Journey to the stone podcast cover with Don Kogen about Diamond


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In this episode of Journey to the Stone, we’re going to talk about diamond. Everybody knows diamond. Everybody wants to understand diamond, and everybody wants to get diamond. The world market for diamond is by far the largest market in the world for gemstones. It demands the highest price per carat, it has broken new world records year on year over the last 20 years, and it has been in the minds of royalty, celebrities, going back hundreds of years. If you look back at the original discovery of diamonds, dating back to the mines of the Golconda region of Ancient India, this is where it all began.

So there were these mines that were in what’s known today as the area of Hyderabad. Ironically, Hyderabad is actually a pearl market now. It’s not a diamond market, but that’s where all the diamonds were originally mined. Now, notable diamonds that have come from the Golconda region are the Koh-i-Noor Diamond in the British Crown Jewels, the Orlov Diamond in the Russian Federation Jewels, the Hope Diamond, and the Dresden Diamond. All of these diamonds came from this one deposit that was actually found in what’s known today as Hyderabad. They’re all known as Golconda diamond, and they’re known primarily because of their type IIa classification. A type IIa diamond has high optical dispersion due to the lack of nitrogen in the crystal structure. This particular material is just very rare, and it’s historical, so we get a lot of people who like to collect the Golconda Diamonds. There’s very few in circulation today, but when you get one, you know you’re looking at something that is just extremely rare. And how we identify these stones is predominantly through the type IIa classification, or type IIb classification, depending on the type of stones. Type IIb usually are the fancy colors; type IIa would be the optical high brilliance white variety.

So here we are, in the 1700s, they’re mining diamonds in ancient India. Now a lot of these diamonds were sold to royalty throughout the world, and that put diamond on the map. And these particular diamonds are extremely rare and collected. And they also represent some of the biggest collected diamonds in the world. The Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond is also a Golconda. There’s a lot of Golcondas around the world that currently sit in museums. So that was the diamond that put it on the map.



Now, let’s fast-forward to the current environment of diamonds. You’ve got white diamonds all over the world: they’re used for weddings, marriages, and it is by far the largest industry in existence. 99.9% of all diamonds in the world that are sold are pretty much in the range of the G-H color. The mass-market material. G-H color. SI clarity. That’s the material that most people get married with, it’s stuff that you see regularly, across the shops. SI’s still a good clarity, right? I clarity starts to become a little bit heavily included for the naked eye, but if you got an SI diamond, you still got an attractive diamond that sparkles. It’s got good crystallization, et cetera. Then of course, as you move forward to the perfect diamond, which is the D Flawless, it represents — if you look from the SI grade and above, not below SI grade, but just in the gem quality diamond section — it’s one in 3 million diamonds that will hit the perfect classification of the D Flawless.

The D Flawless is like the needle in the haystack. It is almost impossible to find, it is rare, it is uncommon, it is just… it sells for a huge premium to what most people wear when they get married. Like a multiple of 3-4 times, just due to the rarity of supply. And that’s usually what defines the value — it’s based on supply. Because collectors, wholesalers, enthusiasts want what people don’t have a lot of. In the case of Kat Florence, she only uses D Flawless, which gives me a headache, because it’s one of the most difficult diamonds to find — it’s one in 3 million diamonds. And therefore it sends me on a mission trying to work with De Beers, Rio Tinto… I’ve worked with all the different mining deposits from the Venetian Mine in the northern part of South Africa, over to the Letseng mine in the kingdom of Lesotho, or down to what’s known as the Debmarine Mine in Namibia, as well as the Canadian Mines, the Ekati Mines. I’ve done it all, I’ve been everywhere trying to find this D Flawless diamond. Very rare, very difficult to find, so it really boils down to the grading spectrum.

But diamonds have grown year on year, quite significantly, and they’ve proven to be a great investment over time. Just because the world demand is constantly growing for them. There is a lot of white diamond in the world, that is a true fact, and I know that De Beers holds on to a lot of them, and they basically control that market. But then, if you want to talk about something that is not controlled, and something that is extremely, extremely rare, and raises the level — D Flawless is rare. Because it’s one in 3 million.

