PART ONE: THE NATURAL HISTORY OF DIAMOND
An Atomic Ballet
In the Heart of the Earth
The Geometry of Perfection
PART TWO: DIAMOND DEPOSITS
PART THREE: DIAMOND CUTTING
PART FOUR: PICTURE GALLERY, TREASURY VAULT AND NICHES
The Picture Gallery
The Treasury Vault
The Mouawad Niche
The Tiffany Niche
The Cartier Niche
The Designers' Showcase
Diamonds are minerals, and they are therefore studied at the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle. But this isn't the only reason for their fascination: diamonds, although they are natural substances, defied the understanding of early mineralogists. Once their secrets were uncovered, they enabled geologists to understand the inner workings of the deepest reaches of planet Earth.
The symbolic significance which has accumulated around this very special gem over the course of two millennia of Indian, Arabic and European literature cannot be understood without knowledge of its physical properties. Ultimately, the appeal of the diamond is based upon its visible properties, which a cutter would be unable to release without a knowledge of physics and optics. As if this weren't enough, astrophysicists have discovered diamonds inside stars, and this discovery has had profound implications for electronics.
For this reason, some of the world's richest museums have agreed to take part in the exhibition. Portugal is allowing its Crown Jewels to leave the country to go on display, because the exhibition is presenting the history of Brazilian diamond mines. Sumptuous Indian jewels have also been lent by private collectors, who have likewise been swayed by the exhibition's aim of explaining the important literary and philosophical significance of the diamond in Indian culture.
The exhibition is held within the Gallery of Mineralogy and Geology, an architectural masterwork commissioned by Charles X. The great colonnade hall, 100m long, and its adjoining halls have been requisitioned and transformed to host the 350 items in the exhibition. The exhibition is spread over three great settings, amounting to 1200 square metres: the colonnade hall, the picture gallery and the treasury vault. Security requirements have guided the exhibition's designers throughout this "exhibition impossible": bulletproof glass and steel doors are the recurring motifs.
The museography is by Art Concept, Strasbourg (Neanderthal Museum) and the lighting is by the Sacer company (Memories of Egypt). Display cases and security are by Fichet-Bauche.
An Atomic Ballet
From the beginning, the exhibition highlights the difference between graphite and diamond. How can these black lumps and these beautiful, sparkling transparent crystals both be made of the same substance, and yet be so different? Both made of carbon, they differ in the bonding structure of their atoms. The atoms are widely-spaced in graphite, and compacted together in diamond. This compaction is only possible under extremely high pressure.
In the Heart of the Earth
Planet Earth provides the perfect conditions to compact and heat carbon atoms in order to make diamonds. The only catch is that the conditions are found starting at 200km below the surface. Diamonds have their natural home between there, and up to at least 800km deep. The gems form within rocks that are unfamiliar to most people: they are called eclogites and peridotites, and they comprise what is known as the Earth's mantle.
It may be that the carbon is originally drawn from the iron core of our planet. One can see that diamonds are clues to the whole of the history of planet Earth.
A beautiful light-show evokes the internal dynamics of the Earth, which is shaped by convection currents of rock, that appear to be immobile over the course of our own insignificant lifetimes but which are, in fact, flowing incredibly slowly on a geological timespan.
They may be formed deep below ground, but ground level is exactly where we normally find them. So how do diamonds get up there? Thanks to explosive eruptions of staggering force, which blast the diamonds to the surface at the speed of sound. These are Kimberlitic eruptions. Kimberlite is the name of the lava which, in its passing, rips the diamonds from their host rock and brings them up to the surface. The first kimberlites were found in Kimberley in South Africa, at the end of the 19th century. These rocks are often worn away by erosion, and the extremely hard-wearing diamonds are found within gravel beds. These are the alluvial deposits which provide us with diamonds in India, Brazil, Borneo, central Africa and Namibia.
Diamonds are also formed within stars. This amazing finding resulted from the discovery of miniscule diamonds embedded in certain meteorites, in particular one which fell on the French village of Orgueil. The diamonds in these meteorites are older than the solar system.
