Jewellery lovers are seeking out the organic shapes of gemstones by asking for rough diamonds, each unique by shape as well as colour and light and ensuring originality and subtlety.
The sentiment behind the growing popularity of rough diamonds is "why mess with Mother Nature?". This untouched allure has left a lasting impression on Daniel Eskapa, founder of one of the most popular jewellery houses working solely with rough diamonds, Diamond in the Rough.
Travelling through Africa as a child with his father in the late 1980s he encountered his first rough diamonds. "I questioned why something with such a natural magnificence, something truly born beautiful, would ever be tampered with," says Eskapa.
Keeping true his young enquiring mind, DITR's pieces spotlight the beauty of rough diamonds in their natural form. Eskapa's team never cut, polish, or otherwise alter a diamond; instead they use each individual rough gemstone as the starting point in their design process.
"The character of the source material is never denied, never over-refined or obsessively polished to the point of being sterile," explains Eskapa. "Its asymmetry and random edges remind us that despite all the skilled craft, it is still an object of the earth."
Eighty per cent of rough diamonds are not suited for polishing and will likely be used for different industrial purposes.
A rough diamond can work well in a dramatic creation, especially an architecturally influenced jewellery design, but despite tough first impressions, rough diamonds are slightly more fragile than traditional diamonds and require a more delicate approach in handling. Jewellers must pay attention to internal cracks or cleavages that might cause problems further down the line, as well as to other setting considerations. Rough diamonds cannot be set in precious metal like cut diamonds are, due to their non-faceted irregular shapes.
Degree of difficulty
So far, 2016 has seen significantly stronger rough diamond demand than previous years, according to a statement released by powerhouse De Beers. But while you can simply order a polished diamond in a certain carat weight, color, clarity and cut, the same does not apply to rough diamonds. There is a degree of difficulty of sourcing the highest quality rough.
Only around 20 per cent of rough diamonds will actually end up being part of diamond jewellery which means that 80 per cent of rough diamonds are not suited for polishing and will likely be used for different industrial purposes. As a result there is an element of the unexpected when it comes to new finds, and patience is required.
Jewellers may have to search all over the world to acquire the best on offer, which is never the same twice. Melbourne's Sarah Heyward enjoys the natural forms and imperfections of rough diamonds and how they enable her to craft one-off jewellery pieces.
She started exploring the unique structural qualities of rough diamonds about seven years ago. "I was working with chisel inlay of mild steel (iybsa) and thought the two materials would work well together. Then the roughs crept into all my designs," she says.
Heyward particularly likes pairing them with yellow gold. "I would source more from Australia if I could but it is quite difficult. I use some octahedrons from Australia; macles from Canada; and cubes and boart from Africa."
A poetic choice
Metaphorically, a rough diamond is a poetic choice for a couple looking for an engagement ring expressing their unique connection – no two rough rings are ever alike; each tells its own story.
Men looking for a masculine gem-set ring will also recognise their hardy appeal, especially if they associate rough diamonds with industrial uses. They also come in darker tones like brown, grey and black which work with a monochromatic palette.
Mark Boldiston, owner of Melbourne contemporary men's jewellery boutique and online retailer, Lord Coconut, says: "The rough diamonds' attraction is that they aren't as refined looking as standard diamonds; they're a little rough around the edges much like the men who choose them."
Rough diamonds also appeal to those seeking an ethically sourced gemstone. DITR's diamonds are conflict free and there is a raft of emerging Australian and international design talent following the same ethos.
Still, the drive to rough diamonds is not exactly a 21st century preoccupation. The trend has an antecedent in epochs that associated them with power and strength. Rough diamonds were first discovered in India in 800 BC and a Hungarian queen's crown set with uncut diamonds dating back to 1074 is thought to be the earliest form of diamond jewellery. With the intervention of machinery in the late 1300s, diamonds gained a polished twinkle but with the sacrifice of their unique identity.
Jewellery creatives attest to the pleasing patterns that can be created with rough diamonds, but it's not always a matter of having to choose between a rough and a polished diamond – pairing the two types can also have an attractive effect.
Historical examples aside, the desire for rough diamonds express an increasing appreciation of natural, low-key beauty in a marketplace awash with perfect mass-produced cookie-cutter bling.
Scroll through the gallery at the top for the finest examples of rough diamonds.