Party trivia: Name one of the world’s biggest sources of diamonds.
If you say “South Africa” and picture something like this, you’d be partially right. This is De Beers’ Jwaneng mine, the largest diamond mine in the world. It’s actually in Botswana—next door to South Africa—but that’s beside the point.
However, the world’s greatest untapped resource for diamonds isn’t in Africa at all. It’s in the United States.
Industry experts estimate as much as 25% of the total diamond market comes from jewelry that’s been recycled from American consumers’ jewelry boxes. American jewelry buyers account for between 2/3 and 3/4 of all diamond jewelry sold at retail, and every year they send several million carats (the equivalent of a large diamond mine) back into the market.
Globally, the recycled diamond market is estimated somewhere between $450 million on the low end and $1 billion on the high end. But even on the low end, that’s comparable to the outputs of Canada’s Ekati Mine and Russia’s Mir Mine. Experts agree the recycled diamond market peaked over $1 billion between 2010 and 2012, when rocketing gold prices drove a lot of diamond melee back into the market in the process of melting down gold jewelry.
Fine jewelry trends are an evolution, not a revolution (read more about that here) but styles do change and different diamond shapes go in and out of fashion. The nice thing about that, however, is that when they do come back in fashion, you can put an old diamond in a new setting, something you can’t do with old acid-wash jeans.
Round diamonds are always number-one in demand. 51.6% of Worthy’s 2018 diamond auctions were rounds, not because they’re out of style but because as the single most popular shape for women to own, they’re also the most likely to be sold.
Princess shapes, the second-most popular shape, accounted for 20.3% of our auctions last year, but they’re not as popular as they used to be and some women are ready to say goodbye to them and nab something that’s trending up, like cushion and Asscher cuts, or marquise, oval, emerald, radiant, and pear shapes.
Take marquises, for example. These football-shaped stones were the height of glam in the 1960s, 1970s, and into the 1980s, but after that, jewelers couldn’t give them away. Now they’re making a comeback, along with pears and ovals, now the third-most popular engagement ring choice.
Marquises and pears especially have an advantage of looking large for their carat weight (a real plus!) and though these three shapes are most modern when set sideways—especially in a bezel, tension, or flush setting—the traditional “north-south” prong setting is visually slimming, kind of like a little black dress for your finger.
Emerald and radiant cuts are trending up as an alternative to the square princess. (A radiant cut is a step-cut rectangle like an emerald, but has faceting like a round or princess to give it more sparkle.)
More women own round diamonds than anything else, so more round diamonds are sold than anything else.
If you thought only blinding-headlight stones are “worthy” of auction, think again! 93% of Worthy’s 2018 diamond auctions were less than two carats.
In the United States, the average engagement ring is around one carat, according to some key estimates. Brides in New York and Chicago are more likely to have bigger stones (1.45 and 1.29 carats respectively), while maybe the reason the Beach Boys wish they all could be California girls is because Los Angeles brides average only 0.83 carat in their rings.
But in Worthy’s auctions last year, the biggest center stones came from Nevada, averaging 1.43 carats. The next four runners up were Washington, D.C., where auctioned stones averaged 1.15 carats, Nebraska (1.14 carats), Maine (1.13 carats), and Mississippi (1.12 carats). The smallest came from South Dakota (0.65 carat), Idaho (0.77 carat), Alaska (0.78 carat), Wyoming (0.81 carat), and North Dakota (0.83 carat).
Nevada also ranked number one in the states with the highest deals in our 2018 auctions, which, when combined with its higher-carat stones, suggests it’s also a source of high quality stones. The average deal amount for Nevada was $4,770, followed by Maine ($3,700), Nebraska ($3,684), Rhode Island ($3,478) and New York ($3,410).
As you know, every diamond has a unique combination of characteristics (the famous “Four C’s”) that contribute to its overall value: color, cut, clarity and carat weight. While some folks just want the biggest rock their money will buy, a big stone with a less-than-stellar cut or color can be of lower value than a smaller stone with excellent color and cut.
