For centuries, diamond briolettes and faceted diamond beads were used in some of the world’s most famous jewelry. Some historians believe the briolette cut originated in India. The Crown Jewels of Iran include numerous briolettes. Briolettes were part of the tiara worn by the Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna of Russia at her 1894 wedding to the Grand Duke Alexander Mihailovich of Russia. And a diamond briolette necklace given in 1811 by French Emperor Napoleon I to his second wife, Empress Marie Louise, is now in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Briolettes began to gain popularity in commercially available jewelry designs in the 1990s and remain a hot trend today. Laser-cutting and -drilling tools make it easier for jewelry designers to use them, and, with color on the frontline of fashion, designers are using not only white diamonds but also fancy color diamond briolettes. Designers have begun to expand their use to diamond beads, which are cut into a variety of shapes such as the traditional faceted rondelle and the nontraditional cube. Some are used in rough form for a more organic design.
Many strands of faceted colored diamonds, including brown, greenish yellow, and pinkish, are available in their natural color without treatments. Black diamonds are irradiated to enhance their color. The color of bluish green diamonds is enhanced by a high pressure, high temperature treatment.
These stones aren’t sold according to the standard “four Cs.” They are typically industrial grade and come primarily from the Argyle Mine in Australia. Most are cut in India, although a few are cut in Germany. They range from translucent to opaque, but with a good cut and polish, these diamonds are prized by designers and wearers.
Mukesh Gubta, president of Raja Jewels of New York City, a wholesale company that specializes in faceted bead and briolette strands, has been stockpiling them for years. “I saw [them] over 15 years back, and they looked so good to me … and they can sell,” Gubta says.
Betsy Suhey, proprietor of Aurum Jewelers & Goldsmiths, State College, Pa., and a GIA-accredited gemologist, scoops up colored diamond briolette and faceted bead strands at every trade show she attends. She was the first in her area to market and display these designs, and customers have responded well. “The designs offer a diamond’s allure and magic in a more affordable option, which our younger customers appreciate,” says Elisabeth Pfahl, Aurum’s goldsmith. “They also offer a fresh, new look to diamond jewelry. Our older customers who already have the more traditional diamond pieces are especially fond of them.”
Eve J. Alfillé, of Eve J. Alfillé Gallery in Evanston, Ill., has worked with briolette and faceted diamond bead strands for more than 15 years. “The first time I saw a strand of black diamond beads was about six or seven years ago, and I thought they were almost magical,” she says. “When I held them in the shadow they still shimmered. No other black stones do that.”
“Diamonds have an extremely high refractive light index,” explains Lori Slagle, G.G., Aurum’s sales manager. “Even though the stones are black, the diamonds pick up and reflect most of the light they receive—even the minimal light in a shadow.”
Alfillé enjoys showing the strands in shadow to her clients, who are usually amazed. The strands aren’t inexpensive—a few thousand dollars each—but they’re very popular, Alfillé says. “There is one gentleman I work with that for every Christmas he has purchased a black diamond piece from me for his wife. He has also purchased the first brown diamond necklace I had ever designed. He is fascinated with them, along with so many of my other clients. The look does seem to appeal to both men and women.”
Alfillé, who designs all of her pieces, has had some problems working with briolettes and faceted beads. She found she was unable to finish the diamond strands by merelystringing them. Drill holes traditionally have been very small, but laser drilling has made it easier for cutters to drill larger holes without compromising the integrity of the diamond or their tools. Nevertheless, stringing a strand of diamonds to be worn as a necklace is risky. The drill holes remain sharp and, with time and wear, can cut through the sturdiest stringing material. Alfillé remedied the problem by wire-wrapping a few beads at a time with extremely fine platinum wire to create a continuous chain of diamond beads. The result is beautiful and wearable.
She recounts a funny story from when she first started buying and displaying diamond strands. “I would display them in the case before I had finished the necklace, just to show them off to my customers. They would ask me, ‘So what are you going to do with it?’ and I would reply with a laugh, ‘I don’t know yet.’ It was a technical problem.”
Although Alfillé emphasizes that a good cut and polish is essential in colored diamond briolette and bead strands, she also uses rough diamond beads in her designs. “There is a reverse-psychology kind of appeal with rough diamonds,” she says. “They are beautiful if used as an entire strand for a necklace or used intermittently in other pieces. It’s a perfect look for people who don’t want to look overdone.”
Manak Jewels, of San Francisco, a wholesaler of loose gemstones and diamonds, has been in business since 1975. A supplier of natural fancy color diamonds for the past 25 years, the firm was one of the first members of the National Colored Diamond Association. Manak started designing its own line of finished jewelry, Manak Couture, utilizing the colored diamond briolettes and beads that it was beginning to supply to the market. It was the perfect way to advertise the look to potential buyers for their own designs.
Pratima Sethi, director of fine jewelry and marketing for Manak Jewels and daughter of Manak’s president, Ambrish Sethi, says briolettes’ major appeal is their different shapes. “Briolettes sparkle because they are so three-dimensional, but the appeal of black diamonds ends up coming down to personal choice,” she says. “Our jewelry is catered to the person who truly appreciates jewelry for its artistic design, who truly understands luxury and diamonds.”
Sethi agrees with Alfillé that briolettes sparkle best when worn against black. “The diamond beads, especially small diamond beads, literally look like drops of water, which can add a beautiful touch to any nature-inspired piece.”
Sethi finds it especially gratifying that this once very small niche market is gaining wider appeal. She says the growth of this trend has become even more apparent in the last several years, and more designers and consumers are learning to appreciate the quiet beauty of these gems.
Most fancy color diamond briolettes are one-of-a-kind, and designers cannot guarantee that shapes and colors will always be available. But Alfillé, Aurum, and Manak have made a virtue of necessity, and their customers have learned to appreciate their distinctive designs. “Our clientele understands by looking at the unique design of the particular pieces that they took time and effort to put together,” says Sethi. The stone selection is, of course, the strongest selling point. “Our jewelry is art deco with a contemporary flair because of the use of color. People still like that antique look, but in today’s age, with color being very big, our jewelry combines modernism with antiquity.”