Do It Up Brown

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Why you should add brown diamonds to your collection

BY DUNCAN PARKER

Many years ago, I was appraising a diamond at the Harold Weinstein lab when an elderly man approached me. When he saw what was in my hand, he frowned and asked me why I was bothering to appraise “that piece of garbage.”

For an old school appraiser like him, the diamond I was working with was truly worthless. It was a brown diamond, and when he’d learned his trade, stones of this sort were exclusively used for industrial purposes.

THE DARK HORSE OF DIAMONDS

Prior to the 1980s, brown diamonds were not considered saleable as gems. However, this soon changed with the 1983 opening of the Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia. The mine had stupendous production at its peak, with its total output in the vicinity of 60 million carats. Previously unknown as a diamond producer, Australia was suddenly the largest source, by volume, in the world.

On top of its unparalleled production levels, the Australian mine was also producing more pink diamonds than the rest of the world combined. Unfortunately, 85 per cent of this production was non-gem, and the 15 per cent of stones that were of gem quality were mostly brown in colour.

The Argyle mine is a primary source mine, with the diamonds being found in a rock called lamproite, as opposed to the better-known kimberlite—the rock in which diamond is found almost everywhere else in the world. These unusual conditions help to create the pink and brown diamonds, which have some structural similarities.

MARKETING MAGIC

The company that owned the Argyle mine had a problem on its hands: while the trade was buying up its pink diamonds, it saw the brown ones as unworthy for purchase. As such, Argyle had to devise a scheme to market them as gems, rather than drill bits.

Soon, new terminology was introduced for the description of the brown diamonds. First, to encourage Australian consumers to buy local, the stones were marketed as “Argyle” diamonds, proudly manufactured from a single Australian source of origin. Additionally, the brown diamonds would now be referred to as “champagne” diamonds, with a graduated tonal grading scale of “C1”, the lightest brown, to “C7”, which is the colour of black coffee.

Finally, after the company held design competitions and conducted extensive promotions and marketing, the demand grew for brown diamonds. Today, these stones are no longer considered candidates for the industrial world, and are quite popular with modern designers.

CLOSE THE SALE

Now that these stones have been popular for a quarter of a century, we’re seeing tennis bracelets, pave-set jewels, and striking feature jewels being crafted with brown diamonds. As such, you’re quite likely to encounter them when it comes to your business. Luckily for you, they can be an easy sale if marketed properly.

Because these stones have a wide range of colour variations, each one is unique—something your customers are looking for in their fine jewellery. Their exceptional tone is one-of-a-kind, allowing them to easily set themselves apart from other stones. Assure your clients that these jewels will make them stand out from the crowd, and you’ve got yourself a sale.

Additionally, due to their strong price point, your customers can get a lot of bang for their buck with champagne diamonds. Because they are less expensive than their colourless peers, your customers can afford pieces with larger stones—and we all know that more diamond means more impact.

A RARE OPPORTUNITY

Recently, rumours have circulated about the Argyle mine closing down. If this does happen by 2019 as is speculated, there will be a lot less champagne flowing into the diamond business.

It remains to be seen whether the higher status of brown diamonds will remain after the world’s largest source of supply dries up. Perhaps prices will increase, or maybe I’ll just be the old guy telling young appraisers about the days when brown diamonds were actually used as gemstones.

 

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