This means that the diamonds came from a drifting cloud that crossed the solar system while it formed, and the diamonds were incorporated in the rocks as they aggregated. Billions of years later, these diamond-studded rocks fell from the skies onto our planet. We now know that these diamonds originated from the final dying moments of some ancient, far-off star. Supernova explosions actually project carbon atoms into space; the carbon atoms were themselves originally formed from nuclear reactions in the heart of the star.
The unique formation mechanism of these diamonds gave a clue to research engineers, who finally managed to replicate the process and make diamond within a gas plasma, in the same way as it is made in stars.
The Geometry of Perfection
Once they reach the surface, diamonds can be collected and exhibited. Natural diamonds are extraordinary crystal structures, coming in a variety of fascinating forms despite the simplicity of the cubic crystal system to which they belong. Unfortunately, once diamonds are found their life expectancy is short. They are shaped, cut and polished. To bring together a collection of natural diamond crystals, treasures of natural history, is a difficult challenge. The Museum's exhibition brings together hundreds of diamonds in their natural, original form, as they were originally shaped by the complex laws of crystallography. The octahedron, or double pyramid, is the dominant form. Cubes are rarer, and often cloudy. In addition to these basic forms, many combinations are possible, often due to dissolution phenomena which change the shape of the diamond during its long wait in the mantle of the planet or during the violent ejection process. There are also macles, strange crystals which interpenetrate each other according to geometric laws. Sometimes diamonds form triangles, and these triangles sometimes twin together, in the shape of a Star of David.
Two exquisite diamonds from the De Beers group, including an octahedron of 40ct and a macle of 60ct, both still partly attached to their original rough rock, are presented in all their splendour in a special safe. They are amongst the most beautiful mineralogical specimens known to science. Note that the carat is a unit of measurement specific to gemstones: one carat equals 0.2 grams.
A series of binocular microscopes reveals dissolution forms and accidents of growth to the public, along with mineral inclusions inside diamond crystals, encapsulated within an impenetrable carbon fortress.
This much is commonly known: diamond is the hardest material in existence. What is less well-known is that it is an electrical insulator, yet simultaneously the best conductor of heat known to science. Few people know that it sticks strongly to grease, yet refuses to stick to water to the extent that it doesn't get wet. Better-known are the facts that it can come in many colours, and that its optical properties are stunning. It diffracts light into the colours of the rainbow, and sparkles far more than glass. It is often fluorescent, sometimes phosphorescent, occasionally triboluminescent, a semi-conductor from time to time… Properties such as these have made the diamond into a wonder of nature, and they underpin its usefulness to industry. Thousands of researchers and engineers the world over are devoted to studying diamonds, and ever since scientists discovered how to make artificial diamonds, industry has been clamouring for them.
Diamond's other properties are subsequently displayed, including its range of colours. Eddy Elzas' Rainbow Collection displays these colours, which span the entire spectrum. 300 diamonds from all over the world, including 3 of the 11 red diamonds in existence, display their radiant beauty.
One colour is currently in vogue: black! Swiss jewellers De Grisogono have created a remarkable range of black diamond jewellery. This jewellery house presents, in a worldwide exclusive, the 300-carat "Spirit of de Grisogono", the largest black diamond in the world.
Certain diamond deposits of key importance have been selected and highlighted by the exhibition. Canada may have the potential to be the new diamond Eldorado, and the discovery of Russian diamond deposits in the 1950s made headline news, but, when talking about the history of diamonds, three places spring to mind above all: India, Brazil and Africa.
India is the birthplace of diamonds. It is here that they were first identified and described, and where they acquired the mystique which rendered them suitable to be set in jewels for the powerful. The Mogul emperors and princes had a passion for diamonds, and the Maharajas that followed never tired of them. Indian diamond history has a thousand legends relating to the most marvellous gems, and certain stones, such as the Koh-i-Noor, formed part of the sub-continent's history until they were "kidnapped" by the British Empire. It was in India that the French merchant Tavernier acquired the Blue Diamond of the French Crown. Owned by the King of France and ultimately stolen, it was later re-cut and is today known as the Hope diamond, reigning in splendour in the Smithsonian Institution. India was also the source of the fabulous Régent diamond in the Louvre, considered by many to be the most beautiful diamond in the world. The exhibition devotes a spectacular section to the Moguls and the Rajahs, where historical documents set the scene for a casket of priceless diamond treasures.
