Thursday 21st September 2017

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Of diamonds and dynasties

A new marketing approach accompanies Alrosa’s new emphasis on polished stones

by Greg Klein

A new marketing approach accompanies Alrosa’s new emphasis on polished stones

The Dynasty Collection celebrates Alrosa’s revival of Russian jewelry craftsmanship.
(Photo: Alrosa)

 

Legendary diamonds have long been associated with imperial dynasties. Now, just as a new book promises to revive interest in the multi-empire story of the fabled Koh-i-Noor gem, Alrosa has unveiled a suite of five stones commemorating great families of old Russia. In doing so, the mining giant marks a new emphasis not just on extracting exceptional stones, but cutting and polishing them too. The company says it will use state-of-the-art techniques to revive traditions dating back to Peter I.

A near-second to De Beers as the world’s largest diamond miner by value, Alrosa’s overall strategy might be to broaden diamonds’ appeal beyond the maybe one (or two, or sometimes profligately multiple) life events that call for an engagement ring.

A new marketing approach accompanies Alrosa’s new emphasis on polished stones

(Photo: Alrosa)

The company’s new quintet started as a single 179-carat rough with a name that evokes grandeur, but also tragic decline and a horrific ending: The Romanovs. One and a half years in the making, the polished collection’s centrepiece is The Dynasty, a 51.38-carat traditional round brilliant-cut stone “unprecedented in the history of Russia” as the most expensive and purest of all large diamonds cut in the country.

The set’s other four gems recall wealthy dynasties “that played a crucial role in the development of Russian jewelry”: The Sheremetevs (16.67 carats), The Orlovs (5.05 carats), The Vorontsovs (1.73 carats) and The Yusupovs (1.39 carats).

The collection goes on sale online—take that Christie’s, Sotheby’s and U.S. sanctions—in November.

But there’s no association stronger than actual ownership, and in that regard the Koh-i-Noor might be the most esteemed of all diamonds. In a soon-to-be published book of the same name, authors William Dalrymple and Anita Anand track “the history of the world’s most infamous diamond.”

Here’s a rock that gained prominence in northern India’s 17th century Mughal dynasty, was pillaged by 18th century Persians and retrieved from the corpse of their assassinated ruler by Ahmad Shah, who wore the jewel himself while building the Durrani Empire of Afghanistan. His successors lost the gem, along with considerable territory, to Sikh emperor Ranjit Singh. The authors credit this early 19th century ruler with boosting the diamond’s prestige to an unprecedented level. Following his death and the Sikhs’ defeat at British hands, the victors ordered that the Koh-i-Noor “shall be surrendered by the Maharajah of Lahore to the Queen of England.”

Along with Cullinan I and Cullinan II, the world’s largest top-quality polished stones, the Koh-i-Noor takes its place in the Crown Jewels. Both India and Pakistan want it back.

The book’s publicist promises a saga of “greed, murder, torture, colonialism and appropriation.” But extracting the stones can come at a terrible cost too, and one doesn’t have to delve into history to realize that. Just days after Alrosa unveiled The Dynasty collection, the company reported nine miners missing after a flood at the Mir diamond mine in the far eastern Republic of Sakha.

A steady source of plus-sized rough, Sakha mines gave up gems of nearly 110 carats and 75 carats just last month and, last year, a 207.29-carat stone. The Romanovs was found there in 2015.

A new marketing approach accompanies Alrosa’s new emphasis on polished stones

The Tenner, a £10 flea market
find, sold for $848,000.
(Photo: Sotheby’s)

Size and weight aren’t everything, however, as the 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona continues to demonstrate. Lucara Diamond TSX:LUC has yet to find a buyer after rejecting a $61-million bid last year for the “tennis ball-sized” Botswana diamond, the largest ever found after South Africa’s 3,106-carat Cullinan that’s since been subdivided and relocated to the Crown Jewels with the Koh-i-Noor. Last May Lucara did sell a piece of its original stone, estimated to have been about 1,500 carats, when cutter Graff Diamonds paid $17.5 million for a 373.72-carat shard that broke off during the mine recovery process.

Another super-sized non-seller is the 709-carat rough found by an artisanal miner in Sierra Leone. He entrusted it to the government, which rejected a $7.8-million bid that failed to meet the stone’s valuation.

But sometimes there’s amazing value to be found among the dross. Thirty years or so after a Brit paid 10 quid for a piece of second-hand “costume jewelry,” the owner got around to asking Sotheby’s for an appraisal. The verdict? “A genuine cushion-shaped diamond weighing 26.29 carats with an attractive colour grade of I and impressive clarity grade of VVS2.”

In dollar terms, that meant a price estimated up to about $450,000. In June the hammer came down on $848,000.

See an infographic about legendary diamonds.


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