Collecting guide: Graff diamond jewellery

An introduction to the sparkling career of Laurence Graff, the London jeweller synonymous with ‘all-diamond’ masterpieces and coloured gems of remarkable quality. Illustrated with lots offered at Christie’s

A Graff diamond and emerald pendant necklace, left, and a diamond ring

Jewellery by Graff: a diamond and emerald pendant necklace, and right, a diamond ring

A brief history of the Graff diamond house

Six decades after he founded his eponymous house, London-born jeweller Laurence Graff OBE is renowned for diamonds of rare historical pedigree and coloured gems of remarkable quality.

From the start, his eye for high-quality gemstones got him noticed. His settings enhanced their natural brilliance and fire, and his focus on balance and proportion led to deceptively simple designs that transcend the whims of fashion.

An exceptional diamond ring, by Graff. 41.36 carats, D colour, VVS1 clarity, potentially internally flawless, excellent polish and symmetry, type IIa. Sold for CHF 3,654,000 on 8 November 2022 at Christie’s in Geneva

In 1973 Graff became the first jeweller to receive the Queen’s Award to Industry and Export. By the early 1980s, Graff had become synonymous with the ‘all-diamond’ jewel, attracting an international clientele that loved large, spectacular stones.

The house is involved with every stage of a diamond’s life, from mining and cutting to designing and manufacturing. From humble beginnings in London’s East End, the Graff brand is now one of the largest diamond corporations and is represented by more than 50 stores worldwide.

Historic gems that made history

Laurence Graff’s passion for rare and extraordinary gems has brought him into contact with some of the most celebrated diamonds in the world, from the Emperor Maximilian and the Idol’s Eye to the Eternal Twins, two identical 50-carat emerald-cut diamonds set into a magnificent pair of earrings.

More recently, the house cut and polished the Graff Lesedi La Rona, a spectacular 302.37-carat square emerald-cut stone that is the largest, highest-colour, highest-clarity diamond ever certified by the Gemological Institute of America.

One of the most prestigious o Graff’s historic gems was probably the Wittelsbach, a 17th-century blue diamond from the same Golconda mine in India as the Hope Diamond, with a documented history dating back to many royal families of Europe.

The Wittelsbach Diamond. 35.56 carats, fancy deep grayish blue colour, VS2 clarity, type IIb. Sold for £16,393,250 on 10 December 2008 at Christie’s in London

In 2008, Graff acquired this legendary 35.56-carat stone for more than £16 million at Christie’s in London. In 2009, after careful repolishing to improve its colour and clarity, the diamond, now weighing 31.06 carats, was renamed the Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond and became the largest natural fancy deep blue internally flawless diamond ever discovered.

Coloured diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires

In 2009, a Graff ring set with a fancy vivid pink diamond of 5.00 carats was auctioned at Christie’s Hong Kong and sold for HK$83,540,000 — the equivalent of US$2 million per carat, and a record price-per-carat for any pink diamond at that time.

Other notable coloured diamonds to have passed through Graff’s hands include the Empress Rose, the largest internally flawless fancy light pink diamond in the world, and the Golden Empress, a fancy intense yellow diamond from the Letšeng Diamond Mine in Lesotho, southern Africa. The splendid honey-hued 132.55-carat cushion-cut diamond was presented in 2015, together with a further eight stones: two brilliant rounds and six pear-shaped diamonds.

Over the decades, Graff has also designed jewels set with coloured gems of the rarest quality. In 2006, a Christie’s specialist came across the near perfect 8.62 carat Burmese ruby, which came to be known as The Graff Ruby.

Combining the highly sought-after ‘pigeon’s blood’ red typical of old Burmese material and a high degree of transparency, which is rare in rubies, it came to auction with a pre-sale estimate of between $400,000 and $600,000. More than 20 minutes of bidding saw the final price reach the $3.6 million mark — at the time the highest price-per-carat ruby ever sold.

‘Hair & Jewel’: a media sensation

In 1970, 10 years after the founding of Graff Diamonds, the jeweller released a trailblazing promotional campaign — known as ‘Hair & Jewel’ — featuring a model wearing $1 million dollars’ worth of diamonds and precious stones in her hair.

‘Until this time, images showing fine jewellery were typically modelled in a more conservative style,’ said Graff. ‘This image broke the mould by using a younger model and created the idea of diamonds being aspirational to younger women.’

The daring image captured the world’s attention, propelling Graff to the forefront of the luxury goods market. In 2013 Graff recreated the campaign, only this time using $500 million dollars’ worth of jewels. The elaborate coiffure of model Dalis Gunther sparkled with 22 of the rarest precious stones from Graff’s headquarters in London, and served as a statement of global success.

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Red-carpet glamour

Graff creates red-carpet jewellery, too — feminine designs enhanced with floating diamonds, sometimes with the addition of fine coloured gemstones.

An exceptional coloured diamond and diamond brooch, by Graff. Fancy yellow round-cornered square brilliant-cut diamond of 107.46 carats, circular and baguette-cut diamonds. Sold for CHF 2,760,000 on 10 November 2020 at Christie’s in Geneva

A-list celebrities favouring Graff include Anna Kendrick and Angelina Jolie. The latter famously paired a dazzling set of Graff diamond earrings, weighing 32.98 carats, with a full-length black dress at the BAFTAs in 2018.

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