Rapaport Magazine

Glamourous in Gray

Gray has become the cool new color in diamonds as designers gravitate to those sultry gems for their intrinsic beauty and affordability.

By Amber Michelle
The color gray is enjoying its moment in the fashion spotlight as the cool neutral — a place that it has held for the past few seasons and will hold for the foreseeable future. It is showing up on the runways in a number of shades from the palest pearl to the deepest charcoal. Unexpectedly paired with yellow and green, gray has a contemporary edge and newness, while the more traditional combination of gray with black, pinks, blues or purples remains a wardrobe staple. In the jewelry world, designers also have discovered gray diamonds as an affordable gem that, depending upon how it is used, can be either elegant or funky.

Jewelry style expert and celebrity stylist Michael O’Connor, who has his own firm Style & Substance in New York City, notes that gray diamonds are a great expression of style for the fashion-conscious woman, whether at the high end of the market or the more mass-market level. “When people are buying a fashion item right now, they want value; they want something that looks great, but does not cost an arm and a leg,” says O’Connor. “You can get bigger, bolder looks in gray diamonds and the color adds a fashionable element to the diamonds.” 

For Nina Runsdorf*, designer for her New York–based company, NSR, “Gray diamonds are not as traditional as white diamonds; they’re not as ostentatious. But they hold light and sparkle, so you still feel like you’re wearing something precious.” On the other side of the world in Hong Kong, designer Dickson Yewn was inspired to use gray diamonds when he stumbled upon an “unwanted” parcel of the stones. They reminded him of the abstract paintings of the Chinese artist Gao Xingjian, a favorite of Yewn. The color of the stones inspired the designer to create a series of pieces. In addition to their softly sparkling appeal, Yewn agrees with the value proposition of gray diamonds. “Gray diamonds basically challenge the traditional concept of white diamonds, which have different grades of white only.

Gray diamonds shift the attention from value-oriented to more design-oriented, while keeping the illusion of a high-value item. They are, after all, still diamonds.” So what gives a gray diamond its color? There are a variety of reasons, explains Christopher P. Smith, president, American Gemological Laboratories (AGL). “Some grays owe their color to boron in the stone, while others are due to cloudlike inclusions or concentrations of graphitized cleavages.”

The Look     

New York designer Jeanne Johngren*, principal of the firm bearing her name, likes to use rough or lightly faceted gray diamond beads to contrast with other colors. She likes the stones for their texture and opacity, which add another dimension to her designs. “Gray diamond beads add an element of casualness,” says Johngren. “The small beads that I use are not highly polished and have a feeling of Wilma Flintstone in the twenty-first century. Consumers respond to their tactile feeling. They look like gravel, but they are diamonds, so they sparkle.”

On the other hand, Yewn, who uses gray diamonds in traditional cuts, feels that the stones provide a composed, elegant look that is “contemporary and cosmopolitan.” Designer Runsdorf tends to use gray diamonds in rose cuts or slices, which brings a different feeling to a piece of jewelry. “When you’re not using a modern cut, it changes the look of a piece,” she explains. “Slices are all unique, one of a kind. There is no ‘let’s make another one,’ you get what you get. And it has a very organic feel.”

Designers all agree that the coloring of gray diamonds is a huge part of their appeal to consumers. It mixes well with black, as well as the bright tones and subdued hues found in much of the apparel currently in stores. “Gray diamonds are neutral and they go with everything. You don’t need to work an outfit around the color of the stone,” sums up Johngren.

O’Connor, who dresses a number of celebrities for red-carpet events, notes that gray diamonds work really well with the metallic trend that is currently so important in clothing. “Gray diamonds create a great contrast to metallics, especially to gold metallics.”

Looking Forward

Admittedly, gray diamonds are still a very small segment of the diamond market that attracts a following of fashionistas, collectors or those looking to buy diamonds at an entry-level price point.

While that may be the case right now, Rio Tinto, owner of the Argyle mine in Australia — known for its pink and champagne-colored diamonds — is a large producer of natural-color gray diamonds and is determined to make the stones better known. The mine is marketing its gray diamonds as Silvermist. Its website, silvermistdiamonds.com, plays up the versatility of the color and the subtlety of its many hues from soft, pale grays to bold, silver tones, while giving consumers information on when and how to wear the diamonds, as well as places to purchase designs from the Silvermistcollection created by manufacturers who buy from Argyle.          

As ideas of beauty change in a shifting cultural climate, gray diamonds, with their wear-with-anything color, soft sparkle, inherent value and fashion sensibility, are poised to become an important part of diamond jewelry offerings going forward. “Gray diamonds feel good without looking flashy.

They are understated elegance and that is what we want to be, with the state of the union the way it is now,” concludes Runsdorf. 



Article from the Rapaport Magazine - December 2010. To subscribe click here.

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