In a gilded ballroom at the Four Seasons hotel in Geneva last month, the world’s wealthiest collectors and their envoys gathered to bid on the final and most anticipated lot: a nearly 19-carat cotton-candy colored diamond called the Pink Legacy.
As the stunning rectangular-cut gem, set in a ring with two white diamond side stones, appeared on stage in its own illuminated glass case, the crowd of more than 500 hushed. Then the frenzied bidding began, quickly surpassing the auction house’s low estimate of $30 million, as four clients — two in the room, two others on the phone — topped one another’s outrageous offers until, finally, the gavel dropped.
Rahul Kadakia, international head of jewelry for Christie’s and the auctioneer who ran the sale, gestured to the winner in the front row: “Sold for you, sir!”
The winner was a representative for Harry Winston, and at $50 million, it was a record-breaking price per carat for a pink stone. The company promptly renamed it the Winston Pink Legacy.
“It’s my business to hope and dream for stones like this,” Kadakia told The Post a few weeks after the sale. “If I’m at Christie’s for another 25 years, I won’t see another like it.”
His excitement came down to the stone’s impressive legacy — it was once owned by the Oppenheimers, the so-called “first family of diamonds” who helmed De Beers for almost a century — as well as the shocking color. Graded as “fancy vivid,” the highest level of color intensity for a diamond, “the whole room turned pink” the first time Kadakia saw it, he said.
The stone is a strong investment for Harry Winston, he added. “Ten years from now, this diamond could be worth $100 million.”
The prices of pink diamonds — as well as those of their naturally candy-colored cousins in blue, green and red — are skyrocketing, increasingly making white diamonds seem like the people’s stones.
Colored diamonds are so much rarer than the colorless ones that the highest-quality pinks regularly command millions of dollars more per carat than a traditional rock. A whopping 163-carat flawless white diamond called the Art of De Grisogono, Creation I, sold for “just” $34 million back in 2017 — $16 million less than the comparatively little Pink Legacy.
Even among colored diamonds, pinks are special, because they’re “just a total fluke of nature,” said Douglas Kazanjian, a Beverly Hills jeweler and gemstone consultant.
White diamonds are pure carbon, baked to crystalline perfection through a combination of extreme heat and pressure. The other shades are caused by impurities in the stone’s molecular structure — boron turns diamonds blue, nitrogen adds traces of yellow — but nobody knows exactly what makes a diamond blush.
Richly hued reds are on the same mysterious spectrum as pinks, and are even rarer still. Fewer than 30 red diamonds are known to exist, including the Kazanjian Red, which at 5.05 carats is the second-largest in the world.
Pinks — which can be salmon-colored, violet-tinged, or pure bubble gum, like the Pink Legacy — are more common than reds, but still, they consistently rank among the world’s most desirable gems.
They’ve been the diamonds of kings since the 17th century, when Jean Baptiste Tavernier, the famed French gem merchant and writer, spotted a 200-carat rough pink stone at the jewel markets in Golconda, India. At the time, this eastern river town was the only place on the planet to find diamonds. Tavernier — who visited there frequently and often sold the stones he purchased to Louis XIV — didn’t buy this one, but was so awed by it that he described it in his book, “The Six Voyages.” Although historians aren’t absolutely certain, it’s believed that the pink diamond he called “The Great Table” was eventually cut into two smaller ones, called the Daria-i-Noor and the Noor-ul-Ain, which are now both a part of the Iranian Crown Jewels.
The prolific South African diamond mines were discovered centuries later, in the late 1800s, and prompted the formation of De Beers. There, from the dusty depths of a De Beers-owned mine — there were many at the time — the stone that became the Pink Legacy emerged.
By then, other pink diamonds had been found, and each one would have been a rosy surprise and a cause for celebration. Experts believe the Pink Legacy was hand-cut to sparkling perfection in the 1930s, and it hasn’t been touched since. That the Oppenheimers kept it for themselves, instead of selling it, is a testament to its beauty, said Kadakia.
“They had access to any diamond in the world,” he said. “It’s like da Vinci deciding to keep his best work for himself.”
Then, probably 20 or 30 years ago, explained Kadakia, the Oppenheimer family sold the Pink Legacy to a private collector, who chose to remain anonymous all the way through the Christie’s auction.
Other owners of exquisite pinks haven’t been quite so private.
In recent years, pink diamonds have become a micro-trend among gem-flaunting celebrities, including former tennis pro Anna Kournikova, who sports an 11-carat pear-shaped sweet-pink diamond engagement ring from husband Enrique Iglesias. Actress Blake Lively also wears a pale, 12-carat oval-cut pink engagement ring, and Victoria Beckham has one, too: a peachy-pink oval stone that’s just one of the many exquisite baubles she’s received from husband David over the course of their almost 20-year marriage.
