Watch & jewellery trend: The recent resurgence of diamonds

Words by
Avril Groom

11th January 2021

While diamonds have long held enduring appeal, the precious jewels are now firmly back in the spotlight due to a renewed interest in their simple brilliance

Optimistic-coloured gemstones took over jewellery for several years, but today’s different mood has created a change. The eternal appeal of white diamonds has quietly edged back, like winter’s soft mists and frosts. Brilliant colours still make headlines, but this year’s high jewellery collections balance them with extraordinary diamond designs. Some collections focus on diamonds and other “white” stones such as pearls, while the diamond watch is news for both genders. 

Diamonds have caught a pre-existing mood — high jewellery collections can take two years to complete — but the pandemic has amplified it. Luckily for the industry, human moments of celebration and sentiment continue, and diamonds are the age-old way to mark them. After a period when markets were shut, De Beers has seen rising monthly sales for rough diamonds, with an estimated $467m of October sales to process in time for the festive season, a better-than-expected comparison with last year’s $550m. “The three-month production shutdown helped clear excess stock and bring the market back to life,” says designer Valérie Messika. “Now we are seeing increased prices and demand from Asia as consumers see a safe investment.” The online auction has also come of age, with the most expensive diamond sold digitally to date, at Christie’s for nearly £1.7m.

Watch & jewellery trend: The recent resurgence of diamonds

Boodles' Garden Gate diamond chandelier earrings are from the Secret Garden high jewellery collection

“People feel confident in buying diamonds digitally because the grading system is very specific,” says Guy Burton, bespoke director at Hancocks, which creates settings for significant antique stones. He is also seeing growing interest in traceability and ethics, which the Natural Diamond Council focuses on. “We’ve seen a massive move in the past 18 months especially among under-30s,” he says. “Now they are rethinking further, wanting to know the history of an old stone, as a form of conservation.” For new diamonds, mine-to-customer traceability is essential — jewellers such as Graff take a financial interest in particular mines, while others such as Boodles work with a specific mine, in its case the famous Cullinan in South Africa, certified on pieces containing stones from it. 

Watch & jewellery trend: The recent resurgence of diamonds

Bulgari’s Barocko collection features the Serpenti Spell hand-jewel that took 500 hours to complete

“Diamond prices are holding up well,” says director Michael Wainwright. “We work with the Ashoka cut — unique to Boodles in the UK — and our Cullinan connection brings great history. While white diamonds are more commoditised because of the grading system, we try and find stones that are different.”      

For true collectors, quality is paramount — they are the peak of the investment pinnacle, where purchases may not be worn or even set. “Rarity and value are the drivers at this level,” says one diamond dealer. “That never changes. Fashion is not an influence unless someone is buying to invest and wear. Then design is crucial, achieving the correct balance between major stones and setting.” 

Isolation has not diminished the creativity of high jewellery design. The exuberance of Moussaieff’s diamond earrings with six substantial peardrops on each, totalling almost 23 carats, make bold yet very proportionate pieces. The complexity of the all-diamond pieces in Bvlgari’s Barocko collection — the Baroque splendour of Luce or the Serpenti Spell hand-jewel that took 500 hours to complete — or the subtle blend of Oriental and Art Deco in Cartier’s Vatna set from the [Sur]Naturel collection show a far from traditional blending of influences. 

Watch & jewellery trend: The recent resurgence of diamonds

Harry Winston’s Crossover ring has clusters one side, baguettes the other

Asymmetry looks modern in Harry Winston’s Crossover ring — clusters one side, baguettes the other — or the open coils of Adler’s Ballerina necklace with its shimmering pear drops. Where design comes first, says Bvlgari’s creative director, Lucia Silvestri, “the stones are often smaller; when the gem is important we let it lead the design”, yet these diamond-only pieces include substantial, valuable stones.

Isolation has not diminished the creativity of high jewellery design

Another direction seems a response to today — a rethink to simpler shapes and elemental symbols. Adler has spotted “an interest in a new simplicity with diamonds after a period of rich colour and design”. Boucheron’s Claire Choisne designed her Contemplation collection before the pandemic — its motifs of clouds, feathers and raindrops expressed in diamonds, mother-of-pearl, white jade and high-tech lightness seem a metaphor. Tasaki’s new Balance pieces, celebrating a decade of the motif, mix pearls with diamonds for a calm, meditative effect. Diamonds-first brand Messika celebrates its collaboration with Kate Moss, whose vintage-boho style creates welcome escapism.

The diamond watch world is also changing. Until recently these were tiny, furnished with quartz movements. Now even the smallest, such as Jaeger-Lecoultre’s Snowdrop, have an intricate mechanical movement — in this case the iconic 101, the world’s smallest, returned to production in 2018 and, says product design director Lionel Favre, “it is a small mechanical jewel, made for our rare high jewellery watches. It weighs under a gram and is handmade with the same care as the gem-set cases.” 

Watch & jewellery trend: The recent resurgence of diamonds

Van Cleef and Arpels’ new Ballerine Musicale, meanwhile, sees enamelled dancers revolve on a stage under diamond chandeliers, to a ballet tune. It is large at 44.5mm, but contains two music boxes, the turning mechanism and a retrograde dial. 

Equally traditional with a twist are Vacheron Constantin’s Égérie [featured at top of page] combining a pavé dial with a delicate moonphase in mother-of pearl and sapphire crystal, and Patek Philippe’s new Twenty~4 haute joiallerie version with snow-set diamonds throughout and a fine automatic movement. 

Watch & jewellery trend: The recent resurgence of diamonds

Modern-retro 1970s-styles with larger-diamond bezels include Rolex’s Pearlmaster Superlative Chronometer high jewellery version with the latest technical movement, and Chopard’s L’Heure du Diamant, modernised in white gold and mother-of-pearl and complemented by earrings of concentric diamond circles.   

Diamond watches mirror “the trend for women to wear larger, more masculine watches and become more knowledgeable about the mechanics”, says Ulysse Nardin’s chief product officer Jean-Christophe Sabatier. “Some now expect equivalent value in diamonds and setting on one side and watchmaking content on the other.”

Men are no strangers to diamond watches and some models, he says, “are at a design crossroads that interests both”. Patek’s slim Calatrava 5297G, with its deep black dial, diamond bezel and hour markers is, at 38mm, the ultimate dress watch for either sex. Ulysse Nardin’s 45mm Sparkling Blast, meanwhile, has an openwork tourbillon, invisibly set with diamond ice-shards — part of watch design’s obsession with the icy wastes of space.

Diamond watches mirror the trend for women to wear larger, more masculine watches

There it is joined by Breitling’s polar-looking, diamond bezelled steel Chronomat with its pale mint dial, and Bremont’s cosmos-inspired Hawking Quantum, the brand’s first diamond watch, with a spiral rotor inspired by a black hole and a dial made from icy-looking meteorite. Yet another reason for suggesting that diamond watches are out of this world.