Suna Bros: Masters of the Classics

The story of Suna Bros started with Kenneth Suna in 1925 in Poland. After apprenticing in a jewelry factory in Warsaw, Kenneth came to the United States. Several years after arriving in the U.S., Kenneth launched Suna, specializing in channel set wedding bands. He stopped the business when World War II started and relaunched it with his brother Joel, after the war ended. In 1974 Aron Suna, president Suna Bros Inc. in New York City and Kenneth’s son joined the business. Aron never planned to come into the jewelry business instead he attended law school and was a Navy JAG (Judge Advocate General Corps) for four years. Just before Aron left the navy, Kenneth was diagnosed with cancer. Aron went to visit his dad in the hospital and that’s when his father asked him to join the family business. After two days of soul searching, Aron agreed to come into the business. He then spent 3 months in Antwerp, Belgium where he learned to polish and sort diamonds. Today, Aron, with his brother Jonathan,  continues taking the business, which makes all of its jewelry in its in-house New York City workshop,  in new directions adapting to changing times and shifting customer desires, which in recent years has meant a foray into colored gemstones.

What inspires your designs?

We are very, very classic. We like new and different concepts, we do an updated classic with a slightly different twist. We go through cycles. In the early 1990s I went to Vicenza, Italy. That was when gold was inexpensive and before Italian gold had really entered the U.S. market. We bought Italian gold and made 18-karat gold necklaces and bracelets with no stones. That was very different for us. We were always creating diamond pieces with rubies, sapphires and the occasional aquamarine. In the past ten years we started to work with more exotic color — spinel, moonstone, Paraiba tourmaline. We have a new gemologist who opened our eyes to the breadth of color.

What criteria do you use to select your gemstones?

We’re fussy about our color. We want the finest colored gemstones that we can find. It has to be high quality. We’re not a price point house, but we do want something that is well priced, has depth of color and brilliance, that is well cut and has no windows.

What is the most unusual gemstone that you have ever used in a design?

The nicest was a padparadscha sapphire layout that I found in Geneva. It was really special. The stones were all 2 to 3-carat ovals and there were about 30 of them. Each stone had  a GIA (Gemological Institute of America) report. I didn’t know what to do with them, but when I got the stones back to New York, we came up with the idea for a floral bib necklace. It has different size flowers with padparadscha sapphires at the center of each one. We used Argyle pink diamonds and yellow diamonds, platinum and 18-karat yellow gold. It took hundreds of hours to make, it’s truly a work of art.

What are the characteristics of a well-made piece of jewelry?

When I’m showing a piece of jewelry, I always like it when someone turns it over and looks at the back first. It shows that a person knows that a piece of jewelry has to be constructed properly. When we use rose gold, we use 20-karat because it has less porosity than lower karat gold and we want no porosity. You should hear a clasp click when it closes and there should be nothing that catches on clothes. You should be able to run a piece of jewelry over a silk blouse without snagging anything. It has to look right and flow well. Depending upon the design, an item can be delicate or chunky, but it needs to be proportional. When we make a necklace we use a neck form, this way we know it flows correctly, it has to flow with the body. Each piece has a unique serial number stamped inside of it. We keep meticulous records so that we know where the stones are from and who the jeweler was that made the piece in our shop. That way if a piece comes back to us to be refurbished we can give it back to the same setter. Each setter has a slightly different hand. A lot of little details go into making a fine piece of jewelry.

What should a person look for when buying a piece of jewelry?

I always say buy quality – 18-karat gold or platinum. How is the piece made? Does the ring fit right? Make sure that a necklace sits right on the collarbone and doesn’t flip.  The quality of the stones is important, cut affects the appearance of diamonds and colored gemstones.  The most important thing is that the jewel has to appeal to you.

All of the jewelry showcased in this blog can be found on the Jewelers Circle.

