Jewelry enjoys an interesting combination of expense and longevity. Other purchases may decrease in value as new technology arrives and items decay. Jewelry trends may change, but the stones last practically forever.
This makes decisions about jewelry intriguing. Will you keep it forever for yourself or hold onto for later? Do you create a legacy item, passed down over generations, or something just for now?
Adding to this difficult question is the popularity of certain cuts and colors of stone. Black diamonds, in particular, went ignored in antiquity.
Check out this guide to understand why these beautiful stones have been so maligned in the past and why they make a terrific choice for you. Whether you want something fashionable or to heirloom, black diamonds shine.
Black Diamonds: A Sultry Enigma
Black diamonds lack the interplay of color, luster, and imperfection of white diamonds. They come across, to some, as dull and featureless.
Like many precious things, you discover their true value behind a veil of mystery.
We'll guide you through the history of these misunderstood gems and talk about where they come from.
Then we'll discuss the best qualities to look for in a black diamond. Finally, we'll give you the details on selecting a fine setting to bring out this stone's unique attributes.
Like any natural diamond, black diamonds trace their origins back billions of years. A key difference in the black diamond's background is the scope of the timeline.
Formation of most white and colored diamonds occurred between 1 and 3.5 billion years ago. The black diamond goes back 3.8 billion years (in some hypotheses).
You find other diamonds in various locations throughout the world near sites of ancient volcanic activity. Raw black diamonds, named carbonado (after the Portuguese word for 'burned') only show up in two places.
Brazil and the Central African Republic remain the only areas they're located. Why? We'll go into that as we define our terms.
The biggest mystery surrounding black diamonds relates to their natural occurrence. To understand how a natural black diamond came to be you have to make some guesses. The big mystery, you see, isn't how they form --which we understand chemically-- but how they did form.
Diamond formation occurs under the crust. There, volcanic activity provides the right combination of heat and pressure for formation. Diamonds, all diamonds, come into being when carbon isotopes align in a crystalline formation.
The color and characteristics come from impurities. These additions chemicals can include other carbon isotopes.
What isolates carbonados to these two particular regions provides clues to their origin. Brasil and the Central African Republic were once joined. That is, before billions of years of continental drift.
Unlike other diamonds, carbonados only show up in alluvial washes. All other diamonds come from underground formations. An alluvial wash forms when rivers and lakes send water into the ocean, washing sediment along with them.
An underground formation that managed to come to the surface seems unlikely. This leaves an impact from a meteor as the likely culprit.
Was this meteor comprised of black diamonds or did the impact form them? This question confounds physicists and geologists. The existence of extraterrestrial nitrogens and hydrogens prove meteor.
These chemicals infiltrate during formation. But was this before or after impact?
Odds are, the formation occurred before impact, given the extreme hardness of carbonados. The heat necessary to produce them probably came from the energy of a supernova.
So, when we talk about natural black diamonds, we are talking about fallen remnants of an exploded star. In that regard, it puts regular diamonds to shame for rarity and complexity.
Your odds of finding a chunk of exploded star matter that fell to earth and got washed toward the ocean are low. That is why most black diamonds on the market come from treatments.
Treatment takes low-quality diamonds, chock full of impurities, and gives them some help. Many different types of diamonds come from treatments. In the case of black diamonds, you use radiation and heat.
These techniques open up the structure so that more amorphous carbons intrude. These imperfections fill in the diamond providing a dark gray to black color.
Both natural and treated black diamonds owe their color to polycrystalline structures. Technicians use radiation to infuse nitrogen vacancies into the lattice structure. This mimics the way that cosmic radiation fused uranium and thorium in meteorite origins.
Through treatment, otherwise unremarkable diamonds get a second life. Think of them as superheroes of the diamond world. Transformed from the unremarkable to the reflect an extraterrestrial rarity.
Most of the black diamonds on the market come from treatment.
Multiple processes exist to create synthetic diamonds. High pressure, high temperature (HPHT) and chemical vapor deposition (CVD) are the most common techniques. Both make chemically identical products.
Since only 2% of the gemstone market uses synthetics there isn't much cause to make black diamonds.
Most synthetics get created for industrial purposes. Besides that, the attractive features of diamonds come from their slight imperfections. Synthetic diamonds perform differently under ultraviolet spectroscopy.
Like all diamonds, black diamonds adhere to qualities in the four Cs. A notable exception, of course, is the lack of clarity in grading. There's really no way to grade black diamond clarity.
You don't get a feel for how clear and free of inclusions a diamond is when it is opaque in hue. Treated black diamonds and natural still have color grading concepts.
Though it is possible to have natural black diamonds with clear inclusions, these would need to occur at the surface. A careful cut would remove such an inclusion.
Color grading exists for black diamonds though it is far more flattened. Graded officially as 'fancy', like most colored stones, the hue saturation reflects a quality.
