Ah monogamy – that most beauteous and noble of endeavours. It’s the very bedrock of cultured society. Nay! Of civilization itself. A leading indicator of whether your offspring will rejuvenate the economy and thus familial coffers, or subsist as council-housed rats is whether, growing up, he or she knew the love and security of having a married mother and father. Marriage even reduces the probability of child poverty by 80 percent. So yes, work hard, apply for a mortgage, and get hitched. It might be your single greatest act of patriotic selflessness. But you don’t need my reasons. If you’re reading this, chances are high you already have your very own ‘he’ or very special ‘she’ in mind. Or perhaps a non-binary peculiarity of some sort.
Before you get the inside scoop on successful diamond purchases, I’d like to offer several names to curse if you’re confounded by the popularity of these shiny lattices of carbon atoms. Why are diamonds even desirable? When the heck did an inanimate object become a girl’s best friend? It’s rather telling that the next most popular use of these rocks are as industrial abrasives.
Firstly, I blame the vexatious obsession common folk will always have for aristocracy. Frederick the Third, a.k.a Frederick the Fat a.k.a Arch-Sleepyhead of the Holy Roman Empire, was the first emperor of the House of Habsburg, Austria. He wasn’t so much concerned with leading Catholics on the straight and narrow than accumulating real estate. So in one fell swoop, he married off his son Maximilian the First to the daughter of chief rival, Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, staving off deadly competition and bringing Burgundian lands in France under his son’s control. To distract from the politics and lend an air of sincerity, Maximilian gave his betrothed a diamond ring in 1477, the first recorded in history. And as it ever will be, upon receiving some form of material wealth, the female countered with the promise of sex – she tantalised him with an offering of her stockings.
While that sparked chatter among peasants and fllow nobility, diamonds hadn’t yet caught-on as magnificently as they sparkle. Successful proposals were still signified by a ring, but it was more popular to attach birthstones instead. Take Prince Albert who gave Queen Victoria – a May babe – an emerald ring for their 1840 proposal. Apparently two garters were sent back as a sign of acceptance. A beguiling tradition if only chastity were still a virtue.
Things only took off when committed industrialist Cecil Rhodes landed in South Africa. In 1880 the Englishman led a company into the diamond mining industry. Known for the infamous tagline, “A Diamond Is Forever”, the De Beers syndicate would control 90% of the world’s diamond production within a decade. His genius? Producing a product nobody asked for, and then convincing everyone true love required a significant enough sacrifice (two months’ salary presumably). What a way to make up your own rules about supply and demand.
Still, poor financial decisions aside – especially when you’re struggling to establish your own household – a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. And like Beyonce hypophorically asks, “Who run the world?”, you could do much worse than a diamond. Everyone knows they’re tough, so these rocks are less wearing that other gems or pearls for instance. But as expert gemologist Mink Ong, will tell you, diamonds aren’t indestructible.
“You can chip a diamond if you knock it at some unfortunate angle. They’re cut to allow the most amount of light of sparkle through them, so while they’re hard, you still have to be careful,” explains Mink, who’s also managing director of Gϋbelin and Garrard in Malaysia. The former is a centuries old family owned Swiss gemstone and luxury jeweller, while the latter designed Princess Diana’s engagement ring and have been royal jewellers of choice for many generations, as well as the oldest jewellery house in the world.
Mink herself has been selling jewellery all her life. She’s seen a ton of power-suited men walk through her doors, stressed as cats, with no idea what they should be looking for. So it’s safe to assume she has an idea or two about the industry.
And pointedly, even after my virulent diatribe, nothing tops watching your girlfriend’s face light up like it’s Christmas in July, when you drop on bended knee with velvet box in hand. Up yours De Beers, that was one hell of a heist. Adding insult to injury, Advertising Age in 1999 rightly declared the grammatically incorrect ‘A Diamond Is Forever’ as the slogan of the century.
Plus, and this is a massive point, a shiny rock shuts up annoying relatives. Not that my girlfriend’s were particularly difficult, but you know the types I’m talking about. Aunty So-And-So, Cousin What’s-Her-Face, and even the occasional Uncle Why-The-Hell-Does-He-Have-An-Opinion-On-This will undoubtedly drop a comment or two i.e. “Oooh… is this the one you really wanted ah?” and squint their beady eyes like they’re struggling with the onset of premature cataracts. Screw me sideways with a nail gun, but its easier to scale Everest on a broken leg than conquering the psychology of shiny rocks.