Featured image (top of page): Padparadascha sapphires, yellow diamonds, Argyle pink diamonds, platinum and 18-karat yellow gold, necklace, all images courtesy Suna Bros.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Colored Diamonds: Rarity and Value

Colored diamonds, also known as fancy colors, are among the rarest and most valuable of all gemstones and they come in an endless kaleidoscope of divine colors. According to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), only one in every 10,000 diamonds found has a fancy color. And of those even fewer are the vibrant colors that are most desired and of course the most pricey.

Up until the middle to late 1990s colored diamonds were shunted to the side and pretty much ignored. As the 1990s progressed colored diamonds began to appear at auction and their marketing machines put these superpowered gemstones into the spotlight. People began to take notice and colored diamonds started to gain in popularity as consumers began to understand more about their beauty, value and rarity. Today, colored diamonds at auction command prices that soar to breath-taking heights. To give you an idea of just how high prices can go, the Pink Star, a 59.60-carat  vivid pink diamond sold at Sotheby’s Geneva for $71 million in 2017. The year before that, the Oppenheimer Blue, a 14.62-carat vivid blue diamond sold at Christie’s Geneva for $57.5 million.

How Diamonds Get Color

Very rare .84-carat, kite-shaped, fancy red diamond, courtesy Swissdiam New York, LLC.

Let’s take a look at how diamonds get their color.  The colors in diamonds come about through trace elements when they are forming in the ground.

  • Yellow diamonds get their color from the presence of nitrogen.
  • Blue diamonds get their color from traces of boron.
  • Green diamonds get their color from natural radiation in the earth.
  • Pink and red diamonds are a bit of a mystery. Gemologists believe that they get their blushing shades from an anomaly in the internal structure of the gem as they are forming.

Many colored diamonds have modifying undertones to the stones, which shift the color and can change the value of the gem. For example, a diamond may be graded as purplish-pink. That means that the main body color of the stone is pink, but it has purple modifiers with pink the dominant color. It will look quite a bit different than an orangey-pink, which has an orange undertone to the pink.  Sometimes the blend of colors in a colored diamond is more balanced and then it will be given a name such as blue-green. Modifying colors may also change the value of a colored diamond. The grade that a colored diamond receives from a gemological laboratory can mean a price difference of many thousands of dollars.

“The modifying undertone colors, such as brown in yellow or pink is usually not good, or gray in blue is not great, for example,” explains Rima Farah, president Swissdiam New York LLC, a firm specializing in colored diamonds with offices in New York and Geneva. “You may get some green in a yellow diamond and people will like that neon color, or you may have some green in a blue. That is attractive and may add value. Some people want that pure color of one tone, but some don’t. Most people also don’t realize that when a color is a ‘pure’ shade it’s not what you necessarily expect. There are times when an undertone can make a color muddy and we don’t want that either. A modifying color may or may not add value, it’s not a hard scientific fact.”

Colored Diamond Grading

There is some important terminology to note when you are looking at colored diamonds. There are three factors for determining color:

  • Hue, which is the dominant color of the stone.
  • Tone is whether the color is light to dark.
  • Saturation of color which can be weak to strong.
Pink and yellow diamond ring features a 1.01-carat oval pink center stone with a 1.01-carat oval intense yellow side stone and a 1.03-carat intense yellow side stone with white diamond surround, courtesy, Swissdiam New York, LLC.

Next based on those three criteria, colored diamonds are once again divided into categories:

  • Fancy and Fancy Light: These stones are paler, softer shades of a color.
  • Fancy Vivid and Fancy Intense: These are the most coveted and desired because the color in the gem is balanced.
  • Fancy Deep: These diamonds are deeper in tone, but not too saturated with color.
  • Fancy Dark: These stones tend to have a dark body color and dark tone.

“These terms only define the color,” comments Farah. “An untrained eye might not see that a light pink diamond is pink, but in a fancy pink, they can see the color. It’s a matter of taste and whether or not someone wants more color, then they will like a vivid or intense color. When the color is too strong, the diamond loses sparkle and the color becomes dull.”

