Life in Pink: History’s Famous Multimillion-Dollar Diamonds

Life in Pink: History’s Famous Multimillion-Dollar Diamonds

T his week Sotheby’s unveiled one of the world’s purest, most saturated pink diamonds ahead of its standalone, single-lot auction scheduled for 7 October in Hong Kong. At 11.15 carats, the Williamson Pink Star is second-largest internally flawless, fancy vivid pink diamond to ever appear at auction. Yielded from a 32-carat rough diamond at the Williamson Mine in Tanzania, the Williamson Pink Star has since been masterfully cut into a dazzling cushion-cut, bringing out the diamond’s innermost beauty to full display.

“The discovery of a gem-quality pink diamond of any size is an extremely rare occurrence – something that, with the recent closure of the Argyle mine, seemed until recently – highly improbable.”
Wenhao Yu, Chairman of Jewellery and Watches at Sotheby’s Asia

An Homage to Two Legendary Diamonds

Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images

A natural wonder of nature, the extraordinary cushion-shaped stone is the namesake of two legendary pink diamonds. The first is the record-shattering CTF Pink Star, the 59.60-carat oval mixed-cut diamond, which sold at Sotheby’s for US$71.2 million in April 2017 and still holds the world auction record for any diamond, gemstone or jewel. The second is celebrated ‘Williamson' stone presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1947. Dr John Williamson, who owned the mine in Tanzania where the diamond originated, gifted the Williamson Pink Diamond to the Queen and Prince Philip as a wedding present. When it was discovered, the stone was a 54.5 carat rough and took two months for the lapidaries Briefel and Lemer of Clerkenwell in London to polish the stone to a 23.6 carat round brilliant-cut diamond. When the polishing was complete, the pink diamond was then mounted as a floral brooch designed by Frederick Mew of Cartier in 1953. The stunning brooch has been a favourite of the Queen, worn on many occasions of her reign, including the silver jubilee.

Pink diamond discoveries of any size are a cause for celebration because of their rarity. Ahead of the auction of the Williamson Pink Star, we look at the most famous exquisite pink diamonds offered at Sotheby's in the past and what makes them so valuable.

Important Pink Diamonds in recent years at Sotheby’s

What Makes Pink Diamonds So Valuable

Pink diamonds are particularly mysterious even among colour diamonds. Theories dive deep into the crystal structure of the stone. While nitrogen and boron are responsible for the vivid hues of yellow and blue diamonds, respectively, there is no evidence that pink diamonds receive their colour from trace elements. Rather, the crystal structure of the stone selectively absorbs light as a result of an idiosyncratic lattice defect which results in an unusual arrangement of atoms in the crystal. These happy anomalies occasionally cause pink graining in the diamond crystal – a perfectly brilliant display of imperfection.

The diversity of pink hues adds to the diamond’s character of distinctive individuality. Pink diamonds often have a secondary colour such as orange, purple or brown. While such colours are highly attractive and valuable, rarest among pink diamonds are those with no modifying colour. The pink occurs across range of hues.

Pink diamonds were first discovered in India during the early 17th century, in the Kollur mine within the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, which was part of the legendary Golconda kingdom. Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a French merchant and adventurer, first made a reference to pink diamonds around this time. In his travel book, Tavernier mentioned a very large pink rough diamond weighing over 200 carats, shown to him by Moghuls in the Kingdom of Golconda in 1642. This diamond, named ‘The Grand Table’ was valued at 600,000 rupees at the time, and is still considered to have been the largest pink diamond recorded to date.

Since their discovery in the early 17th century, pink diamonds have also been mined in Brazil, South Africa, Tanzania, Canada, Australia and, of course, Russia. It is thought that around 80% of the world’s pink diamonds now originate from the Argyle mine in Kimberley, Western Australia. Out of the mine’s 20 million carat annual output, only 0.1% are classified as pink diamonds, attesting to their rarity.

As with other coloured diamonds, pink diamonds are graded on their colour by the Gemological Institute of America using the classing: Faint, Very Light, Light, Fancy Light, Fancy, Fancy Intense, Fancy Vivid. Similarly, to other coloured diamonds, Fancy Vivid is are the most sought-after colour. Given their rarity, it is unsurprising that the value of pink diamonds has increased considerably over the centuries.



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