Yes. Over the long term, diamonds are a brilliant prospect… Let’s consider the prevailing state of diamond mining, synthetic diamond production and the undervaluation of gem diamonds due to purchasing behaviour.
How to buy a Diamond Engagement Ring
Before you venture forth and buy your beloved a diamond engagement ring, be sure you know your ice…
Read my mini-masterclass here.
If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked… how much does a diamond cost? well, I’d have a tall stack of pounds. It’s frustrating to not be able to answer this question clearly. However, it’s a bit like asking someone, how much does a home cost? Like anything, it’s to do with size, quality, and availability and personal taste. Very roughly, as a rule of thumb, a round brilliant cut diamond that is 1 carat (ct) in weight and of good commercial quality will currently cost around £11-12,000 plus the mount or setting, and one that is 3/4 ct is about £5,000 plus the mount. You can spend much less or much more depending on what carat weight, and category of colour, clarity or cut the diamond is. (prices as per Jan 2019)
A bit of knowledge on the subject helps here, because understanding how diamonds are categorised and therefore valued, will help inform your purchase; but let’s forget spending 3 months’ of your salary on an engagement ring. I think this formula was spun by De Beers when they created the American market after World War II, and it needs to be dumped. Just have a realistic and comfortable sum and don’t feel you should spend more if you can’t.
Just dwell on this amazing thought before we dive in - each diamond you gaze at was formed about 1 - 2.5 billion years ago from molecules of carbon trapped about 150 km under the earth’s surface, at 1200 degrees Celsius, at a pressure of 5 thousand times greater than our normal atmosphere (that’s the equivalent of the whole of the Empire State building, compressed on top your foot) and then was blasted to the surface of the earth in a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. The very existence of diamonds at all is a serious freak of nature!
Anyway, let’s return to the point and some technical knowledge! You may have heard about the 4 Cs, these are
Carat, Colour, Clarity and Cut.
Carat – the unit of weight for all precious stones is a carat which is 1/5 (or 0.2) of a gram. Vast quantities of rock are moved for each diamond found, often 100 tonnes per 5cts of rough found, that’s 7 solid double decker bus amounts of rock for a tiny amount of crystallised carbon. In any case, most are industrial quality – only 1 in 3 diamonds found is used in jewellery, and only 1 in 6 is a gem good enough for fine jewellery; the rest is used in industry for cutting tools. Considering that the average rough diamond weighs less than 1.10ct when it’s mined, and it will lose over half its weight in cutting, consequently only a minute amount of stones, 0.01% of rough diamonds will yield a finished stone larger than 1ct - you can now see why diamonds are so expensive the bigger they get.
Colour – most diamonds found are yellowy-browny, due to varying amounts of nitrogen within the carbon crystal when it formed, so finding diamonds without this tint is hard! In diamond terms colour is measured on an alphabetical scale starting at D not A (note the idiosyncrasy). Grade D is completely colourless, and the scale runs through from D to Z; a diamond is clearly tinted to the untrained eye at about K. Fancy vivid colours like pink, blue and orange are a realm of rarity altogether and maybe I will do a blog about these beautiful rarities another time.
Back to the 4 C’s and we are at C for Clarity. This refers to the presence and number or type of tiny natural features called ‘inclusions’ inside the stone which can be found with examination under 10x magnification, and from what you know now about the birth of diamonds, it’s not surprising there are any is it? When the naked or untrained eye can see something that detracts from the stone’s beauty or ability to sparkle this is a serious issue and at the other end of the scale, a diamond that is perfectly free of any inclusions is almost unbelievably rare, and expensive. Most diamonds have something an expert will spot. If you are hung up over clarity or colour, invest in colour as this is more easy to judge for non-experts.
