Black Diamonds: The Rock Stars of the Gem World?
When you hear the term “black diamonds,” you might imagine Sarah Jessica Parker’s show-stopping engagement ring in Sex and the City, or a black diamond proudly worn by famous artist Kat Von D, or even an edgy high school punk band called The Black Diamonds.
Whatever the case, black diamonds are an up-and-coming jewelry star with a heavy dose of attitude and a modern, approachable vibe. If you’re looking for a diamond that’s utterly unique and full of personality, consider a piece of jewelry with black diamonds center stage as the rock star.
What Is a Black Diamond?
Natural black diamonds fall into two categories — colorless diamonds with dense, cloud-like inclusions (we’ll talk about those in a second), and carbonados.
Carbonados are a natural aggregate formation (think a Picasso painting but with rocks) of diamond, carbon, and graphite. They’re an unusual, highly porous diamond variety with a slick, lustrous sheen. Their unique geological composition makes them as hard as colorless diamonds, but much more durable.
Rarely used for jewelry, carbonados are exceptionally prized for industrial uses. For many years, they were considered the absolute best material for tools and drills used to cut other diamonds.
Carbonado is found exclusively in Africa and Brazil and is named for the Portuguese word for “charcoal”. Although they are carbon-based and contain diamond crystals, they’re not generally considered a true diamond.
On the other end we have “fancy black” diamonds, which are essentially standard colorless diamonds so heavily and evenly included that they appear black. Much like prized canary-yellow diamonds, the feature that is normally considered a defect in colorless diamonds is so intense that it becomes a quality of its own right.
Unlike carbonados, these are true diamonds with a unique display of clarity characteristics, usually inclusions of graphite or hematite. Most natural black diamonds aren’t truly black — they may display a “salt-and-pepper” effect of black inclusions dispersed evenly throughout the colorless area, or they may have patches of dark grey.
While some of these can look appealing in their own way, most of these diamonds will be treated with heat or radiation to make the color more even and opaque. Completely black diamonds with no color treatment are very rare, and command higher prices than their color-enhanced counterparts.
Are Black Diamonds From Outer Space?
While it sounds like the premise of a twenty-five-cent sci-fi novel, there’s a very real likelihood that this is the case. Carbonado diamonds are only found in two parts of the world: Eastern Brazil and the Bangui region of the Central African Republic — areas which were, many many moons ago, connected in one big landmass. Coincidence?
Furthermore, carbonados have never been found under the earth’s surface. They’ve only been discovered in alluvial diamond deposits, or surface mines that were created by the flow of streams or rivers.
When gemologists looked to these stones for further study, they realized that their highly porous composition meant they couldn’t have formed under high heat and pressure the way conventional diamonds do.
It is believed that these stones were either brought to earth by an extraterrestrial body (more likely a meteorite than a green lady in a skimpy space suit), or created during the impact when a meteorite hit the earth.
Other theories as to carbonado’s origins include exposure to intense radiation and the shifting of tectonic plates. We might never know for sure where these fascinating stones originate from, but our understanding of geological mysteries is improving all the time.
How Can You Tell If a Black Diamond Is Real?
As with any rising jewelry trend, more and more imitation black diamonds are finding their way into the consumer market. These can be other natural black gems such as onyx, jet, or hematite; synthetic gems like black moissanite or cubic zirconia; or they can be real diamonds that have been treated to enhance their color.
There’s nothing wrong with using treated diamonds in jewelry, so long as their treatments are disclosed fairly — it’s when these pieces are sold dishonestly at a natural-color premium that we need to be more careful.
Like colorless diamonds, black diamonds are very hard — a ten on the Mohs scale, harder than any other stone. The only thing that should be able to scratch a diamond’s surface is another diamond. If you feel comfortable, try scratching a hidden facet of the stone with a nail file or a steel knife. If the knife leaves a mark, you can be sure that it’s an imitation.
Try looking at your diamond under magnification — an inexpensive jeweler’s loupe works well for this — against a very bright light. A natural black diamond will show minute, needle-like inclusions that show up against the light, whereas imitation and color-treated black diamonds will look more opaque. You might also see tones of brown or dark green against the light edges of the stone — this is a good indication that the stone has been treated.
There are a number of at-home diamond testers available that measure things like thermal and electric conductivity. However, they can be a little tricky to use with black diamonds because some color treatments can cause the diamond to become more conductive to electricity, skewing the results. An electric conductivity tester might indicate that the diamond is an imitation, when what it’s actually picking up on is the treatment on a natural diamond.
Moissanite, a very common diamond simulant, also has a very similar thermal conductivity level to diamonds and will often read as a natural diamond on heat testers.
If you’ve tried looking at your stone under bright light and magnification and you’re still not quite sure, the best thing to do is take it to a professional appraiser or gemologist who can test it with more precise equipment. A gemologist can do an x-ray analysis of the individual elements in your stone to know for sure what minerals it’s composed of, as well as identify any treatments.
How to Determine the Quality of a Black Diamond
Because natural black diamonds are characterized by their unique display of inclusions, their grading factors differ a little bit from other diamonds. They do not receive a clarity grade due to their opacity, and unlike other colored diamonds they do not receive a grade for tone.
Most colored diamonds such as blue, pink, or yellow will receive a tone grade that refers to the relative light or darkness of the color, for instance light blue or deep blue. Black diamonds, on the other hand, represent only one polarity of light and darkness. They receive the simple color distinction of “Fancy Black”.
Instead of the diamond grading report that’s normally given to colorless diamonds, black diamonds receive a Colored Diamond Identification and Origin Report. This outlines the shape, proportions, carat weight, and any known color treatment.
