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This diamond costs $16 million!

February 14, 2007 12:23 IST

If you think diamonds are a girl's best friend, think again. The majority of expensive stones are bought by men, who purchase them for their personal collections.

"Marilyn Monroe had it all wrong," says Stanislas de Quercize, chief executive of jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels, "especially when it comes to serious collectors. It's an obsession with obtaining that rare and somewhat mythical stone or that exquisite piece. These collectors will stop at nothing to get it."

These are anonymous private individuals who search for and acquire the world's most perfect stones, working quietly through diamond suppliers, jewelry houses and auction houses, relying on phone calls and word of mouth.

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Their search takes them to the corners of the world--from the Argyle mines in Western Australia, where rare pink and red diamonds are auctioned off at the annual Pink Diamond Tender, to Christies and Sotheby's "Magnificent Jewels" auctions, held in different venues around the world, from Hong Kong to Geneva. (The next takes place Feb. 20 in St. Moritz.)

"Once in a while, a special stone comes up for sale," says Sally Morrison, director and spokeswoman for the Diamond Information Center, a public relations organization representing diamond retailers. "Before it becomes publicly available, the jewelry house handling it will contact a few big collectors privately, to give them the first chance to buy."

Not on the short list? Don't worry. We've rounded up some of the world's rarest and most costly diamonds. All are publicly available now, at the prices quoted. No need to wait for auction. Just come up with the necessary cash, and they can grace your finger, neck or vault tomorrow.

What to look for

When it comes to picking out a one-of-a-kind diamond, especially one coveted by collectors, clarity and color matter more than size.

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"As a collector, you want to look at rarity when seeking out a diamond," explains Morrison. This includes paying attention to how clear the stone is, how free of flaws and how exceptional its color.

Pricey pieces

Take the flawless white diamond currently being offered by Sotheby's Diamonds for $16 million. The stone is relatively hefty, weighing 108 carats. But it's an absence of flaws that makes it worth acquiring.

Want a little provenance with your stone? Another diamond now for sale was once displayed at the London Natural History Museum. This 70 carat white sparkler is set at the center of a multicolored diamond necklace being offered for $12 million by Robert Mouawad's private collection. Mouawad is a jeweler well-known in the Middle East for creating pieces for royals such as the Sultan of Brunei and the Emperor of Japan.

Less costly but almost as spectacular is the $2.5 million Van Cleef & Arpels Drape de Diamantes necklace, a deco piece designed in 1935 but not executed until 2006. Its two emerald-cut white diamonds, 5.4 carats each, are set against 268 marquise-cut diamonds and 63 baguette diamonds, all mounted in white gold.

Another get: A platinum-set 15 carat white diamond ring by Neil Lane boasts a celebrity connection: Madonna once wore it.

Colors galore

But why limit yourself to white?

"Red, green, blue or purple really cause a stir, because they are so rare," says Sam Merksamer, executive director of the Natural Color Diamond Association, an international trade organization dedicated to increasing awareness of colored diamonds. "With the exception of yellows, colored diamonds tend to be on the smaller side. But that doesn't mean they aren't just as exquisite."

The Leviev fancy vivid yellow diamond (77.12 carats) hangs from a strand of round brilliant cut white diamonds totaling 72.58 carats (exclusive of the yellow). Price: $10 million.

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And De Beers' "Kiss of the Rose" ring ($1.2 million) features a pear-shaped, rose-cut diamond so clear that through it you can see the small .8 carat fancy intense pink diamond set beneath, giving the larger stone a fiery glow. Surrounding these two are 2.49 carats of white pave diamonds.

Like what you see? Be warned: Even in our high-tech age, few serious collectors--be they men or women--buy stones over the Internet. Expect to shop corporeally.

But might online buying someday become the norm?

"Never say never," shrugs Gary Schuler, senior vice president and director of jewelry at Sotheby's in New York. For now, though, the risk of purchasing a counterfeit online is still "too great."

Hitha Prabhakar, Forbes