By Monique P. Yazigi
February 13, 2000
Feeling extra guilt-tripped this Valentine's Day, big spender? Alan Greenspan may have inflation under control, but it doesn't look that way in the diamond business -- and certainly not in those rarefied realms where size of heart is conspicuously if not touchingly linked to size of wallet.
Poor men with bucks. They don't stand a chance, not with the world's largest producer of diamonds, DeBeers, spending $60 million this year just to advertise its rocks, often with ego-taunting slogans like, "Give her something that won't wilt in a week." Now that's cruel.
Love has always had its mercenary aspects, but in this booming economy they have been starkly magnified. On Tuesday, for example, Fox is airing "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?" in which 50 female contestants will be whittled down, beauty pageant style, to five finalists, all in wedding gowns, one of whom will be proposed to and married on the air, live, by a willing millionaire. Yet nothing refracts the current climate like the diamond. Last week the diamond retailer Mondera kicked off its Web site, Mondera.com, with a bash at the Havana Club at Top of the Sixes. There diamond-draped models mingled with Wall Street brokers, Upper East Side bachelors and James Gandolfini -- TV's Tony Soprano -- as the guys partook of single-malt scotches, cigars, straight-razor shaves and shoeshines.
All the pampering and advertising seem to be paying off. "The diamond market is up 12 percent," said Joan Parker, the director of the diamond information center at J. Walter Thompson, DeBeers's advertising agency. Another key indicator -- DeBeers sales of rough diamonds -- surged 57 percent last year to a record $5.24 billion, up from $3.35 billion in 1998.
The upward trend is not lost on women in certain circles. Take Anna Rothschild, a 31-year-old Manhattanite just getting divorced from her second husband. Her first, a stockbroker, gave her a five-carat, round diamond set in platinum from Harry Winston. Her second husband gave her a six-carat, emerald-cut diamond with trilliums on the side. She designed it with him at a private jeweler (cost: about $75,000).
"Personally," Ms. Rothschild said, "I would have preferred 10 carats." But husband No. 2, an English businessman, "thought that was vulgar and inappropriate. He wanted a more understated type of style." Next time around, Ms. Rothschild said, "I would like at least an 8-carat canary diamond. They are much more rare than just a regular diamond, and I've tried on my friends' rings and I know it looks good on my finger." "See, if you're medium-boned, even four carats can look small on your body," she added.
In fact, engagement rings of four carats or more are not uncommon in Upper East Side social circles, and many women echo Ms. Rothschild's view that a smaller diamond might get lost visually on a woman of any heft. At Tiffany, for example, insiders were horrified that Jerry Seinfeld only bought a two-carat ring for his new bride, Jessica Sklar. "Couldn't he afford more? Really," said one employee, who didn't want to give her name.
But it's not just about size. It's about cut too. Both the emerald cut (rectangular) and the once-rare asscher cut are popular now. The asscher cut yields a very deep stone and is considered more understated -- as if to say, "I have more substance than flash.". Muffie Potter-Aston, an executive vice president of Van Cleef & Arpels, has an asscher-cut diamond of over 15 carats. She says her husband, a plastic surgeon, Sherrell Aston, "loves me a lot."
Men are clearly feeling the pressure. Mark Simone, a Manhattan bachelor and cable television host, said, "I see guys buy zillion-dollar rings because it's a big blinking neon sign that says, 'I got a lot of money.' " Most women he knows want rings "as big as an ashtray," he said. And men deliver. "The women spend 20 minutes talking about the ring and three minutes talking about how they met the guy," he said. But what if you're a poor sap who can only afford, say, a carat? "I'm sorry, I don't meet anyone like that," said Ms. Rothschild, who nevertheless feels she must refrain from diamond-wearing for the time being. "We don't want men to think I'm married," she said. "How will I meet my third husband?"
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