Thursday 16 January 2014

Meet the man who counterfeits the world's most famous diamonds

Meet the man who counterfeits the world's most famous diamonds

By PRI's The World, Bradley Campbell. January 03, 2014

Photo Credit: John Nels Hatleberg

Hatleberg's replica of the Centenary Diamond
The best diamonds in the world contain mysteries. And years ago, John Hatleberg was unlocking the mystery of one of the best.

He stood in the outer vault of the Smithsonian with its then-curator John White. Both stared at the Hope Diamond, the largest blue diamond in the world. They took it off its display. Then, they turned off the lights.

“We took a short wave illumination, a short wave light,” he says. You probably know it as a black light.

“And for just about a minute, we let the stone soak up the photons of that wavelength.” All in the dark.

“What happened with the Hope Diamond, the most famous jewel in the world, it turned red,” Hatleberg says. It glowed like a hot coal.

The Hope Diamond emits a red phosphorescence after being bombarded with ultraviolet light.
Research at the Smithsonian suggests that, inside the Hope diamond, at the atomic level, the ultraviolet light causes interactions between trace boron and nitrogen impurities, which then give off the red phosphorescence.

Hatleberg offers his own, non-scientific reason: “The Hope Diamond is not only a 350-year-old cultural and historic icon. It’s also possessed.”

“I wouldn’t say Satanic," he says, laughing, "but I guess I just did. I’ve never said that before.”

If the Hope held a secret, Hatleberg knew other famous diamonds across the world could, too. But getting access to priceless gems is hard without a reason. So Hatleberg started down a path that turned him into one of the greatest legal counterfeiters of diamonds in the world.

Some say, the greatest.

“People have said that I’ve held more famous diamonds than anybody in history.”

Getting started

Hatleberg began his love affair with gems at age 10, in geology class. He saw his first crystal. It entranced him. So his mom signed him up for a gem-cutting class at a suburban recreation center. And that’s where he cut his first gem, an agate.

“I think they literally had some kind of box for me to stand on, so I could reach the wheels,” he recalls.

One class turned to two. Gems hooked him. He says a childhood love of magic tricks from the Top Hat Company in Elgin, Illinois, also played a part. For him, gems contain power, whether alchemical or simply magical.

“In terms of looking for some attraction, for the roots of my involvement with gems and minerals, which are unusual, I think that starts as a good base explanation,” he says.

Hatleberg's replica of the Hope Diamond.
He kept cutting gems from the fourth grade through college. His mom found an elderly man named Joe Touchette who offered to teach Hatleberg the finer skills of gem cutting. On Saturday mornings, Hatleberg would go over to Touchette's house and they would work on gems in his basement.

“The main thing I learned down there was patience.”

During that time he says he also haunted the Smithsonian. He’d spend his free time with its mineral collection. That turned into a summer job washing mineral specimens and labeling items of the collection. And after college at Wesleyan University, he came back to the place with an interesting proposition.

“I want[ed] to take the Hope Diamond out of its setting and make a mold of it, so that we can make chocolates.”

He wanted to give people a chance to get closer to the jewel.

“In a very democratic manner, you’d be giving them a piece of it.”

A piece they could eat. What's the phrase? Body of Christ given to you. Well, this was body of diamonds given to all.

So on December 5th 1988 — yes, he remembers the exact date — he made an RTV silicon mold of the Hope Diamond. He hasn’t stopped since.

The attraction

Ever since humans walked the Earth, they have been attracted to diamonds. European and Asian kings wore them into battle to make them feel invincible. Diamonds are prized across cultures — from the Koh-i-Noor Diamond at the Tower of London, to the Dresden Green diamond in Germany, to the Golden Jubilee in Thailand. But maybe it’s Shirely Bassey, of James Bond fame, who describes them best.

“Diamonds are forever," she sings in the famous hit. "They are all I need to please me. They can stimulate and tease me. They won’t leave in the night, have no fear that they might desert me.”

Diamonds are better than secret agents. They’re also stronger. They're one of the hardest materials produced by our planet. They’re objects of desire. Gifts of love.

The best ones, determined by carat, cut, color, and clarity, can be extremely valuable. Take the Pink Star diamond — they all have names — which recently sold in Geneva for $83 million. Now, it's called the Pink Dream.

With that kind of value, diamonds need people, like Hatleberg.
The drawing that Hatleberg created of the facets of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond — which serves as his map to cutting the diamond.
“I protect diamonds," he says. "And people commission me to make a replica to protect their diamond whether it’s for insurance, security, display, promotion, historic documentation, education.”

He says people have made fakes for thousands of years. One of the first to commission a copy of the Hope Diamond was Napoleon III. Hatleberg is just continuing the craft. But what separates him is the quality of his goods. He once put one of his replicas next to the original and had a roomful of representatives from the famed diamond house, DeBeers, try to tell them apart.

They couldn’t. He’s that good.

His studio

Hatleberg lives directly across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. His apartment is a museum of its own. His artwork fills his place, from gem paintings to pearl-encrusted corncobs. His dinning room walls are gold leafed. It’s… sensual.

“I love, I love paintings. I love gems. I love women. And I sometimes get them confused,” he admits.

Hatleberg's gem-cutting studio NEW
Credit: Courtesy of John Nels Hatleberg
The Baldichino table where Hatleberg cuts his gems and diamond replicas.
He works inside a tiny home studio. Research books stack like cairns on the floor. A photo gallery of his most famous diamond replicas stretches across one wall. In the far corner is a Baldichino, a table of sorts most commonly used to display statues of the Virgin Mary.

This is where he creates his replicas.

“And my premise for all the gems that I get to work with is I believe they are primal, living, and seductive.”

It takes months for Hatlberg to reverse-engineer a diamond. He won't disclose what he makes his replicas out of — let's just say the work is beyond intricate.

He sits at his facet machine, his diamond cutter, matching every angle of every cut. Hour after hour.

“I feel that I’m cutting the faces of people I know into the gem.”

The Smithsonian is working with him to create a new replica of the Hope Diamond. The museum says there’s really no one else on the planet who is able to match its distinct color perfectly. Soon, I would see in person what that means.

But while Hatleberg can talk on and on about his passion for diamonds, art, gems and women, he gets tight-lipped about the world of diamantaires, or leaders of the diamond industry. The people he does business with. All he’d tell me is this: it’s a small world made up almost entirely of men. There’s lots of discretion.

The vault

Hatleberg takes me to his vault at a secret location. Inside are Zip-Lock bags. Inside the bags are boxes. Inside the boxes are his most special gems. He wears cloth gloves to touch them. The first one he pulls out is an exact replica of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond.

“So this is the diamond that, at one point, was valued at half the value of the known goods of the world,” he says.

He lays two more gems next to it. Real ones. A blue topaz cut to resemble Michelangelo's design for the Campidoglio, and a purple amethyst with a cut inspired by contemporary architect Zaha Hadid.

All three sit together, representing different styles of gem cutting.

They sparkle in the light.

And as you stare at each one, you don’t want to stop. All are perfect to the eye.

And the longer you look, the more you forget that one of them is a fake.

Step into the mesmerizing world of natural Pink diamonds, synonymous of elegance and sophistication. These exquisite gems have stolen the spotlight in the realm of fine jewelry, captivating the hearts of fashion enthusiasts around the globe. 

In this article, we’ll explore the enchanting features of Fancy Pink diamonds, uncovering their origins, possible tones, and the growing fascination around them. As we delve into their unique characteristics, you’ll learn how they compare to other popular pink gemstones, revealing the distinct advantages that set them apart.

The Origin Of Their Mesmerising Hues

Fancy Purple-Pink diamond from Langerman Diamonds.
0.11 ct Radiant Pink VS diamond.

Fancy Pink diamonds are the result of a remarkable geological process that lasted millions of years. During their formation process, atomic traces of minerals such as hydrogen, nitrogen, or boron were introduced into their crystalline structure, resulting in impressive hues.

However, another scientific theory states that the pink hue comes from a deformation in the crystal lattice of the stone, a phenomenon caused by extreme pressure.

Whichever the cause, thanks to our Earth’s natural transformations, today we get to enjoy the exceptional shades of Pink diamonds.

Fancy Intense Purple-Pink diamond from Langerman Diamonds.
0.22 ct Pear Pink diamond from Argyle, Australia.

From delicate pastel tones reminiscent of blooming cherry blossoms to intense, vivid shades that command attention, natural Pink diamonds offer a diverse palette of hues that ignite the imagination.

Rarity And A Growing Fascination

The allure of these unique stones lies not only in their enchanting beauty but also in their rarity. 

Fancy Intense Brownish Pink diamond from Langerman Diamonds.
0.13 ct Marquise Rosé VS2 diamond from Argyle, Australia.

