Graff Diamonds (Est. 1960 – ) No one disputes that The House of Graff’s tagline, “The Most Fabulous Jewels in the World,” accurately portrays the quality that the Graff brand offers. Unlike many of its more well-known and longstanding rivals, it has achieved its status in only a little more than a half century.
Founded in 1960 by jeweler Laurence Graff, the company quickly became known for its unique jewelry. In 1966, the company received the Diamonds International Award for best design jewelry brand. In 2015 and still going strong, Press Cave Magazine named Graff as one of the year’s Top Ten Famous Jewelry Designers.
Graff was born to a Jewish family of immigrants in 1938 in Stepney, UK and began work as an apprentice at age 15 creating small jewels and repairing rings. At 16, he produced his first ring – adorned with diamonds – while working at Schindler’s workshop in London. After losing his job at Schindler’s, Graff learned to repair and solder rings and make small jewels at Segal’s when he was 17. He designed on a bench in his bedroom.
When Segal’s went bankrupt, Graff opened a 24-hour ring repair service with Frank Nicholls. They moved into copying Victorian rings and Graff opened his first shop at age seventeen in Hatton Garden, London.
Graff generated business by travelling. He carried his Victorian samples in a suitcase. On a visit to Robinson & Co.’s department store in Singapore which sold his stock, he got his first big break when he met the Crown Prince and Princess of Brunei.
The Crown Princess, now Queen, became the world’s most gorgeously jeweled woman – thanks to Graff. The jewels of the 29th Sultan’s three wives were flawless and the Queen, the first wife, had the very best. They cost a fortune and made Graff supremely rich. The Queen’s patronage led to Graff’s success. It opened doors for him in Asia and the Far East and set him up for a lifetime.
From the beginning, Graff became known for using only the finest quality diamonds and gemstones that matched the exacting standards of his custom-made jewelry. His reputation has been achieved by selling important diamonds including the Star of Bombay, the Emperor Maximilian, the Idol’s Eye, and the Sultan Abdul-Hamid II. By 2008, he was Britain’s 36th richest man.
Now considered by many to be Harry Winston’s heir, i.e., the new “King of Diamonds,” Graff is similarly known for handling important diamonds that also include the Grand Coeur d’Afrique, a seventy-carat, heart-shaped, flawless diamond as well as The Empress Rose, a flawless, pink, pear-shaped diamond just under ninety carats. Graff also handles exceptional colored gemstones. In fact, since 1990, most of the world’s finest diamonds have passed through his hands. At his retail stores, which now span the globe, Graff sells modern, gem-focused jewelry.
In a 2007 interview with Geoffrey Baker of the Evening Standard’s ES Magazine, Graff, a very secretive man, revealed that the foundation of his fortune derived from one huge client, the Sultan of Brunei, who was the world’s richest man in the 80’s and 90’s. In the 1990’s, the competition for the world’s finest and largest jewels was between the Sultan and Graffand Sheikh Ahmed Hassan Fitaihi, the owner of a Riyadh department store known as the Harrods of Saudi Arabia.
The two sent the price of diamonds to heights unseen since the sale of the Koh-i-Noor diamond and the Crown Jewels of Edward VII. Fitaihi was, at that time, number one in gem stone sales and backed by then King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi princes against Graff who was number two with his Brunei and Far Eastern clients.
Graff jewelry is exceptional. From the quality to the style to the workmanship, the House of Graff is synonymous with the most fabulous jewels in the world. The name symbolizes rarity, beauty, excellence, and, above all, the best quality, craftsmanship and diamonds.
The House produces polished diamonds from the roughs sourced from mines all around the world. This makes Graff one of the world’s leading diamond companies.
Tens of thousands of carats of rough diamonds are cut and polished by a team of over 300 in Graff’s diamond cutting facility based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Each jewel is unique, from the perfectly cut diamond to the magnificent hand-finished piece. This enables Graff to have exclusivity in his selection of the finest stones which are then set into high quality designs and offered to his clients around the world.
