Chocolate diamond has been the center of some quite heated debate over the last few years.
Why, you might ask? Essentially, it’s the branding and marketing of brown diamonds into chocolate diamonds (a trademark registered by the high end jeweler Le Vian) that has caused such a stir.
But more on that a little later. First off, let’s have a look at the basics of these brown beauties.[toc]
Brown Diamonds: the Origin
Brown diamonds are actually the most common diamonds found on earth. While these gemstones form within the earth, nitrogen particles sometimes infiltrate their structure.
This addition of nitrogen during the formation process gives these diamonds a yellow tinge. If the diamond is also forming under very hot conditions within the earth, this yellow color transforms into a deep brown shade.
Plus, people just haven’t been interested in selling them in jewelry. Brown has traditionally been viewed as less appealing color – fair enough, you might think.
But, brown diamonds were prized as central features of jewelry pieces in Ancient civilization. The Ancient Romans were actually the first to use brown diamonds in jewelry, adding some bling into their stone rings.
In modern times, however, industry has taken the lion’s share of natural brown diamonds.
Industrial use of brown diamonds
As a huge proportion of natural brown diamonds are low quality (from a jewelry point of view) they’re a cheap and reliable material for use in industry.
Despite their low quality grade, brown diamonds are still diamonds: they’re the hardest natural substance known to man.
This makes them incredibly useful for industrial manufacturing purposes. Diamond cutting blades make quick work of any other material. But it was a different story in the high end jewelry scene.
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has even said that brown diamonds were the ugly ducklings of the diamond world – back before they hit their heyday, that is.
Association with alcoholic drink
Before chocolate diamonds were born, there was one surge in popularity, back in the decade of the 70s. Back then, jewelers and dealers came up with the idea of “cognac” diamonds.
What was the thinking there? Well, marketers wanted to capitalize on the idea of classiness associated with a high-end brandy tipple.
They aimed to increase the appeal to buyers by linking that elegance with gemstones that were a similar color to the drink.
Cognac hasn’t been the only high end alcoholic beverage associated with diamond color over the years, either. Champagne diamonds are also a thing, referring to more yellow-brown toned gemstones.
However, none of these branding ideas ever really took off. That is, until the chocolate diamond came along at the turn of the century.
Le Vian and the Birth of Chocolate Diamonds
So, how did the chocolate diamond come about?
Jeweler Le Vian came up with the idea of chocolate diamonds so that they could highlight the difference between rarer, high quality, chocolate brown diamonds and more common, lower quality brown colored diamonds.
All of these gems were being extracted from the Argyle Diamond Mine in Western Australia, a mining facility used by Le Vian.
A large mine
The Argyle Mine opened fairly recently, in the middle of the 1980s. It now makes up about 1/3 of annual global diamond production.
What’s more, 80% of the diamonds that the mine started producing were brown. Some of them were extremely high quality, too.
So, the gorgeous brown diamonds were there; it was just that no one wanted to buy them for jewelry.
According to Le Vian CEO Eddie LeVian, the jewelry company wanted to come up with a way of effectively marketing some of the best quality brown diamonds that were coming out of the mine.
The branding inspiration came from a friend of LeVian’s, Bill Furman.
The art of marketing
Apparently, Furman would treat LeVian to artisan chocolates, all the while extolling the virtues of chocolate as an aphrodisiac food that carries a range of health benefits.
LeVian realized that people really do love their chocolate. So, why not use that as a marketing strategy for high quality brown gemstones?
LeVian’s jewelry company trademarked the chocolate diamond in the year 2000. The idea soon proved its worth.
In 2007, Google searches for “chocolate diamond” were practically nil. But by 2014, Google had recorded around 400,000 searches for these newly branded brown gemstones.
Thanks to Le Vian’s insightful marketing, the chocolate diamond idea really took off.
Demand drives prices up, so consumers will pay far more for chocolate diamonds nowadays than they would have just a few decades ago.
In the 1980s and 1990s, high quality brown stones would sell for around $1,500 per carat; now, you’d be looking at paying up to $10,000 per carat.
So, jeweler Le Vian’s clever branding has made a huge impact on the reputation and appeal of the brown gemstones.
But there’s still some confusion hovering around this diamond category…
Brown Diamonds vs. Chocolate Diamonds
As we know, brown diamonds are the most common diamonds out there.
You can see how the marketing logic developed from there: brown = chocolate = appealing = appealing chocolate diamond.
