Opinion

The 709 Carat Peace Diamond: What It Is, Why It Matters, and What It Felt Like to Hold It

NEW YORK. Thanksgiving week in America is an ideal time to give thanks—even for non-U.S. residents who work in jewelry. That’s why a meeting held yesterday morning in New York City by Martin Rapaport, founder of the eponymous diamond price sheet, auction services, and magazine—for which this journalist is a monthly contributor—was so significant. The reason for the gathering? The 709 ct. Peace Diamond, a giant piece of rough, found by miners working in alluvial fields in Sierra Leone in February of this year. (Check out the video on the diamond’s website that shows the community where the stone was found.)

The Peace Diamond

The Peace Diamond
Photo Credit: Rapaport

For sure, the stone is significant for its size—Hearts On Fire says that most rough is only about 0.10 ct.—but what’s more important is the story behind the stone. This piece of rough marks the first time that miners in Sierra Leone, once a war-torn country that many know of because of the movie “Blood Diamond,” actually trusted its government to help them broker a sale.

For those of you who are not familiar with the traditional path of diamonds from mine to market, it’s a complicated scenario. Miners like the ones who found the Peace Diamond, named for the peaceful state of the country and the growing trust between Sierra Leoneans and their government—which hasn’t always been the most effective—often sell stones through backdoor outlets at low prices and without paying taxes. They do so out of fear of not benefitting at all if they do use proper channels. The Peace Diamond, which was found in the Kono District of the country, marks a break in this vicious cycle: the miners who found it alerted their local chief, who notified the government, which is helping to broker a well-publicized and proper sale at auction. The proceeds will be carefully and transparently divided up between tax revenues that will benefit residents and more money to the actual miners, who often don’t benefit from a large score. What does this mean? Many independent miners working remote alluvial fields like the one in which the Peace Diamond was found work for about $2 a day and do not have homes with electricity or running water. The Peace Diamond is the beginning of change for this unfair system.

“The village in which this diamond was found does not have clean water, but it will,” insisted Rapaport yesterday morning. “The money from this sale will benefit the people of Sierra Leone.”

The meeting held yesterday at Rapaport was to introduce the media to Paul Saquee V, chairman of the Council of Paramount Chiefs for the Kono District, and to Pastor Emmanuel Momoh, one of the miners who found the stone. Martin Rapaport himself, having benefitted greatly from diamonds his entire life—diamonds have helped him build his vast network of businesses—has offered to help auction the stone at no cost, leaving more money for the miners and the people of Sierra Leone. The move is an admirable one, as Sierra Leone is long overdue for a boon. Its beautiful diamonds have benefited many outside of the country, but not those in it. Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Pastor Emmanuel Momoh holds the Peace Diamond

Pastor Emmanuel Momoh holds the Peace Diamond
Photo Credit: Rapaport

“We hope the sale of the Peace Diamond encourages other artisan miners to not allow their stones to be sold on street corners for peanuts,” said Saquee. “We hope this is the dawn of a new day where the diggers will have full benefits. The sale of the Peace Diamond will improve the lives of people.”

Pastor Momoh, meanwhile, explained that the president of Sierra Leone actually thanked him and his community for not smuggling the stone out of the country and for agreeing to put the diamond in an open tender to be sold in a transparent manner.

“This is the beginning of a new day in our nation where we have the opportunity to get a fair price for the diamonds in our country,” he said. “By buying this diamond, you will be improving the lives of some of the poorest people in the world, in places with no paved roads, schools, or medical facilities. The Peace Diamond represents peace and progress.”

To date, the diamond has been on quite the world tour. The Peace Diamond spent three weeks in Israel and three weeks in Belgium, and will spend several weeks in New York City, all in an effort get expert opinions on how it should be cut and to drum up interest in the auction. The stone was front and center yesterday during the press conference, and attendees had the opportunity to hold it. Of course, I did, and it was magical.

A rough diamond that big is an extraordinary sight, and it had a calming effect once placed in my palm. This was not just another pretty rock—the Peace Diamond is literally a life-changing one. Can you imagine not having electricity or fresh water? That’s hard for Americans to fathom, but this is the reality for many in Sierra Leone. It’s about time this country rises up and takes charge of its own wealth to steer a better path to its future. “It’s not up to NGOs or charities to decide what happens to Sierra Leone—it’s up to Sierra Leone,” said Rapaport.

When the rough is purchased, it will, of course, be cut into myriad stones, but all—no matter the size—will be sold under the provenance of the Peace Diamond name. This is no longer the Sierra Leone of its civil war days. “Our narrative has to change,” noted Saquee. “Yes, there were blood diamonds, but we have moved away from that.”