If you look into any closet and examine all the black clothing, you will notice that black isn't simply black. Many different characteristics of black still exist. Deeper hues seem to absorb light while lighter hues lean into gray.
Unlike snowflake obsidian, bits of uneven white impurities don't make for a great stone. The more even the distribution of the impurities, the more vivid the hue. Most of the color characteristic comes from the light refraction.
When the stone has surface inclusions of clearer or lighter colors, the light gets lost which leaves the stone appearing dull or lifeless.
You would expect natural black diamonds to include more irregularities than treated ones. Gemologists use magnification, spectroscopy, and luminescence tests to distinguish between treated and natural.
You won't find too many cuts for black diamonds. This is not because of their superlative hardness, rather it is a practicality of bringing out the stone. the interplay of light in a black diamond differs from other colored or clear stones.
Smaller cuts across a diamond bring out their brilliance. hence the term brilliant cut. Refracting light through the stone brings out the fire that enchanted Renaissance craftsmen.
You don't get any of that with a black diamond. What you do get is different depths and richness of luster.
In the same way that different black shirts may absorb and reflect light, a broader cut gives a stronger tone. Many smaller cuts do little to add to the character of a black diamond.
Even with modern laser cutting and CAD (computer-aided design), getting into 33 cuts proves difficult. The natural hardness risks cracks and breaks.
What you want to find is something that fits and compliments the setting well. Shallow cuts make black stones appear bigger. You want a cut that provides a strong profile.
Black diamonds face an interesting problem when it comes to carat weight. The extra dense material means that measures of mass size down. A carat represents 200 mg of mass.
A denser stone will be smaller at the same carat calculation. Couple this with the rarity of black diamond and you pay a lot for a smaller item.
While a black diamond price per carat will be higher than other diamonds in the same carat weight, this shouldn't be a deterrent. This cost comes with firm reasoning.
Larger carat black diamonds tend to be treated diamonds. The largest known black diamond, the Black Orlov, weighs 67.5 carats.
The original carbonado weighed 195 carats. The size reduction over time was not about the difficulty of craftsmanship but folklore. A curse was said to follow the original Eye of Brahma (the 195 ct stone).
This was chopped down into three pieces to alleviate the curse.
There is a point to be had here. Regardless of a belief in curses and the medieval world's distaste for black things. The tale of the Black Orlov lends a lot of credibility to our final consideration, settings.
Large stones serve as centerpieces for settings but they don't do so well without the setting. It isn't exactly symbiotic, the complementary nature of each makes both better.
As a central stone in a piece, black diamonds make bold statements. For those looking for something unique and leaning towards independent, these stones do some heavy lifting.
The clash of expectation and presentation rings loud. Some people like their lives to be more authentic and follow a deeper vein than others. For these people black is often a central part of their attire.
The meaning and energy of different stones can be important and powerful to some. For these people, a black diamond makes an effective piece.
As an accent stone, it provides a neutral color to pair with other scintillant stones. Metals work to create a more neutral color to set off a stone but a deeper colored stone provides more contrast.
For a striking effect, a ring of intermittent white and black diamonds brings a more visual draw to both.
Lighter metals work well. Classic yellow and white gold bring out the even tones. For a contrasting vibe, consider silver or platinum.
Silver as a moon aspected metal serves to create a more holistic feel for a natural black diamond.
Rose gold makes an interesting embellishment in some cases.
Remember to consider skin tone when selecting a setting for a ring. This will bring in an additional contrasting element.
The shape of a setting also matters. Many popular settings serve to allow light to penetrate the diamond and this is why prong settings are so popular. Minimizing the amount of metal allows more of the gem to show.
With a black diamond, light takes a back seat to contrast and providing a way to see the larger facets clearly. Prong settings still work well to show off the stone and provide a strong seat for surrounding accents.
Alexander settings work well when creating a distributed effect. Bezel settings may leave the stone too flat and appear more like onyx. Burnished settings do a better job of bringing out the qualities while retaining the security.
The polycrystalline structure of a black diamond makes it vulnerable to impact damage. Though the surface hardness is beyond other diamond types, the color comes from the numerous inclusions inside.
Ultrasonic cleaning is not recommended. Steam cleaning also presents a problem. Any invasive cleaning may infiltrate into the stone.
Cleaning with soap and water or a commercially available jewelry cleaner gives good results without the risk of damage.
Breakage of any of the metal should be dealt with through a professional jeweler.
Find Your Diamond
The appeal of a piece of jewelry cannot be separated from personal taste. All of the glitter and interplay of tones should shine for you and you alone. Your selection of a piece should come with no compromises.
Look at our selection of black diamonds and you will discover a variety of appeals. Take what you now know about these wonderous stones and consider if they fit you.