Dark Dazzle

What exactly are black diamonds and where have they been hiding all this while?

Dark Dazzle
Black is back on red carpets around the world. Once considered the ugly duckling of gemstones and left to languish in the wings for years, black diamonds are now grabbing the spotlight like never before. Everyone’s wearing them — from Heidi Klum to Jennifer Lopez to Gwyneth Paltrow to Sarah Jessica Parker. And everyone’s making them — from Tiffany to de Grisogono to Piaget to Harry Winston. Suddenly, black is beautiful all over again.

Before we continue, let’s first get the basics out of the way. Black diamonds, did we say? Diamonds? Black? Yes, they may not be as well known as their white siblings, but black diamonds do exist. It’s just that they don’t do the thing that makes diamonds so spectacular — they don’t sparkle. That’s because they’re black and absorb light rather than refract it. They have a significant sheen, but certainly no sparkle. The crystal structure of a white diamond is what causes the sparkle: light comes in, bounces around in a predictable way, and is bounced out. The cut of the diamond is designed to put “windows” precisely where the light will come out to best effect.

Black diamonds, on the other hand, have a polycrystalline structure, which means it’s kind of like many diamonds smashed together. And since they occur in irregular black masses all at different angles, you can’t carve them to make sparkles. Instead, the light just gets absorbed, making it black. Glossy, yet opaque. But it’s still a pure carbon crystal that is just as expensive as a white diamond, maybe more.

Black diamonds, the toughest of all diamonds, also called carbonados, have been around as long as white diamonds, it’s just that nobody really noticed them as items of jewellery — only as drill bits for industrial purposes — till along came the supremely talented Fawaz Gruosi, who launched his jewellery brand de Grisogono at Geneva in 1993. To begin with, he created some dazzling pieces with regular white diamonds that made him a sensation overnight. Then in 1996, he decided to venture where no man had gone before— in the dark, deep world of black diamonds. Apparently, he got the idea while leafing through an old Cartier booklet featuring a famous but

forgotten black diamond, the Black Orlov, a 62.5 carat stone set in a platinum

pendant surrounded by white diamonds.

That was enough to get Gruosi going. He took a trip around the world to scout for black diamonds, the best of which he found in Brazil and Central Africa. He then set these diamonds into a collection of necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings combining them with white diamonds and pearls. He has admitted in a magazine interview that these were not easy to sell at first. “I was assured that I was mad, that nobody would buy them.” However, sales soon picked up, so much so that each and every piece was snapped up. Emboldened, the designer then went on to incorporate the stone into accessories such as sunglasses and even cellphones.

Gruosi never looked back since, but black diamonds somehow lost their sheen after some years, and again disappeared into oblivion. Till a year or so ago when they made a critical comeback, thanks to an unstinted campaign by jewellers and gemologists who realised their potential and started making one-off statement pieces, showcasing novel and creative ways of setting them. Soon, these diamonds began to be spotted on runways, and on celebrities, gradually emerging into a full blown trend. So much so that they have now become an industry staple — pick up any trade or fashion magazine and you’ll find them in every carat weight, setting and style, especially in the current collections of Piaget, Tiffany and Harry Winston.

We have also noticed that some pieces of jewellery are more suited for black diamonds than others. Like, for instance, cocktail rings, cuffs, earrings and pendants. Necklaces, not so much. And when combined with white or colourless stones, the monochrome magic gets hugely maximised. What’s more, men, too, have joined the black diamond brigade. That’s also because more than any other stone, black diamonds lend themselves beautifully to cuff links and tie-pins. For black diamonds are not just about allure and mystery, they also convey a certain machismo. Besides, of course, a certain sensuality and understated glamour that works well for both sexes.

Now, these stones are not to be confused with another emerging stone, black onyx, which too has seen an upsurge in popularity lately. One way to tell the difference is this — onyx is set in both white and yellow metals, while black diamonds are always set in either platinum or white gold. Another thing is that black diamonds are not always pitch dark. They also come in varying shades of grey. Also, diamonds occur naturally in almost every colour of the rainbow, but hues can also be induced through various treatments. Luckily, in the case of black, simple testing is all that is required at gemological laboratories.

The trend may take a while to reach India, though. While some top jewellery designers and brands here are experimenting with the stone as of now, nobody has come out with a full-fledged collection yet. But who knows, imbued with Indian design sensibilities and craftsmanship, black magic may soon cast a spell over our jewellery scene as well. For just as black garments never go out of style, the same can now be said for black diamonds as well.

(The writer is founder and MD of Gemology Laboratory)

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