Fancy Color Diamonds is a rarified diamond category owing to their tint, beauty and scarcity. Naturally colored diamonds have been around for as long as diamonds have been harvested. And for the really primeval mines, that means Golconda. The earliest incidence of color diamond discovery was ancient India which was the sole producer of all diamonds until the early 18th century.
During the dawn of diamond mining, color diamonds popped up, although rarely, dating back to India in the 4th century BC. Enduring evidence of these early treasures are often displayed today in museums. It’s suspected that many large colored diamonds fell victim to demolished spoils of war.
Large and Historical
Large color diamonds were the cherished hoard of royalty like the famed 55-carat light yellow shield shape Sancy Diamond. It hopped around in royal circles for years after its discovery in India, becoming the darling of Turkish, British and French monarchs until it was stolen during the French Revolution. In 1978, its last owners, the Astor family, sold it to the Louvre where one can see it on display today.
The celebrated Tiffany Diamond, a 287-carat natural yellow diamond is also an important historical stone. Recovered from South Africa’s Kimberley Mine in 1877, it was snapped up by Charles Tiffany for $18,000. Aside from its massive size, much of its fame came from the publicity it generated after debuting in the film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring Audrey Hepburn. Its permanent home today is at Tiffany’s New York flagship store.
Ancient Color Diamond Classification
Apparently, color diamonds in earlier times were also important enough to require a form of classifying them, thus providing a window into how early collectors valued these anomalies.
By the 6th century CE, India had devised a sort of color-grading system for these unusual stones. The practice was based on India’s harsh class structure. So, persons of different castes were only allowed to own and wear diamonds of a specific color. Thus, diamonds served as a visual badge of social ranking. Kings were free to own any color diamond they wanted – and could get their hands on. Brahmins were allowed to own white to colorless diamonds. Landowners and warriors could own brown diamonds, while merchant classes were relegated to yellow diamonds. The lower classes were assigned gray or black diamonds. As diamonds’ popularity moved out of Asia, a more global method of grading the multi-hued stones was required.
A Lull in Color Appreciation
You might be surprised to learn that in the mid-20th century, not much hullabaloo was made over natural color diamonds. Hard to imagine today, as fancy color diamonds regularly appear on celebrity’s manicured hands and at highly publicized auctions. Each new auction price of color diamonds aims to eclipse its previous stellar worth.
But in the 1960s, dealers would routinely chuck these colored stones or give them to friends as curiosities. The reason for this almost unbelievable behavior was that no one knew that much about them and knew even less about how to sell them to collectors. Today we’ve figured that out pretty well.
A Modern Look at Color Diamonds
While GIA provides us with clear grading guidelines for colorless diamonds, fancy color diamonds are a whole other thing. As our appreciation for these miracles of nature evolve, I suspect that a more comprehensive color diamond grading system will develop. Meanwhile, the generalized guidelines of what to look for include their hues – which identify red, pink, blue and green as the rarest of this diamond subset. Next is an assessment of their clarity, or lack thereof, which is instrumental to their valuation. Expert diamond cutters understand how light is handled inside all diamonds – and often cut a fancy color stone for optimized intensity of color. So don’t be surprised to find fancy color diamonds cut slightly off symmetry, or cut into a completely unpredictable shape. Finally, since all fancy color diamonds are rare, even those under a carat are considered very valuable with prices reflecting their status.
We don’t ascribe limited social status to wearing certain color diamonds anymore. And that’s a good thing because diamond enthusiasts love to add all these colorful rocks to their personal collection. But it’s intriguing to remember that once upon a time, color diamonds defined the strictest limits of one’s social standing. Today we’re all in for color diamonds.