But there is something else that is also extremely rare: natural untreated diamonds. When you’re talking about the world of natural, untreated diamonds — they’re very uncommon. Like if you’re talking pink diamonds, it’s one in a million, 2 million, 3 million diamonds will ever be pink, so that’s extremely rare. Blues: same type of ratios and numbers. Yellow: you’re talking about 1 in 20-25,000, 30,000, depending on the deposit, on which location produces more. For example, the Venetian Mine in the northern part of South Africa, on the border of Zimbabwe, doesn’t really produce a lot of yellows. The Letseng mine doesn’t really produce a lot. We do get some yellows out of the Debmarine Mine, occasionally out of the Kingdom of Lesotho, we get some out of Argyle as well, some yellow diamonds, they tend to have more pinkish secondary to the yellow. Some people like that, because of the Argyle factor to them. It really depends on what you’re into. But they’re just not common.

The yellow diamonds come out of Botswana as well. If you go to the Botswana deposit, you’ll see some nice yellows that come out of there, with great optical brilliance. When you’re looking for yellow — so, let’s take the canary yellow diamond. What’s the color that you’re looking for? You’re looking for like, fancy colors. Like a fancy yellow is an amazing canary yellow diamond. If you can get a fancy yellow, fancy vivid, all these fancy types of yellows are amazing quality yellow diamonds, and then of course clarity matters. Kat — all her diamonds are exceptional, she only deals with the best. She won’t even set anything but D Flawless, which is ridiculous, but it is the way she operates, and she’s the only designer in the world who has ever done that, and that also limits her ability to scale. Because if Kat would go to VVS1, like every other jeweler in the world, she would be able to scale her line significantly.

But because she refuses — and she stays only with what I refer to as the needle in the haystack or the unicorn, the D Flawless — it limits how many pieces she can make per annum. And that is one of the reasons why Kat Florence will always be a limited supply. She is known in the gemstone world as the Bugatti Chiron of racecars or the supercar, the hand-made, hand-tailored Maybach. So the yellows: what you want to be looking for, if you like yellows, those nice fancy yellows — Kat has put out some notable nice fancy yellows, she’s got an 11.00 carat cushion that I gave to her that I got a while back. There’s also an 8.00 carat cushion that I gave to her. You’ll see some nice yellows coming out of Kat Florence; once again, it’s all about the quality with Kat. So you can be assured the cutting is top of the line, the quality is excellent, the dispersion hits all the points, and you’re going to see a whole lot of sparkle when you see the diamonds that she produces.

Now let me take you to the rarest diamond in the world, the pink diamond. So let’s go back to Argyle. The Argyle deposit was discovered in 1985, officially and actually started mining with Rio Tinto in 85. But it was actually discovered in 1979. It was a long term discovery. Now, this type of pipe is different than a lot of diamond mines, which are known as Kimberlite deposits. This is actually a volcanic pipe. And it’s one of the largest-producing discoveries of diamonds in the world. It’s a volcanic pipe which basically moves diamonds from about 160 miles in the Earth mantle, and moves them up to the Earth soil. Now this is the largest producer, and by no means is there any quantity — it’s very, very limited — but it is the largest producer of pink diamonds in the world.

There’s a lot of discussion on where these pink diamonds come from. Some people think it’s the elements, like blue diamond gets it blue from boron; yellow diamond gets its yellow from nitrogen; but pink diamonds … there’s a lot of different discussions about it. A lot of people believe that this volcanic event happened over a billion years ago, and the actual dinosaurs were walking by and these diamonds sat on the Earth’s soil getting all that sun, in the Australian area of where the Argyle AK1 pipe is, and basically turned pink over time. I don’t know if I buy that theory, because diamonds are pretty much indestructible. There are some trace elements that we find within, but we have no confirmation of what creates this natural phenomenon.



