The Pink Promise

Stephen Silver, international treasure hunter, takes the ultimate risk. Over four years of twists and turns, renowned international treasure hunter and Bay Area jeweler Stephen Silver took an already stunning 16-carat pink diamond, originally cut over 60 years ago, to new record-breaking heights (or, in this case, depths).

  • Category
  • Written by
    Robin Hindery
  • Photography by
    Petro Onysko

Fortune can smile on anyone. Even a first-time golfer can pick up a club and, by sheer luck, score a hole in one.

Stephen Silver and son Jared Silver at the Christie’s auction in Hong Kong for The Pink Promise. The moment the hammer went down.

True masters, however, train their entire careers to accomplish what spectators regard as a “miracle shot.” And when it comes to fine jewelry, Stephen Silver is a master at the top of his game.

The latest big win for the Silicon Valley-based “international treasure hunter”—a 14.93-carat Fancy Vivid Pink /VVS1, Type IIa diamond known as The Pink Promise—made its international auction debut in late 2017 after four years of examining, re-analyzing, and cutting. But, Silver says, it took more than four decades of making a name in the jewelry world, through his base of operations in Menlo Park, to make this record-breaking acquisition possible.

“It wasn’t like an epiphany moment,” he says of first being invited in mid-2013 to view a pink oval diamond, which then weighed 16.21 carats. “It was aesthetically beautiful, but something else caught my eye that caused me to view this diamond differently. I asked myself, am I seeing this correctly? Could I improve this? When you’ve cut thousands and thousands of diamonds over 40 years, your instincts take over the evaluation process, and that’s what happened upon my first seeing the stone.”

Christie’s International Head of Jewelry Rahul Kadakia at the Hong Kong auction for The Pink Promise.

What’s more, the relationships Silver has formed over his many years in international business dealings, and his proximity in Silicon Valley, have afforded him access to thrilling estate collections, ultimately leading to global recognition. If anyone was equipped to handle a stone of this magnitude, it would be Silver and his team.

Already a pure rosé pink of very deep intensity, Silver nevertheless saw room for improvement in The Pink Promise. “Upon my initial examination, I could see a lot of light leaking out,” he recalls. “By the cutting style I observed, the diamond was originally cut sometime in the mid-20th century, using more rudimentary techniques. Based on the price we paid for the diamond, I was prepared to lose up to 7% of the stone to improve its color to the eye, so I flew my cutter in from New York the next day. I asked him two questions: Do you see what I see, and can we take this diamond to the Vivid Pink category?”

Silver’s “master diamond cutter,” a very exclusive industry designation, was confident it could be done—or, at least, as confident as you can be when you know you’re about to cut into a diamond worth tens of millions of dollars. Still, both men realized, this was a high-risk endeavor, as there are only a handful of Vivid Pink diamonds of this size in existence. “Working with this colored diamond was like performing microsurgery for the first time.” Silver says. “Basically, you have to pull knowledge from other areas and apply it to this, as it’s mostly uncharted.”

The process of purchasing the stone through a broker took more than a year, which Silver says is “not unusual.” He continues, “There’s often a great deal of sentiment attached to these pieces, so my job requires a lot of patience and sensitivity to the seller’s emotional well-being during the buying process.”

Once his purchase was finalized in July 2014, Silver sent the diamond to The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., an organization he has long supported. “Because of its size and purity of color and its rarity, I wanted our country’s leading geologists to have an opportunity to look at it, examine it, and research it before we cut it,” he explains.

Stephen and Jared Silver after the sale of The Pink Promise.

That process took about three months, and then it was about another two months of meticulous planning, measuring, and mapping each potential facet to gauge the risk before the first fateful cut was made.

Cutting a colored diamond requires a different objective than cutting a conventional white diamond, Silver notes. In the latter, the aim is to refract the maximum amount of light out of a stone as quickly as possible. With a colored diamond, however, you want the stone to hold the light as long as possible, giving the eye time to fully recognize the color—a process known as “selective absorption.”

