Diamond Daze: Time Warner Center Gets Gems

Even as a tiny child, Hillary L. Beckman was mesmerized by diamonds. Barbie dolls never even came close. “I really loved the idea that these stones were millions of years old and that they came from the mantle of the earth,” said Ms. Beckman, now 30 and chief operating officer of Lockes Diamantaires, which opened last week in the Time Warner Center.

Her friends and family clamored for her guidance: “‘Hillary, could you look at this?’ I’d look at it, and you know what? It was a crummy stone,” Ms. Beckman recalled. “Did it have the right clarity on the cert? Did it have the right color on the cert? Sure. There’s more to it than that. If I looked at the percentages for the table and the depth, I would know if that stone was a good make. I could look at a stone and see if the girdle was consistent.” Excuse us? Cert ? Girdle ?

It was only when Ms. Beckman, then a schoolteacher, was shopping for her own wedding band that the terrible frustration of buying a diamond ring hit home with full force. All she wanted was an emerald-cut wedding band with matched stones in a common-prong platinum setting. What was so hard about that? But nothing was easy in the diamond district. “They would show me a layout of emerald-cut stones and tell me that they were VS1,” she said, throwing around more of that fancy terminology. “I’d look at them and I’d see black piques. And I’d look at them and I’d say, ‘These are not VS1 stones.'”

She made up her mind to buy a plain band devoid of diamonds-a passive-aggressive statement of puritanical restraint.

Then she had dinner with her future father-in-law, a lawyer who had done a restaurant deal for a guy whose family owned a diamond-manufacturing company, “‘Listen, I spoke to him about your problem,” her father-in-law told her. “He said, ‘Send her up to me. We’ll do something for her.'”

Immediately upon meeting this man, Ms. Beckman realized that his company was different. “They wanted to know about my problem: What was I experiencing? How was I feeling?” Her emotional landscape was just as important to them as the hard, cold facts. This evolved into a diamond experience unlike anything Ms. Beckman had ever dreamt of. “I watched people with their hands and the wheel cutting these stones …. And I watched it from birth to finish,” she said. Through the intimate process of creating her perfect ring, Ms. Beckman formed a deep bond with the owners of this manufacturing company, a family that keeps a low profile, whose inventory is “only whispered about on the street.”

Ms. Beckman compared the owner, an expert cutter, to a horse whisperer, describing his uncanny ability to “look at a stone, feel a stone, listen to it … and find the right grains to cut on …. To maximize the light and vitality and potential, the brightness and the sparkle of it-that’s a true artist.”

She ended up with the ring she’d always dreamed of, her excess joy spilling over even to her husband. “Before it was like: ‘You want a diamond wedding band-well, I want a flat-screen TV. Which one are we getting?'” she said.

And when the mystery manufacturer needed to present a critical proposal to the Diamond Trading Company, the rough-diamond sales arm of the De Beers Group, they asked Ms. Beckman to do it. “Here I was, a teacher who just wanted a wedding band, and now all of a sudden I was intricately involved in this business,” she said incredulously. After her initial success with the presentation, Ms. Beckman and this mystery family continued to work together, developing their concept of a high-end retail store that would offer the highest-quality diamonds while allowing customization of each piece of jewelry.

Seated behind the desk in her chic, intimate fourth-floor store, Ms. Beckman pointed out her favorite pieces of jewelry. The opera-length eternity necklace, 198 diamonds with a total weight of 38 carats, would certainly be hard to beat. “You have to find enough diamonds that match, that are so similar that you can put them into one piece of jewelry and it looks consistent,” she said. “When you wear it and you walk”-Ms. Beckman demonstrated, her long hair cascading into the diamonds-“it moves …. And it just catches the light beautifully.

“Look at these things,” she proclaimed, gesturing towards the display of glistening jewelry in front of her. “They’re like stars!”