“Our diamonds now are for development,” added Momoh.

Pastor Emmanuel Momoh (rt.) and Paul Saquee V, chairman of the Council of Paramount Chiefs for the Kono District

Pastor Emmanuel Momoh (rt.) and Paul Saquee V, chairman of the Council of Paramount Chiefs for the Kono District
Photo Credit: Rapaport

Another member of the press—a descendant of Sierra Leonean parents—spoke up during a question-and-answer session. “I want to thank you for erasing the stigma of blood diamonds,” he told the panel in a quiet, steady voice.

Momoh smiled broadly. “It’s the beginning of new era where diggers will get fair market value.”

Finally, and God be praised! (God is a recurring reference in Momoh’s conversations since he is a pastor.) This is what natural, mined diamonds do for communities far away that are living in abject poverty the likes of which Americans will never know. This is a diamond story that everyone needs to hear; natural diamonds are life changing, and each one represents a life-giving force as beautiful as their sparkle.

Jennifer Heebner LLC

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Opinion

Opening Night at RE:FINE at The Store at MAD Was Packed!

NEW YORK. Yesterday afternoon, I headed over to The Store at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) for RE:FINE (see “Just in Time for Holiday…“). A few hours were blocked off in the late afternoon for editors to visit early, before the museum opened the store to the public. Nearly all of the designers—32 in total—were present last night, which made for a truly packed house!

The Store at the Museum is floor-to-ceiling windows and perched on the corners of Broadway and Eighth Avenue across from Columbus Circle, and light streams in from the front (facing the Circle) and the Eighth Avenue side. Glass shelves lining the windows further keep the space bright, and the eclectic assortment of housewares and accessories for sale are an ideal high-end companion to all the contemporary jewels that filled the jewelry cases.

Engagement rings, from left: Ruta Reifen, Megan Thorne, Karen Karch For purchase: For purchase: Visit The Store at MAD, call 212-299-7777, or email info@madmuseum.org

Engagement rings, from left: Ruta Reifen, Megan Thorne, and Karen Karch
For purchase: Visit The Store at MAD, call 212-299-7777, or email info@madmuseum.org

 

As I stated yesterday, the works from these 32 jewelry designers, co-curated by Beth Bernstein of BeJeweledMag.com and Franci Sagar, vice president of brand and retail development, will be for sale in the store through the end of January. Popular collections, however, may remain longer, according to customer requests.

I snapped as many shots as I could for social media, mingled with my designer friends, learned about some of their new collections (Stella Flame was there with a new Golden Dewdrop collection, and Lika Behar brought lots of pearls), and got to meet Franci.

Jelly opal pendant necklace from Lika Behar For purchase: For purchase: Visit The Store at MAD, call 212-299-7777, or email info@madmuseum.org

Jelly opal pendant necklace from Lika Behar
For purchase: Visit The Store at MAD, call 212-299-7777, or email info@madmuseum.org

 

She explained that while The Store had long worked with a lot of fashion (read: costume) jewelry artisans, pulling in contemporary fine jewelry designers was a natural extension. “We want to bring these two audiences—fashion and fine jewelry collectors—together and bring in an even younger customer with the bridal jewelry offerings,” she explained. “We’ve never offered bridal before.”

Franci and Beth pulled in outstanding designers for the fashion-forward fine and wedding jewelry categories, so I hope that this ongoing experiment to sell modern fine jewelry in The Store will continue. Wedding jewelry designers included Ruth Tomlinson, Marian Maurer, and three more noted in the first caption—all ideal for speaking to a first-time bride because of their untraditional looks.

Pieces from Suneera 925 For purchase: For purchase: Visit The Store at MAD, call 212-299-7777, or email info@madmuseum.org

Pieces from Suneera
For purchase: Visit The Store at MAD, call 212-299-7777, or email info@madmuseum.org

 

Franci noted that she saw return customers—one of whom stopped us mid-conversation to chat her up and compare a gold bangle from Stella Flame to a similar one on Franci’s wrist—for each edition of the sale. “We want to see how this evolves, but people like to uncover new talent and like buying from museums,” she continued. “I would say 80 percent of our fine jewelry purchases are made by women, for themselves.”

Further, purchases from The Store are not just a transaction—Franci calls them “a new form of philanthropy to celebrate and support working artists.”

“When our customers make purchases with us, we make it a point to share with them that it supports not only artists trying to make their careers from work, but the Museum’s exhibitions and educational programs,” she continues. “So, buying with us becomes a feel-good purchase that reflects a certain commitment to a set of social values that supports the arts.”