Graff does all jobs itself – from digging the rough stones in its South African mines to designing and cutting in London and New York, Laurence’s brother Raymond handles production in London and Johannesburg. The Graffs own 51% of the Safdico (South African Diamond Corporation) mine with a cutting factory in Gaborone, Botswana. Laurence’s son François is managing director in London.
Among the House’s most notable pieces are the Emperor Maximilian that made an appearance at the 1933-34 “Century of Progress” exhibition in Chicago. Following the original owner’s death, it was sold to an unnamed individual who had it mounted by Cartier in a ring. In 1982 it was sold again, this time by Christie’s in New York with a catalog description of “…property of a lady, sold by order of the Trustees.”
The auction estimate was $330,000 but realized was $726,000, more than double the original estimate. Laurence Graff was the winning bidder at that auction.
In 1983, Graff made diamond sales history for a single transaction when he sold this diamond to an unnamed buyer in a lot along with the Idol’s Eye and the Sultan Abd al-Hamid II. The rumored buyers were Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos of the Philippines.
With major scandals surrounding him, Marcos’ tenure as Philippine’s President came to an abrupt end when he was removed from office in 1986. A bi-product of his death three years later was the disappearance of the Idol’s Eye from his estate. The Idol’s Eye ended as it began, shrouded in mystery, its whereabouts still remain unknown.
Other notable pieces that have been created, bought, sold, and/or passed through the House of Graff include the Windsor Yellows that were acquired by Laurence Graff in 1987 in Geneva during the auction of the jewels belonging to Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. A pair of clips of fancy yellow pear shaped diamonds of 51.01 and 40.22 carats respectively, needed re-cutting to bring them to their full potential.
The Paragon diamond was acquired by Graff in 1989. The Paragon is a 7-sided diamond of 137.82 carats and was seen as part of the “millennium” necklace of round, pink, blue and yellow diamonds worn by Naomi Campbell in 1999.
The Lesotho Promise was acquired as a rough 603-carat stone for $12.4 million in 2006. The stone was cut by a team using computer-controlled lasers into 26 D-flawless diamonds totaling 224 carats, the highest yield from a single diamond. Among these was the largest gem cut from the diamond; a 75-carat pear-shaped diamond and the smallest, a 0.55-carat round brilliant. In all, twenty-six stones were fashioned from the rough gem, figuring as seven pear shapes, four emerald cuts, thirteen round brilliants and one heart shape. The finished gems totaled 224 carats.
The Letseng Legacy diamond was unearthed from the same mine as the Lesotho Promise. Acquired by Graff for $10.4 million, it yielded 20 diamonds totaling 231.67cts from the one rough stone.
The Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond is a 31.06-carat fancy, deep-blue diamond with internally flawless clarity and was purchased by Laurence Graff in 2008 for £16.4 million.
The Delaire Sunrise is, at 118.08 carats, the largest square emerald cut Fancy Vivid Yellow diamond in the world. Discovered in 2008 at an alluvial mine in South Africa, it was a 221.81 carat rough diamond. When Laurence Graff unveiled the finished piece, he named it “the Delaire Sunrise.”
The Constellation is, at 102.79 carats, the largest round shaped, D color, Internally Flawless diamond ever to be graded by the Gemological Institute of America.
The Graff Pink was acquired by Graff in November 2010. A pink diamond with a type IIa classification and modified emerald cut shape, the diamond was previously held in a private collection for over 60 years. The diamond displayed 25 natural flaws. The recut 23.88 carat diamond displayed new color, clarity, and internal flawlessness.
The Graff Sweethearts were originally two rough diamonds weighing 196 carats and 184 carats, respectively and discovered at the Letseng Mine in Lesotho. After cutting they produced a 51.53 carat, D color Flawless type IIa and a 50.76ct D color Flawless type IIa, both heart-shaped.
The Sultan Abdul Hamid II is a 70.54 carat light yellow acquired by Graff in 1981. It has been suggested that this stone may have been cut from The Ottoman I which originally belonged to Suleyman the Magnificent of Turkey.
