier, the great French gem merchant who described many famous diamonds during the mid-17th century. The course of the pink Agra Diamond has been tracked back to Baber, the first of India's Mogul emperors who ruled at the turn of the 16th century.
History has smiled on the beauty and rarity of the 41-carat, pear-shaped Dresden Green Diamond and the 128.51-carat yellow Tiffany Diamond, both the largest known diamonds of their respective colors.
Over the past 10 years, the auction houses have brought greater awareness of fancy colored diamonds to a broader market. This publicity has been fueled by the fabulous prices achieved for a handful of one-of-a-kind diamonds. The now-historic 0.95-carat purplish red diamond that brought almost $1 million per carat in 1987 seems to be the point where the frenzy began on the auction scene.
The magnificent blues, pinks and canary yellows also seem to reach incredible heights of value compared to their sister colorless diamonds. With a 9-carat blue diamond selling for more than $300,000 per carat and a 10-carat pink selling for almost $400,000 per carat, the most recent auctions suggest great demand among the world's leading connoisseurs.
To view one of these rare gems is a fantasy adventure. I'm often reminded of a similar color in nature. From the sweet smell of a pink rose to a powder-blue sky to a budding green leaf to a golden sun setting over the horizon, colored diamonds evoke a great sense of the world of color that surrounds us.
While this has served to stimulate much interest, it has also been a source of frustration and intimidation for many jewelers. It creates a perception that a natural fancy colored diamond must be expensive to be beautiful. But a large variety of colored diamonds exist that are affordable and desirable.
Today, most colored diamonds are sold through a small number of traders and jewelers throughout the world. These merchants did not gain their knowledge from books. They learned through a method open to anyone interested in selling fancies by acquainting themselves with the colors that exist and developing their own personal tastes.
In fancy colored diamonds there is no 'D' standard, as there is representing the pinnacle of colorless diamonds. There is no chart that says yellow is better than brown or that blue is better than pink. The color itself and how beautiful it is to the viewer is what determines its value.
But for those not used to dealing in fancy colored diamonds, understanding the market is not impossible. Several aspects of quality used to grade colorless diamonds apply to colored diamonds as well: How well a stone is cut, freedom from inclusions, size and relative color.
When considering the way a fancy colored diamond is cut, we may not always hold it to the strict standards to which we hold colorless diamond. Even though we try to maintain the brilliance which is unique to diamonds, we ultimately want the stone to maintain its body color in the face-up, or table-up position.
If the colored diamond is cut to the strict standards of a colorless diamond, the stone may be too brilliant from the top, masking its beauty by washing out the color. This is often more obvious in lighter colors or pastel shades of pink, yellow and blue diamonds.
From the side or table down, color is apparent, but face-up color is illusionary. Skilled cutters fortunately know how to sculpt these stones to balance brilliance and body color and preserve color in the face-up position.
Freedom from inclusions plays a role in evaluating fancy colored diamonds. A flawless colored diamond generally carries a premium compared to a similar but included stone. A colored diamond with VVS or VS clarities also tends to fall into this higher price bracket. For many traders, an SI colored diamond is still highly desirable and just as valuable as those of better clarities, when considering the most unusual and rare colors.
When we consider lighter shades of color, clarity has a greater impact on value. Visible imperfections tend to have a drastic effect on desirability and value. Only in extreme cases of very rare colors is this overlooked. For example, the 0.95 carat purplishy red diamond was imperfect to the naked eye yet considered so rare as still to command a high price.
Size does not influence value the way it does for colorless diamonds. For example, it is generally accepted that a 2-carat D-color IF diamond is worth more per carat than a 1-carat stone of the same qualities. Similarly, a 5-carater is more valuable per carat than a 2-carater of identical qualities and a 10-carater is yet more valuable.
This is not necessarily true for fancy colors. Color generally takes precedence over size. A 1-carat fancy pink (the highest grade for a pink diamond) may have a higher per-carat value than a 2-carat fancy pink diamond of a similar clarity, shape and cut. Similarly, a 5-carat fancy pink may outrank a 10-carater of similar qualities.
This is because there is a very big range of saturations, especially in the highest grades of pink, blue and yellow diamonds. Therefore, size is only a factor when we take into consideration color saturation and then quality and cut.
Color saturation and the identification of modifiers are the foundation for valuing fancy colored diamonds. Modifiers are considered a negative attribute for many colors, but this is not always the case. A yellow diamond that is modified by orange, for example, is more valuable than some non-modified yellows. A pink modified by purple or orange may be more desirable than a pure pink diamond.
Brown and grey modifiers tend to have a dulling influence, and diamonds with them are widely accepted as being less valuable than those without them. But this does not mean they are not beautiful. I have seen many beautiful stones described as brownish pink, brownish orange, grayish blue and many other combinations of these modifiers. Individual taste is frequently the ultimate criteria in determining what is most beautiful.
Many traders have come to rely heavily on a diamond grading report, which classifies colored diamonds by their basic colors as well as modifiers and saturations. For example, the Gemological Institute of American grades yellow diamonds according to the follwing nomenclature: fancy light yellow, fancy yellow or fancy intense yellow.
But each of these grades has a range, and the highest grade, fancy intense yellow, has the broadest range. There are fancy intense yellow diamonds that just surpass fancy yellow, and there are those in which saturation is so extreme that it renders them what connoisseurs refer to as 'canary' yellows.
Quite often, dealers rely on the selling price of a particular graded colored diamond sold at auction to price their own stones. Unless they view the actual stone sold, however, this information can be misleading.
Another potential problem with grading reports is that, because of their subjective nature and the lack of standardized nomenclature, color descriptions may vary from one laboratory to another.
I have seen a diamond graded fancy purplish pink by GIA but graded fancy intense purlish red by Antwerp's Diamond High Council (HRD). I have seen one lab call a diamond fancy grayish blue and another call the same stone fancy blue. The subjective nature of colored diamond grading makes it even more important that we have our own opinions as to the color and beauty of each particular stone.
Lab grading reports are crucial to the colored diamond market because they differentiate between naturally colored diamonds and color-enhanced or color-treated diamonds. Technology has become so sophisticated that it may be impossible to visually tell the difference between natural and treated colored diamonds.
Treated diamonds can be very beautiful and provide a market for those who can't afford naturally colored stones. But a treated diamond is worth only a fraction of a naturally colored diamond. For any diamond of considerable value, a gem lab certificate stating color origin is a necessity.
To be proficient in colored diamonds, as in most endeavors, one must begin by learning the fundamentals and then slowly amass experience. This process is primarily one of developing a viable personal aesthetic. Personal taste is the driving force behind most traders' decisions, whether they are buying a colored diamond for resale or for a private collection.
Ideally, colored diamond buyers should check many supply sources when seeking stones. No one source will have the most attractive stone for the best price every time. This also allows you to get a feeling for a particular color's price range. Don't be afraid of modified colors. They can be more beautiful than a pure color and much more affordable. Light colored diamonds should have enough color from the top so that they are not mistaken for colorless diamonds and so that the color enhances their beauty.
When you combine the many colors possible in diamonds, levels of saturation and the varieties of diamond shapes, each colored diamond has a unique personality. When it comes to fancy colored diamonds there is something to satisfy all tastes. If you haven't started already now is as good a time as any to begin your fantasy colored diamond adventure.