Shah Jahan's necklace is an exceptional discovery by the museum's organisers. There are thought to be only three diamonds in existence which are engraved with the name of their former owner, and this gem is of immense historical importance.
The exhibition also displays a sumptuous collection of jewellery belonging to Indian Maharajahs. The highlight of this collection is the turban ornament of the Maharajah of Patiala, covered in diamonds from the Lost Mines of Golconda.
India is also the birthplace of Buddhism, and the exhibition reveals the deep symbolic significance accorded to diamond in ancient Buddhist scriptures, including the «Diamond Sutra» , which reveals that truth is eternal, just like the diamond. The talismanic importance of diamond become so important that Buddhism developed religious artifacts - vajras or 'dorjes' - that represent the shape of the diamond crystal. Tibetan lamaism, sometimes referred to as "Diamond Way Buddhism", makes particular use of diamond-based symbolism. Similar philosophical ideas would later find their way into Christian theology in the Middle Ages.
Two show-cases of Renaissance jewellery illustrate the symbolism of the Middle Ages in Europe. This section displays how virtually all diamonds that reached Europe up until the 18th century came from India. Very few diamonds had reached Europe before the 14th century. By the 16th century, they possessed strong, almost mystical, symbolic importance. They were worn in pendants from which the wearer would derive a feeling of invulnerability, or in the shape of the Cross for the glorification of Jesus, who was symbolically associated with diamonds.
One display case presents a series of Renaissance diamond crosses (from the Museu d’Arte Antiga in Lisbon and from the Louvre), pendants from the French National Renaissance Museum in Écouen (including protective diamond talismans) and jewels from the Rijkmuseum in Amsterdam.
Brazilian diamond deposits were found around 1725 in the nick of time: Indian mine deposits had nearly been exhausted. The Portuguese Court, ruled by João V, gave thanks for the discovery in a Te Deum service in Lisbon Cathedral. The situation in Brazil, however, was more thankless than thankful: a Royal Extraction was organised, exhausting slaves and concession-holders alike. The history of diamonds took a cruel turn in Brazil in the 18th century. The exhibition displays both the splendour of the Portuguese Crown Jewels and the suffering of the Brazilian slaves.
The President Vargas IV is presented by Robert Mouawad. It adorns a sumptuous Mouawad bracelet: the diamond is set on a band of black and white brilliant-cut diamonds.
The first South African diamond was found there in 1866. It was a flawed and modest stone, but its discovery inscribed the pages of history across this vast continent. A few months later, a magnificent gem was found on the banks of the Vaal river. This stone would become known as the Star of South Africa. Long hidden from the public eye, it has been located and will be revealed to the public during the exhibition.
The rest of the story is incredible: the first alluvial deposits attracted thousands of prospectors. In 1869, a peculiar concentration of diamonds was found in proximity to certain farms, including that of the De Beer brothers. The rush gathered pace and a tent city, then a corrugated iron shack city, and finally a brick city sprang up around the site. It was named Kimberley and was built around the holes where thousands of men toiled. It wasn't until 30 years later that it was discovered that these holes were the cores of ancient volcanoes, which had brought the diamonds up to the surface.
A breathtaking and hitherto unseen photographic collection displays the descent into Hell undertaken by these men, digging into bottomless pits. The Big Hole at Kimberley reached a depth of 1,100 metres by 1913. The historical documents found in the South African archives recall that many of these mine concessions belonged to a French company, which was compelled to sell them to the adventurer Cecil Rhodes, founder of "Rhodesia"… and also of the De Beers company.
Constant cave-ins forced the system of individual concessions to be abandoned. One man set about gradually purchasing the concessions, and this amalgamation led, in 1888, to the incorporation of De Beers.
