At 14.83 carats, the Spirit of the Rose is the largest vivid purple-pink diamond to appear at auction. Going under the hammer at Sotheby’s in Geneva on November 11, the gem is expected to fetch SFr21-35m ($23-38m).
The sale comes at a turning point in pink diamond production. Last Tuesday marked the final day of mining at Rio Tinto’s Argyle mine in Western Australia, the only consistent source of pink diamonds and responsible for 90 per cent of the world’s supply.
The precise impact of the closure on the market remains to be seen but, with demand growing, a further reduction in the limited supply is likely to push rising prices even higher.
First discovered in India in the 17th century, pink diamonds — the colour of which is believed to be the result of stress on the diamonds during their formation — are rare. Found today at two of Alrosa’s Russian mines — including the Yakutia site where the miner unearthed the 27.85-carat clear pink rough from which the Spirit of the Rose was cut — they account for less than 0.001 per cent of the company’s production volume.
Argyle pink diamonds are “typically small” but have a “potency of colour”, says Patrick Coppens, general manager of sales and marketing for Rio Tinto’s diamond business. The gems make up 0.13 per cent of the approximately 865m carats of rough diamonds mined since production began in 1983. “An entire year’s worth of Argyle pink diamonds over half a carat would fit in the palm of your hand,” says Mr Coppens.
The mine’s rarest polished pinks are sold via sealed bids in the annual Argyle Pink Diamonds Tender, an invitation-only event for around 100 collectors, jewellery houses and diamond connoisseurs. The remainder of the polished production is sold to 14 partners, which supply 35 “select ateliers”.
Six “hero” gems in this year’s 62-stone tender collection — the penultimate — include the 2.24-carat purplish pink Argyle Eternity, the largest fancy vivid round brilliant diamond offered in the tender’s history.
Bids do not close until December 2 but Mr Coppens says interest is “very intense”, with the market recognising the “finiteness of supply and the rarity of Argyle pink diamonds”.
“Currently there are no other consistent sources of pink diamonds and even if another deposit of pink diamond bearing ore is discovered it would take on average 10 years for a mine to proceed from discovery to production,” he says.
Among the bidders will be Boodles, an Argyle select atelier. Last month, the British jeweller bought the largest and most expensive pink diamond in its history — a pear-shaped stone weighing more than 10 carats (pictured below) from the Williamson mine in Tanzania. It expects to sell the gem for about £3.5m set in a ring. The purchase came on the back of strong interest: pink diamond jewellery accounted for 32 per cent of Boodles’ sales in excess of £100,000 between mid-June and mid-October, compared to 10 per cent over the same period in 2019.
Michael Wainwright, Boodle’s managing director, predicts “very high” prices for the latest Argyle diamonds. Overall, the price of the Argyle Pink Diamonds Tender has increased by more than 500 per cent since 2000, according to Rio Tinto. “We’ll be prepared to pay more for them because the brand is worth a lot,” says Mr Wainwright.
Alisa Moussaieff, managing director of Moussaieff, says the mine has been “very, very good in marketing their products”. “At the moment the name ‘Argyle’ adds to the saleability,” she says.
Graeme Thompson, worldwide head of jewellery at Phillips, agrees there is a premium attached to Argyle diamonds due to brand recognition. But prices for pinks in general have soared: the auction house says they have risen by 300 per cent in the past decade and doubled in the past five years.
Five of the 10 most expensive diamonds sold at auction are pink, according to Sotheby’s, including the record-holding 59.60-carat CTF Pink Star sold by the auction house for HK$553m ($71.2m) in Hong Kong in 2017.
Rio Tinto announced in 2018 that the Argyle mine had sufficient reserves to produce diamonds until the end of 2020. Mr Thompson says there was an “uptick in interest” in pink diamonds after press coverage of the closure put them “front and centre of coloured diamond collectors’ minds”. Although this interest was global, he says the Asian market in particular drives consumption. “Pink in Asia — obviously Hello Kitty is another thing you can look at — is just a very, very popular colour,” he says.
Jardin de Giverny, a necklace which can also be worn as a bracelet or ring and has a 19-carat fancy light pink diamond as its centrepiece (pictured above), is one of two lots created by the Chinese fine jewellery designer Feng J for Phillips’ Jewels & Jadeite auction in Hong Kong on 28 November. It has an estimate of HK$20-30m ($2.5-3.8m).
Mr Thompson says pinks are seen as an “alternative investment”. “When 90 per cent of the world’s [pink] diamonds are not being produced, you would expect demand will certainly outstrip supply and that should drive prices up even further,” he says.
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