Unlike your kid’s report card, you want your diamond to get a D. We don’t have a good comeback for the struggling kid that argues he or she is really a diamond in disguise, but on the GIA color grading scale, D (colorless) is the best grade a diamond can get and D, E, and F color stones are typically the most valuable. One tenth of one percent—yes, that’s 0.05%—of our auctions last year were D-E color diamonds, which tells you how rare they are. G and H color, on the other hand, are much more popular: they still look great but they’re a lot more budget-friendly. Almost one-fourth of our diamond auctions last year were G and H color stones, and when you add in auctions of I color stones, it was fully 41% of our auctions in 2018.
The GIA grading scale goes to Z, the least valuable “white” diamond grade, but a yellow gold setting can do a lot for a lesser-color stone, such as M. 97% of our auctions last year were M color or better; only 1.8% of diamonds in our auctions were M to Z colors.
Can a diamond be “worse” than Z? Well, yes, but that’s a whole different animal because if it has enough color, it’s reclassified as a fancy color diamond and its value rockets back up. Only 1.3% of Worthy diamond auctions last year were for fancy-color diamonds.
Cut grading is like the diamond equivalent of football downs: kind of confusing. Just like downs are the four chances a team gets to advance 10 yards—but having attained 10 yards also is called a first down—the word “cut” is used interchangeably to denote diamond shape (i.e. marquise, pear, etc.) as well as facet arrangement.
But in terms of value, the cut grade evaluates the arrangement and quality of the facets. The better the facets are cut, the brighter, prettier, and more valuable the stone is. The scale goes from Excellent to Poor. The majority of our diamond auctions last year were “good” to “very good” cuts; thankfully very few were poor.
A diamond’s inclusions (tiny flaws) serve like a human fingerprint to identify it. Clarity is the best characteristic to sacrifice on a budget because most inclusions can’t be seen with the naked eye and a good cut (facet arrangement) will cleverly disguise them. A stone with no inclusions at all will be graded IF (internally flawless), and they’re so rare that only one half of one percent of our diamond auctions last year were IF diamonds. The next best grade is VVS (for “very, very slight” inclusions), followed by VS (“very slight” inclusions), SI (slightly included) and I (included.) Each grade has sub-grades as well.
As you can see, lots of women took their jewelers’ advice because the most popular clarity grade in our auctions last year was I1, which is the top segment of “included” stones.
Like we mentioned earlier, some folks just want the biggest rock they can get, but the number of boulder-size diamonds in our auctions last year was relatively small. 93% of our 2018 auctions were for stones under two carats, and of those, 59.2% were under one carat, and 34% were between one and two carats.
Analysis of Worthy’s 2018 auctions showed a very interesting trend: women in California got smaller diamonds and sold more of them than anyone else. Los Angeles brides, on average, got a 0.83-carat engagement ring, and California was the state with the highest percentage of auctions: almost 11% of Worthy’s total auctions in 2018 were from California.
Texas women are unloading a lot of jewelry too—of course, they’re famous for wearing a lot, so that might be why they’re recycling so much. 9.02% of our auctions were from Texas which, when combined with California, accounted for fully one-fifth of our total 2018 auctions!
California might have more auctions than any other state, but among the states with the most auctions, only New York and Florida also made the list of the top 10 average dollar amounts.
Think your jewelry isn’t important enough to sell? Wrong. 98% of our auctions last year were for diamonds under $10,000, and almost 60% of those were for diamonds less than one carat in size.
It’s not a surprise. From 2010 to 2012, in the aftermath of the recession when gold rocketed through the roof and “we buy gold” signs popped up on every corner, millions of carats of melee diamonds (tiny accent stones) were captured in the process and returned to the market. Today, there’s less urgency in the gold market, but many pieces of jewelry still have accent stones that add up in value. So even if you’ve got Granny’s old cluster ring, don’t be afraid to reach out to us.
