Black Diamonds: The Origin Story
Justin Bieber famously declared that he is a fan of black diamonds. ‘I wear black diamonds instead of regular ones because I'm not flashy, just flossy,' he said in an interview. Black diamond studs have become a signature look for the singer and cemented the gem with star status.
Where do they come from?
When we think of a diamond, we typically envisage a sparkling, clear gemstone. With black diamonds so contrary to this, it makes one wonder how they could be created in the same way. It's hard to believe, but the colour in black diamonds occurs naturally and is closer in composition to colourless diamonds than they are fancy coloured diamonds. Discover more about the origin of black diamonds here.
Natural coloured diamonds, such as canary yellow diamonds and pink diamonds, get their shade due to impurities that are attached to them while being formed. Black diamonds, however, are like white diamonds. They simply have a high amount of inclusions (which are clusters of graphite) inside them. The level is so high that they cause the gem to appear black. They were formed up to 3.8 billion years ago and are typically mined from the beds of streams. They are exceptionally rare. Approximately three metric tons have ever been mined.
However, unlike colourless diamonds, black diamonds don't shine by reflecting light. Instead, they absorb light, giving them a unique marble-like allure. The history of white diamonds is well-known, and they have appeared in famous pieces of jewellery for centuries. The origin of black diamonds is more mysterious. That's partly because of their unique sources. White or colourless diamonds have been found on practically every continent throughout history, while black diamonds are only found in Brazil and the Central African Republic.
Not everyone can agree on how black diamonds came into being, which adds to their mystery. Some geologists believe they formed through radiation. Other scientists have even proposed that black diamonds were formed in outer space and were left on Earth when an asteroid crashed millions of years ago.
The first diamonds are thought to have been discovered in Brazil and were coined ‘carbonados' by Portuguese settlers. The term was chosen because of the burnt (carbonized) appearance of the raw diamonds. When the gems began to be sent to foreign shores in the 19th and 20th centuries, they weren't always welcomed by jewellers. Many thought they were too hard to cut and polish and were destined instead for industrial use. But not all thought they were unsuitable for jewellery.
A dark, mysterious past...
Louis XVIII, who was King of France from 1814 to 1824, is said to have owned a beautiful black diamond. Known to be a collector of rare gems, it was one of his most prized possessions. The Duke of Brunswick was another famed connoisseur of diamonds. His nickname was the ‘Diamond Duke'. His passion was for coloured diamonds. His black diamond collection consisted of a variety in different shades and sizes.
While many black diamonds have found their way into private collections, some have famously earned themselves a place in history. One of these is known as the Black Orlov diamond. The origin of this dark steely grey coloured 67.50 -carat diamond is unknown, but it's infused with legends. Some gem historians report that the diamond was originally part of a 195-carat black diamond gem and was set into an idol in India before being stolen by a monk. Others quote a legend that it was owned by a Russian princess, who used it to fund her escape after the revolution.
There is both adoration and suspicion associated with black diamonds. In India, they were traditionally considered to be cursed, reportedly because they look like the eyes of snakes and spiders. A particularly famous black diamond (the Black Orlov, a 67.50 carat diamond) has earned a reputation for being cursed. It's said that many past owners have died in strange circumstances.
However, black diamonds have positive connotations too. In Europe, in particular, Italy, couples believe that if you touch a black diamond, an ailing relationship can be saved. The legend is that the ‘problems' they experience are absorbed into the diamond.
The world's biggest known black diamond, the Korloff Noir diamond, is thought to hold similar properties, giving a person good luck and happiness when touched. The 88-carat black diamond has a remarkable 57 edges. Before it was polished, the renowned black diamond had 421 carats. The cut of this gem is unique and is known as the Korloff cut. The cut allows the most amount of light to enter the diamond. This enhances the brilliance and shine.
Hanging with the stars
- Perhaps because of their different origins or the mystery that follows black diamonds, they have become prized by a slew of celebrities known for their style edge and unique fashion choices. Let's look at some of the most notable:
- The character Carrie Bradshaw, of Sex and the City, is credited as putting black diamond engagement rings firmly on the fashion map. In the cult show, her boyfriend Mr. Big, presented her with a 5-carat black diamond engagement ring. The ‘Carrie ring' featured a black diamond set in 18K white gold and accented with 80 pave-set diamonds. In the show, ‘Big' told Carrie he had chosen a black diamond for her because ‘she is not like anyone else'.
- LA Ink star and tattoo artist, Kat Von D was given a custom-made black diamond engagement ring by her fiancé at the time, deejay Deadmau5 (aka Joel Zimmerman). This was one unique ring. The centre of the ring was mounted with a black diamond in the centre and flanked by two skulls. A gothic take, but it made for a remarkable piece.
- Carmen Electra's 2008 black diamond engagement ring from her guitarist boyfriend, Rob Patterson, featured a round black diamond set in a six-prong setting. It was anchored in a diamond pave band. Electra told People magazine at the time: ‘It's a black diamond, perfect for us. Different – it's our style.'
- Lady Gaga rocked the red carpet at the 2018 Grammy Awards in a black lace jumpsuit. But it was the blackened diamond chandelier earrings, a matching serpent ring and a black diamond bypass ring (all 200 carats of them) that got the fashion press talking.
- *NSYNC singer Lance and his partner wear matching engagement rings. They feature two rows of channel-set black diamonds in a yellow gold setting.
A buyer's guide
Natural fancy black diamonds (GIA certified) are scarce, and range in value.. Other varieties of black diamonds are more accessible.
Treated black diamonds, for example, are created using genuine white diamonds. They are exposed to treatments such as irradiation or heat to give them the black colour. They are also often called ‘colourless treated black diamonds' or ‘black coloured diamonds’. Then there are ‘simulant black diamonds', or manmade black diamonds. These are typically produced in a laboratory setting. As with all diamonds, if you are shopping for a black diamond engagement ring always ask the jeweller for a certificate for the gem.
How are black diamonds graded?
The 4Cs of diamond grading still apply to black diamonds, but there are some differences. The gradings are colour, clarity, cut, and carat weight. This is combined with the GIA's International Diamond Grading System. These are the standards by which colourless to near-colourless (D-to-Z colour diamonds) are graded. Because black diamonds fall outside of this shade range, their colour is based on GIA's colour grading system for coloured diamonds.
The other aspect to consider is because black diamonds are opaque, they can't be graded on the GIA clarity scale. Also, there is variation in the tone and saturation of a black diamond. Therefore, they are only referred to as ‘fancy black', which differs from other fancy coloured diamonds like pink and yellow. A reputable jeweller will be able to provide you with a Coloured Diamond Identification and Origin Report. The report will note if the colour is natural or treated.
Buy a black diamond ring
Black diamonds lend themselves to unique designs and eye-catching rings. Shimansky is renowned for iconic jewellery designs, including our exquisite black diamond rings. Book an appointment with us today.