“The use of technology in the process of gem cutting is becoming more and more important to unleashing the most promise out of material like this,” Silver says. “But the technology can only take you so far; it doesn’t do the cutting for you.”

Silver, also a trained diamond cutter, had to walk a tightrope between searching for the right shape while cutting the optimal angle and number of the facets, and also retaining as much weight as possible. After all, each turn of the polishing wheel shaves off literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in value from the stone, if you miscalculate. Oh, and pink diamonds? They happen to be the most likely to blow up on the wheel because of the unique way the pink color is formed in the lattice of the crystal. No pressure!

Fortunately, the first cut of The Pink Promise was explosion-free, removing about a quarter of one carat. The improvement was unmistakable. Silver recalls, “Everything changed—the color immediately got more intense. Our initial instincts were validated with these results and our pathway was established. Then the heavy lifting really started.”

It took another year and three passes to get to the point where Silver’s team thought the stone was done. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA), however, disagreed.

The independent nonprofit GIA was founded in 1931 to set global quality standards that protect the gem and jewelry buying public, and to conduct important research and education initiatives that deepen our understanding of gemstones in the natural world. “They have a perspective that we don’t,” Silver acknowledges. “All the industry’s important cutters use them for guidance throughout this process. Their vast experience and knowledge is immeasurably valuable.”

Stephen Silver and Christie’s Rahul Kadakia chat before the auction.

When it came to The Pink Promise, the GIA was motivated by pure scientific interest, with little concern about the final weight of the stone. “For us, it’s commercial as well as science,” Silver says. “Therein lies the subtle tension between our two parties. We were done, but the GIA kept encouraging us to cut further, and by god—they were right!”

On May 31, 2016, the dazzling stone was GIA-certified as a 14.93-carat Fancy Vivid Pink/VVS1-Type IIa. (Type IIa is a nitrogen-free diamond, the earth’s rarest.)

In November of the following year, The Pink Promise went up for auction at Christie’s in Hong Kong. Silver chose an auction format, hoping that news of the history-making stone would help educate people outside the industry about colored diamonds. The auction also provided a dramatic conclusion and backdrop to a forthcoming documentary film Silver was producing. “The auction process was a risky decision for me,” he recalls. “And it turns out, the fourth quarter of 2017 wasn’t an optimum moment to sell. Momentum in the marketplace for a stone like this seemed to have flattened out due to a few unpredictable geopolitical issues. Timing is everything!”

The winning bid of $32.5 million was less than Silver and Christie’s hoped for, but it nonetheless set a new per-carat world record for any size in the pink diamond category as well as any pink diamond over 10 carats. And in a final fortuitous twist, the stone ended up in the hands of a buyer known by Silver, who promptly brought it back to him and offered him a chance to “buy back in”—an opportunity Silver describes as “one of the luckiest days of my life.”

Silver is quick to clarify context when it comes to the sale price of a stone he characterizes as a once-in-a-century find. “Although $32.5 million isn’t a negligible amount of money, it feels like an inexpensive acquisition in the context of measuring the broad category of ‘rare collectibles,’” he explains. “This diamond is infinitely rarer than some of the most important artworks that achieve stratospheric amounts at auction.”

By exposing The Pink Promise’s journey in a documentary format, to be released in 2020, Silver hopes to elevate the understanding that these naturally formed, billions-of-years-old geological rarities can stand next to any manmade work of art. “I’m trying to close that gap of misinformation or lack of knowledge so that these truly rare stones are viewed in the same context as fine art.”

A Deeper Dive into the Pink Promise

Shape: Oval

One of the most difficult shapes to cut for color in a pink, red, or blue diamond

Type: IIa

Type IIa diamonds have been formed free of nitrogen, the element that often lends a yellow or brownish hue. Known for their icy sparkle, Type IIa diamonds reflect a pure white color that moves more quickly to the eye than colored wavelengths. This presents a challenge for colored Type IIa diamonds, making it harder to perceive their color and therefore determine overall color grade.

Color Grade: Fancy Vivid

The highest, rarely reached grade; therefore, the most expensive per carat by a significant margin

*Source: Stephen Silver Fine Jewelry

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