GIA Grad Makes Headline-Grabbing Fancy Diamond Buys

Shmulik Polnauer
Shmulik Polnauer, GG, admires the 1.68 ct Prosperity Pink diamond. Polnauer has won more than 40 diamonds from Rio Tinto’s Argyle Pink Diamond Tender in the last five years. Photo courtesy Leibish & Co.
Plenty of customers step up to the counter to purchase diamonds every year, but when Shmulik Polnauer does, it often earns him headlines.

To be fair, Polnauer is not exactly the average jewelry consumer – he’s a GIA Graduate Gemologist and the 33-year-old chief diamond buyer for Israel’s Leibish & Co. He has won more than 40 pink diamonds from Rio Tinto’s Argyle Pink Diamond Tender alone in the last five years; his recent purchases also including the newsmaking 1.68 carat (ct) Prosperity Pink, the 2.02 ct Pink Promise and the 3.37 ct Purple Orchid – offered at $1 million, $1.5 million and $4 million, respectively.

Pink Promise
The Pink Promise as a 4.96 ct rough (left) and a 2.02 ct. finished, cushion-shaped Fancy Vivid Purplish Pink diamond (right). Shmulik Polnauer won the diamond, which was found in South Africa’s KAO mine, at the Fusion Tender in Antwerp in November 2012. “We spent over four months assessing and then polishing” the stone, Polnauer says. The Pink Promise, offered at $1.5 million at the 2013 Hong Kong International Jewelry Show, sold the same week. Photo courtesy Leibish & Co.
Polnauer, a veteran of the Israeli Defense Force, has made of career of learning to analyze diamonds and “see beyond the stone.”

“I try to identify the smallest, most minute details that enable us to improve the color, cut and sometimes the clarity of the stones,” he says.

Polnauer’s father, Leibish Polnauer, began his own gem and jewelry career in the 1970s, working his way from diamond polisher to salesman before opening his own firm – Leibish & Co. – in Ramat Gan, Israel, in 1979. Shmulik Polnauer would often tag along with his father to work, and as a young man, worked summers in the family business.

Shmulik and Liebish Polnauer
Shmulik Polnauer (left), Leibish & Company’s chief diamond buyer, and his father,
Leibish Polnauer. The elder Polnauer founded his namesake company in Ramat Gan,
Israel, in 1979. Photo courtesy Leibish & Co.
After serving as an officer in the Israeli Defense Force, Polnauer returned home and joined Leibish & Co., which focuses on natural fancy colored diamonds. He found that the more he worked with the stones, the more he wanted to learn – and his familiarity with the diamond trade meant he was also well-acquainted with GIA and the value of its diamond grading reports.

“I saw my future in diamonds,” he says, “and understood that with the right education, at the best gemological institution in the world, I would be able to increase my chances of success.”

Just a year after joining the family business, Polnauer took a six-month leave to study at GIA’s London campus – where he was “pleasantly surprised” at the rigor and challenge of the gemology coursework, which was even “more educational and professional” than he expected, especially for someone with a previous background in diamonds.

“It was quite challenging,” Polnauer says. “I gained a much better and clearer understanding of individual diamond characteristics, and a significant amount of knowledge about gemstones, too.”

Polnauer graduated from GIA with his GG diploma in 2004.

“Without any doubt whatsoever, having completed the GIA coursework, I felt 100 percent more confident when dealing with diamonds, and more comfortable working in the trade,” he says. “Having a better understanding of the product enables you to seek out the right stones for purchase and compare them to other options available on the market.”

Polnauer, who lives in Rechovet, Israel, with his wife, Rinat, and three children, realized early in his career that he was most intrigued with the “magic” of fancy colored diamonds, and enjoyed recognizing “underappreciated stones” and their potential for improvement. He says that knowing the market well is crucial to his – or anyone’s – success in the gem and jewelry industry, as well as learning to think a few steps ahead.

He advises incoming GIA students to follow a similar course.

“Figure out specifically what interests you, focus on your specialty, invest your time in learning the market,” he says. “And clear your schedule. Because GIA is serious work.”

Prosperity Pink and Purple Orchid
Shmulik Polnauer won the Prosperity Pink Diamond (left) at the 2011 Argyle Pink Diamond Tender as a 1.71 ct, Fancy Intense Purplish Pink, radiant-cut diamond. After deciding to repolish the stone to improve its color intensity, Polnauer brought the Prosperity Pink to a 1.68 ct, Fancy Vivid Purplish Pink. It was offered for $1 million. The Purple Orchid (right), offered for $4 million at the 2014 Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair, came from a South African mine and weighed 4-plus carats. Polnauer bought the rough stone in India and transformed it to a 3.37 ct, Fancy Intense Pinkish Purple VS2 diamond. Photo courtesy Leibish & Co.

Jaime Kautsky, a contributing writer, is a GIA Diamonds Graduate and GIA Accredited Jewelry Professional and was an associate editor of The Loupe magazine for several years.