Category: NYTIMES

Louis Vuitton has won all 1,758 carats of the Sewelo diamond.
Louis Vuitton has bought the Sewelo, the biggest diamond discovered since 1905. Credit…Grégoire Vieille/Louis Vuitton

The largest rough diamond discovered since 1905, the 1,758-carat Sewelo, was revealed with great fanfare last April, named in July and then largely disappeared from view. Now it has resurfaced with a new owner — and it’s not a name you might expect.

It is not, for example, Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, on the hunt for a trophy asset. It is not a royal family, searching for a centerpiece for a new tiara. It is not the De Beers Group, who could be seen as the creator of the diamond market and owner of the Millennium Star diamond, which, uncut, was a 770-carat stone.

It is not even the diamond specialist Graff, the owner of the Graff Lesedi La Rona, a 302.37-carat diamond that is the world’s largest emerald-cut sparkler.

It is Louis Vuitton — the luxury brand better known for its logo-bedecked handbags than its mega-gems, which has been present on Place Vendôme, the heart of the high jewelry market, for less than a decade.

And it is the latest sign, following the $16.2 billion purchase of Tiffany by the French behemoth LVMH (the parent company of Louis Vuitton) in November, that LVMH is out not just to compete, but to utterly dominate the high jewelry market. Taken together, the double punch of purchasing (brand and stone) in less than two months is the luxury equivalent of shock and awe.

“There are less than 10 people in the world who would know what to do with a stone like that or how to cut it and be able to put the money on the table to buy it,” said Marcel Pruwer, the former president of the Antwerp Diamond Exchange and the managing director of the International Economic Strategy advisory firm. “To buy and then sell what could be a $50 million stone, you need the technical qualifications, as well as the power to write the check and take the risk.”

Michael Burke, the chief executive of Louis Vuitton, declined to say how much the company had spent on the stone, though he acknowledged it was in the “millions” and that “some of my competitors, I believe, will be surprised” that Vuitton was the purchaser.

“Nobody expects us to put such an emphasis on high jewelry,” Mr. Burke said. “I think it will spice things up a bit. Wake up the industry.

Credit…Mine Karowe / Lucara Diamond Corp.

Discovered in April 2019 at the Karowe mine in Botswana (owned by Lucara Diamond Corp, a Canadian miner), the baseball-size Sewelo is the second largest rough diamond ever mined.

The largest was the 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond, which was discovered in South Africa in 1905 and eventually yielded two enormous high-quality stones — one of 530.4 carats and one 317.4, both now part of the British crown jewels, as well as many smaller stones.

The Sewelo is also the largest rough diamond ever found in Botswana (a country that has become the poster child for responsible mining) and the third very large diamond discovered in Karowe.

The mine also produced the 813-carat Constellation, uncovered in 2015 and sold for $63 million to Nemesis International in Dubai, a diamond trading company (in partnership with the Swiss jeweler de Grisogono) and the Lesedi La Rona, discovered in 2016 and sold to Graff for $53 million.

When Lucara held a competition to name the Sewelo, 22,000 Botswana citizens submitted entries. “Sewelo” means “rare find” in Setswana.

Unlike both the Constellation and the Lesedi, however, it is covered in carbon (at the moment it looks like a big lump of coal), which makes exactly what kind of diamond material is inside a “mystery,” according to Ulrika D’Haenens-Johansson, a senior research scientist at the Gemological Institute of America.

It also makes “the risk that much greater,” Mr. Pruwer said. When the stone was unearthed, there was a fair amount of speculation that it may be worth significantly less than its not-quite-as-giant siblings.

The profitability of any large stone depends on its yield: how many gem-quality carats can be gotten out of it once cut to maximize the price, which is in turn a function of the impurities in the stone — though, as Ms. D’Haenens-Johansson points out, even the impurities have value in a stone this size. They can reveal when the diamond was created and at what depth in the earth.

The mine, which has examined the diamond through a tiny “window” in the dark covering and scanned it with lasers, describes the stone as “near gem quality,” with “domains of high-quality white gem.” There are thousands of gradations of diamonds, ranging from D-flawless (the most rare) to industrial stones used in cutting and manufacturing.

“Is it D or D-flawless, and how big is the flawless part? I don’t know,” Mr. Burke said, acknowledging that the purchase “took a little bit of guts and trust in our expertise.” (To be fair, LVMH can afford it; its revenues in 2018 were 46.8 billion euros, or $52 billion.)

Still, Mr. Post said, “You don’t buy a stone like that unless you have some plan for what you are going to do with it and some belief that there is enough clear material that you can cut it and make a profit.”

Mr. Burke said when he showed the stone to Bernard Arnault, the majority owner and chief executive of LVMH, and “he had it in his hand, he smiled.” A smile from Mr. Arnault, a famously taciturn executive, is the equivalent of a scream of triumph from another chief executive.

The Lesedi La Rona diamond at Sotheby’s in 2016.
Credit…Donald Bowers/Getty Images for Sotheby’s
The 302.37 carat Graff Lesedi La Rona.
Credit…Donald Woodrow

After all, along with the potential profits, LVMH also bought the less quantifiable, but nevertheless palpable, bragging rights to the diamond in an industry where mythology and romance are part of the price.

Mr. Burke said that when his team suggested that Vuitton consider buying the Sewelo, his initial reaction was: “What took you so long?”

