Why everyone wants a diamond in the rough
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
It took just three seconds to say yes: after a hike in the mountains above Gstaad, on a night spent in a wood cabin, he (a managing director in finance and hospitality) dropped to one knee and asked her (a fashion marketing executive) to marry him. If this romantic ritual was unexpected, then what was inside the box was even more of a shock. No flash, glitter or glamorous sparkle, just the simplest gold ring, holding a rugged, craggy, translucent, strikingly white boulder-like rock. It was a rough diamond – the start of an interactive creative experience in which the couple would shape and fashion their own stone, to be set into a bespoke engagement ring.
The fiancé was availing himself of a new service launched by Rafael Papismedov, co-founder and managing partner of the pioneering diamond technology company HB Antwerp, whose brand, Signum, sells rough diamonds to clients who can dictate exactly how they want to personalise their purchase.
Alternative engagements: six rings to say yes to, by Jessica Beresford
The raw, organic forms of rough gems are of increasing interest to consumers, spurred by the high-profile discoveries of stones such as the 1,758-carat Sewelo rough diamond – the second-largest found in a century – which was purchased by Louis Vuitton in 2020. The rough aesthetic has made its way into jewellery design too, with London-based jewellers Ruth Tomlinson and Pippa Small both embracing the earthy feel of raw stones in rings, earrings and bracelets.
Part of HB Antwerp’s mission is to change the perception of the diamond as pure commodity – categorised, classified and homogenised – and instead show it as a true miracle of nature, each with its own individual characteristics that can and should be brought out by the ingenuity of expert cutters. Signum’s process begins with stone selection; the proposer selects a rough crystal that, as assessed by Signum’s experts, will yield the size, quality and cut they have in mind. This particular rough diamond was sourced from the ethical Karowe mine in Botswana; its entire journey was traceable – every hand that the diamond passed through – right to the client’s finger. The mine also shares in HB Antwerp’s profits, benefitting the employees and local communities.
The client works with the “planner”, looking deep into the stone, seeing every mark and layer of its crystallisation process using the brand’s in-house scanners. “It is like diving into a galaxy,” Papismedov explains. He calls the minute marks and growth lines “moments of truth” in the diamond’s formation through billions of years, under immense heat and pressure. “Clients really see the force of nature.”
Over more planning sessions, clients are shown the various permutations and possibilities for a finished stone, playing with 3D models and learning how the different cuts can affect fire and brilliance, or how larger weights don’t necessarily produce the most beautiful gems.
The whole process typically lasts four months; our couple chose a cushion cut – slightly elongated, with perfect, elegant proportions – that ended up at around six carats. The stone is a totally unique diamond, intensely personal, and a true “couture” cut. Papismedov adds: “I think they understand now that the value of the finished stone lies in its individuality.”