Throughout history, diamonds have reigned as the ultimate symbol of status and prosperity. They have been used as healing aids and as talismans in battle, they have adorned crowns and been exalted by celebrities, and, since 1477, when the Archduke Maximilian of Austria presented his wife-to-be, Mary of Burgundy, with a diamond in the first recorded instance of an engagement ring, have stood as the ultimate symbol of love and commitment. Of course, while old Maximilian did his bit, it was Tiffany & Co that made the engagement ring ubiquitous, with the launch, in 1886, of its much-coveted Tiffany Setting, a single diamond raised into the light with six platinum prongs.
Today, over 2,000 years since the first diamonds were mined in India, the popularity of this stone shows little sign of abating. So, what is the unwavering draw of the diamond? “Much of the allure of the diamond comes from its innate contradictions – intriguing dualities that endlessly fascinate and captivate,” suggests Wajdi Hadi, the general manager of Al Manara International Jewellery. “They are an ancient, yet ageless, symbol of power, both physical and spiritual.
“Through the centuries, diamonds have given up their secrets, so that today we understand, appreciate and value the difficulties and effort required in recovering the stones, and the all-too-slender chance of discovering a remarkable, rare specimen.”
The rarest and most valuable of these have gained near-mythical status: the 45.53-carat Hope Diamond, which is arguably the most famous diamond in the world, despite rumours of it being cursed; the 59.60-carat, US$83 million (over Dh300m) Pink Star (pictured), which in November became the most expensive gemstone ever to be sold at auction, a spot previously held by the Graff Pink; or the Burton-Taylor Diamond, a 68-carat whopper bought by Richard Burton for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor. Beauty aside, the most desirable diamonds come with a story.
The upcoming Christie’s Magnificent Jewels sale in Geneva on May 14 is set to further highlight the all-enduring popularity of the diamond. Among the pieces on offer is the The Rajah, an old-mine, brilliant-cut 26.14-carat diamond that is estimated to fetch between $3 million and $5 million (Dh11m to Dh18.4m).
Even for those who are not buying at these upper echelons, diamonds represent a solid investment, according to Vashi Dominguez, the founder of the online luxury fine-jewellery brand, Vashi.com, and jeweller to the stars. And their value is only set to rise in coming years, he predicts. “The rough diamond market is expected to remain balanced until 2017. From 2018, as existing mines get depleted and no new major deposits come online, supply is expected to decline. This will fall short of the demand growth driven by China, India and the US. It’s from this period that prices are set to explode.
“Banks do not regulate diamonds so the investment is protected from bankruptcy or changes in the market. Also, diamonds are traded worldwide, meaning they are not dependent on one economy; instead they hold a steady value around the world. They are inflation-proof as an investment vehicle. Investing in exquisite jewellery as opposed to rough diamonds is a better proposition today than in the past.”
Anyone with even a passing interest in the diamond trade will be familiar with the four Cs: cut, clarity, carat and colour, the key features by which diamonds are valued. But there are other considerations, says Dominguez, including brilliance, transparency and sparkle, which can be judged only by the human eye. And, in recent times, a whole new “C” has come to the fore: credibility. “In the past, there were concerns about blood diamonds, particularly after the Leonardo DiCaprio film, so it then became a necessary global debate,” Dominguez notes.
“Clients are becoming more knowledgeable about the issue of conflict diamonds and are increasingly asking about the source of their diamond,” confirms Laurent Cathala, the vice president of emerging markets at Tiffany & Co. “Tiffany & Co has set rigorous and exacting standards for buying diamonds and precious metals to ensure that all stones are conflict-free and all metals are responsibly sourced. This is why it is always important to buy from a trusted and reputable jeweller.”
While diamonds are essentially timeless and not particularly susceptible to short-term fashion fads – the traditional round, princess, oval and cushion cuts reign supreme – there can be deviations, says Dominguez, and these are often driven by celebrity culture. When Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Hudson stepped out in Asscher-cut engagement rings (a stepped square with cropped corners, often called the Square Emerald Cut), for example, that particular cut experienced a surge in popularity.
There is one other notable trend working its way through the market. Where women have traditionally waited for men to buy them diamonds, in many cases banking on an engagement ring as their one and only opportunity to own one of the stones, sisters are now doing it for themselves.
“Although my core customer base is male (85 per cent), there’s been a rise of female buyers,” says Dominguez. “Our diamond expert customer-care team encounter a lot more independent women who want to treat themselves to fine jewellery, or indeed choose and pay for their diamond engagement ring with their own means. We carried out a survey at Vashi.com recently, which revealed that over half of women (52 per cent) would consider making a financial contribution to their engagement ring. Seven per cent had actually done this, so the process is certainly shifting.”
“We are also seeing more women purchase fashion and statement jewellery with diamonds,” says Cathala. “This demographical trend inspired the launch of Tiffany Celebration Rings, which have become a symbol for reaching a goal or milestone and commemorating birthdays and anniversaries. Shaped with classic round brilliant diamonds, princess-cut, channel-set or pavé diamonds, Tiffany Celebration Rings trace every twist and turn on the road to success and self-fulfillment.”
Mind you, recent pictures of Johnny Depp sporting a diamond engagement ring (it was reportedly too big for his fiancée, Amber Heard, so he decided to wear it himself), could see a whole new trend emerging, and traditional diamond-gender relationships being turned on their head all over again.
But, whether you are male or female, a serious investor or a one-off buyer looking to declare your undying love, if you’re hoping that your purchase will increase in value, Dominguez has a couple of suggestions.
“To anyone who wants to invest in diamonds, I recommend buying at least £5,000 [Dh30,875] worth. Ideally, one should keep them for a minimum of five years; 10 years would be even better,” he says.
So make sure to view your diamond as a long-term investment. Keep it, wear it, admire it and revel in it – heck, it’s meant to be your best friend.