I confess: the song diamonds are a girl’s best friend never resonated with me. I was one of those rare—dare I say odd—women who were never interested in the precious, glittery stones whose humble beginnings are buried in the depths of the Earth.
Or so I thought.
A few weeks ago, I began a quest to find the sleekest, sexiest, most beautiful diamonds that Southwest Florida has to offer. It led me from the standard-bearers of the diamond industry, such as Cartier, to independent jewelers who have cast diamonds in contemporary flights of fancy. All that glitter, all that shimmer—it was dizzying.
Perhaps I had been too dismissive of these stones. The more I searched, the more Marilyn Monroe’s sultry voice played in my head: But square-cut or pear-shape, these rocks don’t lose their shape. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend …
A dance of light
At its most basic level, a diamond is a mirror and a prism. Light shines on the stone from above, bounces around it, reflects through it and strikes the facets to create a brilliant dance of sparkle that is the holy grail of any well-crafted diamond. This simple explanation is how Mark Loren helped to demystify diamonds for me. Loren has been in the jewelry business for 25 years, and his Mark Loren Designs on McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers finely showcases those years of experience: bold, contemporary rings, necklaces and other pieces that bear precious stones in shades of azure, amber, sunflowers and every color in between.
Then, there are his diamonds, specifically his Firelight Diamond. Inspired by European cuts, the Firelight has 81 facets that catch and reflect light as intensely as a blazing Southwest Florida sunset. “A Firelight flashes more. It’s got more life to it, more light,” he says.
Loren’s advice in the early stages of my diamond trek is simple: “When you’re shopping for a diamond, the most important aspect of it is the beauty.” So if a diamond stops you dead in your tracks, there is a reason. Heed your reaction, and examine the stone for the four Cs: cut, clarity, carat and color. From round brilliant to radiant cut, the shape of the stone is key because it is the stage on which light dances. The more devoid of flaws a diamond is, the better are its clarity and quality. If size is paramount—of course, it almost always is—then carats are an important C to keep in mind.
Color, Loren says, is probably the most difficult factor to judge because a hue can be so subtle that its presence is difficult to detect by the naked eye. There are exceptions to this rule, though. The black diamond, for example, contains so much carbon in its crystal that it can be as dark as a moonless night. I envision a black diamond surrounded by clusters of its small, white brethren, the entire familial array set atop a platinum band. I think of that band on my finger, the light pirouetting off the stones.
Flights of fancy
Marilyn Janss, owner of Cleopatra’s Barge Fine Jewelry in Naples, has developed a few principles about diamonds in her 44 years in the jewelry business. Yes, the diamond should be clear and size can matter. Still, there is more to a diamond—and especially the girls who wear them. “They want to be proud of what they have on their hand,” Janss says. Amen to that.
Her fertile imagination has made plenty of women along the Gulfshore proud of the diamonds draped around their necks, wrapped around their wrists and fingers, and perched on their ears. She designs settings and uses various metals—white gold, yellow gold and platinum—to create contemporary pieces that, in some cases, echo the past. There is, for example, a slender bracelet that sparkles with three rows of small diamonds. It is understated but eye-catching.
For customers craving a bolder look, Janss can play with geometry. She designs loops, lines, semi-circles and squares that are littered with tiny diamonds and peppered with emeralds or other stones for a pop of color. Janss remembers one of her fanciful flights with diamonds. A customer had an inherited emerald-cut diamond that she wanted to spruce up, so Janss mounted the stone horizontally on an 18-karat yellow gold band and included two rows of princess-cut blue sapphires. “The band actually looked like blue sapphires,” Janss explains. “Just gorgeous.”
A bouquet of whimsy
Patrons visit Van Cleef & Arpels in Naples in search of something extraordinary, store director Carly Stewart explains to me as I gaze at the display cases that contain necklaces, rings, earrings and pins. The extraordinary in Van Cleef’s case lies in simple elegance and attention to details. As proof, Stewart leads me to a side room that houses a tall, clear case. In it is the whimsical Flowerlace collection, which features necklaces, ear clips and a ring. No singular large-carat diamond plays the lead in this collection. Rather, tiny round diamonds blessed with an intense white radiance take center stage. These diminutive stones adorn the loop and the length of the collection’s centerpiece, a slender ribbon-like necklace of white gold. Farther down the off-centered strand appear three wide-petal flowers, which resemble a field of blooms lightly swaying in a breeze. I inhale deeply.
As she leads me back to the main showroom, I ask Stewart what makes Van Cleef & Arpel’s diamond jewelry different. She says Van Cleef considers each piece of jewelry an homage to femininity, nature, flight and art. She takes a piece out of a case and turns it over to reveal intricate lines and engravings. She explains that each of Van Cleef’s pieces is first sketched on paper, then made into a wax mock-up. From there, it is cast in semi-precious stones and materials and then, finally, cast into precious stones and materials. “You’ll see amazing little touches on pieces,” Stewart says. She is right.
A house that diamonds built
“We carry what sells, and that’s diamonds,” says Shane Nelson, a diamond broker and graduate gemologist and appraiser with Southwest Florida’s Diamond District. I realize that Nelson is not exaggerating when I walk into the store at Coconut Point in Estero. It is home to case after case of diamonds in all shapes, sizes and settings. Here, the stones are most often set in white gold. Why? Because a popular trend in rings is the antique look, which uses metals such as platinum or white gold. Also, white gold and platinum reflect more light in diamonds. These metals add to the sparkle that brides-to-be want in their engagement rings and wedding bands. “White gold is king right now,” Nelson says.
It looks as if color is, too, based on some particularly impressive pieces studded with champagne-like yellows and espresso browns. The fancy yellow diamonds make a bold statement, not only because of their color but because of how they are used, especially in a tie necklace. Smaller yellow diamonds are clustered in thick rows and fringed by a line of white diamonds of similar size. The two other pieces make me look twice: one cuff brimming with brown diamonds and a slimmer cuff of fancy yellow diamonds that resembles a mosaic.
Sexy and Glamorous
My final stop is at one of the diamond industry’s giants: De Beers. I ask Sara Clark, director of the store at Waterside Shops in Naples, whether diamonds are a girl’s best friend, really. “They absolutely are,” she answers without hesitation. “Women want that solitaire engagement ring from the man they love—and they want one that sparkles across the room.” I glance down at my engagement and wedding rings, each one bestowed with an ample supply of diamonds. The stones shimmer. I see what she means.
I peruse two necklaces, each lined with smaller diamonds, that showcase timeless taste. “Diamonds are sexy, and they’re glamorous,” she says. Then, I see it—the piece that makes me stutter for a second or two: the Pear Kaleidoscope ring. Several diamonds of various cuts commune in a setting of 18-karat white gold in this ring. No one stone stands out in the design, but together, they leave me breathless.
“It’s all hand-crafted work, and we take the time to find settings that our diamonds will look the best in,” Clark says. She is not kidding. She and Marilyn are right, too. Square-cut or pear-shaped, diamonds really are a girl’s best friend.
Fashion Director | Pamela Jean
Hair and makeup
Colleen Stone, Ford Artists
Shot at The Strada at Mercato, Naples