But, it’s not quite that simple. Brown diamonds are run of the mill (literally, if we think back to their use in industry) but chocolate diamonds are something more special.
Brown diamonds are very common, and range in color from real brown tones to lighter, yellow-browns. Natural, deep, chocolate brown diamonds are a rarer find.
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The richer the dark brown shade of a chocolate diamond, the higher its price tag will be.
As we’ve seen, Le Vian trademarked chocolate diamonds a while back. For a stone to make it into this particular category of brown diamonds, it has to meet some pretty strict criteria.
Chocolate diamond standards
Le Vian sources its chocolate diamonds from the Argyle Diamond Mine in Western Australia.
Apparently, of all the brown diamonds from the Argyle Mine, fewer than 5% meet Le Vian’s strict quality standards for classification as a bona fide chocolate diamond.
Le Vian’s criteria for qualification as a chocolate diamond are based on the standard 4 Cs of diamond quality:
According to Le Vian, clarity is a key element of classifying a gemstone as a real chocolate diamond. To make the cut, the brown diamond must have a clarity rating of “Slightly Included” or higher.
This rating means that the diamonds inclusions (or natural flaws) aren’t visible to the naked eye.
These specific clarity standards means that larger chocolate diamonds are incredibly rare. In fact, chocolate diamonds of one carat or larger are 1 in 10,000.
As we know, that rarity adds a whole lot of value.
As the Argyle Mine was the first to capitalize on the high quality of some of the brown gemstones it produced, it created its own color scale to grade them.
The Argyle color scale ranges from C1 to C7 and is deliberately different from any GIA color grading charts for gemstones.
To qualify as a Le Vian chocolate diamond, a gemstone has to fall between the C4 and C7 categories on the Argyle scale.
The jeweler also explains that there is a correspondence between the Argyle scale and the GIA scale: the C4 to C7 Argyle color grading category corresponds to the “fancy dark brown” category on the GIA color grading chart.
After the chocolate diamonds have been rigorously selected according to these criteria, they are expertly cut to fit Le Vian’s high standards for its jewelry designs.
Le Vian CEO, Eddie LeVian also told Jezebel that the gemstones have to also fit with “responsible, traceable sourcing criteria for being branded as Chocolate Diamonds®”.
You may also be interested: Types of Diamond Cuts: Your Comprehensive Guide
Chocolate diamonds: as Delicious as They Sound?
As brown diamonds are easily accessible and cheap, less reputable gemstone dealers might try to sell brown diamonds based on their novelty, not their actual quality.
It’s always important to ask about the quality of a diamond before you buy it (remember those 4 all-important Cs we looked at just above).
You might come across diamonds that have been treated in a laboratory to give them a brown color. These stones are not natural chocolate diamonds; nor are they likely to be high quality.
If you want a good deal on your brown or chocolate diamonds, it’s wise to stay away from artificially color-treated stones.
The well-known UK jeweler H. Samuel markets these gems online as a way to “satisfy your sweet tooth”. According to their copywriting whizzes, they’re “good enough to eat”. Sound appealing?
Le Vian ramps up the deliciousness factor even more for some of the rings in its collections, setting their chocolate diamonds in ‘strawberry gold’ or ‘vanilla gold’.
Fancy diamonds explained
You might think all diamonds are fancy – and you wouldn’t be wrong.
But, fancy diamonds are something a little different. “Fancy” is the technical term used to describe diamonds that aren’t just colorless.
Brown diamonds are the most common in the world, followed by coloress diamonds. These gemstones are also formed naturally in a whole rainbow range of gorgeous colors.
Think pink, yellow, orange, red, blue and green… all of these are much rarer finds that their colorless and brown relatives. Blue, red and green are the rarest diamonds of them all.
Interestingly, the Hope Diamond, one of the most famous diamonds in the world is blue in color.
Believed to have first come from India, the incredible rare blue diamond was bought by a Parisian gem merchant way back in the 1600s. Shortly after, this intrepid gem merchant sold the diamond to King Louis XIV of France.
Dramatically, someone stole the beautiful stone from the French court in the late 1700s. The diamond was then re-cut in order to sell its pieces on – for a tidy profit, you’d imagine!
The largest re-cut section ended up in the jewelry collection of a London banking family, the Hopes. Yep you guessed it: that’s where the name it still has today came from.
From that time on, the Hope Diamond passed from a Washington socialite to a New York gem merchant, to its eventual safe home in the US National Museum of Natural History.
