History of the Black Diamond in Jewelry
Since their earliest discovery, black diamonds have been appreciated for their unusual appearance and qualities, though not always viewed as desirable for use in jewelry. In Italy, black diamonds were considered a stone of reconciliation between couples who had suffered a misunderstanding or whose relationship had fallen apart.
Black diamonds have however long been prized by collectors of precious gemstones. Louis XVIII is said to have purchased a fine black diamond for what was, back in the day, a suitably kingly sum:
1"The famous collector Dogni possessed a very fine specimen of this kind which had been cut with small facets and exhibited a vivid eclat It afterwards came into the possession of Mr Bapst who disposed of it to Louis XVIII for the sum of twenty four thousand francs."
The 19th Century
One of the earliest modern papers documenting the use of black diamonds in jewelry was a catalog from 1839. In it, Henry Philip Hope, better known as the namesake of the renowned Hope diamondand a notable collector of fine diamonds and gemstones, lists a black round-brilliant diamond, 1.25 carats in size.
A stunning black diamond rough with a weight of 350 carats, owned by Mr. Joseph Meyer, was exhibited at the 1851 World's Fair, where it was said to have been, "greatly admired." 2 There were accounts from around 1870 of a black diamond being spotted at Charles Nephews & Co Jewellers of Calcutta. 3
An 1874 catalog by the Duke of Brunswick, another 19th century connoisseur of colored diamonds, claims ownership of no less than 5 black diamonds in a range of sizes.
A Manual of Precious Stones and Ancient Gems notes that the Townshend Collection in England's South Kensington Museum included at the time:
4"Black Diamond. Nearly circular; brilliant cut; diam. 1/4 in.; surrounded with 14 small rose diamonds in coronet mounting."
No Respect from the Jewelry Trade
Still, the poor black diamond was shunned by most 19th and 20th century jewelers. Regarded as too difficult to cut and polish, they were considered by many to be little more than lumps of carbon or carbonados (a polycrystalline black diamond like the one at left) and best suited for industrial use. Aside from the most exceptional specimens, these stones were widely dismissed as useless.
Some were quite vocal in their contempt of even the finest black diamonds. In a "Description of Mr. Bryce Wright's Museum" one author quipped:
5"A black diamond of eighty carats strikes me as being one of those things whose beauty is visible to the eye of faith alone for a bit of half burnt coke would be as ornamental as this gem in its uncut state:"
Recognition at Long Last
In 1996 luxury jeweler Fawad Gruosi, founder and head of the Swiss jewelry house de GRISOGONO , unveiled a stunning collection of black diamond jewelry and watches - an awe-inspiring demonstration of the potential of this forgotten gem!
Gem-quality natural black diamonds are still rare and pricey, but technology and sophisticated color enhancement techniques have put beautiful black diamond jewelry within the reach of the average consumer. Thanks to modern science, the popularity of black diamond jewelry, both in couture and retail markets, has grown immensely and these "diamonds of the night" have begun to enjoy their rightful place in the sun alongside their more familiar cousins.
1Leisure hours among the gems (1884) By Augustus Choate Hamlin
2Gems and Precious Stones: with descriptions of their distinctive properties - Henry G. Smith (1896)
3Mani-Mala or A Treatise on Gems - Sourindro Mohun Tagore (1879)
4A Manual of Precious Stones and Ancient Gems - Hodder Michael Westrop (1874)
5Nature: International Journal of Science, Volume 41 By Sir Norman Lockyer (1890)'
Author Mary G., AJP, is a GIA (Gemol.ogical Institute of America) alumni and Accredited Jewelry Professional