Cut – the shape of the stone, and the expertise and quality of its symmetry and polish. Given that by far the most popular cut and shape is the round brilliant cut, this is also the most highly prized. There are 57 facets cut onto a brilliant cut, which should all be perfectly angled to release maximum sparkle and brilliance – what we call fire. Oval and cushion shape diamonds used to be considerably cheaper but now are so fashionable, they have gained in price! Princess-cuts, first designed in the 1960’s combine a square outline with the brilliant cuts’ multi-facets. If you are a purist and prefer your ice cool, then baguette, octagonal, or Asscher cut diamonds are quieter and more lustrous than their sizzling sparkling sisters, and are also less expensive per carat. However, whatever the shape, if a stone is poorly cut with mismatched angles and facet edges, or polished badly, the sparkle isn’t so well defined, and this detracts from the diamond’s innate beauty.
The 4 Cs are really the 4 Considerations. Which are the most important to you, what would you compromise on? Get the best quality you can for your budget, that way you know you will be buying well for the long term.
Most jewellers will have a diamond that weighs over 0.50 ct examined and graded by specialists in a recognised laboratory, so you will have this to look at and discuss when you are considering what to buy. You’ll be given this report when you make your purchase. Keep it safe as they cost a fortune and can’t be duplicated. The most popular lab reports are from the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) however other labs are available! In any case, all reliable sources will be committed to the best ethical practices and your invoice should state that the diamonds supplied were handled in accordance with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) which ensures that they originated from countries or mines not involved in conflict.
So much for the bling – now, how about the design? Obviously any ring set with any gemstone, even diamonds which are famously the hardest material in nature, is a fragile miniature construction of precious metal, and must be treated with care and respect if you want it to last a lifetime! I advise you buy a good sturdy setting, one that that is practical and won’t snag or catch in careful daily wear. Buying antique? Get it re-made and don’t chance it. Settings and claws on antique rings are not secure. An engagement ring will last one careful lady owner just one lifetime, not more.
For a ring that will last a lifetime buy quality - the higher the precious metal content, the better – when we say ‘18ct gold’ it means 18 parts pure of gold out of 24 parts where the other metals in the alloy mix would be copper or silver or both. White metals used in jewellery are platinum and white gold; sometimes you may find some designers using another platinum family metal called palladium, which is a pure white colour, less expensive than gold and platinum, and can be hallmarked.
Platinum – a very rare, expensive, dense, precious pure white metal, which is resistant to tarnish and takes a great polish. In standard hallmarkable items, 950 parts are pure platinum mixed with 50 parts of a tiny amount of other metals just to soften it.
Gold – loved by humans for millennia, this tarnish free and warmly lustrous precious metal is irresistible. Gold is a naturally a soft malleable material hence the addition of other materials so it can take a good bright polish and hold its form. It is available in different carat purities according to the ratio of pure gold to other metals alloyed with it such as silver and or copper. 18ct white gold is 18 parts per 24 of gold, plus silver or palladium, and because it’s mostly yellow gold, is never pure white so it is often plated with rhodium (a platinum family metal) to get a truly white metal surface. Rose Gold has some extra copper instead of silver to make the gorgeous pinky colour, which looks amazing on dark skins or redheads.
You could always have a combination of coloured and white metals, a white collet shows off a white diamond beautifully, and the golden band looks fantastic with a classic yellow gold wedding ring. Very regal.
Now you’re almost done, but let’s consider the wedding ring, as it will be worn together with the engagement ring, and may even match yours if you are going to have one, too. Some ladies like the feel of their rings to sit flush and snug like stacking rings, and others don’t mind the gap… Neither way is right or wrong. It’s all a matter of individuality!
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Recently, I was lucky enough to have a personal tour of the V&A jewellery gallery (properly named the William and Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery at the Victoria & Albert Museum) by the renowned jewellery historian Beatriz Chadour-Sampson. It’s amazing how personal anecdotes bring life to things. No matter how many new details or wonderful facts I’ve discovered on my own at whilst gazing at its expansive collection, nothing has been more fascinating than the hour or so I spent listening to Beatriz tell me about the people who wore the jewels glittering before us. It shows that it’s the human factor that catches the imagination, not just the jewels themselves.
