Some man of means from Hong Kong sure had a hankering for diamond hearts at Christie’s St. Moritz sale in February 1997. First, he bought two top-color, SI1-clarity ear studs weighing 5.26 and 5.77 carats respectively for $164,400, or $20,473 per carat. Nineteen lots later, he bought an 18.23-carat stone for $273,658, or $15,011 per carat. That’s $438,058 for three heart shapes. One can’t help but wonder at the motives for such spending. Belated Valentine’s Day gift? Spur-of-the moment show of affection?
Ordinarily, we would refrain from mentioning the pursuits of private buyers at auctions. But we’re talking hearts here — one of the earliest-known brilliant-style cuts and a shape that for decades has taken last place in the popularity rankings for fancy diamonds. If nothing else, one would hope that such conspicuous consumption would have sparked renewed interest in this perennially out-of-fashion fancy and, pardon the pun, enhearten those who make cutting this shape their life’s work.
As things stand, those who make a living from cutting hearts are a dying breed, at least in America. In fact, heart specialists are so few in number they constitute an endangered species of lapidary. At last count, just two men in all of New York City, the place where hearts the size and quality of those at the Christie’s sale are most likely to be cut, devoted themselves to crafting this shape.
Before we go any further, you should know that the word “crafting” means something far more narrow and specific when talking about heart-shaped diamonds than when talking about any other fancy shape. What makes a heart a heart is a process call “clefting,” during which a pear shape is transformed to a heart by deftly placing a V-shaped notch in its top portion using a mini diamond-impregnated sawing blade. By setting the blade at different angles perpendicular to the stone, the sawyer contours the two sides of the indentation into matching lobes. These lobes, which are the defining characteristic of the heart, are cut by specialists who do nothing else. After they complete this task, the stone is sent on for final faceting and finishing.
For 23 years, Rubin Lawrence of Faceted Hearts was the only cutter on 47th Street who specialized in clefting. Then, in 1995, another man began to offer this service. He picked a strange time to do so. Business, Lawrence says, is down nearly 30 percent from a year ago and there is no sign that things will improve any time soon. Lawrence isn’t sure whether this downturn reflects a further decline in demand for hearts or the fact that De Beers has being reining in hard on supplies of 2-to-5 carat roughs. No matter. Even with lighter demand for his services, Lawrence can still count on clefting thousands of stones this year — which makes a bad year for him far less painful than it is for most other cutters.
Nevertheless, Lawrence has no illusions about the importance of his job. If dealers had their way, he’d probably receive even fewer stones or be out of business altogether. That’s because cutting a heart is, in many, if not most, cases, a last resort, chosen as the only way or hope of making money on a stone. Even then, the profit isn’t all that great. Unless the diamond is of exceptional size, quality or rarity, a heart will sell for 40 to 50 percent less than its round-brilliant counterpart.
Such price differentials stem from and, of course, confirm lack of popularity for the heart. But they could just as well be used as an enticement to the buying public. After all, the heart is the universal icon of love and fidelity. That should give jewelers looking to offer big bargains and exotic shapes more cause than pause with regard to stocking them. If you’re having second thoughts about hearts, here’s what you need to know to buy and sell them successfully.