Ilan Portugali: The Man Behind Jennifer Lopez’s Green Diamonds

In an exclusive interview with Shilpa Dhamija, Los Angeles-based precious gemstone specialist, ILAN PORTUGALI, who sourced the rare green diamond and co-designed Jennifer Lopez’s engagement ring, throws more light on the rising allure and demand of rare colours in natural diamonds.

Jennifer Lopez’s engagement rings are no less famous than those of the legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor. The 54-year-old Latina singer has been engaged a few times making headlines every time with the big precious rocks shining on her ring finger. But the most popular of them were the coloured diamond (pink and green) rings given to her by her two-time fiancée and now husband – Hollywood actor Ben Affleck.

The duo married in July 2022 after Affleck proposed with a ring carrying a big chunk of fancy green diamond – a very rare colour for a natural diamond. Affleck chose the colour green as it has proved to be Lopez’s lucky colour, over time. A Versace green dress that she wore in 2000 garnered the actress record-breaking fanfare. The dress became widely trending on Google, so much so that the tech company had to fasttrack the launch of a dedicated search engine for images now known as Google images, just to meet the search traffic for JLo in her green Versace dress!

Two decades later, another rare green creation adorned by Jennifer Lopez made headlines – the approximately 8.5-carat green diamond on her engagement ring is the second rarest colour found on a diamond after the colour red.

Ilan Portugali, who sourced these one-off gems reveals more:

Although pinks, yellows and blues are more popularly used in high jewellery, why did your client select a green diamond in particular?

I brought a very nice selection of greens that day to show the client, the variety ranged from fancy intense green to blue-green to yellow-greens. I can’t get too specific with the grades that were chosen, but there was a variety of green diamonds on the table that day, worth several millions of dollars.

We showed them some pinks and greens, but the decision swayed towards the green, rather rapidly. Green is said to be Jennifer Lopez’s favourite colour. These green diamonds were cut and polished in Israel.

Since the pink colour was already used in the past, the client did not select pink again. Their first engagement ring from 2002 had a 6.1-carat fancy intense pink diamond from Harry Winston.

Last year, the same client bought a pair of green diamond earrings to match with the ring, which was quite a challenge because I had to find two identical coloured green diamonds for the pair of earrings.

(Note: According to sources the 6.1-carat fancy pink diamond ring came back to Harry Winston after the duo’s first engagement broke and was sold at Christie’s. The auction house did not sell the ring publicly as Jennifer Lopez’s ring, but an identical pink diamond ring sold for US$ 5,765,000 in 2014.)

The making of the green diamond engagement ring. Image credit: ilanportugali, Instagram

Which mines around the world are known for producing green diamonds?

Finding a naturally green colour diamond is usually a fluke. Such a colour on a diamond is a result of some sort of natural radiation that occurs under the surface of the earth over millions of years. Natural green diamonds are found unpredictably. So far, I have seen these coloured diamonds appear in Africa and some from Brazil, too.

Would you agree that coloured diamonds have become trendy for special engagement rings, especially with the exposure and the unintentional endorsement that they have got from celebrities sporting them?

Yes, there is a demand for coloured diamonds. Apart from the popular choices of pink and yellow colours, I have noticed an interest in fancy brown colour diamonds. Brown is among the most common colours to find in fancy shades. It is a nice warm colour and quite affordable. Jewellers have tried to give it all types of creative names such as – cognac, chocolate or champagne colour to make it sound more attractive. I think brown diamonds will do well, especially in this holiday season.

Sadly because of the increase in demand we are also seeing some sourcing agents in Hong Kong and Taiwan adding artificial colour to the diamonds, something unacceptable in the US.

How did you come to trade or deal in coloured diamonds and precious stones?

My journey in the precious gemstones industry started in 1993, when I visited Madagascar while I was in the Israeli Military and was there for some security work. I bought my first set of emeralds there. I probably paid too much for them. I took them back to the Israel Diamond Exchange.

Later, my interest in gems developed and I studied gemmology and then travelled again to Mozambique to buy some more gemstones, mostly aquamarines, tourmalines, emeralds. Colours were always my main interest. Since 1993, green-coloured stones have always been part of my life.

For 14 years I dealt in wholesale gems and precious stones. I first worked at Van Cleef & Arpels at Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and left for my next opportunity at Harry Winston. After the Swatch group purchased Harry Winston, I decided to start my own business as a specialist in sourcing coloured stones.

Fancy brown encompasses a wide range of brown shades, from light champagne to deep cognac. The GIA grades fancy brown diamonds based on their colour intensity and hue. Image credit: ilanportugali, Instagram

What are your thoughts on the market demand for coloured LGD diamonds?

I think coloured LGDs do have a lot of scope. Recently, on my trip to Vegas for JCK, I bought an 8-carat fancy deep blue-green diamond for my partner. The diamond was made in a lab.

When I posted it on my social media, I got a lot of queries from clients asking if it was a natural diamond. I would be paying 18 to 20 million dollars for it if it was a natural diamond, but I got it for US$ 20,000. Just a difference of a few zeroes!

GIA also says that LGDs are real diamonds. I think there is a lot of scope for coloured diamonds grown in labs. They will find a demand just as cultured pearls did. Coloured LGDs will find a place in the market but not as an investment.

During your journey in the precious gemstone industry, have you had any memorable encounters with the talented artisans of India?

Absolutely! Nearly 50% of my business is done with Indian companies such as Disons Gems and Belgium Diamonds in New York, Finestar in India. I often source colourless type 2A diamonds from India.

In my list of dream diamonds, two are from India – the Hope Diamond, which is believed to have been found in the Kollur Mine in Golconda, in the 17th century. The second is the Dresden Green diamond, a rare green gemstone, one of the largest and finest of its kind. It weighs approximately 41 carats and has an Indian origin and was likely found in the Golconda mines.

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