Diamond Geezers

A quick guide to the big names in big rocks.
Publish date:
Updated on

Late one warm April night in 1947, a young female copywriter was struggling against a deadline. Frances Gerety had a big client - De Beers. “Dog tired” she remembered, “I put my head down and said, “Please God, send me a line.” As she fell asleep she scribbled something down. Next morning, she knew she had “something good”, something rare. It was the twentieth century’s most successful ever ad-slogan: “A Diamond is Forever.”

Gerety’s words encapsulated the essence of diamonds. Apart from their purity and twinkling value, their magic lies in their endurance. Linking generations across the years, diamonds gather stories and memories as they roll. The more spectacular become the stuff of history and mystery, and the people that pass them along are forever linked to their legend.

At Christie’s London Auction house last December the chronicle of one rare stone continued when it sold for a record breaking £16.4 million. On the market for the first time in eighty years, the Wittelsbach Diamond formed the 1664 dowry of Infanta Margarita Teresa. A young princess in the Spanish Court, she was once painted by Velazquez.

After a heated auction battle the diamond was sold to the man fast becoming as legendary as his merchandise – billionaire diamond dealer Lawrence Graff. Describing his purchase as the “climax of his career”, Graff went on to explain why the Wittelsbach meant so much: “The Indian mine it came from has been extinct for more than a century, to find any more this sky blue colour is impossible. It’s one of the greatest treasures known to man, a freak of nature.”

Graff the man is also a rare phenomenon. His biographer described his relationship with diamonds as “psychic”. Or as Graff once put it: “I can almost smell them, smell them a mile off, I’m driven by the need to find the best in the world.”

This drive propelled Graff out of East End poverty and into the jewellery business aged just fourteen. One of the few living individuals who managed to muscle in on the De Beers monopoly, Graff is known as a daring businessman who never turns away a beautiful stone. As he grew older, the stones grew bigger, and so did Graff’s bank balance.

“She knew she had “something good”, something rare. It was the twentieth century’s most successful ever ad-slogan: “A Diamond is Forever.”

When it comes to pricing diamonds, strong provenance or legend can sky rocket value. Other factors are the Four C’s: Cut, Colour, Clarity and Caret. Cut dictates light reflection. With Colour, less is more - unless it is one of Graff’s personal favourites - a rare coloured rock. Clarity means purity. Caret relates to weight, and prices increase exponentially with size.

Last year big stones rose in price by a whacking one hundred and thirty per cent. Leading diamond consultant, Martin Rapaport puts this down to the “wives” of Chinese and Russian billionaires. When it comes to big bling, he says, their “appetite is insatiable”.

Graff’s predecessor, American dealer Harry Winston, handled some of the biggest rocks and most beautiful women in the world. “Talk to me Harry Winston”, gushed Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 song “Diamonds Are a Girls’ Best Friend”. From Elizabeth Taylor to Jennifer Lopez and from Sharon Stone to Gwyneth Paltrow - all waved a “Winston