By Nadine Kam
Nadine Kam photos
Maria Canale for Forevermark Neiman Marcus Bespoke Collection round princess ring.
It's not every day a person gets to hold a fistful of diamonds, so it was a thrill to participate in a Forevermark master class hosted by Neiman Marcus Jan. 3.
In addition to trying on diamond rings created exclusively for NM by Maria Canale for Forevermark, we were presented with batches of rough diamonds to sort, part of the process of understanding the entire journey of a diamond, from mine to extraction, to the sorting process that whittles thousands to diamonds to the rare perfect few that can be denoted as a Forevermark diamond, a brand of De Beers.
The Maria Canale for Forevermark collection is carried in the store's Precious Jewels Salon, one of only 10 locations nationwide, and diamond fans can meet the designer between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. today.
Canale said she originally came up with 10 designs, aimed at an NM customer who she imagined might be buying her second ring. "She already has the Harry Winston, so what would she want this time? Since then, I've talked to many Neiman customers and felt I was right."
Maria Canale in her designs.
Canale worked for Harry Winston and Tiffany before working independently, and said designing wedding and engagement rings can be limiting because people want the classic solitaire.
"They want it to be simple because they're wearing it everyday, with some detail on the side."
She designs her pieces with a sophisticated clientele in mind, with handmade pieces that focus on details, and often starts by thinking of what she would want to wear, and what kind of piece would she wear if starting with a wardrobe that includes a great pair of diamond earrings one wants to pair with additional pieces of jewelry.
"Men design a lot of jewelry, so I wonder why it has to be so heavy," she said. For her, comfort is vital, so it was amazing to feel some of her larger pieces, that are so sturdy and well made that you can wear them with confidence, yet they don't weigh you down.
Being surrounded by diamonds in her work, "is great, it's very inspiring," she said, though working with them gives her an appreciation for quality. "You can get diamonds anywhere, but finding those that are a good size, and good quality, you become aware of how rare they are.
Liz Mearing, of Forevermark, shows us the eight-sided octahedron shape we are after. The octahedron is the perfect shape for arriving at the round brilliant cut diamond, with its pavilion depth, girdle and crown.
A visit to the Maria Canale for Forevermark counter was preceded by the diamond workshop, with Liz Mearing of Forevermark sharing the fascinating history of diamonds, the oldest 4.2 billion years old and the youngest 900 million years old.
The 10.74-carat Eureka diamond, discovered by a boy in 1866, started the contemporary craze for diamonds, styles of which Liz said differ by nation. The idea of sorting diamonds for quality didn't take hold until 1933.
China is rapidly becoming the biggest consumer of diamonds, and she said the purchase is so important, as a family heirloom, that couples shopping for wedding rings bring both sets of parents for a consensus decision on a purchase. She also said older women, in their 40s and 50s, a generation that missed out on the material aspects of contemporary Chinese society, are now playing catchup in buying diamonds. The Chinese tend to buy small, round diamonds.
In the United States, it's no surprise to learn that, like fast food, homes, cars, entertainment, even certain body parts, bigger is better when it comes to diamonds as well. Americans will settle for lower clarity if they can get a bigger stone.
In Japan, the appetite is for clarity in a smaller round diamond.
Mearing shows how the diamonds are first sorted through a sifter for size.
Mearing, who's based in London but travels the world to teach people about diamonds, said, "In the U.K., we like a lot of other gemstones."
She said that's one of the reasons it wasn't an unusual choice for Princess Diana's diamond-encircled sapphire ring to become Kate Middleton's engagement ring.
Meanwhile, in Italy, home of design, she said, "It's a lot more about the design than the diamond, and in India it's about clarity because it's inauspicious to give something that isn't perfect."
Diamonds are found in kimberlite, a type of volcanic rock, which act like a pipeline to the molten core of the earth. Most diamonds are found in South Africa, and no new mines have been discovered in a decade, although the search is continuing in Africa, Canada and India, where some of the first diamonds were discovered.
In searching for diamonds, they look for key mineral indicators, including the presence of garnets. The places where diamonds are found is called "Blue Ground" in reference to a layer of non-oxidized kimberlite.
In sorting diamonds, there are many more than can be made into jewelry, but Mearing said, "We
can't produce enough for industrial purpose."
That includes diamonds used to polish other diamonds, a stone so hard no other material can cut it.
As for owning one of these babies, well, do you have a house to sell?
Each Forevermark diamond comes with an inscription and identifying number that's not visible to the naked eye or a jeweler's loupe.
Hundreds of rough diamonds waiting to be sorted. De Beers has 12,000 sorting categories. After spending 15 minutes with the loupe, I think I would go blind doing this job.
Out of all the rough diamonds, only a few are big enough and clear enough to use.
Here are the diamonds I was sorting. Maria came over, took one look and said, "Oh, you've got some nice ones there." Took us a while to identify them. Now I can spot the octahedrons immediately.
Maria Canale's Art Deco cuff design.
Justine Godfrey wears the Maria Canale for Forevermakr Neiman Marcus Deco Collection Red Carpet Necklace with 10-carat emerald cut centerpiece diamond, in 18K white gold.
More details of the necklace above include a multi-diamond chain and diamond-tipped chain tassel.
This is another flawless 10-carat stone. Amazing.
Some gemlike bites were served during the event:
Scrambled egg with asparagus and truffle.
Surf & Turf Tartare with ahi sashimi wrapped in watermelon radish and topped with salmon roe, and Wagyu steak with quail egg.
Foie gras and chanterelle cannelloni with sweet potato and tomato jam.
Brie- and apple-filled pastry.