A branded diamond: It’s a new concept in the world of diamond retailing. And Thailand was chosen as the first country in which to launch the first-ever branded diamond targetted towards consumers.

The name of the diamond is Hope. Launched in August, it will hit shelves at six selected jewellery retailers later this month.

So what makes this "brand" of diamond distinct from all those other non-branded diamonds?

It’s the emphasis on the quality of the diamond’s classic round cut, according to Hope’s Monakan Kiatikajornthada. While colour, clarity and carat are all-important determinants of a diamond’s ultimate value, Monakan says that it’s the cut of a diamond that contributes the most towards making it sparkle.

"Some diamonds are cut in a way to preserve their carat value (that is, their weight), rather than to bring out the diamond’s brilliance," she says. "But the Hope diamond is cut to make it as brilliant and sparkling as possible. It’s the sparkle, after all, that makes a diamond truly beautiful. And a diamond is the only thing that will sparkle forever."

The South African company responsible for cutting and polishing the diamonds is the renowned Krochmal and Cohen. "Each stage of the cutting is done by a specialist," says Monakan. "For instance those who specialise in cutting the table of a diamond will only cut that part on a Hope diamond, before it goes to somebody else, who specialises in cutting the next part."

Each stage of the cutting process – and there are 57 facets of the diamond that need to be cut – is computer checked for perfection, with the final stone having to be graded at a top level before earning the name Hope.

The Hope diamond comes with a certificate issued by the Jewellery Council of South Africa, which describes the history of the diamond: where it came from, what the original rough diamond size was, and how the stone’s size changed during each stage of cutting and polishing.

Furthermore, each diamond is laser-inscribed on its girdle with an identification number – so tiny that it’s not discernible by the naked eye – which matches that printed on the certificate. While individuals have in the past inscribed personal messages on diamonds ("I love you" and so on) this is the first time it’s been done to uniquely identify a diamond.

"No two diamonds are alike, but with the naked eye you can’t tell this. With an identification number, however, women can be confident that they can always identify a stone as their own," Monakan says.

And why is it that only now a branded diamond is being launched on the retail market?

It’s a result of some profound changes that have occurred over the past few years in the diamond industry. Kannikar Svetasreni, manager of the marketing arm of De Beers, which is known as the Diamond Trading Company, explains that De Beers used to control some 90 per cent of the world’s rough diamond market. "So it was clearly in their interests to promote the sale of diamonds to consumers generally."

However, non-De Beers mines in Canada and Australia have opened over the past few years, leading to a drop in De Beers’ overall market share. This has lessened the motivation for De Beers to promote diamonds generically, so instead they are shifting responsibility for the marketing of diamonds back to their siteholders – that is, the approximately 120 companies who buy rough diamonds from their mines. "In 2000 some siteholders did their own branding – in the US, Japan and Europe – but not all the way to the retailer," explains Kannikar. "This is the first time it’s being done at the retail level."

Given the current economic climate, Thailand might seem an odd choice as the first market to be tested. Not so, says Kannikar. "In the development stage, Sadifco [the De Beers siteholder who makes the Hope diamond] asked their head office in Antwerp where most of their diamonds went. The answer was Thailand."

Until around 1996, Thailand was the number six diamond consuming country in the world, and it had the world’s fifth largest diamond-cutting industry. "Consumption has reduced substantially since the crisis, but there is still a very large group of Thai ladies – real diamond lovers – who know what they want, and will buy it."

As the economy recovers, the Hope diamond should be well enough recognised as a brand to take advantage of the improved market. "We’re aiming to build a high-end, exclusive brand. Image is a very important," says Kannikar, adding that the diamond is being pitched towards high income women with sophisticated tastes. "That is, brand-oriented women who want to feel complete confidence in the quality of the diamonds they buy."

And is it a good investment?

"Yes," says Kannikar. "We aren’t promoting this diamond by emphasising that particular aspect of it, but it is. If a husband had invested all his shares in the Thai stockmarket before 1997, and his wife had put hers into diamonds, who do you think would have the most valuable assets now?"

That might, however, convince anyone needing a further rational reason to buy a beautiful, sparkling diamond.

/ Lifestyle