The Cut Factor

Yellow and white diamond ring features a 2-carat round fancy yellow center stone with yellow and white diamond accents, set in 18-karat white gold, courtesy Swissdiam New York, LLC.

Fancy colored diamonds are often also fancy shapes (any shape other than round) because they are cut to bring out the maximum color in the stone.

“Cut has a lot of impact on a colored diamond,” says Farah. “The cut determines whether or not the color is maximized. You can take a round colored diamond which may not have much color and turn it into a radiant or other fancy shape and that will increase the color.”

Farah makes one last, but very important point about purchasing a colored diamond. She notes that when white diamonds have a particular grade many people believe that they look pretty much the same, which is why they are comfortable buying a white diamond sight unseen based on the gemological report. Colored diamonds are different because everybody perceives color differently and because there is so much variation from stone to stone due to modifying colors.

“You can have three colored diamonds with the same information on each grading report,” concludes Farah. “But the stones are not the same. To the eye they will all look different, the value cannot be described by a piece of paper. You have to see the stone in person to really see it.”

Featured image (top of page): Ring features a 3.02-carat, oval intense yellow-green center stone, with yellow and pink diamond accent stones set in 18-karat white gold, courtesy Swissdiam New York, LLC.

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Legendary Argyle Mine

Argyle Diamond Mine Processing Plant, Photo Courtesy: Rio Tinto. Argyle Pink Diamond, Photo Courtesy: LJ West Diamonds.

Deep in the wilderness, in the east Kimberley region of Western Australia, the Aboriginal people pass down their history through oral storytelling. One of the stories, Barramundi Dreaming, is a mystical tale of how pink diamonds from the Argyle Diamond Mine got their color. According to folklore, three women were casting nets in the water to catch fish. In an effort to escape the nets, a barramundi fish jumped in the air and flew over the nets. In the process the fish dropped its scales in the water and on the rocks, which the legend says, turned into pink diamonds.

The Argyle diamond mine sits on land that belongs to the Miriuwong, Gidja, Malgnin and Wularr people who are the traditional custodians of this remote area. Diamonds were discovered in the region in 1979 and mining company Rio Tinto began operations at the Argyle Mine in 1983, leasing the land from its owners. The Argyle Pink Diamond Facility is located in Perth, Australia.

Surprise Discovery

During its 37-year lifespan, the mine produced some 865 million carats of rough diamonds. Most of the gems were lower quality brown or industrial diamonds. Then something unexpected and magical happened: Pink diamonds were discovered during production and through its lifespan the mine produced a steady supply of these gems in an extremely limited quantity. About one tenth of one percent of all of the diamonds found in the mine, were pink. Rarer still were red diamonds and even more rare – violet diamonds.

To put that in perspective, each year only about 50 to 60 pink diamonds were found in sizes above a half carat. Pink diamonds from the Argyle mine tend to range in size from 1 to 2-carats, with the very occasional gem reaching 3-carats. According to the miner, the gems are so rare that an entire year’s production of pink diamonds 1-carat and over would fit in the palm of your hand and it would take 15 years to collect enough pink diamonds to fill a champagne flute. Despite these strikingly small numbers, the Argyle mine produced 90 to 95 percent of the world’s pink diamonds. The remainder are found sporadically in Africa, Brazil and India.

Powerful Color

One of the attributes that sets Argyle pink diamonds apart from other pinks is their vibrant color. While they may be small, they have a powerful pop of color that ranges from soft powder puff pinks to vibrant fuchsias and magentas. According to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), pink diamonds get their color from a distortion in the crystal structure of the gem as it is forming possibly due to the intense heat and pressure of being forced to the earth’s surface. The shift in the crystal structure causes the diamond to reflect light differently resulting in the pink colors that we see.

The rough stones were cut in the Argyle Perth facility by highly-skilled master cutters who carefully cajoled the best color and most sparkle out of each gem. The internal structure of pink diamonds makes them more challenging to cut and the artisans who worked on those stones had to be patient. Due to their internal structure it takes about four times longer to cut one of these precious pinks than it does a white diamond. From the time the diamond is found until the polishing is finished takes over a year.

