I swallowed the lump in my throat as my eyes peered upward. Surveying the Jewelry Exchange, on the corner of Sixth and E downtown, I felt small and insignificant. I gazed up at the eight-story building, which occupied a quarter of a city block. Alternating pinks the colors of smoked and grilled salmon, banded and trimmed with emerald green, gave the place an air of modernity, but the dusty fans and battered air conditioners in the windows betrayed the building’s age. I entered with trepidation. As my eyes darted over the directory, an armed guard asked if I needed assistance. “I’m looking for the Serengeti Company,” I stammered. “That would be on the fifth floor, ma’am.”

My out-of-placeness was enhanced by an intolerance for elevators; the upward motion left me dizzy. In an effort to regain my equilibrium, I focused on the chip in my diamond. The diamond in my engagement ring stood prominently on my small finger. It represented enduring love to me. The one-carat stone was a family heirloom; it came from a pair of earrings that had belonged to my husband’s grandmother.

For the ring, my husband had chosen a modified basket setting — which positioned the stone down low — with a single diamond baguette on either side. He must have remembered how I complained about modern rings, which set the diamond so high it seemed about to take off like a glittering rocket. He knew I preferred the old-fashioned. The stone itself had an old-fashioned cut, called a miner’s cut — the tip at the base was cut flat, so when you looked straight down into the gem, you saw a tiny circle, about a quarter of the size of a pinhead.

I thought my diamond invincible, like our love. I wore it while washing dishes or scrubbing toilets. I took it off only to squeeze ground beef and veal between my fingers as I made meatballs. Now, inexplicably, it was chipped. The perfect circle of the table was interrupted by a dimple that dropped down the side. It wasn’t like a pit or a pothole; rather, it was as if a plane had been sheared off. Even in its distress, my diamond was orderly and elegant. Still, it had been niggling me for months. I no longer noticed the reflected light; my eyes went directly to the imperfection. And so, I assumed, did everybody else’s. I had been sent to the Serengeti Company by a neighbor whose husband was a friend of the owner to get information on diamond repair.

I made it to the fifth floor and I found the Serengeti Company. The secretary buzzed me in and asked me to have a seat. Five minutes later, I was motioned into a back office. As the owner, Gene Dente, rose to greet me and reached out his large hand, my earlier feelings of puniness returned. I found myself remembering the first time I had attended a professional football game and how, once I’d descended from my seat in the nosebleed section to the first row, I’d been amazed at the size of the players. Dente did not have the girth of a football player, but his features and frame were commanding. His manner was professional and reserved, yet generous. I gave him the ring to examine.

“It’s got two chips,” he pointed out. “You have lots of choices to repair that stone. You could just take it and spin it so that the prongs would be on top of the chips and you wouldn’t notice them. Or you could polish it down by flattening and softening the problem areas. That would make the stone slightly out of round, however.

“Or if you wanted to, you could give it a total recut. The technology exists. The stone would be put upside-down on a spinning pedestal. As it spun, a laser beam would be shot through the stone and a software program would read the image. The program would then take the diameter between those two chips and tell you by formula what the stone would weigh if it were perfectly cut. If you recut it to ideal proportions, your value would go down in one way, because you’ve lost some material. But there’s an increase factor in the value of a perfectly cut stone — significantly higher than this stone. Cutting causes the stone to be more beautiful.”

I was intrigued. Was less really more? My thoughts left my diamond and its possible repair. I wanted a better look at the mysterious world of the Serengeti Company. I questioned Mr. Dente about diamond evaluation. “We really focus on four levels, which are the four C’s: color, clarity, cut, and the carat weight.” He offered explanations of each, starting with color: “Diamonds go from white all the way down to brown. We want to discern how much color is in a stone. The less color in the stone, the more potential it has to be beautiful. The more color a diamond has, the less rare it is, the less valuable and, theoretically, the less desirable.” Rarity, desirability, value, and beauty began to swirl in my mind, rubbing up against one another, arranging themselves this way and that, heightening my curiosity.

The degree of color is expressed through letter grades. “The designators start at D in the alphabet and go down to Z. The letter grades are translated into terms.” Dente pulled out a chart that pictured five stones of varying color labeled with letter grades. “See here, where it says colorless [D–F]; near colorless [G–J]; faint yellow [K–M] — that actually could be light gray or brown; very light yellow [N–R]; and light yellow [S–Z]. Although that says ‘light,’ if you look at it, it’s pretty doggoned yellow.

“We really have to use narrow parameters to give these evaluations. So even within these terms, there is variance. In the very high end of the term ‘near colorless’ — G — there is an absolutely white stone, while at the low end of the term — J — there is going to be a hint of yellow. Trace elements within the diamond cause the color variations. For example, nitrogen is not part of what causes a diamond to be created. So a diamond completely absent of nitrogen might be a D color.

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