`Seven' of diamonds

DESCRIBED as a "once-in-a-lifetime exhibition," the "Splendour of Diamonds", in Washington D.C., brings together seven of the most magnificent, rare and valuable gems in the world. Organised by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the Steinmetz group and the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), this exhibition was unveiled recently at the Harry Winston Gallery of the National Museum of Natural History. Conservatively estimated at upwards of several million dollars, the diamonds sparkled as part of a constellation of seven stars.

Ranging from 5.11 carats to 203.04 carats, the diamond collection consisted of the "Allnatt", the "Moussaieff Red", the "Pumpkin Diamond", the "Steinmetz Pink", the "De Beers Millennium Star", the "Heart of Eternity" and the "Ocean Dream".

There are fewer than a dozen known diamonds that weigh over 100 carats and have such a strong colour as the "Allnatt" (in the picture below, second row, extreme right). Experts consider the De Beers mine in South Africa to be its source.

The triangular-shaped 5.11 carat "Mousaieff Red" (first row, third from left) was discovered in the 1990's by a farmer in Brazil. Diamonds described by experienced gemologists as red are some of the rarest in the world.

Weighing 5.54 carats the cushion-shaped "Pumpkin Diamond" (first row, second from left) was so named when it was acquired at an auction by the House of Winston on the day before Halloween. It is one of the largest Fancy Vivid Orange natural colour diamonds in the world.

First unveiled in Monaco in May 2003, the "Steinmetz Pink" (second row, extreme left) was discovered in southern Africa and is the largest Fancy Vivid pink diamond known in the world. Labelled as flawless, and an extremely rare and coveted clarity grade, the Steinmetz group, owners of the diamond, took 20 months to cut the gem.

At 203.04 carats, the "De Beers Millennium Star" (second row, centre) is the heavy weight of the show. Discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ittook no less than three years for the Steinmetz Group to carefully cut the stone.

first row, extreme left

The "Hope Diamond" ... a must-see in Washington.

The "Hope Diamond" ... a must-see in Washington.  

first row, extreme right

Once they are mined, cut and polished, diamonds are customarily graded. The GIA, an independent, non-profit organisation established in 1931, has created the International Diamond Grading System which is used by jewellery professionals around the world to determine the quality of a stone. Four grading categories are used to describe and classify diamonds: clarity, colour, cut and carat weight — more commonly known as the Four C's. The higher the grade in each of the categories — the rarer the stone.

The seven-star diamond constellation will remain (from June 27 to September 15, 2003) in a glass-enclosed vault less than 10 feet away from the celebrated 44.5 carat "Hope Diamond", one of Washington's biggest tourist attractions.

* * *

Every diamond has a story to say, some sad, some mysterious.

Since it was found in the early 1600's, the "Hope Diamond" has crossed oceans and continents and passed from kings to commoners. In 1688, Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a French traveller and gem merchant, sold a blue diamond, weighing 1123/6 carats to King Louis XIV of France. The "Hope Diamond" came from India, the only significant source of diamonds at that time. In 1749, King Louis XIV's successor, Louis XV had the diamond reset in a piece of ceremonial jewellery called the Emblem of the Golden Fleece. In 1792, it was stolen during a week-long looting of the tumultuous and turbulent French revolutionary period. Sometime between 1812 and 1824, the diamond was apparently sold to King George IV, who died in 1830 and Henry Philip Hope, a London banker and gem collector bought the diamond in the 1830's and the precious stone acquired the "Hope" name. In 1912 the stone crossed the Atlantic when Evelyn Walsh Mclean acquired it. Subsequently, it changed hands when Henry Winston of New York city purchased it in 1949.

Finally, in 1958, Harry Winston presented the diamond to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, where the blue stone commands global attention making tourists ponder over the fascinating and legendary four centuries of travel of the diamond from India to the U.S. capital.

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