Pink Diamond Tender

Once the diamonds were ready to sell, the stones were collected into a tender that travelled to major cities in the world to be viewed by about 150 dealers, retailers and collectors at invitation only events. The stones were sold by sealed bid and Rio Tinto never revealed the prices paid. What we do know is that pink diamonds can easily sell for $1 million to $2 million per carat and we could see prices take a leap in the next few years. In November 2020, the Argyle mine ceased production and with its closure the world has lost its one source that provided a steady supply of pink diamonds.

Rio Tinto has helped its Argyle employees make career transitions and it is working with the Traditional Owners and local stakeholders to dismantle the mine and rehabilitate the land, a process that is expected to take about five years. Once it is complete the land will be returned to the Traditional Owners as the custodians of Country to use for cattle grazing, tourism, cultural use and possibly small-scale agriculture.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Creating a New Story

Raymond Yard Golfer Rabbit Brooch featuring a collection of Scott West Argyle Blue Diamonds set in platinum with diamonds and a ruby. Photo Courtesy: LJ West.

Colored diamonds are among the rarest and most sought after of all precious gemstones and their rarity desires to be showcased in special jewelry. Recognizing those facts, Scott West, executive vice president of colored diamond company LJ West, began to create jewelry using its vast inventory of extraordinary colored diamonds. But not just any design will do for these special sparklers. “Coming from a firm that specializes in colored diamonds, we wanted to make jewelry,” comments West. “We started looking at auctions and fell in love with different designers and eras. It’s not just about the look – it’s about how the piece is made and why it’s special.” 

The Raymond Yard Connection

West began searching for the right jewelers and partners to create jewelry inspired by the past, but made for the present. Enter the iconic Raymond Yard Rabbit pins. The rabbits were first introduced by Raymond Yard in 1928 and were composed of all white diamonds with colorful enamel details. As the series of rabbits evolved, Yard began adding in colored gemstones. Today those rabbits are being reimagined with colored diamonds in a collaboration between Raymond Yard and Scott West.

“We started working with Raymond Yard on the rabbits about three years ago,” recounts West, who is the third generation in the family business. “We used pink or blue diamonds from the Argyle Mine for the jackets on the rabbits. It’s an iconic piece with iconic stones.”

The colored diamond rabbits have gained even more importance since the Argyle Mine closed this past year and with its closure comes the end of a small, but steady supply of pink, blue and violet diamonds. “With Argyle closing, it’s impossible to find those stones,” says West, noting that LJ West is an authorized Argyle partner.

Design Fusion

West does create some pieces that are “inspired” by Art Nouveau or Art Deco designs. He does not try to make replicas of vintage pieces, but instead creates pieces in a modern way for today’s consumer.

Creating Art Nouveau inspired pieces in today’s world comes with its challenges. “You have to find the right jeweler with the right skills to make these pieces,” explains West, who has a background in engineering and also completed a diamond cutting program in Florida and earned his GD from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). “We have pieces made in New York City, Hong Kong and London. We searched the world for people with the right skill set to make these pieces.”

Art Nouveau jewelry tends to use quite a bit of enamel and West notes that getting the right colors of enamel was not always easy because some colors just aren’t made anymore and whatever is available is left over from many years ago. “Jewelry has always danced between an artisan showing beautiful sculpture or trying to showcase a stone,” says West, who notes that it took two years to create one pair of Art Nouveau earrings. “We build around the color of a stone, it’s a balance. We made a pair of Art Nouveau style earrings with a pink diamond. We wanted the pink diamond to stand out in the Art Nouveau earrings so we created an enameled pink sun.”

When it comes to Art Deco inspired pieces, West calls those designs a fusion. “We can be inspired to make an Art Deco piece the way it was made before, but we changed it some. Art Deco has angles, we softened the angles,” concludes West. “You can see the Art Deco inspiration, you can see how the elements of Art Deco, fashion and other components from today fuse.”

Authored by Amber Michelle