You may see them all year long, but ad campaigns for sparkly jewelry really ramp up between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. And in the past few years, the usual suspects — “a diamond is forever” and “he went to Jared” and “every kiss begins with Kay” — have been joined by a newcomer: The “chocolate” diamond.
The term “Chocolate Diamond” is a registered trademark belonging to Le Vian Corp. I reached out to Eddie LeVian, the designer and CEO of Le Vian Corp, to ask him: What are Chocolate Diamonds? He replied, via email:
Chocolate Diamonds® are Le Vian’s proprietary brand of natural fancy color diamonds that are chosen for their rarity and chocolate flavor. Le Vian owns the international registration for the Chocolate Diamonds® trademark worldwide.
There are color, clarity and cut criteria, as well as responsible, traceable sourcing criteria for being branded as Chocolate Diamonds®.
Chocolate Diamonds® came from Le Vian® and was inspired by our friend Bill Furman’s passion and addiction to the food chocolate. While many people things this brand is a color designation, in truth it is a brand that speaks to the obsession, addiction and passion that is common in chocoholics to the food chocolate and is designed to emulate the same obsession, passion and addiction to the ChocolateDiamond® jewelry.
Le Vian® branded Chocolate Diamonds® in 2000 and achieved registration by 2008 and now enjoys worldwide trademark registration and rights. We employ multiple internal and external attorneys who are continuously prosecuting and protecting the brand from common counterfeiters around the world.
What LeVian glosses over, of course, is that “chocolate” diamonds are just brown diamonds. And brown diamonds are the most common kind of diamonds. There are tons of them. Tons.
I spoke with Dr. George Harlow, who holds a PhD from Princeton, is trained as a geologist specializing in mineralogy and crystallography, and is employed as a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Dr. Harlow confirmed that when it comes to diamonds, “The most common color is brown, and then colorless.” The so-called “fancy” colors — yellow, pink, green and blue — are more rare. (The Hope Diamond, the most famous diamond in the world, is blue.) “Blue diamonds and red diamonds are extremely rare,” he explained. “The most rare.” True greens are also rare. But most diamonds are brown. Why haven’t we really seen or heard about brown diamonds before? “Brown is not considered an attractive color,” Dr. Harlow said. He pointed out that there have been “various attempts over the years to market” brown diamonds, but they were not very successful; although, apparently, briefly, in the ‘70s, “cognac” diamonds were a thing. But still: Up until very recently, brown diamonds were not something anyone was interested in. Unless you just needed something hard and sharp, because you were running a factory.
Dr. Harlow put it this way:
But the thing is with brown, there’s an oversupply. So there’s a desire to try and change them from industrial diamonds, which is what they generally are, to a gem buyer.
Normally, industrials are the lower grade [stones], full of inclusions. Or off-color. That’s essentially 80% of the overall production — is really industrial.
All gems, all diamonds, are graded according to their size, color and clarity, and inclusions. And there’s a grading system that affects these things in any case.
So if you had a really fine brown diamond that was 100 carats, I’m sure it wouldn’t turn into a grinding stone. It would be preserved.
I asked: “But if you had a very find brown diamond that was the same size, clarity, cut, color, carat weight as a white one, the brown one would be cheaper?” He replied: “All other things being the same, yes.” But a fancy color — pink, yellow or red — would be more expensive than white? “Correct.”
Dr. Harlow also warned that sometimes a company can trademark a term and, by doing so, mislead the public:
[Some jewelers] use a trademark symbol. And the real problem that happens in the gem industry is it may not even be a diamond. I’m not saying it isn’t. It probably is a diamond. But when you get a trademarked term, Particularly if it’s two words, like ‘Chocolate Diamond,’ with a trademark, you’ve got to check that it isn’t a synthetic stone. It’s probably not going to be a natural stone if it isn’t a diamond. But they’ve marketed synthetics in this fashion. Like ‘red emerald’ was a popular thing for a very short time. It was a gemstone — it was beryl — but not emerald.
According to LeVian, Chocolate Diamonds are, in fact, diamonds. But the fact that he calls them “fancy” — when traditionally, yellows, pinks, reds and blues were the only “fancy” diamond colors — is interesting. The website for the Gemological Institute of America notes:
Brown diamonds were typically considered good only for industrial use until the 1980s, when abundant quantities of them began to appear in the production of the Argyle mines.
In other words, they were considered to be just for factories until people realized that there were so many of them there was no way to make money just selling to factories. How do you sell millions of brown rocks when no one likes brown rocks? Fashion them into jewelry and call them “chocolate.”
In 1982, Jay Epstein wrote an in-depth article for The Atlantic, titled “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?” It was an exposé of the diamond cartel, detailing the manipulative, supply-controlling methods of the diamond industry. He also explains how the movie industry was in cahoots with the diamond industry, with film stars flaunting big rocks to help drum up business; songs about diamonds making their way into movies, and plotpoints in romantic films being centered around diamonds. He also delves into how the pendulum swings back and forth for the popularity of large diamonds and small diamonds, depending on what the industry has more of at the time. Even though it’s been decades since this piece was published (you can find it here, please take the time to read it, it’s incredible), Epstein is still asked about diamonds and the phenomenon of marketing diamonds, “the most brilliant illusion in modern history.” In the course of his research, Epstein bought a diamond, as he discusses in the video above:
While doing this book, I decided I had to buy and sell a diamond. So I bought a diamond for $1500, retail price, from the diamond district, 47th street in New York. A day later, I took the diamond and tried to sell it. And I found that people were offering me one-fourth or one-fifth the price — or nothing at all. They were now pointing out that it really wasn’t very valuable, that it was too small, it had flaws … Most women, when they receive a diamond, they think they’ve received something of everlasting value. That their fiancé paid a few thousand dollars for it, and it’s going to gain in value every year, so if God forbid, something should happen to their marriage, or their husband, they can always sell the diamond.
In 2008, scholar, college professor, and author Ken Mondschein penned a piece for Nerve, calling diamond engagement rings “profoundly anti-feminist.” He also offered up a bit of background on the diamond business: