"When a sapphire crosses over the line of saturation from pink to red and becomes a ruby, you're usually glad it did," says Bruce Smith, a fancy color diamond specialist in New York City. "But when a diamond crosses the very same line, you almost always wish it hadn't."
Not that pink diamonds, ultra-rare to begin with, stray into red territory all that often. They only do so once in a blue moon. Alas, when they do, says gemologist Stephen Hofer, author of Collecting and Classifying Coloured Diamonds, "their color is never strong enough to justify comparison to lipstick or stop signs."
Never is a harsh absolute that most colored diamond dealers and collectors don't want to hear in connection with red. Ever since the boom in fancy color diamonds ignited in the 1980s, the hope of finding a natural red diamond whose color, relative to ruby at least, wasn't wishful thinking has united connoisseurs in a quest for a stone that lives up to the deepest and most archetypal expectations of this hue. You know the colors I mean. Fire engine-red. Traffic light-red.
Smith is one of a fast-growing number of dealers who has finally accepted that the pursuit of red in diamonds is usually more exciting from a standpoint of rarity than beauty. When it comes to beauty, he prefers to think pink—although pinks are less rare than reds. "Granted, diamonds with enough saturation and tone to be called red are needles in a haystack and certainly valuable for that fact," he says. "But I have yet to see any diamond graded red or purplish-red that is equal in beauty to a highly saturated pink."
According to Hofer, most so-called red diamonds pay a price for their deeper tone. That's because their color is usually the result of a "structural defect" of unknown cause that appears as closely spaced grain lines from which emanate color. The more of these grain lines, the greater the saturation. Unfortunately, as saturation increases, stones often become hazy and lose transparency. That's why Smith complains of "muting" in most of the red and purplish-red diamonds that he has seen. For him, this makes red stones important primarily for rarity rather than looks. "Just because a diamond is one in a million doesn't make it worth a million," he says. "It's also got to have an electrifying color."
The Morning After
My how times and attitudes about red diamonds have changed! In April 1987, when Geneva dealer Teddy Horovitz paid a record price of $927,000 per carat at auction for a 0.95 carat diamond graded "fancy purplish red" by the Gemological Institute of America, attendees gave him a standing ovation and the market went into the kind of delirium reserved for Dow take-offs and Lindbergh landings.
Eleven years later, when New York cutter William Goldberg sold an ultra-rare 5.11-carat diamond graded stand-alone red by GIA for a rumored $8 million, many of those who cheered Horovitz complained that this time the color designation—and the price it may have helped to justify—were undeserved. A chorus of critics proclaimed that GIA saw red where there wasn't really enough to warrant a grade they doubt any diamond will ever merit.