Some magnificent diamonds recall the history of these exploits. The Excelsior, cut from the second-largest diamond ever found, has been lent to us by the principal sponsor of the exhibition, Robert Mouawad. In addition, the Oppenheimer, an extraordinary and beautiful crystal of 260 carats has been loaned by the Smithsonian Institution. A display case contains the first-ever specimen of diamond in its original kimberlite matrix to reach Europe, in 1873: a superb octahedron known as the Ludwig II, because it was purchased by the King of Bavaria for his University's collection.
A "flying carpet" floor-mounted movie projection allows us to soar over the present-day mines in South Africa, while an installation shows us how intrepid divers plunge deep into the sea in order to vacuum up diamond crystals from the sediments on the sea floor.
After mining and sorting, diamond crystals are cut. The history of diamond cutting is European: contrary to popular belief, diamond cutting was not invented in India. It was invented in Italy, probably in Venice or Genoa. The first cut was derived from the most common form of the crystals themselves: the point-cut, effectively a pyramid. Then, by grinding away the point of this pyramid, the table-cut was developed, which is the cut that adorns the majority of the beautiful jewels of the Renaissance and 17th centuries. The rose-cut is a sort of rounded shape, covered in triangular facets.
The invention of the brilliant cut unleashed the fire of the diamond, in the mid-17th century. Baroque brilliants were the delight of European nobility. With the discovery of diamonds in Brazil, they became more widely available and allowed the creation of audacious and spectacular jewellery. The brilliant cut would be calibrated and mathematically determined in accordance with the laws of optics in the 20th century. The modern brilliant cut already has over a century of history behind it.
The cutting of large diamonds, of over 100 carats, is another problem. The exhibition displays the procedures undertaken for the cutting of the Centenary diamond, a magnificent rough stone of 599 carats, which would eventually yield a splendid and dazzling 280 carat flawless, colourless gem.
The Picture Gallery
The picture gallery displays the fondness of monarchs and aristocrats for diamonds. What is the significance of this? Diamond is the stone of God: this is stated in manuscripts from the Middle Ages. Anointed monarchs rule by the grace of God. Diamond is therefore the stone of kings. The gallery of court portraits proves it: since the 15th century, diamonds have adorned crowns and jewellery, discreetly at first. The European monarchs' taste for these sparkling gems was initially fuelled by the opening of India to commerce, thanks to Portuguese trading posts, and later by the discovery of diamonds in Brazil in the 18th century.
Early diamond cuts, first tables and then roses, had poor brilliance. Diamonds were often painted in black. With the invention of the brilliant cut, painters had to modify the conventions of painting and they included touches of light in their representations of diamonds. Jewels were initially dull, but began to sparkle in the 18th century. Soon, the diamond would lose its significance as a sacred gem and would become an offering of love: from the regal pose of Henri III in diamond-adorned splendour, to the frivolity of Mademoiselle de Sens, wearing a diamond butterfly at her long, bare neck.
Diamonds have found their roles over the centuries, from an affirmation of power to an instrument of seduction. This is what keeps diamond traders in business today, although the kings that buy diamonds today are those of finance or the oil industry. Diamonds range from modest engagement rings purchased in shopping malls to dazzling hundred-carat extravaganzas worn by movie stars at international film festivals.
The Treasury Vault
The maximum-security zone of the exhibition is downstairs. Thick steel doors, leading to an impregnable concrete chamber: a worthy setting for 100 gems, including some of the most beautiful in the world.
The central area of the vault is dedicated to famous diamonds, Crown Jewels and the jewels of the aristocracy, whereas the niches on the sides of the vault are used to display the best of today's jewellery.
"Crown Jewels" generally belong to State institutions. They comprise crowns, ritual items and jewels which belong to the State, and which are reserved for the personal use of the Sovereign. The Crown Jewels of France were founded in this way in 1530, by François I. The other countries in Europe followed suit. Such collections were founded in order to try to prevent the property of the Crown from being frittered away by the ruling monarch. In fact, such measures invariably failed in their objective and Crown Jewels were often appropriated, by pawning them to bankers in order to fund war efforts, for example. The French Crown Jewels went through several such periods, and are represented in the exhibition by several priceless items, which have been brought to the exhibition from all corners of the world.