Right, digression over: back to fancy diamonds – and why they’re relevant here.
Brown diamonds are not fancy?
The interesting (and potentially controversial) point is that brown diamonds aren’t usually classified as fancy diamonds.
No, they’re not colorless, but their low value means they normally wouldn’t technically be called fancy.
Despite that, Le Vian classes its brown diamonds as fancy diamonds: CEO Eddie LeVian told Jezebel that “Chocolate Diamonds® are Le Vian’s proprietary brand of natural fancy color diamonds”.
Now, Le Vian do say they have strict criteria to make sure their trademarked chocolate diamonds are only the very best natural brown gemstones.
But, behold the power of marketing: trademarked, and now with the fancy diamond label added by Le Vian, chocolate diamonds seem much more upmarket.
If deep, chocolate-colored gemstone is exactly what you’re looking for, by all means go ahead!
They’re still a pocket-friendly option, less expensive than colorless diamonds, which in turn are less expensive that other fancy colors (the yellows, blues, pinks etc. that we touched on earlier).
So, if you’re browsing brown gemstones and you come across “chocolate diamond” with no trademark or Le Vian signage, take a minute, ask about the origins, the quality rating, the branding.
You don’t want a super low quality, artificially colored dud diamond that you’re sold just on the “chocolate” novelty tag.
A feminist issue?
Jezebel wrote an exposé piece about chocolate diamonds, essentially calling them a well-marketed scam aimed to at female buyers.
Jezebel’s angle focused on the fact that common, low-value brown diamonds were being whipped into higher-price fancy diamond shape by potentially underhand marketing strategies.
The feminist issue here is the specific way in which these chocolate diamonds were marketed to, and using, women.
In his interview with Jezebel, CEO Eddie LeVian spoke about emulating “the obsession, addiction and passion that is common in chocoholics” in Le Vian’s chocolate diamond branding.
Jezebel took issue with this, suggesting that this chocolate diamond branding was concocted to target women who, supposedly, just wouldn’t be able to resist the pull of chocolate.
Plus, it has to be said that Le Vian’s video advertising is pretty blatant: “What happens when you combine a girl’s best friend with her favorite aphrodisiac?”
Could we add some more clichés in, please?!
Contentious marketing and advertising is a reality we have to contend with – the double whammy here for Jezebel was the sexism combined with the potentially highly strategic marketing.
They suggested Le Vian was boosting lower price brown diamonds into desirable chocolate diamonds, potentially in an underhand way.
Again, we’re back to Le Vian’s responsible sourcing and stringent quality criteria for classifying their gemstones as chocolate diamonds.
Like any gemstone purchase, but maybe especially with brown and chocolate diamonds, make sure you do your research before making a purchase.
So, Are Chocolate Diamonds the Right Choice for You?
Sure, brown diamonds have been historically low value as they’re so commonplace.
Sure, industry may be where the majority of lower quality brown diamonds still wind up.
Sure, some of these gemstones are glossed up and put in fancy “chocolate” packaging to make them more appealing to gemstone browsers.
But, if a chocolate diamond is exactly what you’ve been looking for in a piece of jewelry – why hesitate? What some might criticize for its less than entirely glamorous history is another person’s ideal bit of bling.
Chocolate diamonds are have a warm, smooth look and their unusual color certainly makes them stand out. If it’s more cocoa and less ice that suits your taste in diamond jewelry, chocolate diamonds are the place for you.
Even if it’s lighter tones of brown you’re looking for, don’t let their lack of branding put you off.
Even if a brown gemstone isn’t technically a chocolate diamond, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be stunning.
Because of their color, these gemstones won’t have met Le Vian’s chocolate diamond criteria, but they might be extremely valuable nonetheless.
Of course, it is possible to find lighter brown diamonds of extremely high quality. That all depends on the other 3 Cs of the diamond’s quality, aside from its color: clarity, carat and cut.
These lighter brown dazzlers could come in shades of cinnamon, coffee, fudge… the list of other multi-sensory branding options is an interesting one.
Of course, it is always important to do your research. Know what you’re buying, and know where it’s coming from.
Buy your diamonds ethically and buy them responsibly, but buy them because they’re what you want in your jewelry collection.
They’re an investment that expresses your personality and tastes.
So, don’t fall for the branding if chocolate diamonds aren’t exactly what you’re actually looking for.
Choose the diamond color that most speaks to you and don’t hold back from making your diamond jewelry choice entirely your own