An auction at Sotheby’s in Geneva in May 2014 took an unusual turn. Within the space of a little more than a quarter of an hour, a 100.09-carat diamond, called the “Graff Vivid Yellow,” was first pulled from the sale, then resubmitted and then sold for more than $16.3 million, thus breaking the world record for a yellow diamond sold at public sale, and well within the pre-sale estimate of between $15 million and $25 million.
The Geneva sale once again raised the profile of fancy-colored yellow diamonds. The previous record holder was the “Sun-Drop Diamond,” which at 110.03-carat was considered the largest pear-shaped fancy vivid yellow diamond in the world. It sold for $12.3 million Sotheby’s in Geneva in November 2011, breaking a mark set only one month earlier by the 32.77-carat “Vivid Yellow,” which sold for almost .6 million at Christie’s in New York.
Yellow diamonds are considered to be fancy colored when they fall outside the traditional D-to-Z range, which includes colorless to light-yellow hues, with the latter at its far end. And, while considerably less common than the yellowish diamonds falling within the standard D-Z range, fancy colored yellows nonetheless are more common than blue, pink, and red Fancy Colored Diamonds.
The most common word used to describe fancy yellow diamonds is “canary,” which is reserved for exceptionally vivid stones. This, however, is used exclusively for marketing purposes and is not an accepted grading term.
The yellow color visible in diamonds is the result of the presence in the diamond molecule of nitrogen atoms, and, unsurprisingly, the intensity of the yellow color depends entirely on the amount of nitrogen entrapped. Colorless stones have little to no nitrogen and consequently do not show noticeable color.
Yellow diamonds occur in a wide range of saturations, and the GIA Colored Diamond Grading System assigns them one of six color grades: Fancy Light, Fancy, Fancy Dark, Fancy Deep, Fancy Intense, and Fancy Vivid. They frequently are cut in fancy shapes, with the radiant cut often favored. This is done because it affective in intensifying the appearance of color when viewed face up.
The “Sun-Drop Diamond” is not the largest known fancy colored yellow. Among the bigger stones is the Sun of Africa diamond, which reportedly weighed more than 127 carats. Few details are known, but it is said that the GIA described the diamond as fancy vivid yellow with excellent polish and no fluorescence.
Even more intriguing is the Florentine Diamond, whose exact location is also a mystery. Originally a 137.27-carat double rose-cut stone, it has at various times been called the Tuscany Diamond, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and the Austrian Yellow Diamond. According to legend, Charles the Bold, whose official title was the Duke of Burgundy, lost the stone in battle, and it was found by a foot soldier who sold it for a single coin. Some believe that the Florentine Diamond was later recut, and what remains is an 80-carat stone.
In 2015 Lawrence Graff introduced the “The Golden Empress,” a 132.55-carat Fancy Intense cushion-cut yellow diamond. He had purchased it as a 299-carat rough diamond from Letšeng in the southern African kingdom of Lesotho, which is a mine that has in recent years produced some of the world’s most spectacular diamonds.
The largest fancy-colored yellow is almost certainly the Incomparable diamond, which was discovered as an 890-carat rough stone in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was eventually bought by Donald Zale of Zale Corporation, who oversaw its being cut into a trilliant shape weighing 407.78 carats. It is said to holds the record for largest internally flawless diamond, and is the third largest polished diamond in the world.
The 100.09-carat Graff Vivid Yellow, which sold for more than $16.3 million at Sotheby’s in May 2014.
The 110.03-carat Sun-Drop Diamond, the largest pear-shaped fancy vivid yellow diamond in the world, which in November 2011 sold for $12.3 million.
The 132.55-carat Golden Empress, a fancy intense cushion-cut yellow diamond purchased by Lawrence Graff as a 299-carat rough diamond from the Letšeng mine in Lesotho.
Other Fancy Colors