One of the many things that fascinates me about gemstones is the stories that surround some of them. Diamonds, in particular, can have long and legendary histories.
On April 4th of this year, a world record was set by a gemstone. Or, more accurately, by the new owner of the gemstone. The Pink Star diamond, the largest pink diamond ever found, was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong for $71 million. The stone, weighing just under 60 carats, was bought after only 5 minutes of bidding. Mined in Africa in 1999, the gem was cut over a period of 2 years and is now owned by the jewelry company Chow Tai Fook.
What makes a single gemstone so valuable? In a word: rarity. Diamonds are among the world’s rarest gemstones (40 tons of ore might be dug to get a 1 carat diamond), and diamonds which naturally have a distinct color are rarer still. They make up only 0.01% of the world’s diamond production, with pink being among the rarest. Factor in the size and clarity of the Pink Star, along with its color, and you have a $71 million gem.
The rarest of all are red diamonds. A 2010 New York Times article stated that less than 20 were known to exist. I actually had a chance to see one of the most famous red diamonds, the Kazanjian Red, at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History when it was on exhibit there in 2009.
Diamonds are 99.95% pure carbon – the only gemstone composed of a single element. Their colorless appearance is due to the fact that they do not absorb light. The brilliance and sparkle that characterizes diamonds is caused by the way they reflect light. With the exception of the pink/red diamonds, the colored ones get their color from chemical impurities – the tiny part of the diamond’s composition that is not pure carbon. Blue diamonds contain boron. Yellow diamonds contain nitrogen. But no one knows what makes pink diamonds pink (or red diamonds red). Even with a mass spectrometer (“Major Mass Spec” to fans of Abby’s lab in NCIS) scientists have not been able to find any trace of impurities that cause the pink color. Slices of pink diamonds examined under a powerful electron microscope show that they are not uniformly pink – pink zones alternate with clear zones, which has lead to a theory that the color is in fact due some kind of seismic shock that happened to the diamond.
Stories of Famous Pink (and one red) Diamonds
Enough of the technical talk! I want to tell the (abbreviated) stories of some famous pink diamonds
The name means “Sea of Light” in Persian. First documented in 1739 as part of the collection of the first Mogul of India (a collection which also included the historic Koh-i-Noor diamond). Estimated to be 182 carats, it is currently in the Iranian Crown Jewels collection. It’s color is a very pale pink.
From India (once 32.24 carats, recently re-cut to 28.15). In 1526 it was given to the founder of the first Mogul empire, Babur. After conquering the city of Agra (the eventual site of the Taj Mahal), he spared the life of the incumbent Rajah and his family and was given a cache of jewels in gratitude. The jewels included the Agra, which Babur liked so much he wore it in his turban. It was purchased by a Hong Kong jewelry company in 1990 for $7 million (at the time, a record).
The Williamson Pink
Discovered in Tanzania in 1947, the 54.5 carat uncut stone was presented to then-Princess Elizabeth as a wedding gift. It was cut in 1948 (to a 23.6 carat round brilliant) and set in a brooch designed by Frederick Mew of Cartier in 1952. It is a piece of jewelry which the Queen still wears.
The Kazanjian Red
This blood-red diamond is 5.05 carats. It was mined in South Africa in 1927. In 1944 the Nazis stole it from its hiding place in the Netherlands and sent it to Germany. After the war it was found in a cache of gems in a salt mine near Hitler’s Bavarian retreat. It was initially listed as a ruby, but Louis Asscher, the diamond merchant who received the gems, immediately recognized it for what it was. It was purchased by Douglas Kazanjian in 2007 and is now on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Pink diamonds can be lab-grown, so it is critically important to know if a gem is natural or man-made, as this has an enormous impact on value.