At the doorway, the first piece to catch the eye is a huge golden torque discovered in Ireland, the Shannongrove Gorget. She pointed out the ridge down the middle, so obvious that I was amazed I’d never spotted it before – this is where it was carefully folded in half by the person who possessed it. Why on earth would anyone do such a thing? Nearly three thousand years ago, this deliberate destruction of an unimaginably precious object was the ultimate gift to the gods. To look at this golden object and see both the handiwork of its creator and of its destroyer was slightly giddying.
We moved onto an emblazoned pendant locket, the Heneage Jewel, made in 1595, with its internal miniature of Queen Elizabeth I painted by the foremost exponent of miniature portraiture, Nicholas Hilliard. In contrast to the imperial golden profile of the queen and the pious praise of her defence of the Anglican faith on the exterior, the glittering and vibrant interior portrait reflects upon the fresh beauty and virtue of the queen. Could this personal gift from the monarch to her trusted courtier Sir Thomas Heneage reflect more a more intimate bond between them?
Further along is a suite of fresh, leaf green, peridot jewels set in gold. They were a gift to Miss Cotes in April 1816 from the Prince Regent, the future George IV, to wear at the marriage of his daughter, Princess Charlotte, to dashing Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. Princess Charlotte was highly spirited and the Prince Regent was anxious to keep her under scrutiny so he assigned ladies of the court, the Dowager Countess of Rosslyn and her nieces, the Cotes sisters, to keep close to her. Charlotte resented their almost constant presence, and referred to them as old ‘Famine & the Consequences’. Princess Charlotte was the darling of the nation and, as in the outpouring of grief for a later Princess, Diana, the entire kingdom mourned her tragically early death in childbirth two years later.
Many jewels made their way to the V&A collection due to the generous legacy of Lady Cory, who bequeathed her enormous collection to the museum in 1947. Lady Cory was a grand dame in the Edwardian style and appeared in public draped in lace and a variety of jewels, many of which she ‘improved’. Centre stage is a huge diamond spray brooch of 1850, which Lady Cory had enlarged by adding a few older diamond set parts – upcycling her diamonds! The flower head motifs are set en tremblant to shimmer with the wearer’s movements.
At the far end of the gallery, suspended at head height, is the enormous diamond Manchester Tiara, commissioned by Consuelo, the Dowager Duchess of Manchester. An American born heiress and a bon vivant, she ‘took Society completely by storm by her beauty, wit and vivacity and it was soon at her very pretty feet’ when she married George, the 8th Duke of Manchester, in 1876. After he died in 1892, she applied herself to merry widowhood and sparkled at the head of fashionable society – quite literally – by resetting all her diamonds into a huge and spectacular new tiara made by Cartier in 1903.
At each of the gallery’s showcases, Beatriz told me captivating stories about the lives behind the jewels. How did Beatriz become so intimately knowledgeable about the finest museum collection of jewellery in the world? A talented and creative one woman encyclopaedia on jewels and craftsmanship, Beatriz was consultant curator in the re-designing of the gallery by Eva Jiricna in 2008 from its previous iteration, with its slightly chaotically arranged jewels set against dowdy dusky-pink and complete with a turnpike entrance. She described to me how she literally cut out and pasted pictures of the collection’s 3000-odd pieces onto rows and rows of A4 paper laid on her floor at home to work out the best way to arrange the displays into interesting themes that smoothly guided the visitor within an overall chronology. She measured peoples’ average eye heights to best position the stunning flow of hero pieces suspended along the centre of the gallery. Her consideration is the secret of its success: by putting people’s perspectives first, visitors feel intimately connected to the jewels, and they, in turn spring alive.
From 15 November, I will be hosting a monthly guided talk in the V&A Jewellery Gallery for small groups, so please book on Eventbrite (link below) or email me for futher details. email@example.com