If colorless diamonds are the perfect expression of conspicuous consumption—the term coined for lavish purchases meant to boost one’s social standing or impress others—then colored diamonds represent a serene status beyond shows of wealth and taste. Let’s call it inconspicuous consumption.
At this level, spending is transcendent and the finer things money can buy don’t have to be public archetypes of glory or glamour. To the contrary, their prestige is purely private. It suffices that the owner knows what they are. Recognition of their true nature and value by others does not add much to the pleasure of owning them. Indeed, it may lessen and possibly negate it. Just listen to designer Jean Mahie, who has worked exclusively for Neiman-Marcus for the past 32 years, talk about her favorite gem: the violet diamond.
“I love the idea that no one knows that the small grayish-lavender stone I am wearing is a diamond,” she says. “It is my secret and mine alone.”
If Mahie wants her most treasured keepsake to be recognition-resistant, she made the right choice. Violet diamonds are the ultimate obscurity—so rare even the few who know about them hardly expect to see them worn. Mahie owns four and they are usually not for public display either in a museum or on her person. They are simply her four favorite diamonds in a growing personal collection of fancy colors that now numbers 75 stones.
Can you guess Mahie’s fifth favorite diamond in her collection? It’s a specimen of her second favorite gem: the purple diamond.
To most people, violet is a synonym for purple. So splitting the two colors into separate categories makes no sense at all. But to gem researchers like Emmanuel Fritsch at the University of Nantes in France who have studied the causes of color in diamonds, such interchangeability of color terms is a serious gemological mistake.
According to Fritsch, purple diamonds owe their color to lattice-level deformations which manifest as mysterious color-exuding grain lines throughout the stone. Violet diamonds, on the other hand, owe their color to minute traces of hydrogen. “From a gemological standpoint, there is every reason to differentiate violet from purple diamonds,” Fritsch says. Connoisseurs like Mahie who are practiced in the defining subtleties of fancy color diamonds say there are equally compelling aesthetic reasons for distinguishing between the two hues.