There’s also the pink diamond that made a thousand headlines: Jennifer Lopez’s engagement ring from Ben Affleck in 2002. At the time, the 6.1-carat rock cost a reported $1.2 million and captivated the public because the color made for such an original choice. (When the couple known as “Bennifer” split up in 2004, Lopez reportedly gave the prize sparkler back.)
Now, thanks in part to celebrity interest, prices of pink diamonds continue to rise. The Bennifer ring would undoubtedly cost a whole lot more in 2018. Recently, the appreciation has been quite rapid: Just three years ago, a pink diamond almost identical to the Pink Legacy called the Sweet Josephine went for $28 million at Christie’s, breaking the record for the highest price per carat for a pink diamond. It sold to Joseph Lau, a notorious Hong Kong billionaire and convicted money launderer, who bought it from an unidentified American owner and named it for his then-7-year-old daughter, Josephine.
As for the highest price ever paid for a pink, that honor goes to the nearly 60-carat, flawless Pink Star, which sold for $71 million with Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2017.
Today, demand among the world’s wealthiest for these blushing gems is at an all-time high, which begins to explain why the Pink Legacy commanded almost double the price of the Sweet Josephine. It comes down to the desires of the ballooning global elite.
‘A [natural] pink diamond is basically the same thing as Banksy’ for gem collectors.
“There are so many more billionaires every year, and they’re all competing to buy the greatest things in the world,” said Kazanjian. “And places like China, India, Russia — they’re driving the markets up.”
Kazanjian points out that buyers from countries like these, which have a history of political and economic unrest, tend to value gems more than anyone else: “It’s the ability to have millions of dollars in the palm of your hand. You can put a diamond in your pocket, and run.”
And then there’s the matter of the Argyle mine — the reported source of Anna Kournikova’s engagement stone, as well as 90 percent of the world’s pink diamonds since the early 1980s — closing down.
Before 1983, when the so-called Argyle mine opened in Western Australia and yielded a small but steady supply of pink diamonds, there was no reliable place to find them. Argyle was an enormous mine, and it increased the world’s overall production of diamonds by a whopping 60 percent, according to a 1987 article in the New York Times. However, the Australian output was generally low in quality, with a vast number of those stones stained an unmistakable shade of watery, beer-like brown. Still, the pinks offered a rose-tinted upside, even though they were still few and far between, comprising one-tenth of one percent of the mine’s yield.
Discovering more pinks in the remote reaches of Australia didn’t diminish their allure. On the contrary, it gave the mining company, Rio Tinto, an opportunity to market them to the international elite.
“If you’ve got a resource that’s so unique, you’ve got to treat it in a unique manner,” said Jean-Marc Lieberherr, a seasoned marketer who joined Rio Tinto in 2006 for the specific purpose of promoting Argyle’s distinctive violet-hued pink diamonds. “Like any other luxury product, you’ve got to completely control distribution.”
Lieberherr, now CEO of the Diamond Producers Association, a marketing organization, says they treated the pinks like Birkin bags or Chanel No. 5.
“You just create a whole narrative around these stones,” he said, which involved branding them as “beyond rare” within the trade and then, to underscore it, making them as scarce as possible, selling them at annual, invitation-only auctions called “tenders.”
In other words, they took the long history of pink diamonds — in which they were sold within a whisper network of the wealthy — and turned up the volume.
“Prices went through the roof,” said Lieberherr.
A rep for Rio Tinto confirmed that over the past 18 years, prices for pinks have jumped 400 percent.
For luxury jewelers like Harry Winston or the London-based Graff, having any access to pinks — let alone a showpiece like the Pink Legacy — is a sign of success. Kazanjian said that buying the Pink Legacy will give Winston “access to buy more major stones, and then also help them sell other pink diamonds.” (A rep for Harry Winston declined to comment for this story).
That’s the way the diamond industry works — even if a company keeps the stone in a vault most of the time, trotting it out at a store or a museum every once in a while, the simple fact of owning it lends power-player status.
As for buyers of less important pink diamonds: “It’s definitely still a one-percenter-type market,” said Ben Smithee, a jewelry branding expert who has worked with Rio Tinto as well as other industry heavy-hitters. (Synthetic pink diamonds do exist, but like all lab-grown stones, they’re cheaper, considered much less prestigious, and whether or not they’ll hold their value at all is a matter of heated debate.) On the other hand, “A [natural] pink diamond is basically the same thing as Banksy” for gem collectors, said Smithee.
But while Banksy is still creating, Argyle is shutting down as soon as 2020. The mine is depleting, which means that soon, operations will no longer be economically viable.
“The probability of finding another mine like Argyle, that produces pinks, is nil,” said Lieberherr. “It’s like a work of art. The painter is dying. The product can only appreciate now.”
Rachelle Bergstein is the author of “Brilliance and Fire: A Biography of Diamonds” (Harper), out now
By Rachelle Bergstein