N.Y. DIAMONDS Summer 1995
Collecting Colored Diamonds: The Aurora Pyramid of Hope
By Alan Bronstein
The Aurora Pyramid of Hope of natural colored diamonds is an ongoing project, which began 15 years ago, from my personal desire to learn more about this mysterious gem.
In 1979 the diamond market experienced a significant financial and philosophical change. By mid-1980 there was a great rush to promote colorless and near-colorless diamonds as rare objects for investment. Laboratory grading reports fueled this idea of classifying diamonds as a commodity, using grading scales to rate the degree of colorlessness (D-Z) and the degree of purity (FL-I3). Diamond grading scales and related technology had reached a point that still seems difficult to improve upon.
At the same time this upswing in the popularity of colorless diamonds was taking place, the secret, seemingly underground market of fancy color diamonds was just beginning to make its public debut. Over the next several years, trade articles, scientific papers, public exhibitions, and most of all, the publicity from the sale of important colored diamonds at public auctions helped to expose the beauty and rarity of fancy colored diamonds to a wider audience.
In 1979, research and knowledge about colored diamonds was in its infancy. If you were curious you could find a few pages about their rarity in Gemological Institute of America courses and books, some articles about the theories of what causes color in diamonds and some photos of the blue Hope and yellow Tiffany diamonds.
At that time, having been a diamond broker for about one year, I was show a fabulous canary yellow diamond that glowed with the hue of the sun. It set off my burning passion for colored diamonds and was the inspiration for me to try to learn more about these beautiful and seductive precious stones.
Attempting to become more involved as a broker of colored diamonds, I met a collector from Europe. His collection with its broad range of color was a tremendous source of learning. For the first time I saw what pink, blue, orange and purple diamonds looked like. Later I would realize how these stones were just a fraction of the possibilities in nature's variety of diamonds.
In 1980, focusing almost exclusively on colored diamonds. I was being exposed to more and more stones. Many dealers had stashed away a few colored diamonds that were 'not for sale.' These dealers shared a great pride and excitement when explaining their personal experiences of finding these stones. Most of these collectors had acquired their stones long before colored diamonds were considered valuable or desirable. They collected them because they saw a special beauty in them. The enthusiasm of these individuals gave me more incentive to begin collecting.
By nature, we are all collectors. In our youth we may be drawn to toys, dolls, trading cards, butterflies, coins and stamps, and we grow up to find new options like art or jewelry.
The specimens one chooses to collect are a reflection of personal taste and goals.
Most of the suites (collections) I had seen were random assortments ranging from five to 300 stones. Some collectors focused on pairs of similar colors, some focused on 1-carat and larger stones, and others would only collect what they felt was 'the best' pink, blue, etc. As sample stones are beneficial for grading colorless diamonds, the focus of my collecting began with yellow, pink and blue diamonds that had a color grading from the GIA of Intense Fancy, Fancy, and Light Fancy. These are the three most commonly traded colors and comparison stones were a handy tool. The most affordable and most available sizes were 0.25 carats to 0.50 carats.
At the same time I was also buying stones in the brown, orange, olive and gray families. To many, these colors are not pleasing but they have beauty. Some colors have had an undesirable reputation from the beginning but time is wearing down some prejudices.
When the first 25 stones were together in suite it was amazing how they blended and contrasted with each other. Each color appeared more obvious and vivid when next to a different color.
For fun I would lay them out in designs and make little pictures with them. In the depths of my imagination I saw unique personalities hidden behind the facets of each stone. Together they seemed to be a family.
The sample stones made it possible to notice subtle differences that were barely perceptible without comparison. Certificates do not always identify subtle hints of purple, orange, brown or gray in a pink diamond. Next to a purer color you could see the effect of the slight color variation.
Realizing the almost infinite variety of colors in diamonds, I dreamed of bringing together as many pieces of the diamond puzzle as possible and sharing this unique experience with the public.
In the mid-1980s I met a young gemologist who shared my excitement about colored diamonds. Stephen Hofer was developing a system for analyzing color in diamonds more specifically. His system of color measurement using a colorimeter helped to confirm what I was seeing with my own eyes. The color in diamonds seemed more complex than could be stated verbally.
In 1986, Harry Rodman, a family friend and mentor, sold his gold-refining business of 50 years. He became intrigued with the idea of putting together a colored diamond collection, which would be broad enough in scope to have educational value and, at the same time, be basically stimulating.
With Harry's support, collecting became an obsession. Most of our time was spent running from place to place, trying to be the first to see a new stone that may have come off the cutting wheel, been imported from another country, or just been removed from an antique piece of jewelry.
Often a call would come notifying us of a special color, a chance at a rare prize, a red or green or purple diamond. .
I was out the door before I put the phone down. Unfortunately, most of the time it was a wild goose chase as the so-called red diamond was really orange-brown, or the green diamond was an olive-gray and the purple diamond was pinkish brown.
It's amazing how people perceive color differently and the illusion colored diamonds create. But many of the leads were rewarding, and each new stone was an interesting piece to add to the puzzle.
Hunting for colored diamonds was most exciting when we discovered something beyond our expectations.
