Throughout history, diamonds have dazzled people, symbolizing romance, power and wealth, and have even been called a girl’s best friend. But I have never owned a diamond. Not a ring, not an earring, not even a tennis bracelet. Yet I have always been curious about these precious stones — from how they are made and mined, to how they were marketed in the post-WWII era. That’s when the famous phrase “a diamond is forever” was coined, encouraging young couples to invest in a diamond engagement ring as the ultimate sign of enduring love.
Aside from clever marketing, what makes a diamond so unique and coveted is still a mystery for me. What should I look for if I want to buy a diamond? The 4Cs (Color, Cut, Carat, Clarity)? How do I know whether to trust the advice that’s given by a jeweler about the quality and provenance of a diamond? Does it matter where it came from? Has it been ethically mined? On behalf of INSPIRELLE, I turned to Paris-based gemmologist, jeweler and diamond expert Jérôme Jabès to shed some light on these questions and more.
Jérôme, how did you get into the diamond business?
My family has been involved in the diamond industry since the early 1900s, first in London, then in Antwerp (Belgium) and British Guyana (South America). I originally wanted to be a surgeon But when I was 18 years old, I discovered the amazing world of diamonds during a visit to my family’s business in Antwerp. My cousin Raphaël kindly took me under his wing and guided me through every step: from sorting through rough stones to sorting stone shapes and colors, sizing, cleaving, and sawing, as well as brokerage and trading. In 1983, I decided to pursue a professional degree in gemmology design at the GIA (Gemological Institute of America). I then returned to France and founded my company, Jabès Diamantaire & Joaillier, which specializes in diamonds, precious stones and the creation of fine jewelry.
How are diamonds formed and what makes them so valuable and expensive?
Did you know that natural diamonds are over one billion years old and are formed in extreme conditions? The hardest material on Earth, diamonds are forged from carbon deposits deep under the earth’s crust at incredibly high temperatures and pressures. The crystals are then pushed to the earth’s surface through Kimberlite pipes moving to the surface during volcanic eruptions. They derive their unique structure and hardness from the strong bonding of carbon atoms under these extreme conditions. Out of all the diamonds being mined today, only less than 10% of them are of a high enough quality to be sold as gems. Most of the mined diamonds are used for research and industrial applications. These are among the reasons why gem-quality natural diamonds are very rare and valuable.
Where do most of the world’s diamonds come from?
Today, Russia is the top diamond producing country, followed by Botswana, Canada, Angola, and South Africa. Most of the rough diamonds we use in my atelier are from my family’s mines in British Guyana in South America.
Are diamonds a good investment?
Diamonds are a good long-term investment. However, do not expect an immediate return within three to five years on your initial purchase. Instead, sit back and enjoy the beauty of your beautiful gem. This past year was an exception—prices went up 30% to 40% because of a decrease in production during the pandemic and very strong demand. If you plan to resell your diamonds, make sure you obtain a certificate from a reputable, accredited gem lab (GIA, HRD, LFG) at the time of purchase.
Can you tell us how your business is impacted by some of the main issues facing the diamond industry today, such as ethics and sustainability?
The origin and traceability of diamonds are definitely important matters within the industry today. Atelier Jabès only works with suppliers certified as responsible and ethical by the RJC (Responsible Jewelry Council). In the past, diamonds have been associated with child labor in the mines and armed conflict, as depicted in the film “Blood Diamond”. But, this is absolutely no longer the case today. Over the past 12 years the diamond industry has made tremendous strides in eliminating “conflict diamonds” by striving for complete transparency in all transactions. For example, in Antwerp, a major hub for trading diamonds, no rough diamond can be cleared through customs if it does not have a Kimberly Process Certificate ensuring that it is conflict free. Today, more than 90% of diamonds are ethically mined, but buyers should always ask for a gem lab certificate that certifies the origin of the diamond.
What are your thoughts about lab-grown diamonds, which have grown in popularity because they often look as good as natural diamonds, cost less and are supposedly better for the environment?
Diamonds manufactured in laboratories may take only two weeks to “grow”, but the amount of energy required to create them can actually be more damaging to the environment than mining. The Trucost Report (2019) estimates that the carbon footprint of lab-grown diamonds can be up to three times higher than that of natural diamonds. Additionally, man-made diamonds have very little resale value, unlike natural diamonds which are each one of a kind and thus intrinsically valuable.
How can we know whether or not a diamond seller is trustworthy?
Look for professional and ethical certifications, read press releases, and check out Google ratings of specific sellers. The other important metric to note is whether a seller has been in business for a long time while maintaining an excellent reputation over many years. Finally, there is always word of mouth from satisfied (or dissatisfied!) customers.