Moving forward, The Store should be less crowded because all of the artists won’t be present (30 designers plus guests made for a packed house), but their pieces will remain! Check them out through January.

Jennifer Heebner LLC

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Opinion

Just in Time for Holiday—RE:FINE at The Store at MAD Is Back, With Even More Fab Designers

NEW YORK. The Store at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in Manhattan knows a good thing when it sees it. That’s why it brought back a jewelry sale event featuring contemporary designers that struck a resounding cord with shoppers last fall, and again in spring 2017. Franci Sagar, vice president of brand and retail development, already had a strong fan base for eclectic store gifts like sculptural ceramics, and decided that fine jewelry, too, should get a present-day boost. So after success with her first two RE:FINE (initially dubbed Redefining Fine Jewelry) sales events in The Store, she enlisted the help of Beth Bernstein, a seasoned jewelry figure—and most important, my friend—and editor of BeJeweledMag.com to co-curate the designers for the holiday 2017 selection.

Like me, Beth is a jewelry editor with a passion for modern design and a desire to help emerging artists succeed. Unlike me, Beth has inked several books on jewelry (she keeps asking me when I’ll write mine!) and is a familiar face in the MAD museum since she lives near Columbus Circle, where MAD is located. Living at the mouth of the Upper West Side, Beth knows something about the neighborhood that may come as a shock to those outside of the city: there’s a dearth of jewelry stores there with forward-thinking inventory mixes. So, when Franci asked her to team up to help curate an event full of some of the industry’s brightest modern masters, it took but a moment for Beth to say, ‘”Yes!”

“Due to MAD’s commitment to championing designers who challenge traditional notions of jewelry, it’s the perfect outlet for designers because there are mainly only conventional jewelry stores on the Upper West Side,” Beth explains.

Leather bracelet with gold ornament and gemstones from Moritz Glik<br /> For purchase: Visit The Store at MAD, call 212-299-7777, or email info@madmuseum.org

Leather bracelet with gold ornament and gemstones from Moritz Glik
For purchase: Visit The Store at MAD, call 212-299-7777, or email info@madmuseum.org

 

And since The Shops at Columbus Circle—across the street from MAD—and the Museum itself are such tourist destinations, it makes sense to have a store with cool, uncommon jewels.

“MAD attracts people who are really into art and design, so they love the jewelry options brought in for this event, and so do the neighborhood residents,” she adds. “The concept of the event is to blur the lines between what was once considered precious and what is precious today in fine jewelry. When guys buy jewelry for their wives and girlfriends, they’ll buy something like diamond studs because they’re a safe choice, but the pieces in this sale are expressive, often colorful and meaningful—pieces that women would buy for themselves.”

Gemstone earrings in gold from Loriann Jewelry<br /> For purchase: For purchase: Visit The Store at MAD, call 212-299-7777, or email info@madmuseum.org

Gemstone earrings in gold from Loriann Jewelry
For purchase: For purchase: Visit The Store at MAD, call 212-299-7777, or email info@madmuseum.org

 

Some 32 international artists and designers (think Alberian & Aulde, Moritz Glik, and Loriann Jewelry, among many others)—including eight jewelers with strong alternative wedding jewelry options—will have collections in The Store through the end of January 2018. Some works may stay on after that time, depending on patron interest, but a robust presentation is on hand now through the holidays and New Year.

Engagement rings in gold with colored gemstones from Ruth Tomlinson<br /> For purchase: For purchase: For purchase: Visit The Store at MAD, call 212-299-7777, or email info@madmuseum.org

Engagement rings in gold with colored gemstones from Ruth Tomlinson
For purchase: For purchase: For purchase: Visit The Store at MAD, call 212-299-7777, or email info@madmuseum.org

 

RE:FINE officially kicked off last night in an invitation-only VIP affair with MAD members, and a press preview happens today (I’ll be there!), where I’ll be able to mingle with most of the artists. For sure, these collections are not ones you’ll see in mainstream jewelry stores, and that’s a relief given that much of what is sold today looks the same. Stay tuned for photos of available pieces on my Instagram account, and look for another story on the event that will appear tomorrow.

Jennifer Heebner LLC

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Opinion

Judging the Annual International Pearl Design Competition of the Cultured Pearl Association of America

NEW YORK. Last Wednesday, I took part in what has become an eight-year-old annual tradition among pearl enthusiasts, the International Pearl Design Competition from the Cultured Pearl Association of America.