When looking at a black diamond, the most important consideration is that the color is even, bold, and deeply saturated, and that the shape is well-proportioned and pleasing to the eye.
How Are Black Diamonds Valued?
Black diamonds can be a fun, distinctive alternative to standard colorless diamonds that costs significantly less. Because the demand for black diamonds has historically been quite low, these diamonds usually sell for lower prices than their colorless counterparts.
Natural black diamonds sell for around $1500-$2000 per carat; treated diamonds sell for much less. The jewelry industry is seeing an increase in fancy black diamond value due to the time-honored marketing of celebrity endorsement. More and more high-profile women are being seen wearing black diamond jewelry in magazines and on the red carpet, and the average consumer is beginning to appreciate the striking beauty of this unusual stone.
It’s impossible to predict exactly where the market trends will lead, but it’s very likely that black diamonds will be selling for higher prices in the future.
How Do You Care for a Black Diamond?
Like all diamonds, these black stones are very, very hard. However, the unique internal arrangement of fractures and inclusions means that black diamonds suffer in durability.
In jewelry grading we talk about both hardness and toughness. Hardness is a material’s ability to withstand scratching from another material — diamonds are notoriously good at this.
Toughness, on the other hand, is a material’s ability to withstand force. Contrary to popular belief, a stone can be very hard as well as fragile. Diamonds are prone to chipping if knocked against something at the right angle, and black diamonds are the worst in the diamond family for this.
When shopping for black diamond jewelry, it’s a good idea to look for stones with secure settings — a prong setting at the bare minimum, though a bezel or channel setting would give the stone even more protection. You want to make sure that when you bump your diamond jewelry (and you will, if your life consists of anything more than breakfast in bed), the impact is absorbed by the setting rather than the stone.
When cleaning your black diamond jewelry (which you should do regularly, so as to avoid buildup of dust and bits of skin and other lovely things), avoid anything too harsh or abrasive. A baby toothbrush is wonderful for this.
The Black Orlov
In the immortal words of Emma Caufield’s character Anya Jenkins on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “diamonds are excellent for cursing.”
History’s most famous natural black diamond, the 67-carat Black Orlov, was once part of a larger stone called “The Eye of Brahma”. Legend has it the original uncut diamond was once an eye in a statue of Brahma, Hindu god of creation. The eye was stolen by a travelling monk. And what happens, you ask, when we steal from the gods…?
If they lived happily ever after, it wouldn’t be much of a story.
Rumors abound that the unfortunate greedy monk was murdered for his trouble and the black diamond began to change hands, eventually landing in those of American diamond dealer J.W. Paris in 1932. He didn’t have the stone for very long, though; he sold it within a week and, a few months later, fell to his death from the roof of a New York skyscraper.
The stone also came to a prominent royal family of Russia. Two princesses were said to have leapt to their deaths, marking the second and third deaths touched by this spectacular black diamond.
In order to break the curse, an Austrian diamond cutter in the 1950s recut the gem into three separate faceted stones — the largest, at 67 carats, became the gem we now know as “The Black Orlov”, which sold for $352,000 to a private collector in 2006.
Nobody knows what happened to the other two gems.
Black Diamond FAQ
Although they are exceptionally hard, black diamonds are more prone to chipping and breaking than other diamonds. Their unique composition of internal fractures and mineral inclusions makes them less resistant to force and pressure.
Black diamonds should be used in jewelry with a setting that protects any points on the gemstone, and should not be cleansed with harsh steam cleaners that may be used for other diamonds.
Generally, diamonds are not something that appreciates in value after their initial purchase. Traditionally, black diamonds have been less desired than their colorless or fellow fancy colored diamond counterparts, reserved mainly for industrial use.
However, fashions are constantly changing and we’re seeing a new uptick in interest for these brilliant black beauties. While they’re not recommended as a safe resale investment, it’s expected that black diamonds will begin selling for more and more as the trend continues.
Because black diamonds are opaque, they don’t disperse light and color in the same way a colorless diamond does. Where the beauty of standard colorless diamonds comes from their ability to reflect and refract light into a full spectrum of brilliance and fire, black diamonds absorb it. This gives them a rich, glossy appearance akin to still water at night. Both are lovely, and it’s a matter of personal preference which visual effect is right for you.
Out of the wide range of black gemstones available on the jewelry market, black diamonds and black sapphires are two of the most popular. Both are exceptionally hard and well-suited to everyday wear, richly-colored, and can originate naturally or as a result of color treatment.
Black diamonds are a little bit more prone to breaking than sapphires, but they do carry the prestige of a real diamond. Black sapphires, on the other hand, were considered inferior for a very long time and are still catching up to the black diamond jewelry trend. This means they can be found much more affordably than natural black diamonds, but will have almost no resale value.
For a black stone engagement ring, both of these gemstones are a very good choice.
Black diamonds are a symbol of strength, passion, and individuality. As Mr. Big said in Sex and the City, when he gave Sarah Jessica Parker that ring that launched a whole new engagement ring trend, “because you are not like anyone else.”
Black diamond jewelry is a way to show that you’re proudly walking your own path.
Back to Black (Diamonds)
Whether you’re looking for a unique, modern engagement ring or a celebratory pendant, black diamonds are a strong statement trend that isn’t showing any sign of slowing down.
Making their mark on the big screen and the red carpet, these silky, glittering gems are finding new life in a generation that emphasizes creativity and individuality. They’re a way to show the world that you’re “not like anyone else”.
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