Why pearls, black opal, and chocolate diamonds are so expensive

Why pearls, black opal, and chocolate diamonds are so expensive

  • Several factors determine the value of a pearl, including its size, color and luster.
  • The high price of black opal is largely influenced by its rarity and difficulty to mine.
  • In 2000, Le Vian trademarked the name Chocolate Diamonds. After rebranding, the gems rose in value.

Meline: A pearl is one of the most complex gems to assess the value of. One factor is whether it’s natural or cultured. Natural pearls are harder to find, making them worth more money. The vast majority of pearls on the market are cultured pearls. But just because you can grow a cultured pearl doesn’t mean it’s an easy process. Pearl farmers wait anywhere from six months to two years for a pearl to form. And not every pearl comes out the same. The size of the pearl largely depends on the size of the mollusk. For example, akoya pearls can only grow about 9 or 10 millimeters in diameter, but South Sea pearls and black Tahitian pearls can reach a diameter of around 15 or 16 millimeters. The larger size makes South Sea pearls and black pearls more valued. This strand of South Sea cultured pearls is selling for $32,000. The shape and surface of the pearl also impacts its value. Typically, the rounder and smoother, the better. And, finally, perhaps the hardest variable to measure is luster, or the way a pearl reflects the light. The shinier the pearl, the better.

Black opal is one of the rarest gemstones in the world, sought after for its seemingly infinite display of colors, compared to common opal, which is usually one color. High-quality black opal can cost over $10,000 per carat, making it one of the world’s most expensive gemstones. Over 90% of black opals come from Australia, but they aren’t easy to find. Miners start by drilling a vertical shaft in an area they think contains opal. Then they must clear out an underground room large enough to start digging out the rock. The equipment needed to mine and cost to register your claim can be extremely expensive, between $100,000 and $150,000, but there’s no guarantee that miners will find black opal. Once rough opal is extracted and processed from the dirt, it has to be cut and polished. This is when the real value of the gem is determined. There’s a huge demand for black opal, with lack of supply driving up the price. Black opal costs from $1,000 a carat to tens of thousands of dollars. The most valuable black opal features bright red stone against a very black base.

In the ’80s and ’90s, gem-quality brown diamonds were worth about $1,500 per carat, but now many sell for up to $10,000 per carat. And the price of larger stones has risen by as much as 25 times. In 2000, jewelry company Le Vian capitalized on the underappreciated naturally brown diamonds by trademarking the name Chocolate Diamonds. Soon after this rebranding, Chocolate Diamonds took off. Google searches for Chocolate Diamonds went from virtually zero in 2007 to 400,000 in 2014. And the more popular they became, the more value they earned. Le Vian isn’t the only company that has tried to rebrand brown diamonds. Jewelers like Zales have called them other names, like Champagne, cognac, and cappuccino, but Chocolate was the name that really took hold. Only 4% of brown diamonds meet Le Vian’s criteria. The diamonds need to fall in a specific shade, between C4 and C6, on the industry’s color scale, which is more of a milk than a dark chocolate.

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