Feature · luxury
The ultimate luxury? Why 2016 was the year of the colored diamond
After a year of new auction records and high-profile sales, desire for the world's rarest and most unusually colored stones has never been greater.
Relatively small, but slowly and perfectly formed over billions of years, the Argyle Violet diamond is so rare in color that it has its own unique diamond classification: "Fancy Deep Grayish Blueish Violet." It was "a once in a lifetime discovery. I fell in love with it. We had to have it," says Scott West of L.J. West Diamonds Inc.
of New York.
Like his father, Larry, and his grandfather Max before him, West is a diamond hunter, searching for the rarest and most unusually colored stones. His most recent acquisition, the 2.83-carat oval Argyle Violet is being displayed as part of "Diamonds: Rare Brilliance"
at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
After 40 years in the trade, this is the first time L.J. West, a wholesale dealership, has been invited to show some of its stock in a museum. But this is a truly exceptional stone, a complete fluke of nature and just the sort of bauble Richard Burton might have once popped into Elizabeth Taylor's Christmas stocking.
On exhibition, the Argyle Violet will be in good, starry company, including the Juliet Pink from South Africa -- another and rather bigger diamond from the L.J. West inventory. This rare Fancy Intense Pink weighs a whopping 30 carats and is set in a magnificent necklace. And it seems that both diamonds are very much for sale.
2016: The year of color
After a year of new auction records and high-profiles sales, desire for the world's rarest and most unusually colored stones has never been greater. Credit: Courtesy Argyle Pink Diamonds
2016 has been a great year for colored diamonds. Sotheby's claimed world record prices for six different colored diamonds varying in hue from Fancy Light Blue ($2 million) to Fancy Vivid Pink ($31 million.)
Christie's have arguably gone one better than their rivals. This May in Geneva, the auction house set a new world record price for any gemstone: $57.5 million for the 14.6-carat Oppenheimer Blue
-- almost $4 million dollars a carat.
The Oppenheimer Blue eclipsed the Blue Moon of Josephine
(Fancy Vivid Blue, 12 carats, cushion-shaped and internally flawless) bought by Hong Kong property tycoon Joseph Lau at Sotheby's in Geneva just five months earlier, in 2015, for $48 million. (Being a good daddy, he named the diamond after his seven-year-old daughter.)
The Oppenheimer Blue, the world's largest blue diamond, sold for $57.5 million at a Christie's auction in May, becoming the most expensive diamond ever sold at auction. Credit: Christies Images Ltd 2016
Colored diamonds are "absolutely the sexiest of investments," says Tobias Kormind, managing director of Europe's largest online dealership, 77 Diamonds
. "We probably won't see another year quite like it for some time."
An exclusive offer
Scott West spends three months every year traveling the world looking for special stones.
The Argyle Violet came from the remote Argyle Mine
in North West Australia. Every year for the last 30 years, the mine's owner, Rio Tinto, has invited a select group of buyers to tender for newly discovered stones by sealed bid. It's said to be the most exclusive diamond sale in the world.
This year, there were 63 diamonds on offer, all pink, red or violet.
The Unique Pink diamond sold for $31.6 million at a May 2016 Sotheby's auction in Geneva. Credit: courtesy sotheby's
West says he and his father, Larry, first saw the Argyle Violet in a secure room in Hong Kong in September, and made "multi visits in differing light" before placing their bid in November. He declined to comment on a Financial Times
report that L.J.West's winning bid was more than $10 million for the Argyle Violet and 15 other colored stones, although he did agree that it was "tough" having to make a sealed bid.
The Argyle mine, famous for producing most of the world's pink diamonds, is scheduled to close by 2020. For West, the Argyle Violet amounted to "the last push of a superstar and an incomparable piece of history."
He hopes that it will eventually go to someone who loves it and will actually wear it.
"(These diamonds) should be loved. They must be shown, not left in a bank vault," he says.
The allure of the sparkle
L.J. West claims to have the largest inventory of large colored diamonds in the world with some 2000 stones of all colors, many of them pink. But, naturally, West remains discreet about money and collectors.
Though the company did admit that Halle Berry wore one of their diamond rings (the Pumpkin Diamond, Fancy Vivid Orange, 5.54 carats) when she won her Oscar in 2002.
"The Middle East is a strong market. China continues to grow. The United States is still the strongest market of all," he says.
Of course, diamonds are still very much a personal thing. No two stones are alike. You have to see the color and the stone for yourself, see how it sparkles, whether it has what Tobias Kormind calls "life."
On her 12th birthday, the child movie star Shirley Temple was given a diamond ring
(Fancy Deep Blue, 9.54 carats) by her father that she'd treasure for the rest of her days.
A Fancy Deep Blue, 9.54-carats diamond that belonged to the late Shirley Temple failed to sell when it hit the auction block in March 2016. Credit: Donald Bowers/Getty Images North America/Getty Images for Sotheby's
Her father bought it in 1940 for just over $7,000. In April, it was the top lot at a Sotheby's jewelery sale in New York with an estimate of $25-35 million. But on the night, it failed to sell. There was a collective gasp in the room when the auctioneer announced "passed" with bidding stalled at $22 million, $3 million below the low estimate.
Sotheby's don't like to be reminded about it. They were embarrassed.
What went wrong? Kormind thinks the big collectors tend to prefer Vivid Blue to Fancy Deep Blue. Or was the market perhaps a little saturated? There were other arguably more attractive big blue diamonds available around this time.
A box office star way back in the 1930s, Temple's name has obviously lost some of its luster over time. But the inescapable truth seems to be that no one apparently fell in love with her diamond, or felt it was worth that level of investment. In an otherwise great year for colored diamonds, it was a singular exception.