Professional Jeweler Archive: Black Beauty

September 2001


Black Beauty

Black diamonds: More than just a passing fancy

If you can consider a transparent, colorless diamond to be yin, it’s counterbalance – or yang – would be a fancy black diamond. That theory has been the focus of a jewelry design trend that took root in Europe in time for the Basel Show in 2000 (Professional Jeweler, June 2000, p. 188) and has grown worldwide ever since. The contrast can be stark and beautiful.
“Jewelry design is all about visual impact, and alternating black with colorless diamonds, or other gems of a contrasting color, makes the designs more interesting,” says designer Roxanne Beebe of Lahaina, Hawaii. Her avant-garde designs using black diamonds helped snag Designer of the Year Award from the Hawaiian Jewelers Association in 2000 and a People’s Choice Award this year. Beebe says the trend fits well with the fashion industry’s perennially popular black-and-white apparel.

Beebe admits black diamonds are unusual and pose an interesting challenge for jewelers, but notes women are very much drawn to the contrast and distinctiveness of black-and-white combinations. She advises jewelers who carry black diamonds to print a brochure explaining and romancing them.

Another Tanzanite?

Consumers of all types are becoming more familiar with black diamonds thanks to exposure on the QVC home shopping network and at mass-merchandisers such as Service Merchandise. Black diamonds’ introduction to consumers is similar to tanzanite’s a decade ago. “Some jewelers were concerned about committing to tanzanite while others did; those that established the right connections did well. Others are still trying to break into the tanzanite market,” says Saeed Soleimani president of Solico Designs, New York City, a volume jewelry manufacturer that uses black diamonds in some designs. “Now black diamonds offer a similar opportunity for those ready to jump aboard.”

Indeed, demand for black diamonds is growing dramatically, says diamond dealer Nilesh Sheth of Nice Diamonds Inc., New York City. Demand is so strong, he’s sure it’s more than a passing fad.

History Lesson

Perhaps the most notable black diamond is the Black Orloff, a 67.50-ct. gem author and diamond expert Ian Balfour describes in Famous Diamonds (Third Edition, Christie’s Books, London, England, 1997). The diamond reportedly belonged to Russian Princess Nadia Vyegin-Orloff in the mid-1700s, though Balfour questions the existence of a princess of that name. The name might also be tied to another notable diamond, the Orloff (not a black diamond), owned by Catherine the Great’s confidant and lover, Count Grigori Grigorievich Orlov.
The Black Orloff was offered for sale at $300,000 in 1969 and for an undisclosed amount in 1990. It’s now in a private collection. Other black diamonds also have demanded attention. In June a 489.07-ct. emerald-cut black diamond went on the auction block in France. And in haute couture, fashion-setters such as actress Selma Hayek and supermodel Naomi Campbell have chosen black diamonds to wear at high-profile events.

Gunmetal Black

Black diamonds, found in South Africa and Brazil, have a metallic look because of their hardness and efficiency at absorbing white light. Reflected flashes from the faceted surfaces create a look often described as gunmetal black.

The complexity of black diamonds’ structure and inclusions often make them harder to fashion than other diamonds, and it’s not unusual for graining patterns or small pits to show up in facet reflections.

The Black Diamond, a book by Fawaz Gruosi (published by De Grisogono, Geneva, Switzerland), sheds light on what makes the gems appear black. In the book’s introduction, Thomas Moses, vice president of identification services at the Gemological Institute of America, says, “Black diamonds may be very dark gray, blue or brown or may appear black due to numerous black inclusions. It is believed that the black inclusions are composed of graphite, a hexagonal polymorph of carbon. When these inclusions are dense enough, the graphite makes the diamond electrically conductive.” The inclusions block light from entering or exiting the diamond, which helps to render it black in the viewer’s eyes, he says.

However, these diamonds’ charm isn’t about light return and brilliance. It’s about mystery and darkness, flashes of light and contrast. Yin and yang.

• Roxanne Beebe: (808) 665-5905,
• Solico Designs, New York City; (212) 944-8700.
• Nice Diamonds Inc., New York City; (212) 764-3917.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

Black diamonds can be fashioned as briolettes, rounds, triangles and other popular shapes. Gems and necklace are courtesy of Nice Diamonds Inc. New York City. Photo by Robert Weldon.
White pearl ring with black diamonds is by Roxanne Beebe, Lahaina, Hawaii. Photo by Robert Weldon.
Black diamonds contain a multitude of plate-like inclusions thought to be graphite. These block light from entering and exiting the diamond and cause it to look gunmetal black. Photo by Robert Weldon.

Black Labs
Disclosure is key for black diamonds enhanced in a lab

In addition to natural-color black diamonds, lab-irradiation can cause a deep color, generally deep brown or green.

“It is crucial to disclose such treatment information to retailers and consumers,” says Nilesh Sheth of Nice Diamonds Inc., New York City. “All of my fancy colors get certificates for the convenience of my customers. But black diamond melee is sold without certificates because it’s simply not cost-effective to get a certificate for each and every stone. I tell my customers anything under a quarter of a carat should be considered treated.”

These diamonds are typically low-quality Type Ia. Irradiation turns them dark brown or green. Transmitting a strong light through their girdle often reveals these colors, a strong indication of treatment, says Branko Deljanin, chief gemologist at EGL Laboratories, New York City.

Deljanin says the popularity of black diamonds will likely lead to new treatments that are harder to distinguish.

– R.W.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications