By  on October 31, 2011

Fawaz Gruosi had to travel all the way to Bombay to find a diamantaire who would cut a raw black diamond for him. That was in 1995 — the year Gruosi created his very first piece: a blackened gold ring set with 120 black diamonds weighing 17 carats, highlighting a South Sea white pearl. It’s also the same year he founded fine jewelry brand de Grisogono.

“I remember thinking at the time I admired a lot of women that wore black during the day — but not on jewelry and watches,” Gruosi told WWD. “You can mix it [black] with everything, and it’s elegant and mysterious. It has a lot of quality, and I don’t know why black wasn’t taken into consideration for fine jewelry [at the time].”

Probably best known in the industry for its work with the colored gem, Gruosi said that more than 55 percent of the brand’s collection contains black diamonds in some shape or form.

The company’s offerings range from a $209,100 pair of drop earrings containing 356 black diamonds with two pear-shaped emeralds set in white gold to pieces that have a mix of white and black diamonds. These include a black-and-white diamond choker with nearly 1,300 black diamonds set in white gold, retailing for $902,400, and a black-and-white diamond ring with a 19.6-carat Tahitian pearl retailing for $70,500.

But while Gruosi may have started the black diamond trend, it’s now becoming widespread throughout the jewelry world. Brands such as David Yurman, Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, Stephen Webster, Phillips Frankel, Mizuki, Jack Vartanian, Wendy Yue, Cindy Chao and Penny Preville now offer pieces with the stone — sometimes by itself, other times juxtaposed with white diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, rhodium, gold or platinum.

Luxury Brand Consulting chief executive officer Janice Winter credits the spike in black diamonds to a few factors. The quality of the colored diamonds has improved vastly, and this has allowed designers to feel more comfortable about incorporating the stones into their pieces. Additionally, it’s a way for them to get a little more interesting, yet still remain true to the fine component of their brand DNA, according to Winter.

“Designers are always trying to add variety, diversity and have artistic expression, and having this material that looks so good enables them to sell their pieces as fine jewelry. Because it’s a diamond, it allows consumers to feel that they’re buying a fine product with confidence. She can get this more edgy look and not compromise the fact that she’s still purchasing fine [jewelry],” Winter said, citing other materials such as wood or leather that haven’t successfully bridged the gap between fashion and fine jewelry the way black diamonds have.

She also stressed the “cool factor.” A wearer might feel overdressed in white diamonds, especially during the day, but a black, pavé-diamond piece — such as a pendant or rings from Phillips Frankel or bangles from David Yurman — has what Winter describes as a “cool factor to it without feeling ‘blingy.’”

Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry started to incorporate black diamonds in its fall 2010 collection with a one-of-a-kind black, beaded tassel necklace, earrings and bracelet, an update of the tassel pieces that have become a signature part of the line since its inception in 2007 — with the intent of being used for editorial purposes only. But after the $39,500 necklace immediately sold at a trunk show in Baton Rouge, it became one of the brand’s hottest sellers. The company has sold 12 to date.

“This is part of the evolution of the whole colored-diamond market, and the consumers are seeking something new. People have to be creative, and that’s what they are doing. Designers are evolving so that they can continue being fashion-forward,” said Alan Bronstein, founder of Aurora Gems and a colored-diamond consultant and expert. “Fashion generally goes in cycle, and there are moments when people just want to break out with something different that they haven’t seen or sold before — and that happens to be true for black diamonds right now.”

Although they are now definitely considered part of fine jewelry — after some resistance in the early days — black diamonds will never replace white ones, according to Bronstein, who calls the material a “fresh alternative to the venerable classic.”

Designer Stephen Webster agrees.

While he contends that “people aren’t out there looking for a 6-carat black diamond to replace their white ones,” the stones have become a staple in his collection since first introducing them about eight years ago. Presently, 70 percent of his pieces contain black diamonds in some form.

“Ten years ago, it [black diamonds] was extremely exotic, there’s no question about it. People weren’t expecting to see black in fine jewelry. Now, we don’t just look at things and think strictly in terms of white diamonds. We look at everything and ask if black will enhance or offer a good alternative. It’s a fifty-fifty option now,” Webster said.

For the designer’s current offerings, black diamonds serve as a key element and backdrop, and other stones — such as emeralds, sapphires or garnets — are layered and placed alongside them. Pricing for pieces with black diamonds start at $2,500 and can go up to almost $22,000 — but some are priced as high as $125,000.

“This really spiced up the collection. It wouldn’t have had the same drama if I even considered it in white diamonds. It definitely wouldn’t have the same effect if I used anything else,” Webster said. “It’s become more and more relevant for us, right from the design state. It’s amazing. It’s one of those things where I don’t even have to adapt it for other countries, it works universally.”

He distinguishes the material in two categories: natural black diamonds and those that have been treated to give the impression of a more saturated shade of black. The latter results in a uniformity among the diamonds and is perfect for pavé settings when all diamonds must be treated to look exactly the same, rather than the hero stone, according to Webster. With the former, there’s a lot of color change and graduation, which makes them difficult to use when you need consistency. This is what makes them perfect for a large, center stone — where natural black diamonds can range from varying gray hues all the way to a deep, carbon black.

“It’s still a diamond — no matter what — even if it’s been interfered with to make it darker,” the designer contended. “If you get a large, pure, black natural diamond, that’s where it gets really pricy, and that’s where people would start to look at it and say, ‘I’m not sure if I want to spend $100,000 on a black diamond.’ These are extremely rare and very expensive.”

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