Walking among the hundreds of dealers on 47th street. Harry met a friend who showed him a parcel paper holding a dozen antique cut stones he had taken from an old necklace. In the lot were two dark green diamonds, a 63-point pear-shape and a 1-carat cushion. They had already been certified as natural color, and there was a quick negotiation and purchase of the stones. The two stones were similar in color and valuable, so we sold the cushion and kept the pear-shape for our collection.
Another time a friend of mine brought back from Israel a 2.50-carat pear-shape that was dark olive-green. Working with one of his usual sources for white diamonds, he saw this stone which the owner had not been able to promote. It was not the kind of colored diamond that would be admired in jewelry. But as a collector's item it was unusual, so I agreed to purchase it was long as it was a natural color. He submitted it to the GIA which acknowledged it was a natural colored diamond.
We made the deal and I put the stone in the vault. It was about a week later when I looked at the stone again and to my shock it was an intense yellow color. I was trying to think how the stone could have been switched when the diamond changed color before my eyes from intense yellow to dark-olive-green over a period of a few minutes.
It was a chameleon diamond, the most dramatic color change I had ever seen. The original lab worksheet had accidentally left that information out. The phenomenon of a diamond color change is highly prized by collectors.
Harry and I made several trips to Antwerp looking for stones. On one occasion we saw two very unusual purple diamonds at two separate manufacturers. At that moment neither stone was for sale. Since we had never seen purple diamonds like those before, it was both exciting and disappointing not having a chance to buy. In our discussions, each cutter independently admitted the rough had come from Russia and they also had not seen such color before.
A few days later, as I stood in the New York Diamond Dealers Club one late afternoon, a diamond cutter stuck a dirty parcel in my hand, asking , 'Is this for you?' He had just come from his factory with a freshly cut stone in the original rough stone paper. When I looked inside I couldn't believe my eyes - a magnificent 1-carat purple diamond. If fate had not brought him to me first, I would never have been able to buy it.
In the next few weeks I was able to find a few more specimens of these rare purples. A gentleman who sold one to me had known I was collecting and felt his unusual purple would be a good addition for the Aurora Pyramid of Hope. It was one of a kind. We became good friends from that time and still share a common love of colored diamonds. Since then I have seen very few specimens of purple diamonds available on the market.
We were fortunate to be invited to Argyle's Pink Diamond Tender held annually in Geneva. There have been many standouts among the 500 stones that were offered over the last 10 years. Just seeing the best of the Australian mine production of pinks is incredibly exciting but winning a beautiful stone feels like hitting the lottery.
In this special sale, the highest individual bidder will often not win the stone of his desire, as a universal bid on all the stones by one person will take the whole lot. This has happened in four out of the 10 annual sales, including the last two years.
We successfully obtained a few stones over the years but the most important to us was a 0.53-carat octagon shape that had a very strong purplish pink color while being very bright. To our eyes it was one of the reddest diamonds we had ever seen.
Argyle pinks expanded the variety of the pink diamond family with strong saturations and predominant purple and brown modifiers. Over the years we have collected many different pinks from this source.
Before the opening of the Argyle mine in Western Australia, the main sources of pink diamonds were Brazil, India, and Africa.
In 1986 a young diamond dealer who was keen on colored diamonds showed me an exceptional 1-carat oval pink diamond. It had a fantastic brilliance unusual in a pink saturation so deep.
His uncle had bought the rough in the Central African Republic, had it cut in Israel and shipped it to New York for certification and potential sale.
Not eager to sell it, the owner placed a prohibitive price on the stone. Eventually Harry and I felt it was too special to pass up and we agreed to purchase the diamond.
While I would not classify every colored diamond as being beautiful, there has been a hierarchy of desirable colors. Purer shades of pink, blue, yellow and orange may be considered the elite, but that does not eliminate the beauty and rarity of modified colors. Nature has made the colors in diamonds like the genes in human beings.
Jewelers, collectors and laymen should not feel suppressed by these traditional values. Standards of beauty are mostly subjective and the philosophy of individual tastes should also be applied to colored diamonds.
We were often questioned for combining the unappreciated colors with the elite colors in the Aurora Pyramid of Hope. Questions like, 'What is that plain brown doing next to that super pink?' or 'Isn't that stone too light, too small or too imperfect to be in a collection?' Most would overlook the fact that it was different from others in the group. Our goal was for a variety of colors and saturations, not just the elite colors.
As the collection continued to grow, we were constantly arranging the stones in different patterns, creating more complex pictures of flowers, insects, animals and abstract designs. As an artist, Harry thought this was art in a new medium.
As we prepared the collection for the American Museum of Natural History, we tried to set up the stones so that color would be most clear to the viewing public. The pyramid shape lent itself well to this idea. .
Today, at 257 stones, the Aurora Pyramid of Hope is a brotherhood of colored diamonds. The fun of collecting them is that you never have every possibility. There can always be something new to add.
The pleasure of collecting and learning over the last 15 years has turned to the pleasure of sharing something so beautiful and unique that has been unknown to the public and diamond experts alike. As I stand anonymously alongside the case at the museum, my greatest joy is to hear people say, 'Wow, those are all diamonds? I didn't know they come in so many colors.' I'm happy they had the experience.
The present generation is always developing on past knowledge, and we hope our love for collecting colored diamonds will inspire future generations to expand on the art of colored diamond collecting.