The rarest and most magnificent of gems, rosy-hued diamonds are poised to see their value skyrocket thanks to the recent closure of their largest producer. Marie Chiam of Rio Tinto’s Argyle Pink Diamonds lifts the veil on the last of these enigmatic stunners.
When Marilyn Monroe crooned “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she was only partially right. Little did the Hollywood icon know that in the half-century that followed, sparkling pink diamonds would snatch the crown from their white diamond counterparts to become not only the most coveted symbol of love and luxury among many modern-day women, but also the crown jewels in the treasure trove of those lucky enough to own them.
Since the world’s first known pink diamond was discovered in 1642 by French merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in India, these whimsically hued, extraordinarily rare gems have adorned the thrones, tiaras, and haute joaillerie collections of the rich and powerful. The oldest – and largest, at 182 carats – pale pink diamond currently sits pretty within Tehran’s Treasury of National Jewels. Others have been gifted to royalty from Queen Elizabeth II to the Prince of Condé, and to celebrities from Blake Lively to Jennifer Lopez. In 2017, the 59.6-carat Pink Star sent gem aficionados all around the world into a frenzy when it was sold at auction house Sotheby’s for more than US$71 million to Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, smashing records for any gemstone at auction after just five minutes of bidding.
The leading geological theory on pink diamond formation is that they result from a one-in-a-million chance collision of extreme pressure, temperature, and a mutation of their molecular structure. Despite its prestige, however, the elusive pink diamond only saw its popularity burgeoning in the late 1970s when, in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia, the Argyle mine – and a wealth of rosy treasures lurking beneath – was discovered. Four decades on, the world’s largest mine of natural fancy-colour diamonds dominates the playing field, producing up to 10,000 carats of pink diamonds every year. That figure equates to 90 percent of global supply, yet is a minuscule 0.02 percent when accounting for diamonds of all colours procured annually in the world.
The exaltation of Argyle pink diamonds rests on more than just their consistent production, however; experts have lauded their unparalleled quality when compared to those found in mines in Brazil, Russia, Siberia, South Africa, and Tanzania. Whether in an ethereal pastel or a vivid violet, these gems boast a striking intensity and depth of colour, which is the foremost consideration when determining the value of coloured gems. They’re also consistently graded top-class in cut and clarity. Adding to the ever-rising allure (and value) of Argyle pink diamonds is their finiteness. Leading up to the end of 2020, it was estimated that only around 100 Argyle pink diamonds were left to be unearthed – and “having almost exhausted economic production” according to its owner, mining group Rio Tinto, the Argyle mine officially shuttered operations in November last year.
Overnight, the closure led the already-high value of Argyle pink diamonds to skyrocket, spurring an even more ardent pursuit among jewellers, seasoned collectors, and deep-pocketed investors who wanted to get their hands on the last of these sought-after gems – the crème de la crème of which were showcased to invite-only VIPs in an exclusive 2020 Argyle Pink Diamond Tender before they were set to be brought on tour to Perth, Singapore, and Antwerp. Recently, the highly successful sale of this unprecedented collection, comprising 62 diamonds weighing 57.23 carats, marks the beginning of a new era – one in which the rising collectability and timeless allure of Argyle pink diamonds know no bounds. To unearth all there is to know about these gems (and whether you, too, should ready your paddles), we sat down with Rio Tinto’s sales and marketing manager Marie Chiam to talk all things pink diamonds.
Can you tell us about this last collection of Argyle pink diamonds shown at the 2020 tender – and what makes them so invaluable?
The 2020 Argyle Pink Diamonds Tender is the penultimate tender in the history of Argyle. The collection is a historic one and is aptly titled One Lifetime, One Encounter, which takes inspiration from the Japanese notion of ‘ichi-go ichi-e’ – to treasure an unrepeatable nature of a moment. There are 62 diamonds in the collection, which are headlined by six ‘hero diamonds’ that represent the pinnacle of rarity, and are standouts for their combination of supreme colour, size and quality.
Highly notable are three pink diamonds over two carats, which is extremely rare, as only 5 per cent of all diamonds ever presented at tender have been greater than this size. The brightest of all is Argyle Eternity, a 2.24-carat fancy vivid purplish pink round brilliant diamond – the largest of this colour and shape ever offered at tender. Another highlight is the inclusion of three blue-hued hero diamonds. Blue diamonds are sporadically found at Argyle and rarely feature in the tenders, thus making them also highly sought after.
Why did the Argyle mine shut down at the end of 2020, and what does it mean for collectors and buyers?
