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Monday, December 21, 2009

Giving an Engagement Ring

I should really be working. I am completely inundated and it is three days before Christmas, but I want to get this post up while I am thinking about it. This is intended for all of you guys who intend to give your intended an engagement ring for Christmas (three intends in one sentence, not bad). And I have to say that I have had a quite a number of you this year.

I had one of my regular customers come in last week looking for his annual Christmas present. When he said he had no idea what he was looking for this year, I suggested (as I knew he had been with this one woman for awhile) that perhaps it was time to give her a ring. Immediately, of course, sweat began to pour out, hemming and hawing began, and I generally got him completely aflutter. However what then transpired (or tranSPIRERed in this case) was a conversation about whether or not it was appropriate to give an engagement ring (I had initially actually suggested a sort of "promise" ring) as a Christmas present. He related how he had actually had a discussion about this at work and that he worked with quite a few women. They had ALL said that an engagement ring was NOT a Christmas present. For that matter it isn't a present at all.

The fact of the matter is that they are right. An engagement ring is a statement of commitment, a declaration of your love for this ONE person, and something to be worn as an indication that this person is no longer available to the general male public (or female if you happen to be gay). It is NOT a present. That is just cheaping out and trying to kill two birds with one stone. Now if you want to give an engagement ring on Valentine's Day, that's fine as there is nothing more romantic in this world than asking, and being asked, to marry someone. But to give it as a Christmas present (or birthday present) and then pretend that you don't need to give them anything else is simply not the right thing to do. And who wants to be remembered as a betrothed who cheaped out at the very beginning of the new and exciting path you might be embarking on. So fellas, face up to it. Give an engagement ring as a sign of your commitment but DON'T give it as a substitute for some other present. (Ideally of course, if you are commited to giving it to them for one of these events, you should first give them a beautiful pair of earrings or a necklace and THEN surprise them with the ring.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sourcing of Diamonds

Conflict diamonds. Blood diamonds. These phrases are used more and more these days although the reality is that the three conflicts that were taking place in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone when the phrases originally came into being, have ended. They referred to diamonds that were used to help finance rebel groups dedicated to overturning their governments. Often the miners were forced to work and turn over their production to the rebel groups.

I get asked about this more and more lately but I think a lot of people aren't trying to look at the whole picture. First of all, it should be noted that in many areas diamonds have brought great wealth and opportunity to nations desperate for income (Botswana is a notable example). When you decide not to buy the product you actually end up hurting countries like Botswana far more then you are hurting any conflict areas since 99%+ of the diamonds out there are conflict free. You should also be aware that currently more people are dying over the search for and mining of tantalum, a product used in every single cell phone in America, then in any current diamond mining areas. Are you willing to give up your cell phones? I lived for 40 years without a cell phone and got along just fine. And what is our excessive use of oil doing to the environment and how many lives have been lost to guarantee the steady flow of oil?

I understand that jewelry, often considered a luxury, is an easy target. But I firmly believe that if you can't stand to live with the idea that a dear price may have been paid for you to get a product, then you simply shouldn't buy it at all. Everyone seems to want the product, they just want to figure out a way to get it guilt free. But here's the real truth to the matter: NO MATTER WHERE YOU PURCHASE A DIAMOND, WHETHER IT'S CANADIAN, AFRICAN, RUSSIAN, AUSTRALIAN OR ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD THERE IS ALWAYS A CHANCE (ALBEIT SMALL) THAT SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE PAID A PRICE TO GET IT INTO YOUR HANDS. Whenever there is a large amount of money involved, particularly where it is concentrated in small, easily transportable objects there will be crime associated with it. PERIOD. You can't get away from it. It's been like this since mankind first emerged from the forests and it's stayed that way ever since. My firm belief is that, with the Kimberly Process in place, and with the new information age meaning that bad news spreads incredibly easily and quickly, only a very, very minute amount of diamonds are actually conflict stones but NO ONE can absolutely 100% guarantee that the one they are selling isn't. You should also be aware that all diamond mining, no matter where it takes place, leaves some amount of environmental damage (although they have gotten much better about trying to minimize this).

I know that the Canadians heavily promote their diamond product as conflict free, but who's to say that some material from other countries isn't finding it's way into Canada and being cut there and sold as Canadian goods? After all, there's big money involved, THERE IS NO WAY TO IDENTIFY WHERE A DIAMOND COMES FROM, and all you can do is depend on the dealer's word.

So what's a consumer to do? Well you can live with the fact that the odds of your getting a conflict diamond (especially from companies like Lazare Diamond who were instrumental in setting up the Kimberly Process) are extremely small, and that you are helping many developing nations earn some amount of money from their natural resources. Or you can buy a colored stone, something I strongly recommend because, personally, I think a fine blue sapphire is both more striking and is far more rare than a diamond (plus you get more bang for your buck). Or you can simply forget about getting a stone altogether. There is nothing wrong with having an interesting, but stoneless, band for an engagement ring.