The Crown of Saxony is represented by the glorious Sword of State of Augustus the Strong, and also by his epaulette. Rose-cut diamonds, in their original 18th-century mounting, give us an idea of what the jewellery of the 18th-century French kings must have looked like.
One of the challenges facing the exhibition was to reunite as much as possible of the Crown Jewels of France. Repeatedly dispersed and reassembled, this collection of jewellery was, at the end of the reign of Napoleon III and Eugénie, of unparalleled richness. Unfortunately, the Third Republic feared a return of royalist sentiment, and in 1887 decided to suppress all royal and imperial symbols. The French Crown Jewels, hitherto displayed in the Louvre, were sold at auction. Some gifts were made to this Museum and to the Louvre, such as the "portrait diamond" of Marie-Louise, the Regent, a brooch, and Charles X's sword. The rest was all dispersed in several sessions, to the considerable advantage of Tiffany, whose founder was the principal bidder. For the most part, the jewels were ultimately dismantled. Ever since, the Louvre has tried to buy back the remaining intact pieces, as and when they come on to the market. They are very rare…
The stone which many consider to be the most beautiful historical diamond in the world, the Régent, remains in the Louvre. However, the exhibition displays a historical item for the first time: moulds made in England at the time the diamond was cut. One can see the exact size and shape of the rough (over 400 carats) and various stages of its manufacture, which led to it being cut into the most perfect "baroque brilliant" in the world.
In addition, two of the most historic diamonds from the French Crown Jewels are reunited. The first, the "Great Sancy", was acquired by Mazarin and left the royal collection after being pawned. It weights 50 carats. The other, the "Beau Sancy", with a remarkably beautiful cut, weighs 40 carats and is depicted in Marie de Medicis's crown in a well-known picture from the Louvre. This stone, too, left the crown collection, after a series of transactions, alliances and marriages.
Other countries are also represented by the loan of royal gems: the Kingdom of Denmark, the former Kingdom of Egypt, and also more exotic monarchies, where diamonds are coveted above all gems - the symbolism is worldwide!
The islands of the Indonesian archipelago were parcelled out between numerous small kingdoms and sultanates. Sometimes, several minor kings ruled over minuscule territorires. It so happened that Indonesian Borneo contained a diamond deposit, even more ancient than that of India. The low level of production of these deposits was enough to satisfy the tastes of these island monarchs, and very little made its way to Europe.
By means of commercial trade, the diamonds spread from island to island. They were sent to Europe, to be cut in Antwerp, and came straight back again; the cutting service was paid for in spices.
The diamonds are of modest size, rarely above a centimetre. The colours vary, from colourless to yellow. The diamond shapes are Antwerp rose cuts, in accordance with 17th and 18th century practice. But when the pieces are assembled together in the display cases, the effect is spectacular!
The jewels of these ancient indonesian monarchs are currently preserved in the strongrooms of the National Museum in Jakarta. For the first time, this country's authorities have permitted the loan of 18 pieces, which show the universal appeal of diamonds. The works are exotic, yet familiar: suites of jewels, a crown, except perhaps with a kriss knife instead of a sword.
To this day, Borneo still unearths a small number of diamonds every year. The most important deposit is found in the ancient sultanate of Banjarmarsin. The sultan displayed great wealth whilst surrounded by poverty up until Indonesian colonial times. His most precious rough diamond was confiscated by the Dutch and, once cut, became part of the State jewellery collection. It will re-emerge from hiding for the exhibition.
Inside the Treasury Vault, six niches are reserved to display the best in contemporary jewellery and design.
The Mouawad Niche
The Mouawad niche displays the splendour and exoticism of the Middle East. Founded by David Mouawad, the Beirut jeweller ultimately moved to Saudi Arabia and became a world leader in jewellery under his grandson Robert. Mouawad jewels can be distinguished by their splendour and by the use of famous diamonds in the most important pieces.
