From raw stones to rose cuts, slices to sparklers, diamonds are the essence of cool. Check out the stunners we cherry-picked from the latest designer lines—guaranteed to knock your stockings off.
Earlier this summer, Christian Tse, the Los Angeles–based designer best known for his million-dollar diamond jewels, struck a deal that was impressive even by his lofty standards.
At June’s JCK Las Vegas show, a broker brought Tse a 3 ct., pear-shaped, fancy vivid blue diamond valued at $4.5 million. Through a retailer in Boston, Tse met a hedge-fund manager whose wife coveted just such a stone. So the designer flew across the country to tempt the woman in person. After taking a good look at the rare gem—a superb example of how an alchemic mix of carbon and boron can transform a colorless diamond into a crystal cocktail of extreme desire—she promptly asked her husband to place a deposit.
“When you have merchandise that’s out of this world, it’s not very hard to convince a client,” Tse says. “You don’t usually lose on things that are fantastic.”
While a fancy vivid blue diamond represents the extreme of “things that are fantastic,” Tse’s sentiment holds true across the diamond jewelry market, where unusual, couldn’t-shop-them-if-you-tried goods are finding favor among even traditionalists.
“The one blessing of recession is that all bets are off,” says Jewelers Resource Bureau founder Cindy Edelstein. “It’s like diamond freedom.”
The ubiquity of rough diamonds shows where individual tastes are turning—a trend that surely has Marcel Tolkowsky turning in his grave. (In his seminal 1914 paper on the most efficient way to facet a diamond, the Belgian-born gemologist and mathematician extolled the virtues of what eventually came to be known as the ideal cut; its precise angles were designed to deliver a maximum of flash.) Among contemporary designers and their consumers, however, demand is for diamonds that do anything but sparkle.
Says Helena Krodel, director of media and special events at the Jewelry Information Center, “the most important development is diamond slices,” referring to flat, thin, glass-like panes that share almost nothing in common with Tolkowsky’s brilliant cut. “We’re still continuing on this idea of the natural, organic aesthetic, and the slices play into that.”
It may be tempting to attribute the popularity of raw and sliced diamonds to the recession—which made it impossible to promote conspicuous consumption without seeming preposterously out of touch—but rough diamonds have appealed to gem lovers for centuries. First prized by the maharajahs of India, who obtained them from the legendary fields of Golconda, raw diamonds were treasured for their primordial mystique. Early cutters carved simple facets here and there, experimentally, to allow light into the stones. But it was not until the 17th century, when Europe developed a taste for diamonds, that the gems came to be judged by their glitter factor.
By the 20th century, high-tech polishing methods created a cult around brilliance, which peaked in 1999, when New Orleans rapper B.G. coined a certain hip-hop slang term to describe the sound of bouncing light. As early as 2006, however, trend watchers were declaring that the glow was gone. “Bling has officially expired,” Britt Bivens, director of New York City trend-consulting agency 4.5 Productions, told the International Herald Tribune that December.
It took the financial crisis of 2008–09 to propel the understated look of raw, sliced, and rose-cuts into the mainstream. “I saw the slices last year and didn’t pick them up. This year, I did,” says Damon Gross, CEO at Hyde Park Jewelers in Denver. “Last year, we went heavy with classics, and this year, we’re doing a mix.”
That “mix” mentality has taken root in more ways than one. The variety of materials that designers regularly pepper with diamonds would astonish buyers still stuck in a pre-millennial mindset. From rubber and steel to the oxidized silver look that took the 2010 Las Vegas buying shows by storm, diamonds are now commonplace in all manner of affordable settings.
“If there are diamonds in it, no matter the quality, the consumer perceives that as value,” says Jamie Cadwell, director of the Diamond Information Center. “The diamond content legitimates the price.”
Even so, consumers are still wary of paying too much. Among retailers, there’s a consensus that the freewheeling go-go years aren’t coming back anytime soon. Instead, customers are embracing the idea of fine jewelry as a wearable, day-to-day luxury. “The under-$2,000 price point has gone crazy, which is why silver has been so good for us,” says Ryann Rinker, director of merchandising for Tivol in Kansas City, Mo., citing Stephen Webster’s rock ’n’ roll silver collection as a standout. “That’s one indication that people are willing to go less conservative with their dollars.”
Another sign: the popularity of brown, black, and gray diamonds. Not long ago, these mottled goods were considered “off-color” and destined for the garbage heap. Today, black diamonds especially are paired with vibrant hues of sapphire or dusted across ultra-feminine, flower-shaped rings, one example of how irreverently designers are using them.
But don’t think that studs or line bracelets are going out of style. “Diamond studs should be your bread and butter, but think about newer takes,” says Frank Proctor, president and CEO of the Luxury Brand Group in Seal Beach, Calif. “Like a thinner stone with pavé all around, or line bracelets using raw diamonds.”
In other words, give your staff something to talk about by framing your unconventional diamonds in terms of their inherent staying power. “Jewelry that’s designed well doesn’t have to mean fashion jewelry,” Cadwell says. “It can also have emotional meaning and be very wearable.” With shoppers searching for things that will stand the test of time, building your message around the lasting value of a diamond is key to winning buyer hearts and minds, say experts. “There’s so much product out there,” says Pam Danziger, founder of Unity Marketing. “Jewelers need to be aware and price accordingly. That doesn’t necessarily mean making things cheaper, but giving more to the consumer.”
Joanne Teichman would agree—if cheap were part of her vocabulary. The co-owner of Ylang23, one of Dallas’s most stylish jewelry emporiums, never used price as a buying consideration pre-recession, and sure isn’t using it now. “We are not looking for affordable pieces,” Teichman says. “We are looking for irresistible.” When it comes to diamonds, Teichman believes people are willing to pay for something special. Case in point: this recent encounter at Max’s in St. Louis Park, Minn.
Owner Ellen Hertz said a woman spent about an hour in the store while her husband waited in the car. She fell in love with a lavender spinel ring that cost about $4,000 and asked “if she could leave her driver’s license and engagement ring and run out to show him,” Hertz recalls. “You know what he said? ‘That’s way too much money for something that’s not a diamond.’?”