There’s good reason why we think a diamond is forever. Sure, it’s partly because of that catchy slogan that’s more than half a century old, but it’s also because, well, it’s true — mostly. Diamonds take millions of years (and a whole lot of middle-Earth pressure) to form, and they’re the hardest naturally occurring substance on the planet. And though they can technically degrade, it would take more than a few lifetimes for a diamond to deteriorate into a lump of graphite. Still, the way a modern diamond engagement ring gets made — that is, goes from being a rock in the ground to sitting on a hand cupping a coffee mug in your Instagram feed — is the result of a relatively recent process, and a long one at that.
On a press trip to Botswana with Forevermark, a subsidiary of the De Beers Group, TZR got a first-hand look at the journey of a diamond. It starts, of course, with the rock itself: a cluster of carbon atoms called kimberlite that form due to high temperatures and pressures that are nearly impossible to replicate. As it turns out, diamonds aren’t fetched from some dark, dingy underground mine the way that coal is often extracted. Instead, as I saw at Forevermark’s Orapa mine, they’re sourced using open-pit mining, which looks like a giant hole in the ground. (It appears similar to the landscape of the Grand Canyon, if the Grand Canyon was entirely man-made and for-profit.) As we learned on-site, this particular mine — which was opened back in the early ‘70s and is owned by Debswana, a partnership between De Beers and Botswana’s government — is made up of two kimberlite pipes, the material that houses diamonds. The mine uses machine technology that pumps liquid explosives into the ground to break up the kimberlite and deliver it to the surface.
And sure, digging a giant hole in the ground doesn’t exactly sound sustainable, but through the Debswana agreement, for every acre of land De Beers mines in, six acres are dedicated to the conservation of nature. Even more, all of the De Beers mines must meet most stringent standards — many of which go beyond the industry-standard Kimberly Process, an international monitoring system co-founded by the De Beers Group, whose goal it is to eradicate conflict diamond trade, according to the brand. Additionally, when the De Beers Group started operating in Botswana, there were only three secondary schools in the entire country, according to the brand. Today, there are nearly 300 schools which provide free schooling for children up to age 13. All in all, the brand says that Debswana contributes approximately 30 percent to the GDP of Botswana annually.
Then, the diamond is prepared for the next part of its journey: sorting. At the De Beers Global Sightholder Sales Headquarters, which is also based in Botswana not far from the Orapa mine, expert diamond sorters assess and separate the rough diamonds completely by hand using a very high-powered microscope. According to local law, all diamonds from Botswana must be cut and polished locally to create and maintain a thriving economy. Additionally, the headquarters was moved from London to Botswana in 2013 to help further boost the country’s economy.
According to Oarabile Hendrick, an employee at De Beers Global Sightholder Sales HQ, sorters are such experts in their field that they can immediately tell which mine a cluster of diamonds originated from thanks to its characteristics, like the color or types of inclusions. Then, after the rough group pass, the diamonds are split into single-piece passes so every individual stone gets a barcode, says Hendrick.
“Onwards, all the way to the consumer, we’re able to trace the stone,” says Sidharth Gothi, Assistant Factory Manager at KGK Diamonds, one of the select few of diamantaires certified to cut Forevermark diamonds. “We’re a 100-percent Forevermark compliant company, so we are very conscious about the pipeline integrity of the stones. At any point of time, if you pull out a parcel from one of the polishers and you want to trace it on our system, you [know] that this particular parcel is issued to this person and on this date from this time to this time. It's transparent,” Gothi says.
From there, the diamonds are moved for scanning in something called the Galaxy Scanning Process. “It’s more like a sonography machine, which images the stone inside out,” says Gothi. “It images the surface, the inside impurities and it can image all the way up to four microns of a pinpoint within the diamond.” In layman’s terms, the machine can take a rough diamond and compute the best way to cut it for the most value.
Here, a rough diamond’s value is determined, too. “Every natural diamond is as unique as a snowflake, so there are many factors to consider in determining its value,” a rep for the brand says. “Each piece of rough has multiple possibilities, and we select the best option and use a polished wholesale price list to value those outcomes and determine the potential value of a rough diamond.”
Once the sorting and scanning process is done, the diamonds are cut and polished in partnership with diamantaires, or master craftsman that adhere to Forevermark’s stringent criteria. This happens at the same headquarters, just a few buildings down. When the diamonds come in as rough stones, some are so cloudy that they look comparable to sea glass — but this is where that all changes. The polishers hand-polish the stones, exacting facets to bring out the best light and brilliance in each stone. “Once the diamond has been polished precisely, it’s evaluated against a set of stringent Forevermark standards to determine whether it can be submitted for review by Forevermark,” according to press materials. All stones that don’t comply are sold to other customers, brands, or jewelry manufacturers.
After a diamond is approved, it’s sent to one of five Forevermark Diamond Institute locations to go through a 17-step process that checks for flaws or imperfections that go beyond the 4 Cs (carat, color, cut, and clarity). While most diamonds appear clear, there’s another class of diamonds called “fancy” stones, or diamonds that are naturally colorful. They can come in almost any color, but blue, green, pink, and red fancy diamonds are the most rare — and differ from stones like sapphires or emeralds in their hardness.
Then, after each stone is scanned by additional proprietary machinery to confirm its authenticity, carat weight, and symmetry, it is hand-examined and inscribed with the Forevermark inscription — a promise that it’s completely natural and responsibly sourced.
Then comes the fun part: designing the actual ring. While Forevermark has its own in-house designers, as well as designers like Jade Trau that create collection specifically for the brand, an approved Forevermark diamond can be acquired from an authorized jeweler as a loose diamond, which can then be set however the jewelry wants. Oftentimes, this is where trends in engagement rings emerge.
“While historically round diamonds have been the most popular choice accounting for 90 percent of diamond engagement rings, today, fancy shaped diamonds (any shape other than round), particularly ovals, cushions, and emeralds are hot right now, with 60 percent of brides choosing a diamond that is a shape other than the traditional round,” a Forevermark rep says. “A simple solitaire band always feels modern and a fun trend to freshen up your look is to add mismatched multiple bands for your wedding band and anniversaries. This a great way to make your ring feel unique, and opting for a more timeless setting will ensure your ring won’t feel dated in 10 or 20 years."
While Forevermark’s Engagement and Commitment Collection has a more timeless feel, the brand also creates a Forevermark Red Carpet Collection, which is designed every year for events like the Oscars, or the Golden Globes.
“Pieces from the Forevermark Red Carpet Collection are designed in Milan at the Forevermark Design and Innovation Center, a creative of a group of designers that conceptualize and create jewelry that celebrate the beauty of Forevermark diamonds.”
Even though these pieces aren’t meant for commercial wear, they’re still perfect for inspiration — especially if you're in the market for an engagement ring. Ahead, shop 13 Forevermark favorites.