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Rough Diamond
Raw Power

Who would have thought that there would come a day when jewelry designers would un-invent the wheel and return to using diamonds right out of the mine? Todd Reed’s jewelry challenges the long-standing supremacy of the 4C’s, which bases diamond beauty and value on the skill with which a cutter facets and proportions stones. Instead, the Boulder, Colorado, metalsmith argues for diamond’s inherent, rustic beauty based on the gem’s natural sculptural quality. More designers are embracing an organic, non-interventionist aesthetic that welcomes the use of raw diamonds.

“People are sick and tired of ‘hearts and arrows’ and other kind of precision-cut diamonds that have to show diagrammatic or mathematical perfection,” says New York goldsmith Elizabeth Hay. “Raw diamonds have a natural sculptural perfection. If Marcel Duchamp had been a jeweler, these are the kind of diamonds he would have used—found diamonds that need little or no help from man to be beautiful.”

Reed and Hay are not merely talking about bort. Fancy color diamond expert Stephen Hofer, East Otis, Massachusetts, remembers studying a 1.75 purplish-red rough at GIA in 1979 which when sold for $805,000 at Sotheby’s in 1997 was still in crystal form: “This piece was all about color. There wasn’t any reason to cut it.” Bill Larson of Pala International, Fallbrook, California, says such stones qualify as mineral specimens and have extraordinary value left as they are. “It is nothing new to see dealers paying 50 percent premiums to cherry pick parcels of industrial rough for crystals with good color or shape that will be used as is,” he says.

Has every generation had mavericks who preferred rough to ready diamonds or felt rough was as ready as a diamond need be? Or is this the first time they are taking center stage? Given the fact that diamond cutting is less than 500 years old, and diamond mining on a grand scale nearly 2,500 years old, one would tend to think raw diamonds have been in vogue in some way. Yes and no.

According to Godehard Lenzen’s indispensable The History of Diamond Production and the Diamond Trade, India adopted a diamond quality and value standard based on crystal perfection, clarity, and color in the fourth century B.C. The rulers took all the top crystals, hoarded as a kind of diamond bullion that became the basis of state wealth. The next best grades were still consumed within India, either for industrial or asset purposes.

As a result, Lenzen is convinced the diamond was unknown in ancient Greece and that “the Romans and the Chinese became familiar with the diamond only as a tool.” In short, the Indians only exported junk diamonds and kept the best for themselves. But by Christ’s time Roman buyers bought tool diamonds to wear in jewelry, principally rings as status symbols.

So while wearing rough diamonds can be said to represent a revival of ancient customs, it can’t be said to represent a revival of ancient values. The appeal of raw diamonds in antiquity was a function of social standing and wealth; the appeal today is purely a function of aesthetics.

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Rough diamond, 4.82 carats, courtesy of Todd Reed, Boulder, Colorado, (800) 376-3609,
Photo by Jim Lawson