Recently there has been a lot of press about synthetic diamonds coming into the marketplace. While fancy colored diamond synthetics have been available for quite some time, colorless diamonds are still extremely rare. The companies producing them regularly come out and make big press announcements that they are soon going to be producing massive quantities of colorless synthetic diamonds, but it has yet to actually happen. Are they producing some? Yes. In quantity? No. The other issue with these stones is that it takes a huge amount of energy to produce them as they are produced under high temperature and high pressure over a long period of time. So you may be avoiding the conflict diamond issue, but personally, I believe that you are inflicting more environmental damage.

My personal goal has always been to achieve some balance in my life. I bought a hybrid car before the gas prices went up because I felt it was the right thing to do. I recycle. I buy my gold from a refiner that sells me only recycled metals. I started disclosing gemstone treatments over 20 years ago, long before any other companies were doing it. I try to minimize my impact on the environment. I try to contribute to as many good causes as possible. But I also know that I am not going to give up a car altogether, nor am I going to stop using diamonds and colored stones in my jewelry. The choice of course, is yours. I just ask that you think about all of the things you are doing before focusing in on only one issue.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

More on Diamonds

Okay so we understand a little bit about the cut of diamonds. In fact, it is the single most important feature when looking at a stone. You can have a D (top) color, flawless diamond and if it's poorly cut it will look like garbage and you can have a low color, low clarity diamond and if it is ideal cut it will still look good. However diamonds are truly a dime a dozen. There are millions and millions of diamonds out there available and already in jewelry. So what is it that keeps the price so high?

It used to be that DeBeers, the world's largest diamond producer, had a virtual monopoly on the market and they were able to influence the pricing of diamonds by simply stockpiling goods if things were slow, and releasing them when they saw fit. Now mind you, DeBeers being a monopoly actually helped most people (yes even you consumers out there). They were able to pretty much guarantee that diamonds would increase in value at or slightly above the rate of inflation every year. How was this good for the consumer? Well it meant that someone buying a diamond engagement ring in 1940 would be able to resell it in 1980 when either the husband or wife might have died for more money than they paid for it (even taking retail markups into consideration). It wasn't an investment (far more money could be made in the stock market or property) but it generally increased in value.

Additionally DeBeers was first formed because when diamond mines were first found in Brazil the prices plummeted until the mines were pretty much mined out and then prices went sky high. Then when diamonds were found in Africa the prices plummeted again until the first mine was played out and then they would skyrocket again and so on every time a new mine was found. It wasn't good for the miners, the dealers or the buyers as no one had any idea of what to expect or how to price a product that fluctuated so wildly in price.

Recently however, DeBeers has reduced their control of the market to below 60% so that they could be allowed to operate in the United States (which doesn't allow monopolies to operate here---although I'm not sure that our oil companies don't constitute just that). But strangely enough diamond prices did NOT plummet after this happened. Why not? Because all of the producers recognize the fact that if they start undercutting each other endlessly they eventually will make no money at all on the product and how can they stay in business if they do that? The retail price of diamonds has gone down in the last few years but that has to do with the Internet. The wholesale prices have continued to rise (although this year, due to the economy, a small drop occured).

But here is the interesting thing about diamonds. There are millions and millions of stones out there. But what there are NOT is millions and millions of top color (this means colorless D, E or F color stones), top clarity (VS or better) that are also ideal cut. I routinely appraise customer's jewelry and I can assure you that the bulk of the diamonds people own are mid range (H or I) to poor color (O or worse) and SI clarity or worse. A huge amount of material is in the marketplace (especially today as people become more price conscious and are willing to pay more for junk as long as it's got a designer's name attached to it) that wouldn't have even been sold as gem grade diamond thirty years ago. A lot of it is truly industrial grade diamond. One out of every two to three hundred stones I appraise is top color and top clarity.

Why am I telling you this? Because it is my belief that if you are going to buy a stone that is truly rare then you should get one that is, in fact, rare. You wouldn't come to me looking for a fine sapphire if you could find one at Kmart or Walmart or any other mass manufacturer (actually you won't find them there). You would come to me because you want something that is truly rare and desirable and that very few other people actually own. So, in my humble opinion (I'm not really humble, but what the heck), if you want to purchase a RARE diamond then you need to get the following: A stone that is D, E or F in color (or lack of color as these are actually colorless stones), VS2 clarity or better (preferably VVS2 or better) and is an actual American ideal cut diamond. These stones constitute a very, very small percentage of all the diamonds out there.

Admittedly if you're looking for a 2 ct. diamond you are going to be talking about some significant outlays. Stones in the VS clarity and top color range, ideal cut, are going to start at about $20,000. But it is my belief that it is far better to have a much smaller, high color, high clarity stone that is truly rare then to simply buy something because it's big and in your budget range. I would rather have a half carat D color, Flawless stone than a 1 ct. SI1 clarity, H color. After all, almost no one else has stones like that, and unless they're all shopping at Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, none of your friends will have one either.

If you would like some more details about the color and clarity grading of diamonds there are a ton of websites out there but you might check out the GIA website or the AGS website.
Pictured above are some new custom earrings I did recently for some customers. Other than having a few small diamonds on them they have nothing to do with diamonds but they came out real nice so I thought I'd post them (albeit one of my mediocre pictures).