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As we mentioned earlier, a yellow gold setting can do a lot to improve the look of a lower-color diamond. 80% of pieces in Worthy’s 2018 auctions were yellow gold—not a big surprise, considering that 41% of our auctions featured diamonds of G, H, or I color.
A bit of jewelry history, and just some history-history: Prior to the Industrial Revolution, wealth was predominantly agrarian and only the nobility or landed gentry could afford jewelry. After the Industrial Revolution wealth grew more widespread, though still concentrated in relatively few hands. But we started to see a rising middle class that could afford some jewelry. Around that time, Art Nouveau was popular, and much of that was yellow gold.
By the 1920s, design trends had shifted to Art Deco, with its sharp angles and diamonds and gems in platinum settings, ushering in a white wave in jewelry design that lasted until World War II, when platinum was declared a strategic metal in the United States and its use in jewelry was banned. It wouldn’t become popular again until the mid-1990s, the next white wave of jewelry design when the grunge look called for the opposite of Eighties bold gold and big hair.
After WWII, the GI bill, coupled with America’s innovation and industry, gave rise to a burgeoning middle class, and pretty much everybody could afford at least a little bit of jewelry. 14 karat and 10 karat gold made it more attainable for working-class folks (as did the rise of credit), so yellow gold stayed popular and only very high-end jewelry used platinum. White gold was readily available, but it wasn’t that attractive until manufacturers started using rhodium plating in the latter part of the 20th century.
Finally, for no reason other than ennui—or fashion cycles, if you prefer—yellow gold started getting popular again a few years ago.
Actually, if your name is Rose, you’re probably not selling your jewelry. None of our sellers in 2018 were named Rose. But Jennifer? Send it in!
The Top 12 of Women’s Names Among Our Jewelry Sellers Last Year (% of Auctions for Sellers of Each Name) were:
And while men sell far less jewelry than women do, those named Michael are most likely to do so. “Michael” came in at #13 of most-popular names of auction sellers and “David” ranked #18.
More than one-third of our sellers are age 35-44, and more than a quarter are 45-54. That’s not surprising, given that Jennifer was the most popular name given to American baby girls every year from 1970 until 1984. (Now it’s not even in the top 100—today it’s all about old-fashioned, lavender-and-lace names like Emma, Sophia, or Charlotte.)
Jessica, our number-two seller name, was hugely popular for babies born between 1981 and 1997, and our #3 name, Lisa (a diminutive of Elizabeth), was a top name for baby girls in the late 1950s and 1960s, when 9.6% of our sellers, now age 55-64, were born. For men, both Michael and David have spent the most time among most popular names for baby boys.
75% of our auctions last year were for diamond bridal jewelry, either bridal sets (engagement and wedding ring) or a diamond solitaire ring. Sellers in Missouri and Kentucky were most likely to unload a bridal set; in both places, more than 60% of the year’s diamond auctions were for bridal sets. That’s not surprising, as matching sets tend to be more popular in the South and Midwest.
But in New Hampshire and New York, diamond solitaire rings outnumbered bridal sets in auctions, and results in Vermont were evenly split 50-50. Three-stone rings and halo settings (a large center diamond surrounded by smaller accent diamonds) are popular to buy and, subsequently, popular to sell. 47 out of 50 states had at least one auction for a three-stone ring, and 45 states had at least one auction of a halo ring last year.
Finally, are they on trend or behind the times? In New Hampshire, sellers also were as likely to part with a marquise diamond as a princess shape, and in North Dakota and West Virginia, nobody sold a princess stone last year, but 18% of the auctions from ND and 11% of the auctions from WV were for marquise shapes.
Have a piece of diamond jewelry that you don’t want or need? Find out how you can sell smart with Worthy to get a good price and do something worthwhile!
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