“It’s a big, unusual stone, which makes it right up our alley,” he said. It is also the first time Vuitton has bought a rough stone without having presold it to a client. (According to Mr. Pruwer, most branded fine jewelers buy stones that are already cut and polished.)

Vuitton’s partners in Antwerp are building a scanner able to see through the stone’s coating, though with the imaging already in place, including a CT scan, they have estimated it may yield a 904-carat cushion-cut diamond, an 891-carat Oval or several stones of between 100 and 300 carats.

As for the fact that the acquisition happened around the same time as the Tiffany acquisition, Mr. Burke said it was a coincidence. Yet he acknowledged, with some understatement, that LVMH “typically likes to become leaders in whatever field we go into.”

And if the Sewelo doesn’t prove to be quite as lucrative as LVMH is betting? “I’ll go jump in a river,” Mr. Burke said.





Will the Oscars Crush New York Fashion Week?

A scheduling conflict for the fashion ages.

Jason Wu, with this models, after his spring 2020 runway show in September.
Jason Wu, with this models, after his spring 2020 runway show in September.
Credit: Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

By Jessica Testa

As New York Fashion Week approached, so too did the insider drama of the show calendar. Which designers are skipping this season? Who is switching cities at the last minute? Who is left?

One conflict on the schedule stands apart: The 92nd Academy Awards, one of the most high-profile fashion events of the year, are on Sunday, right in the middle of fashion week.

The overlap is an anomaly; the awards show is scheduled two weeks earlier than usual in 2020 and will revert to late February next year. But it means that this year, many red carpet designers are pulling double duty, and that front-row seats reserved for A-list clients at the runway shows may be harder to fill.

It’s another complication in an already complicated season for the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which manages the New York Fashion Week calendar.

In an email, Steven Kolb, the chief executive of the CFDA, said that when his organization learned of the conflict, it “took initiative to have an open dialogue with designers” about their time slots, “in order to best support them.” He said the global spotlight of the Oscars red carpet “complements NYFW.”

For the red carpet designers who have decided to show in New York, preparing for both events simultaneously has been “a juggling act,” said Mark Badgley, of the label Badgley Mischka. “A roller coaster,” James Mischka said.

The two designers have been zipping nominees into elegant beaded gowns for more than 20 years. They spoke to The New York Times on a hectic morning eight days before their runway show and nine days before the awards. Several models were due soon for fittings.

“You’re looking at your sewing machines and weighing out, ‘Does that machine go to an Oscar dress, or does it do a runway sample?’” Mr. Badgley said.

At that moment, they were working on two gowns for the Academy Awards. That’s nothing compared with the 30 to 50 looks they present on a runway during any given season. Still, these two red carpet gowns — if they survive the last-minute celebrity mind changing and actually make it to the Oscars — could attract more attention from the general public than a fashion show.

Yet shows still matter to many designers. In an email, Brandon Maxwell, who dressed Lady Gaga, Melissa McCarthy and Sarah Paulson at the 2019 Oscars, said that “from a business and brand perspective NYFW is the priority, so we are focusing our efforts and resources there.” His show is scheduled the night before the awards.

At one point, the best way for designers to draw attention to a runway show was to put celebrities in their front row. This, too, has become difficult with the overlapping calendar, especially for labels whose shows are scheduled closest to the Oscars.

(The Badgley Mischka, show will end more than 24 hours before red carpet coverage begins, so the designers have it easier than others. Still, it is not ideal; because of the show’s proximity to the awards, its 2020 invite list focuses more on New York-based V.I.P.s than in years past.)

“I would be very concerned if I was one of those designers,” said Jessica Morgan of the celebrity fashion blog Go Fug Yourself, referring to the shows scheduled during the Oscars coverage. Ms. Morgan spent about a decade covering fashion week for New York magazine and Cosmopolitan. Awards season is her website’s biggest traffic period of the year.

“For one thing, you’re not going to have any celebrities there — maybe a few, but not anyone big,” she said. “And no big stylists are going to be able to attend their show because they’re going to be putting clients in Oscar or Vanity Fair Oscar party outfits.”

One designer scheduled for Sunday evening is Jason Wu, a celebrity favorite. (Mr. Wu declined to comment for this article.) Otherwise, the CFDA appears to have worked around fashion week’s big names. Prabal Gurung has shown on Sunday evening for the last four seasons; this year, he has been moved to Tuesday evening.

Others showing Sunday night include the street wear label Palm Angels; the futuristic swimwear-and-more label Chromat; and Kim Shui, who has dressed Kylie Jenner and Cardi B. Those designers may not be as disappointed as one might expect. Ms. Shui doesn’t care that her show is scheduled for 8 p.m., when the Oscars ceremony begins. The audiences are “different,” she said.

“We do have some front-row guests who might not be able to make it on the same day, but for us that’s not important,” said Ms. Shui, whose front row in the past has included Kehlani and Azealia Banks. “The people that would be coming to our show would be coming to our show anyway.”

Last season was more of a problem, she said, when her show was scheduled at the same time as the monster Savage x Fenty show. Diverse models Ms. Shui likes to cast were already booked by Rihanna, the Fenty designer.

A few years ago Badgley Mischka was scheduled at the same time as the Super Bowl, a considerably less fashion-centric event than the Oscars but nevertheless one that some of the designers’ guests — namely the presidents of retail companies — didn’t want to miss. So they put on their runway show at halftime and turned the game on backstage.


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