New York diamond specialist Fraser Brown, originally of Portaferry, knows everything there is to know about his trade. Jane Hardy caught up with him on a recent trip home
When J-Lo wanted something sparkly and several carats to wear on Oscar night, and Ralph Lauren needed some rather special gems to incorporate into the gold stirrup-themed jewellery used in the 40th birthday celebrations of his label, their jewellers and agents called on Fraser Brown, one of New York’s specialist diamond dealers and an innovative jeweller in his own right.
“We were close to the goldsmith involved in Ralph Lauren’s 40th anniversary and helped conceptualise some ideas which led to some wow pieces. And I’m also very close professionally to Lorraine Schwartz who supplied the jewellery for J-Lo at the Oscars,” Fraser reveals.
So it was natural for Diet Coke to invite the Portaferry-born diamond expert to create individual pieces of jewellery for the 10 Northern Ireland winners — 50% of the total — of their Diamond competition this summer.
Fraser (37) has enjoyed the task and says: “They’ve given me carte blanche and the diamonds given away as prizes are one carat which would cost anything from £5,000 to £7,000 on the open market.”
He has designed a sapphire and diamond heart necklace, conventional rings and a diamond navel ring for Marcella, a truck driver from Limerick. How did he feel about that? “It’s her buzz and so I was happy to do it.”
Diamonds are definitely this boy’s best friend. He has been working in the States, first in Los Angeles and now in New York, for three years and his company, diamond.ie, has an annual turnover of a million dollars — “not bad for a one man show”.
Fraser not only wears diamonds himself, he has created a range of men’s fashion rings. He says: “I use rough diamonds which are a great natural stone although not sparkly. I’m a fan of men’s diamond jewellery and own a gold Bulgari money clip with black onyx in the centre which I removed and replaced with a black diamond. So if people see it and like it, I say ‘I can produce one for you’.”
Before getting into the diamond business, Fraser trained in naval architecture at Newcastle University then worked for Harland & Wolff. He also became an Olympic standard yachtsman, reaching the top 10 in the world and coming first in 2003 at an Olympic status event at Kiel. “This was hard core sailing and the boats are like nothing you ever knew existed — if you Google 49er sailing, you’ll see what I mean.”
The route from water sports to hard mineral gems came when Fraser decided he wanted to start his own business and took an MBA at Trinity College, Dublin. “I’d been interested in having a business since I was about 12, partly because my father had his own business in Portaferry building and designing yachts.”
He became a strategy management consultant in 2000, at the height of the Dublin technology boom, then started to think about diamonds.
As Fraser explains: “I was always looking for business opportunities and became interested in selling diamonds online. It’s a great thing to do, selling something the price of a car and then putting it in the post without the hassle of car dealership or anything.” He finds the money side exciting, but there is also the romance connected with these prized jewels.
He continues: “I think the excitement is the same as it always was, to do with sitting down with a young couple choosing an important ring. Most of my clients are in love, which makes it really good fun. My job is to help them get the most bang for their bucks.”
If you have a limited budget, say £800, you could buy a nice bespoke fashion ring but Fraser says that people normally have a starting budget of “£1,500 — and go right up”.
Right up can mean to several million dollars and Fraser is currently helping a client who is keen to buy a pair of matching diamond earrings, with each jewel worth 10 carats, which will eventually result in a price tag of well over $1m.
Taste varies according to which part of the world you’re in. Apparently, green diamonds, which are rare, go to Dubai, while “Americans like big stones and are prepared to sacrifice colour and clarity”. In Europe, buyers tend to regard colour and clarity as more important than size.
Fraser likes to supply his customers with the premium, whiter diamonds. There is a relatively complex grading system with the purest shade D and the nearly colourless G, H and I. The cut of a diamond is also vital to the effect of an individual jewel.
“There are fashions, with the round cut being popular now, and the Princess square cut, but I like what’s known as a cushion cut, a cross between a round and a Princess. It’s square but rounded at the corners and is a big celebrity diamond shape,” he says.
The process from mine to fourth finger on the left hand takes in the initial expensive mining process, mainly in South Africa, but also in Canada, Australia “and we get a lot from Russia”, then the diamonds go to manufacturing centres round the world, and finally on to the dealers. “There are all the Jewish families here in New York, some Indians, and then there’s me.”
Fraser has excellent contacts, and declares: “We can get anything”. He’ll hear on the grapevine that there might be some valuable blue diamonds around, and will then see if any of his clientele might be in the market for them.
Although he claims the engagement ring he bought his wife Emma “wasn’t my best ever purchase”, Fraser clearly relishes his day to day job matching client to jewel. It’s a nice job for a diamond geezer.