It was my third or fourth time serving as a judge, and as usual, it was super fun. My dear friend and fellow pearl fan, Kathy Grenier, the marketing director of the CPAA and vice president of business development for Imperial Pearl, usually enlists me to participate since she knows that I share her passion for pearls. Something about that luster draws us to the organic gems, and their backstories are the best in all of jewelry: beautiful pearls grow in typically pristine ocean and lake environments around the world, and the pearl industry offers employment to myriad individuals who treasure the environment as much as the farm owners. As Jacque Christophe Branellec, a principal at Jewelmer, told me several years ago when I visited his farms in the Philippines, “The pearl farm could not operate without a healthy community and environment.”

Pearl shot from GIA.edu

Pearl shot from GIA.edu

 

Pearls have a long and storied history worldwide as a beloved gem among ruling classes, a status that has ebbed and flowed over centuries. In the U.S., pearls hit their stride after World War II when American soldiers returned home from war with Japan with akoya strands in hand for loved ones. Those bland white strands went on to both champion and sully the pearls’ image stateside for decades. Today, after years of growing innovations and investment by farmers, pearls are anything but boring, but that is an ideology espoused only by in-the-know pearl disciples. For sure, pearls are a niche product within jewelry that elicit strong feelings of either adoration or intense meh—there’s truly no in between.

The CPAA’s annual contest serves to inspire both sides—hard-core fans and belittlers alike—through creative designs where the pearl is center stage. And we’re not talking the boring white strand; pearls of all types are celebrated here, from coins to baroques to carved pearls and more. Like the wedding ring category, it takes big inventiveness to create memorable pearl designs.

Judges included myself; designer and past winner Brenda Smith; designer Deirdre Featherstone; Jean Francois Bibet, workshop director of production for Cartier in the U.S.; and fellow journalists Severine Ferrari of Engagement101.com and Cheryl Kremkow of Gemobsessed.com.

Judges for the 2017-2018 CPAA design contest, from left: Cheryl Kremkow; Brenda Smith; Kathy Grenier; Deirdre Featherstone; yours truly; and Severine Ferrari

Judges for the 2017-2018 CPAA International Pearl Design Competition, from left: Cheryl Kremkow; Brenda Smith; Kathy Grenier; Deirdre Featherstone; yours truly; and Severine Ferrari

 

As usual, there were a lot of entries—134 to be exact—from all over the world. According to Bo Perry, who organizes the contest for CPAA, entries come from dozens of countries (19 this year) in the form of sketches, CAD-CAM drawings, or photos if pieces are already made (they needn’t be for this contest). Winners are typically asked to make pieces for display at future trade fairs. Judges consider entries based on uniqueness of design, wearability (Will it be comfortable to wear?), salability (Will somebody want to buy it?), and perceived comfort of wear and/or aesthetic upon completion (not always easy to estimate).

To judge more efficiently, we paired up with a person whose skills complement our own. My partner? Deirdre, a thoughtful, laidback, motorcycle-riding master platinum-smith with long blond locks who makes dreamy one-of-a-kinds for a devoted clientele and who would never be mistaken for a minimalist (hint: she wears a lot of what she makes). Deirdre is also known for her design chops, having won 10 American Gem Trade Association Spectrum Awards (a tony and high-profile design contest run by a trade group that represents ethical and high-end American colored stone dealers) in just four years.

Sitting side by side, judges pore through hundreds of pages of designs (entrants can submit up to five views per piece) to narrow down selections to a minimum of 20. Being a seasoned jewelry market editor—which means looking at lots of jewelry every day—I only selected about 26 pieces. To me, this small lot represented the most remarkable or uncommon designs submitted. Deirdre and I talked about the merits of possible construction and aesthetics (she loves bold animal motifs, but I’m less of a fan because they limit the appeal of pieces to specific tastes), and while we agreed on many selections, our final choices were not identical. After each judge’s list was complete, Bo placed all the images of selected items on a long table and handed us criteria for category selections. This is where all the opinions in the room collided, and the judging process got trickier! But compared to years past, this process went much more quickly because so many of the judges agreed with each other about certain pieces from the start.

We debated for about an hour and a half on winning designs across nine categories, including fashion, fantasy, bridal, and more. During discussions, the finer points of finishing are noted (according to Deirdre, the use of French wires in earrings “means that the person doesn’t understand finishing”), as is the pretty factor—is the piece good looking? Granted, this is a hugely subjective term, but it’s still talked about since the pearl-loving public will scrutinize our picks. In the end, we chose the nine styles that we could best agree on across the different categories, selecting a top President’s Trophy piece by a unanimous vote.

At the time, Bo and Kathy weren’t sure if the winning pieces would be manufactured due to myriad reasons within the organization, so we’ll have to stay tuned for word on that. As for the winning pieces and their makers, they have not yet been announced. Again, stay tuned.

Jennifer Heebner LLC

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