I’ve also found the oddball rare pink diamond coming out of either Tandur, in the ancient rivers of Tanzania, as well as I’ve seen pink diamonds coming out of other deposits. When I’m hunting down D Flawless, they might have one pink. But it’s literally 1 in … it’s ridiculous numbers, right? It’s crazy numbers. It’s something that is so rare — it’s like everything stops when a pink diamond is discovered, because of the rarity of it. So notable Argyle pink diamonds that have come out of Kat Florence are: there was a fancy pink 5.06 carat, and a fancy pink Argyle diamond is just crazy rare. There was also a light pink, 2.00 carat. Both of the stones were flawless. They were both flawless diamonds, the 5.06 carat and the 2.00 carat, and just to have that in pink diamond is unheard of.

When I was going to Australia in the 90s — because back in the day, I used to go to Lightning Ridge to pick up black opal — I used to go to Queensland to pick up sapphire and sell them back in the market in Chanthaburi, Thailand, to the cutters there. I used to actually go in this area, and there were people who had been around these … remember, this deposit, these diamonds sat on the Earth, on the surface of the Earth before Rio Tinto took possession of this. So some of the rockhounds in the area had some rough pieces here and there, and I was able to get some diamonds that way. As well as, I was able to trade some lightning ridge black opal for some Argyle back in the day. But a 1.00 carat Argyle — back in 1995, compared to now, the price has gone up exponentially — a 1.00 carat Argal fancy pink will set you back $300,000 wholesale in today’s market. $300,000 wholesale! And it can go retail up to double that. So you know you’re looking at exponential growth in the diamond world.

Now it’s funny because if you look back 100 years ago, nobody wanted the pink diamonds. Nobody wanted the blue diamonds. Nobody wanted the yellows. Nobody wanted them, even though they’re much, much more rare — they didn’t want them because they wanted white, right? It’s exactly the same as tanzanite. Everybody wanted the blue tanzanite, but pink tanzanite now sells for 10 times the price of blue tanzanite, because there is no supply and everybody has learned that, wait a minute, there’s a pink tanzanite. And it’s extremely, extremely rare. Same thing happened with diamonds.

So those are notable diamonds that have gone to Kat Florence, and stones I’ve collected throughout the years. You don’t get a lot of pink diamonds. I think through my whole career of Argyle pink diamonds, I’ve got less than 10 pieces, or something like that. And every once in a while, I give one to Kat Florence to make a piece of jewelry, and it sells immediately — just due to the rarity of this material. And that’s just the way it is. The supply is so limited and the demand is massive when it comes to Argyle material. Unfortunately, the Argyle mine has closed as of 2020. That is the end of an era, and that is the reality of our world, but let me take you now into the world of other gemstones.

So, the predominant producers of stones in the world market of diamonds — let’s start with Africa. So I do a lot of buying up there: I go up to the Venetian Mine over on the border of Zimbabwe, I also go down to the Kingdom of Lesotho, that’s the Letseng diamond mine. It’s the highest altitude diamond mine in all of Africa, at 10,000 feet. What’s interesting about this particular diamond mine is that it does produce a lot of big diamonds. If you follow Graff Diamonds, you’ll see a lot of Graff Diamonds come from the kingdom of Lesotho, and he’s actually taking a position, investing into that mine personally. Graff is pretty big on the diamond scale. Now if you follow the orange river from the center of South Africa, the orange river is the natural separation between the border of South Africa and the border of Namibia. You’ll basically run that into the Atlantic Ocean, and what you’ll end up with is what’s known as the Debmarine Mine. It’s actually on the Namibian side.

The Debmarin Mine, people tend to believe, produces some of the cleanest quality diamonds because they’ve had to travel that journey for hundreds and hundreds of miles through the orange river, rolling on the bottom of the river to be spurted out into the ocean along the beach. Because they’re actually found on the beach there. And then they’re all brought back, and helicoptered into this one area in Namibia, also controlled by De Beers. You sit down, and you can also get some D Flawless out of there. Very few, very limited, once again, but always interesting to go to Namibia. I love Namibia, I love the country, I love the locale, I’ve discovered lots of deposits of gems out there. You got a lot of random pockets over in the Erongo region of Namibia, over on the west coast of Namibia. You’ve also got some of the most beautiful deserts in the world. And I’ve discovered demantoid, aquamarine, tourmaline, yellow canary, yellow tourmalines, and some rare varieties coming out of Namibia. That area just produces some beautiful, beautiful gems.

