Past Lives

May 1998

From the Vault

Past Lives

Fancy colored diamonds have been set and reset in jewelry throughout the ages, enchanting each new generation that discovers them

Colorless diamonds have worked their magic on us for centuries and we allow ourselves to be seduced. Even more enthralling, however, are those few diamonds that occur in a delicate rainbow of hues.




The subtle hues of fancy colored diamonds were well-suited to the light and lacy platinum settings fashionable around 1900, as demonstrated by the pinkish brown diamonds set in this delicate negligée necklace to the left and the slightly greenish yellow diamond set in the ring below. Jewelry courtesy of Neil Lane Jewelry, Beverly Hills, CA.

Our current love affair with colored diamonds has interesting parallels in the past. The original and only known source of diamonds from antiquity through the 18th century was India. Among the important colorless diamonds India produced were fancy pink diamonds such as the Agra, first mentioned in 1526, and Darya-i-Nur (Sea of Light) and Nur-ul-Ain (Light of the Eye) – both cut from the Great Table diamond described by Jean Baptiste Tavernier in 1676 and now part of the Iranian Crown Jewels. Other famous historic colored diamonds include the intense blue Hope diamond, recut from a larger stone Tavernier sold to Louis XIV, and the Dresden Green diamond set in a hat badge by the Polish king Frederic Augustus I of Saxony.

In 1725, as the diamond mines of India were playing out, diamonds were discovered in Brazil. Delightful lilac, peach, light blue and pale green diamonds mingled with the more common colorless diamonds. These fancy colored diamonds probably were set in jewelry, but their true color might have been masked or enhanced by colored foils in the closed-backed silver mountings used in the 18th century. Sadly, most diamond jewelry from that time was broken up and sold or remounted, making the diamonds impossible to trace.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, enormous diamond deposits were found in South Africa. Affluent women in Europe and the U.S. wore diamonds in profusion as an outward symbol of their family's wealth and power. They sought to outdo each other in dazzling displays of unique gems, and their awareness of fancy colored diamonds was heightened. This craving was satisfied by light-to-intense yellow, brown, pink, green and blue diamonds. Set in the intricately worked platinum mountings fashionable around the turn of the century, the subtle range of colored diamonds suited the pastel color palette then in vogue, and their rarity made them exclusive and expensive. Again, many of these jewels have been dismantled, the stones recut and remounted, making original fancy colored diamond jewelry from the Belle Epoque scarce. Nevertheless, a few pieces do appear from time to time and their charm transcends the years. In these surviving examples, the fancy colored diamonds are often under 1 carat.

In the past decade, demand for fancy colored diamonds has been fueled by the discovery of fancy intense purplish pink diamonds in Australia along with a full range of fancy browns. The growth of interest, coupled with the appeal of antique jewelry, makes fancy colored diamond jewelry from any period highly desirable. Undiminished by time, the spellbinding power of these superlative gems captivates us again and again.

by Elise B. Misiorowski

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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