April’s Birthstone: Perfectly Imperfect Wabi-Sabi Diamonds

The Japanese phrase “wabi-sabi” describes finding the perfection in imperfection. It has usually been applied to crafts such as ceramics, textiles, and jewelry. In the diamond world, you can’t get much more imperfectly perfect than black, rough, or included diamonds. If diamonds are your birthstone, what better way to tell the world that you, too, are perfectly imperfect and there’s more to you than meets the eye?

ABOVE: Diamond’s superior hardness means that it takes a superior polish. Even black and highly included stones, such as these beads, are brilliant when properly finished. Design by Michael Endlich, photo by Sarah Francis, courtesy Pavé Fine Jewelry.

Designer Todd Reed has made his mark by utilizing black and rough or “raw” diamonds. In fact, it can be argued that Reed and his vision for these materials are primarily responsible for the interest in black and rough diamonds today. Photo courtesy Todd Reed Jewelry.

Designer Todd Reed has made his mark by utilizing black and rough or “raw” diamonds. In fact, it can be argued that Reed and his vision for these materials are primarily responsible for the interest in black and rough diamonds today. Photo courtesy Todd Reed.

Arguably, the designer who started the interest in black and rough diamonds is Todd Reed. These were the stones that, at one time, were crushed into powder and used to edge cutting blades like those used to slice open streets or drill rock for oil. They were considered unlovely and unloved–until their chunky, rough, and rustic nature was paired with gold or oxidized silver.

The imperfect perfection of wabi-sabi is seen in this 18k rose gold pendant by Michael Endlich. The grayish pink of the diamond is enhanced by the rose gold setting. The inclusions in the diamond, which make the stone almost opaque, make the stone and the pendant unique. Design by Michael Endlich, photo by Sarah Francis, courtesy Pavé Fine Jewelry.

The imperfect perfection of wabi-sabi is seen in this 18k rose gold pendant by Michael Endlich. The grayish pink of the diamond is enhanced by the rose gold setting. The inclusions in the diamond, which make the stone almost opaque, make the stone and the pendant unique. Design by Michael Endlich, photo by Sarah Francis, courtesy Pavé Fine Jewelry.

Suddenly it seemed that the jewelry world could not get enough of these former outcasts. (They’re hardly needed in the industrial world, since most of the world’s industrial diamonds are man-made synthetics.) Now black, gray, included, and rough diamonds have even entered the bridal market, once thought to be an arena closed to all but white, perfectly cut diamonds.

This 18k yellow gold bracelet by Sandy Leong shows off the variety of color, shape, and texture that is possible with diamonds once thought unusable for jewelry. Courtesy Sandy Leong Jewelry.

This 18k yellow gold bracelet by Sandy Leong shows off the variety of color, shape, and texture that is possible with diamonds once thought unusable for jewelry. Courtesy Sandy Leong Jewelry.

As Reed proved, these diamonds provide a wonderful contrast in texture to precious metals and, as you can see in Sandy Leong’s bracelet (above), the smooth, organic surface of cow horn. This kind of contrast is popular among jewelry buyers today. It’s a market that wants something unique, individual, something not highly finished and polished, something authentic.

The unusual combination of cow horn and black diamonds set off by 18k yellow gold in this bracelet is indicative of Sandy Leong’s bold design style. Courtesy Sandy Leong Jewelry.

The unusual combination of cow horn and black diamonds set off by 18k yellow gold in this bracelet is indicative of Sandy Leong’s bold design style. Courtesy Sandy Leong Jewelry.

But more than that, black, included and rough diamonds provide a cultural jewelry dissonance. In the mining of diamonds, clean white diamonds are rare. Gray, included, opaque “bort” is common in the diamond pipes. Using these stones in a frame usually reserved for the expensive and rare raises questions about value, perfection, and expectations. Because the price of jewelry set with these stones is often fairly high, they also help us focus on the value of design and craftsmanship rather than the intrinsic value of the material.

So imperfection becomes perfect.


Sharon Elaine Thompson is a GG and FGA who has been writing about gemstones and jewelry for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 1987. She also writes a line of birthstone romance novels under the name Liz Hartley.


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