The daunting feeling of being bamboozled by the 'four Cs' when purchasing an engagement ring may soon be over. A cohort of talented designers have embraced flawed diamonds, referred to as 'salt and pepper' stones or 'celestial diamonds', creating utterly unique pieces that flout the traditional expectations of a diamond ring.
"I have seen a remarkable increase in interest in salt and pepper diamonds; the majority of our clients now enquire about them," explains Hatton Garden jeweller, Sophia Perez. Perez believes this is down to their 'perfectly imperfect' aesthetic. "Salt and pepper diamonds have natural flaws - which we interpret as beauty and character - a bit like us," she adds.
Sofia Kaman, an LA-based designer, says she purposely seeks out the most unusual stones, which she affectionately refers to as "the weirdos". She explains: "These make the most interesting and irreplaceable pieces, which I find to be an important feature in an engagement ring."
Salt and pepper stones are still regarded as less valuable by the diamond trade, and so they are much less expensive than traditional diamonds - often half the price - and previously prized characteristics such as clarity and colour are diminished. Jewellers are able to present a tray of wildly different diamonds to their prospective buyer, rather than a sea of white lookalikes, with idiosyncrasies that can only be detected under a magnifying loupe. "We see that one stone always speaks to them, whether it has beautiful feathery inclusions, a dark and stormy swirl or an entire galaxy inside," says Perez. Sofia Zakia, a Montreal-based jeweller known for her talismanic designs, has also seen a surge in demand for her Ring of Salt eternity bands, set with glinting salt and pepper stones and engraved with a protective motto.
Salt and Pepper diamonds are also buoyed by their sustainability credentials. To mine a flawless, colourless diamond, hundreds of tonnes of earth are removed, transported and sifted through. Much manual labour and fuel results in a high carbon footprint to sort just one carat of perfect diamond from the rough. Salt and pepper stones are unearthed at a shallower depth, requiring less mining. Often, jewellers working with salt and pepper stones are also careful to use recycled or Fair Trade gold, creating a much more eco-conscious engagement ring.
If the traditional four Cs (cut, colour, clarity, carat weight) no longer apply, then what should we be looking for in a salt and pepper stone? "It is best to find thick diamonds with a brilliant cut or diamonds that are rose cut with some height," explains Samantha Bird, co-founder of Delaware jeweller Midwinter Co. "Avoid thin slices, even at the highest level of clarity."
Sapphires tend to be a predictable alternative to a classic diamond, as they are almost as hard wearing, but salt and pepper diamonds offer brides the same diamond durability as white diamonds - just without the traditional, bright white dazzle."Brides no longer have to pretend to be wearing virginal white on their wedding day," notes Perez, "They can wear a dress they love in any colour." It seems the same now goes for their diamonds, too.
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