Being a poorly soul, I spoke to a series of jewellers with a sprinkling of peer advice. Everyone recited interpretations from the classical ‘Text Of The 4Cs’. Stupefying stuff when you’re struggling to keep up. Thankfully, as a former salesman who still knows his way around a cold-call, I know sales spiel with I hear it. Mink just seemed more… candid. She strides into the exclusive Gϋbelin boutique, every inch an old-school sales matriarch, decreeing edicts for fresh coffee and flip-charts. Staff scurry to tidy up and make way as she invites me sit across a small discussion table. First thing on her mind?
“You have to try our coffee. People come in just for the espresso.”
I agreeably order an espresso and the presentation gets underway.
Step 1: Everyone should decide on their own traditions
Potential suitors can shake things up if they like. If you’re an uncommon man, or more importantly, if you’re dating an uncommon lady, engagement rings need not be diamond alone. There are emeralds, rubies and sapphires to consider. Like I’ve highlighted above, royals like these kinda things. Kate Middleton’s blue sapphire ring had previously adorned Princess Diana’s hand, before being reset by Garrard. But if a diamond it must be…
Step 2: Which of the 4 Cs’ are most crucial?
Mink wisely spells it out, “When it comes to diamonds, do you know which is the most important ‘C’? It’s Cost of course!”
First determine how much you’re willing to part with, and adds, “Use the figure as a guide and ask yourself, what is it you really need? Once you have a rough idea, you can look at the first C, Carat.”
Why? Because unless you’re carrying a pocket sized fluorescent torch and accompanying loupe, no one’s going to be debating Clarity and Colour. Asian, White, Black, Brown – people will be people according to Mink, driven by the same superficial logic that size equals sincerity.
Step 3: Determining Clarity
But if you’re fussy with details, the sort that Googles if anal-retentive deserves its own hyphen, welcome to the rabbit hole. You already know diamonds need a lot of pressure, a lot of heat, and a long time to form – apparently between one to three billion years. Phase one of the sorting process determines if all that cooking time has left internal ‘inclusions’ or external ‘blemishes’. Highly marked stones are relegated to group ‘I’, followed by ‘SI’, ‘VS’, VVS, with the clearest diamonds given an ‘Internally Flawless’ or ‘Flawless’ designation. This is what they call Clarity.
Step 4: Ascerting Colour
Next up we consider Colour. Using an alphabetical scale, with the best and most colourless stones under groupings D, E and F. Tier two is designated for near colourless stones, in groups G, H, I and J. It goes all the way to Z, and for reasons that escape logic, there aren’t any A’s, B’s or C’s.
Step 5: Resolving the Cut
Diamonds need to reflect as much light as possible to come alive, and quite frankly, to make sure you’ve got your money’s worth. Experts rate Cut on three levels: Grade, Polish and Symmetry. There’s a whole branch of science dedicated to cutting and polishing diamonds, but for the sake of brevity, a triple excellent rating sees all three levels receiving top marks. A double excellent means two out of three levels got flying colours i.e.:
Symmetry: yeah, that’ll work.
Step 6: A diamond that speaks to you
To recap, your budget determines size (Carat), then you fine tune your choices via shininess (Clarity + Colour + Cut). Got the right size but too costly? We go down in Clarity perhaps. Set on the right Colour but it isn’t sparkling enough? Go up on Cut then. Or so the logic goes.
“The naked eye can hardly differentiate between VS and VVS. Instead I always tell my clients to go for a diamond that talks to them, one whose sparkle catches their eye. That’s the most important factor,” says Mink.
Step 7: Brand or no brand
Now that you’ve got that ideal combination of C’s, there’s only one last hurdle to negotiate. Will you opt for a branded diamond or a local selection instead. According to Mink, “International brands like Gubelin and Garrard are well recognized in markets worldwide, but they also command a higher price in exchange for the superior quality as well as the prestige reputation that comes along with it. Some local brands also have their own signature traits like patented cuts that promise maximum brilliance, that they charge a premium for as well.”
“All in all, if you don’t want to get confused, use the 4C’s to guide you and opt for a triple excellent cut,” she concludes. That way you can ensure maximum bling for your buck, and enough of your partner’s contemporaries will fake temporary blindness at the brilliance of such a special rock.