So those are the gems that I refer to as the “golden triangle of diamond.” And let’s not forget the big daddy of them all: Botswana. The Debswana Jwaneng diamond mine in Botswana — that is one of the largest producing diamond mines in the world. And I love the diamonds that come out of that deposit, because whenever I do find a D Flawless, they tend to have a blue flash to them, and that is known as blue river. Extremely unique, extremely rare. I love going to Botswana, it is one of the world’s most impressive places when it comes to a joint venture between a mining company and a country. See, Botswana basically has very sophisticated development. It’s 50% controlled by De Beers and 50% by the government of Botswana. I know a lot of people in Botswana because of a lot of them are geologists, and as I hunt the gemological world, and I go into different parts of Africa, a lot of the guys who will go with me actually originate from Botswana. 50% of Botswana’s Gross National Income comes from diamonds, which is really amazing. I don’t think there’s any other country in the world like it. They’ve done great things.

So that’s the area within Africa, now I can take you to the northern part of Canada. Canada’s actually quite an interesting area when it comes to diamonds. So you’re up there in Yellowknife, and around 3 hours north of Yellowknife, you have the Ekati diamond mines. They produce some amazing, amazing diamonds. It’s really tough to get them out, though. These diamonds, you’re dealing with extreme temperatures. It’s a very, very difficult area to work with. But I was actually locked down for two years during Covid, I was locked down in the Canada region. I did a lot of work with the Dominion Mine. The Dominion Diamond Company basically owns the Ekati and several other mines in the northern part of Canada, and I had done some work with them, and I was able to tap into some of their resources as well. And they also do get some yellows, and they get some other colors, and like I said, I give Kat everything I can of the best, best quality, and I sell rough off of the other material because that’s my core business.

But diamond has captured the hearts of so many people, and it’s been an amazing ride watching this happen for 30 years, and watching diamond continuously grow in demand throughout the world market. If you’re really investing in diamonds, you gotta invest where the rarity is. Anything pink. Anything fancy yellows, nice colors, anything in blues — and of course, of course, anything in pink. Now pink — it doesn’t matter if it’s light pink, doesn’t matter if it’s deep pink, doesn’t matter if it’s fancy pink. It doesn’t matter: all pinks are rare. All pinks are rare. Right? It doesn’t matter.

And a lot of pinks, in the way they grade them in the GIA, which is also interesting, is they’ll grade them like, brownish pink. Now brownish pink means it is 80-odd percent, or 80 percent, pink, with a little bit of brown. It’s awkward how they put the color — the primary color is the second color. So you’re always looking at the second color, not the first color. So if it says brownish pink, don’t worry about it, right? Because that means it’s pink, right? With 20 percent brown. Something like that. Now if it’s pinkish brown, it’s not as good as brownish pink. Isn’t that cool? The GIA does it the other way around, and a lot of people in the layman world don’t know this. But it’s the other way around. You want the brownish tones, or the off tones, the off shades, the overtones, to be in the first slot. Because that means they’re not a dominating slot. You want the secondary color — so for example, if you have a brownish pink diamond, that is a pink diamond with a slight tinge of brown to it, insignificant. If you have a pinkish brown diamond, that’s a brown diamond with a slight tinge of pink to it.

Now, both of these types will come out of Argyle, and both are rare. But if you can get pink in the second slot, that’s the money, baby. That’s the money. That’s where the money is. Big money — can demand 6 digits, 7 digits. Big amounts of money depending on the size of the diamonds. So that’s my update. And you know, journey to the stone, I’ve traveled the whole world. I’ve been to all these different deposits all across the world. I’m just trying to give some updates to everybody; people keep asking me about my information of different deposits and discoveries. 

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