Monday, April 28, 2008

In diamond world, brown is new white

Filed under Natural Color Diamond Association, New York :- Long the redheaded stepchild of the diamond world, earth-tone diamonds in varying shades are now emerging as a favorite son.

Just don't call them "brown.

"Marketed as "cognac," "champagne" or "chocolate," brown diamonds are in demand by today's fashion-conscious consumers who want jewelry that can be matched to their outfits.

Brown and yellow are the two most commonly found colors in the diamond world. "Common" is a relative term, however, as only one out of every 10,000 diamonds officially qualifies as a colored diamond, says Robert Mays, executive director of the Natural Color Diamond Association (NCDIA).

May recommend that jewelers who are interested in selling colored diamonds begin with the more plentiful—and comparatively affordable—browns before spending top dollar for the extremely rare and expensive colors such as pink and blue.

"Champagne, cognac and chocolate diamonds are the perfect entry point to come into the market if you want to get into the colored-diamond business," May says.

Australia's Argyle mine is the world's largest producer of brown diamonds, with a haul between $150 million and $200 million annually, according to mining company Rio Tinto. The NCDIA says brown diamonds are also found in southern Africa and Siberia.

Liz Chatelain, chief executive officer of MVI Marketing and co-founder of the Indo-Argyle Diamond Council, began working with the Argyle mine in 1989, and she says at that time, the general attitude toward brown diamonds, or "champagne," as Argyle has termed them, was negative.

"The trade has always been the gatekeepers," she says. "They did not like, or think the consumer would like, champagne diamonds. They had always been taught by De Beers that the best diamonds were white, therefore champagne diamonds had no place in jewelry."

But, she says, that started to change around 1992 when David Yurman made his first champagne-diamond piece. Brown diamonds as a category then began to pick up steam.

Chatelain says today's high-end designers mix champagne diamonds with white ones.

"It is still a small part of the diamond jewelry business but adds style and interest to jewelry collections around the world," she says.

When converted into polished diamonds and mounted into jewelry, brown diamonds constitute $4 billion to $5 billion of the world's retail diamond jewelry sales each year, or roughly 7 percent, according to Rio Tinto.

Le Vian is another well-known brand that contributes to brown-diamond retail sales.

Headed by Eddie LeVian, CEO, designer and director, Le Vian has its own brand of "chocolate" diamonds.

"The chocolate color is one that women understand," LeVian says, noting the idea of "chocolate" appeals to women more so than "champagne" or "cognac."

Celebrities who are dipping into the trend include hotel heiress Paris Hilton, tennis pro Serena Williams and Heroes actress Hayden Panettiere.

"It's everywhere," LeVian says. "They are all drawn to it."

And while the average retail jeweler won't have a great number of Grand Slam champions or Heroes as customers, LeVian points out that celebrities are no different than other women.

Jewelry, LeVian says, is no longer about a woman's husband buying her one piece she keeps her entire life.

Price points for Le Vian chocolate pieces range from $200 to more than $100,000.
Another designer cluing in to the brown trend is Justine Simmons, sister-in-law of Simmons Jewelry Co. owner Russell Simmons.

Simmons launched "Brown Sugar," which is being produced by Simmons Jewelry Co. on the Home Shopping Network (HSN) and

With price points ranging between $199 and $599, Simmons says she has designed a line that is fashionable and can be worn with everything from a ball gown to blue jeans.

Future plans call for expanding into men's jewelry and incorporating brown topaz and quartz pieces into the line.

Shades of rare

Only one in 10,000 diamonds that comes out of the ground qualifies as a colored diamond. Here is a guide classifying natural-colored diamonds by rarity of color.
—Rare: Brown, gray, black
—Very rare: Orange, yellow, olive
—Extremely rare: Pink, blue, green
—Most rare: Red, purple

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