Beyond the 4 Cs
Julie Tripp - THE OREGONIAN
Enhancing the stone At the Yehuda Diamond Co. in New
York City, Dror Yehuda fixes flawed diamonds in a process called clarity
enhancement, replacing imperfections with resin-like material that "fools
the light and makes the diamond look clear and beautiful."
"I could tell you how we do it, but then I'd have
to kill you," joked the diamond fixer.
"Our diamonds cost 30 percent less, so people can save
money or go bigger," he said. "Most people go bigger."
His sales of 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-carat diamonds have ballooned,
"There's no such thing as a diamond that's too
big," he said, adding that he had just sold two 5-carat diamonds for a
pair of earrings.
Whether you're buying an engagement ring or an anniversary
present for your mate or a glittering bauble for yourself, there's more
to learn about diamonds than the traditional 4Cs of cut, clarity, color and
carat. (Start with the accompanying sidebar if you need to brush up on those
Big changes are occurring in the way diamonds are produced
and marketed. With the entry of wholesale retailers such as Costco into the
diamond trade and online sites hawking the stones as well, competition for customers
The U.S. retail diamond jewelry business accounts for nearly
half of the $56 billion in worldwide annual sales. Americans bought $4.3 billion
worth of diamond engagement rings alone last year.
During a three-day show in December, the Tigard Costco store
sold $300,000 in high-quality diamonds of varying sizes to shoppers on a budget
as well as those of means, the store reports.
"I don't know where all the money's coming from," says
Megghan Harruff, a Costco diamond buyer. But her sales are "growing, growing,
growing," she reports.
Along with more ways to buy diamonds, there are more brands
and signature cuts; more ways to enhance a flawed diamond (or fool an unsuspecting
buyer); more emphasis on bigger diamonds, at least in some quarters; and finally,
more controversy about diamonds that are sold to finance civil wars in Africa.
With all that to think about, no wonder some of the best advice
we heard in interviews is to find a good jeweler who knows diamonds, and trust
him or her to guide you. A good one will be credentialed from a professional
gem organization such as the Gemological Institute of America and will have
been in business for many years.
"Talk to several jewelers," advises Elizabeth Stephens at Michael
Nutter Ltd. in Vancouver. "And remember that the person behind the counter may
just be a salesperson selling jewelry." If you're serious about buying a
diamond, you want to deal with the resident expert.
Robert Hensley, a student of diamonds in Fairfield, Iowa, runs
two Web sites designed to help people research the gems before they buy. At
Diamondhelpers.com, visitors can take tutorials to become grounded in the basics
and more. At FindMyJeweler.com, he helps people find trustworthy jewelers, he
says. (He does not yet have any Oregon jewelers registered at the relatively
Hensley says he searches out and recommends smaller shops that
offer "expert guidance with integrity and that give the consumer honest, helpful
Only a small percentage of people buy diamonds on the Internet,
he said. Among those who do, the average sale is $5,000 for stones of 1 carat
"I would encourage people to educate themselves on the Web,
select a jeweler and then buy locally," he said.
Here are other trends in diamond sales: Brands and shapes As
competition heats up and profit margins "are down to ridiculous amounts," Hensley
says, more jewelers have begun to develop their own brand or premium cuts to
distinguish their products.
A Hearts on Fire diamond, for example, is a trademark for a
round brilliant diamond cut with extraordinary precision that is said to optimize
the play of light in the stone and make smaller carat stones flash the way bigger
"Branding allows the cutter and the retailer to make just a
little more money," Hensley says, by offering something that is unique.
As for shapes, the traditional round brilliant still outsells
all the others. But a recent jewelry show in Las Vegas also featured a trend
to more fancy shapes, such as the ovals, pears and marquise.
Enhancing the stone At the Yehuda Diamond Co. in New York
City, Dror Yehuda fixes flawed diamonds in a process called clarity enhancement,
replacing imperfections with resin-like material that "fools the light and makes
the diamond look clear and beautiful."
"I could tell you how we do it, but then I'd have to kill
you," joked the diamond fixer.
"Our diamonds cost 30 percent less, so people can save money
or go bigger," he said. "Most people go bigger."
His sales of 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-carat diamonds have ballooned,
"There's no such thing as a diamond that's too big,"
he said, adding that he had just sold two 5-carat diamonds for a pair of earrings.
Costco also confirmed the trend toward bigger diamonds, but
a New York spokeswoman for Tiffany & Co., which has a store in Portland, said
it is not seeing a big swing in that direction.
Tiffany, of course, has built its reputation on cutting for
brilliance rather than size since, in 1877, the company cut the 128.54-carat
Tiffany Diamond out of a 287.42-carat rough stone. Much was left on the cutting
floor, but what emerged was a drop-your-jaw diamond with 32 more facets than
the traditional brilliant cut.
Changing the color Colorless and near-colorless diamonds are
the most valuable. But the "fancies," colored stones that occur rarely in nature,
also command top prices.
Now, however, "We help Mother Nature," says Roger Basile of
Grafstein Diamond Corp. in New York. By irradiating a stone, using electron
acceleration, that doesn't score highly for color, Grafstein can create
a diamond in pink or blue or green or other hues.
When stones are enhanced for clarity or irradiated for color,
the seller must disclose the treatment to the buyer. The certificates that come
with graded diamonds will say the stone is natural or has been treated. Some
certifiers won't grade enhanced stones, and top jewelry stores don't
"Conflict" diamonds Because as much as $200 million of the
$8 billion-a-year market in rough diamonds goes to finance civil wars in Africa,
controversy has erupted over bloodshed that has occurred in the name of the
To stem the controversy and the flow of money into "conflict
diamonds," the international diamond trade launched the Kimberley Process, an
agreement to stop the flow of diamonds that finance African wars. The United
States and 44 other nations joined with companies such as DeBeers, the industry
giant, to adopt the certification rules.
The certification system tracks every rough diamond shipment
before it is exported. Last week, the U.N. Security Council ended a three-year
embargo on the export of diamonds from Sierra Leone after the war-torn African
country improved its controls. Julie Tripp does not give financial advice. For
questions, call her at 503-221-8208 or e-mail email@example.com.
For reprints of this or a previous column, call 503-221-8242.
< BACK to News