Would You Buy a Rough Diamond?

Uncut diamonds usually are sold to dealers or jewelers who then incorporate them into the collections they sell to clients but Signum, a new company, intends to take a different approach: selling them directly to the public and introducing a digital companion as well.

The business was created in late 2021 by the owners of HB Antwerp, the diamond trading, cutting and polishing company that holds partial ownership of the 1,758-carat Sewelo, the second-largest diamond ever unearthed.

“We are aiming to create a new product and a new market,” Rafael Papismedov, co-founder and managing partner of Signum, said from his office in Antwerp, Belgium, the port city long considered the epicenter of the diamond trade.

The product is rough diamonds, each of 10 or more carats and priced at $500,000 or more, with cutting and polishing services included in the price. Also, HB Antwerp worked with Microsoft to develop its own blockchain-style ledger on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, so each gem is to be sold with a digital twin: a nonfungible token, or NFT, that would document its history and be proof of its authenticity. (Signum has been focused on the digital world from the start: Its debut in December 2021 was accompanied by the sale of 12 NFT diamond-themed artworks, which sold out.)

To start the physical side of the business, Mr. Papismedov said, 44 rough diamonds were selected for their beauty and rarity from among more than 4,000 stones over the past two years. In the next few months he intends to begin selling them to influential people — essentially trying to turn the brand and ambassador relationship upside down — and then expand sales to the public.

In recent years rough diamonds have been featured in some jewelry collections.

De Beers Jewellers has said its Talisman collection, introduced in 2005, pioneered the use of rough diamonds in jewelry — and, according to the house, Talisman continues to be one of its best-selling ranges. “There is something almost mystical about unpolished diamonds, nature’s purest works of art,” De Beers’s chief executive, Céline Assimon, wrote in an email.

Maison Mazerea, a jewelry brand introduced in July by Burgundy Diamond Mines of Perth, Australia, has offered polished and uncut diamonds in custom pieces. And the independent jeweler Melanie Georgacopoulos, who divides her time between London and Germany, wrote in an email that clients appreciated her 2020 collection featuring rough diamonds and natural pearls because “they do not scream money.”

Paul Zimnisky, an independent diamond analyst based in New York State, wrote in an email that Signum’s diamond pricing is in line, if on the high end, of current retail ranges, considering that the cost of a custom cut is included.

Does he believe such a business model can work? “This has always been an area that I have advocated for,” he wrote. “I think there is nothing more beautiful than a high-quality, good-color, octahedron-shaped rough diamond. It’s a true gem of nature. Diamond jewelry consumers, especially at the high end, are always looking for something special.”

Mr. Papismedov said integral parts of Signum’s business would be advising clients on alternate uses of rough diamonds, particularly in art, and highlighting the positive impact of diamond mining.

Critics say mining causes environmental damage and is linked to forced labor and other problems. But, Mr. Papismedov said, no one is telling the public “how some nations like Botswana and Canada are benefiting from mining, saving communities with jobs.”

He intends to have Signum participate in social programs promoting such efforts and will create what he called a cultural council of buyers so they can have a voice in the company’s choices of programs and donations.

Mr. Papismedov acknowledged that Signum’s offer was not for everyone. “Not only because we don’t have enough stones, and because of the very high pricing point,” he said. “But even if you do have the money, you still need the values and the commitment to become a Signum owner.”

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