Argyle had sufficient reserves to produce diamonds economically up to the fourth quarter of 2020. The Argyle orebody [a single pipe] has been enormously productive; alluvial mining at Argyle commenced in 1983, open-pit mining commenced in 1985, and Argyle was a fully underground operation from 2013 onwards. Our last day of mining was on November 3, 2020. The market fully understands both the finiteness of supply and the rarity of Argyle pink diamonds, and these market fundamentals continue to drive value appreciation.
One thing that contributes to the allure of Argyle pink diamonds is the craftsmanship. Can you tell us more about that?
While the entire journey of an Argyle pink diamond is more than a billion years in the making, it takes over a year and many careful hands for a rough Argyle pink diamond to journey from the mine to a polished gem. Meticulous planning and preparation take place for every diamond to ensure that it yields the most potent colour and alluring cut. Our master polishers, based in our state-of-the-art cutting and polishing facility in Perth, have more than 100 years of combined experience in handcrafting each Argyle pink diamond above 0.2 carats into a polished masterpiece, with some diamonds taking weeks and even months to complete. Argyle pink diamonds have a more complex molecular structure, requiring a high degree of skill and expertise, so they typically take three to four times longer than white diamonds.
How has the taste and demand for pink diamonds changed in the past decade, especially in Asia? What are some trends you foresee post-Covid?
We have seen double-digit year-on-year growth over the past two decades and price appreciation of more than 500% for our tender diamonds over the same period. This is a reflection of the market fundamentals of strong demand coupled with a very limited and finite supply. While this is a global phenomenon, demand within Asia has continued to grow, with Hong Kong becoming a staple for record-breaking public auctions of fancy colour diamonds. Coupled with a growing awareness and desire to own something incredibly rare and almost unattainable, the preferences within the region lean towards the highest qualities of colour and size possible, with a particularly strong demand for the highly coveted red diamonds.
Even pre-Covid, with the impending closure of Argyle as the world’s only consistent source of pink and red diamonds, there was already an increasing interest and urgency to acquire from a diminishing supply. This has only intensified with the last day of production at Argyle, with collectors, both new and experienced, wanting to own a piece of history.
How has digitalisation transformed the way people collect and peruse pink diamonds?
As people are increasingly more comfortable with technology, this will inevitably lead to purchasing in some capacity. However, the subtle nuances of colour, the way the colour reacts within the diamond, and even the emotional reactions that come with seeing the diamonds in person cannot be completely replaced by digitisation, especially in the consideration of high-value diamonds.
We introduced virtual viewings in 2020 alongside in-person viewings in limited locations to accommodate those affected by international travel restrictions. Using high-definition macro video technology that has been colour-calibrated to exacting in-house grading standards and a suite of other supporting digital tools has enabled our tender invitees to get as up-close-and-personal with the diamonds as possible. The response was very positive, even from the more traditional diamond connoisseurs, who have always preferred to touch and loupe the diamonds to the eye. This technology will undoubtedly be integrated in some way to further enhance the experience; however, it’s more likely to supplement rather than replace.
What are your top tips for collecting pink diamonds as a beginner and what are the pitfalls to watch for?
Firstly, provenance and authenticity underpin the collectability of Argyle pink diamonds. Each pink diamond over eight points [0.08 carats] is laser-inscribed with a unique lot number that is only visible under magnification. This is an important mark of assurance that, coupled with the verified documentation – an Argyle Pink Diamonds Gem Identification and Authenticity Document – guarantees the chain of custody from the mine to the point of purchase.
Secondly, unlike white diamonds where clarity and carat weight drive value, the most important factor to consider is colour. The palette of Argyle pink diamonds is so unique that a proprietary colour grading system was created by Argyle’s expert graders in the early 1980s. This internationally recognised system is the master guide in assessing pink diamonds and generally speaking, the more intense the colour, the rarer and more valuable the diamond.
What’s your view on synthetic pink diamonds?
Synthetic diamonds are a different value proposition and a legitimate product, as long as they are properly identified and disclosed in the pipeline.
To many, pink diamonds are the ultimate symbol of love and luxury. What does a pink diamond mean to you?
Beyond love and luxury, a pink diamond perfectly symbolises the past, the present and the future. These diamonds are ancient, created more than a billion years ago in a fabulous fluke of nature, then brought to life so carefully by an artisan into a miniature masterpiece of precision and beauty to be cherished now. But it carries with it the promise of an enduring legacy and more chapters in the story. To be the custodian, albeit briefly, of something so precious and rare, of history in the palm of your hand, where no two diamonds can ever be the same, is really a gift from nature.