The Peacock Brooch takes the form of a peacock with a display of fanned tail feathers. This diamond brooch features a collection of colored diamonds that total 120.81 carats and adorn the brooch which measures a little over 10 cm in height. The piece is priced at $100 million.
At the heart of the brooch, sits a 20.02 carat deep blue pear shape diamond. The piece also features an additional clasp to the rear that allows the blue diamond centerpiece to be removed and worn two ways.
Graff’s life has not been flawless progress. When he took his company public in the years 1973-77, he launched his shares at 57p, paid few dividends and watched the dividend fall over these four years to 28p, at which level he bought them back. The occurred during the period’s world oil crisis and recession.
“I did not like this time,” Graff says. ”I was not doing a chairman’s job. I was out in the field. It was, though, the greatest learning curve in my career.”
The House of Graff has also been the target of at least two significant robberies. One took place on August 6, 2009 when two men posing as customers entered Graff Diamonds in New Bond Street, London and stole jewelry worth nearly £40 million (US$65 million). At the time, it was believed to be the largest ever gem heist in Britain and the second largest British robbery after the £53 million raid on a Securitas depot in Kent in 2006.
The thieves’ haul totaled 43 items of jewelry, consisting of rings, bracelets, necklaces, and wristwatches. One necklace alone was reported being worth more than £3.5m. Britain’s previous largest jewelry robbery also took place at Graff’s in 2003.
As of September 2014, none of the stolen jewels had been recovered and, while the robbers and their associates were eventually caught and jailed, experts believe the jewelry was probably broken up so the precious stones could be anonymously resold after being recut.
Graff was the first jewelry brand to mark an identification number to each of its diamonds. The company produces several major collections of jewelry including Butterfly, Diamonds on Diamonds, Chandelier, and Waterfall.
The Graff Company also sells watches with diamonds. These include ChronoGraff, a collection of sports watches with black straps and watch cases made of pink or white, the MasterGraff, a watch with a tourbillon, and Graffstar, with watches in this collection equipped with an automatic movement and cases made of 18 carat gold.
In addition, the company produces The Lady Graff Superstar that s decorated with a ribbon of 10 carat diamonds. Another model, the BabyGraff is made in white gold, adorned with diamonds and created in lots of 50 pieces weighing 6.85 carats.
In 2015, Graff introduced The Fascination, a £27.3 million transformable watch featuring over 152 carats of diamonds. It is a one-of-a-kind bracelet-watch, encrusted with 152.96 carats of Graff’s finest white diamonds.
The Fascination’s transformability is made possible through a central 38.13-carat, pear shape diamond graded as D Flawless that can be removed from the bracelet and fitted into a ring shank. A diamond watch face can then be inserted in its place, making the Fascination one of the most expensive ‘three-in-one’ jewels ever created. It is currently valued at around $40 million (£27.3 million).
Today Graff is one of the largest producers in South Africa with one of the largest polishing and cutting factories based in Johannesburg. It employs over 300 craftsmen. Thousands of carats of diamonds are cut and polished and only the best go into Graff retail stores around the world. Diamonds are also cut and polished at Graff’s factories in New York, Antwerp, Botswana and Mauritius.
All Graff jewels are made by hand in the Graff London workshops including creation of the design to the setting. Each piece requires many hours of work; some pieces can take several hundred hours. The skilled craftsmen, many of whom are trained at Graff, have perfected the extraordinarily fine settings that are a major feature of the House’s jewelry.
With overseas expansion Graff is a top global diamond jewelry brand. There are 30 Graff stores worldwide with corporate offices in London, New York and Geneva. Most recently new flagship stores have opened in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Geneva, Dubai, New York and Moscow.
From the founding of the company in 1960 to the present day, Graff continues to operate as a family business. Laurence Graff’s son Francois Graff is the company’s chief executive officer, his brother Raymond Graff manages the workshop, and nephew Elliott Graff controls the design, merchandising and production of the jewelry. Today, after more than five decades at the pinnacle of the luxury jewelry industry, Graff continues to push the boundaries of ever-greater innovation and excellence.