One could say that Robert Mouawad is the man who has owned the largest number of famous diamonds. At least thirty "named" diamonds - in other words, stones which have acquired a name as a result of their prestige or history - have been set by the jewellers of the Mouawad group. It is this passion for diamonds which has led the group to sponsor the Museum's exhibition.
Coloured diamonds are particularly well represented. Robert Mouawad has a fondness for pink diamonds, and some of the ones in his jewels weigh up to 25 carats!
Two niches are reserved for the Mouawad group: one for jewellery, the other for Robergé watches, unique diamond-set items where the eternal nature of the gem is contrasted with the fleeting nature of time.
The Tiffany Niche
The Tiffany showcases have been specially organised for the Museum. The exhibition's commissaires have selected pieces from Tiffany's collection in order to present a special theme: "Tiffany's Homage to Nature". This jewellery firm's whimsical yet sophisticated style is evident in a series of fly and spider jewels, butterflies and dragonflies, sparkling with diamonds like dewdrops.
At the centre of the Tiffany display cases is a collection of jewelled orchid and flower brooches. These were produced by the famous New York jewellers for the Great Exposition in Paris in 1889 and have been reunited for this exhibition. The petals are of enamelled gold and the stems are set with diamonds. The highlight is the Tiffany diamond. This exceptional stone, which weighs 128 carats, is of a marvellous canary yellow colour. It resembles transparent gold. The Tiffany was worn by Audrey Hepburn when the famous film "Breakfast at Tiffany's" was launched, and the gem is an American legend. It is, however, also very French: it was found in the French concessions of the Kimberley mine, and was cut in Paris!
The Cartier Niche
The Cartier showcase displays one hundred years of the artistry of a jewellery firm where creativity and quality reign above all. 24 exceptional pieces, from the "Art de Cartier" collection in Geneva, profile the evolution of the brand from 1906 (with a collection of bow brooches) to the millennium necklace containing the fabulous Tavernier diamond.
A series of pieces displays the evolution of the tiara, the favoured jewel of queens and aristocrats. Diamonds are even more beautiful in tiaras than in other jewels, both in fire and brilliance. This is because the head moves more than the body, and when people look at each other, they naturally look at each others' faces rather than any other part of the body.
Three jewels display the artistry with which Cartier contrasts coloured stones and diamonds.
The Designers' Showcase
These two niches are devoted to design, and in particular to the De Beers Diamonds International Awards. Every year, the company sponsors an international competition. Sponsors loan collections of cut diamonds to selected designers, to allow the creation of innovative jewels. The result of the 2000 competition was breathtaking. Pieces of jewellery which signpost the way for the jewellery trends of tomorrow. Such revolutions in jewellery design take place periodically: the exhibition also highlights stunning creations by Boucheron, Falguières and Lalique, in a homage to great jewellery designers.
This showcase is devoted to a De Beers display, showing us the complex process involved in sorting diamonds. Hundreds of crystals are classified according to shape, colour and clarity, to arrive at a very small final number of diamonds which, when cut, will be suitable for use in jewels such as those that sparkle in the Treasury Vault.
The exit route leads past the exhibition boutique, where the catalogue is on sale. With 352 pages and 350 colour photographs, DIAMONDS is a co-publication between Adam Biro, the Museum and the Mouawad group. It is THE diamond text, which, in three sections and 13 contributions, provides an authoritative summary on this most precious gemstone. So many books have attempted to tackle the subject that, until this book, it was impossible to distinguish between the good and the bad scholarship.
The graphics have been specially selected: photographers have been sent to Jakarta, Lisbon, Geneva, London and the Cape in order to guarantee that the graphic art is completely new and original.
The fifteen contributing authors to DIAMONDS have gone back to historical sources, in search of the truth, without the distortion of legends and approximations. They pored through thousands of historical documents, new scientific and chemical analyses were commissioned, the most recent research publications on diamond geology were studied…
Once the exhibition is over, once the jewels return to the darkness of their bank vaults, this book will remain. A book that concentrates billions of dollars' worth of value in a text costing only 390 Francs.