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Today, blue is the color of money

Big blue diamond from South Africa's Cullinan mine to be auctioned.

LONDON — Economies the world over might be struggling amid the global economic downturn, but as luxury labels collapse it seems there’s one high-rolling category that’s lost none of its sparkle: big blue diamonds.

Even as the diamond market tumbles, the blue gems — the rarest of all diamonds — have broken records.

The latest offering, a 7.03 carat “fancy vivid blue diamond” unearthed last year in South Africa, has just pirouetted around the world’s auction houses, lapping up attention in Hong Kong, Paris, New York and London. It might be the size of a thumbnail, but the internally flawless 58-faceted sparkler could break all records for the highest amount paid per carat when it is auctioned May 12 in Geneva.

This blue diamond is not embroiled in the controversy surrounding "blood diamonds" because it is from the historic Cullinan mine where companies comply with state regulations and union contracts that maintain wages, health and safety conditions.

Owners estimate the gem will fetch from $5.8 to $8.5 million. Should it top that, it would beat the record-breaking $1.33 million per carat paid for a 3.73-carat pear-shaped vivid blue diamond that fetched $4.6 million a year ago.

It’s not impossible: When the 35.56 carat Wittelsbach diamond — a deep grayish-blue in color — went for $24.3 million at Christie’s Auction House in November 2008, not only did it sell for almost twice the hoped-for sale price, it became the highest price at auction for any stone in the history of gems. And all this after a calamitous stock market crash in September. Blues mean business.

“We’re quietly confident,” David Bennett, Chairman of Jewellery at Sotheby’s told GlobalPost. “Blue diamonds are in a sense outside the whole diamond market simply because they are so rare,” he said of the stones, which make up less than 0.0001 percent of the world’s diamonds. “If you’re a buyer for a blue diamond you don’t get many opportunities.”

It took a team six weeks to cut and polish the stone. It was led by Gary Monnickendam, a fourth-generation expert diamond polisher whose family business started in Holland in 1890. For him it was a task of love as well as money.

“To cut a blue stone I would pay them,” said Monnickendam, who said he has polished 12 of 40 blue diamonds that have emerged in the last 20 years. “Blue diamonds have always been enormously rare, and sought after since the 17th century,” he said. “It is an event when they turn up.”

The gem, which will be named by the new owner, owes its high-rolling colour to boron, a chemical element that brings out the blues.