As luxury enthusiasts and jewelry connoisseurs seek to come in possession of the most exclusive and coveted pieces, the interest surrounding fancy pink diamonds continues to grow. With the recent closure of the renowned Argyle mine in Australia, a significant source of Pink diamonds, their scarcity has skyrocketed.

Pink Diamond’s Unparalleled Properties

Fancy Intense Brownish Pink from Langerman Diamonds.
0.32 ct Oval Pink diamond from Argyle, Australia.


The refractive index of a diamond is approximately 2.42. This high refractive index is one of the factors that contribute to the exceptional brilliance and sparkle that diamonds are renowned for. The high refractive index allows diamonds to bend and reflect light in a way that creates maximum dispersion and brilliance, resulting in their captivating play of light and fire. It is this unique optical property that sets diamonds apart from other gemstones and contributes to their timeless allure and desirability.

0.35 carat Trapezoid Step-Cut Raspberry diamond with GIA report.


Diamonds are renowned for their exceptional hardness, ranking 10 on the Mohs scale, which is the highest possible rating. This remarkable property makes diamonds highly resistant to scratching and abrasion, ensuring their longevity and durability even with daily wear.

Split-shank Pink diamond engagement ring with double halo by Langerman Diamonds.
Pear-shaped Pink diamond ring with double halo.

The hardness of a diamond contributes significantly to its value. Diamonds are prized for their ability to withstand the rigors of everyday use without losing their beauty or succumbing to damage. This durability ensures that diamond jewelry, such as engagement rings and heavily worn pieces, can be cherished forever and passed down through generations.

What About Other Pink Gemstones?


This pink gemstone is often used in jewelry for its vibrant color. Pink tourmaline can be found in various parts of the world, including Brazil, Afghanistan, Mozambique, and the United States. Each location may produce unique variations in color and quality, making it more complicated for the regular customer to understand how to measure and compare characteristics.

Tourmaline ranks 7 to 7.5 on the Mohs' scale of hardness, making it moderately durable, but relatively softer compared to Pink diamonds. With a refractive index between 1.624 and 1.644, pink tourmaline exhibits a good amount of brilliance and light dispersion.

Pink quartz

This mineral showcases a soft, delicate pink hue that does not typically offer much sparkle. There are multiple levels of transparency available, from very translucent to milky opaque or smoky with yellow or brown undertones.

Scoring a 7 on the Mohs scale, pink quartz is relatively durable and suitable for some types of jewelry. However, it is still important to protect it from impact, and best suitable for earrings and low-wear pieces.

Pink Sapphire

The intensity of its color depends on the place of origin and the combination of trace elements present within its crystal structure.

With a hardness of 9 on the Mohs scale, pink sapphires are very durable and resistant, making them suitable for all kinds of jewelry pieces. However, they are more prone to scratches than diamonds.


Kunzite is quite affordable because it’s relatively unknown although it can be found in many places like Afghanistan, Brazil, Madagascar, and the USA.

Like most color stones, kunzite can be undergo irradiation or heat treatments to enhance its color. Exposure to heat and bright light can cause color in both natural and treated kunzite to fade over time.


Most morganite deposits are found in Brazil, but the highest quality specimens come from Madagascar. Typically, morganite enjoys a high transparency with minimal inclusions resulting in clear, polished stones.

Scoring a 7.5 to 8 on the Mohs scale, Morganite is safe and durable enough for jewelry.

Your Best Choice: Pink Diamonds

Fancy Intense Orangy Pink diamond from Langerman Diamonds.
0.29 ct Shield cut Pink diamond from Argyle, Australia

There are multiple options to choose from to create a jewel with pink gemstones. However, they all fall short when compared to the durability and brilliance of natural Pink diamonds. With sources becoming more scarce while demand continues grows, Pink diamonds keep appreciating in value making them a better financial choice when compared to other gemstones which tend to loose value in the resale marker. Pink diamonds present multiple advantages for their investment potential and as a valuable asset to be passed on for generations.

Bespoke Pink diamond ring by Langerman Diamonds.
Emerald cut Burgundy diamond set in a ring with channel-set and pavé-set white diamonds.

When purchasing color gemstones, it’s important the buyer requests a professional laboratory report that discloses any enhancements to make an informed decision. Unfortunately for most consumers, it’s hard to find full-detailed information on a finished jewelry piece and it requires additional effort and inquiries to confirm the quality of a gemstone.

Langerman Diamonds has over 50 years of expertise in sourcing and trading natural color diamonds. Explore our online inventory and contact us to learn more about the purchasing process.