A Diamond Coffee-Table Book From the Land of the Giants

Two days after returning home from the American Gem Society Conclave in New Orleans last week, I drove down the coast to Carlsbad, Calif., home to the Gemological Institute of America, to attend a cocktail event pegged to a new exhibition featuring 25 exceptional pieces of diamond jewelry on display through May 11.

I knew the exhibition had something to do with the U.S. debut of a new book about diamonds, but I was not prepared for the monster tome that greeted me when I arrived at GIA’s seaside campus. Dreams of Diamonds looks like it was taken from Brobdingnag, the fictional land of the giants in Gulliver’s Travels. It weighs 30 pounds, requires its own table to display, and costs $10,000. Not only is it the biggest coffee- table book I’ve ever seen, it’s officially the world’s largest book on diamonds. And one pricey copy—out of 500—now belongs to GIA.

Courtesy Dreamsofdiamonds.com

Dreams of Diamonds, all 30 lbs. of it

Conceived in 2007 by the U.K.-based husband-and-wife photography duo Alastair Laidlaw and Christine Marsden, the book showcases the work of 12 of the world’s top jewelers, diamantaires, and designers—including Adler, Chatila, Chopard, Chow Tai Fook, Mouawad, Munnu the Gem Palace, Diacore, and Diarough—who loaned more than $500 million worth of diamonds to the three-year-shoot.

Courtesy TRL Photo

Alastair Laidlaw and Christine Marsden 

“We’d always worked in large format, and we decided we wanted to produce the largest, most fabulous book created in the world on diamonds,” Marsden told me, while recapping some of the challenges they encountered on the road to publication. “Our greatest problem was there were only seven print houses outside of America that would bind the book. No one wanted to touch it. We finally found a tiny company in Germany that used equipment 150 years old, all done by hand.”

Courtesy Dreams of Diamonds

Diarough loaned this diamond sautoir, featuring 813 cts. of diamond crystals and 584 cts. t.w. polished diamonds, to the Dreams of Diamonds shoot.

Courtesy Dreams of Diamonds

Mouawad’s contribution to Dreams of Diamonds: a diamond rose necklace with 48.99 cts. t.w. white diamonds and 22.9 cts. t.w. pink diamonds in white and rose 18k gold

Laidlaw and Marsden have spent the past two decades photographing jewelry, much of it for U.K.-based magazines, making them especially conscious of how difficult it can be to capture the beauty of a scintillating gemstone in a still image.

Photo by Robert Weldon, courtesy GIA

Sail earrings in titanium with 836 diamonds totaling 36.05 cts., by Adler Joailliers (featured in the book and on display at GIA)

Photo by Robert Weldon, courtesy GIA

Chatila necklace in 18k white gold with 54.29 ct. fancy intense yellow cushion-cut diamond and 67.1 cts. t.w. white diamonds (featured in the book and on display at GIA)

“Some diamonds are easy to photograph and some are tricky,” Laidlaw said, noting the 50.05 ct. D flawless briolette by Diacore that appears in the book and is one of the 25 pieces on display at GIA. “It looks simple, but it’s really quite tricky.”

Robert Weldon, manager of photography and visual communications at GIA, said it best when he described the book as a “dreamscape.” Set against backdrops that verge on the surreal, the diamond jewels in the book look like cosmic treasures afloat in a Technicolor universe borrowed from Alice in Wonderland. The briolette, for example, is flanked by two transposed images of a single albino peacock. According to a funny anecdote recounted by Marsden, the notoriously testy bird forced the photographers to give chase one afternoon when they arrived to shoot it.

“It has to be said—the diamonds and jewels were by far the best behaved when it came to the photography,” Marsden said.

Courtesy Dreams of Diamonds

Diacore’s 50.05 ct. t.w. D flawless diamond briolette, and the albino peacock that gave the photographers a run for their money (quite literally!)

The exhibit isn’t on for long, but if you’re anywhere near Carlsbad over the next week, don’t miss it. My friend McKenzie Santimer, project manager of exhibit development at GIA, helped assemble the 25 standout jewels on display, some of which don’t appear in the book, which means this might be your only opportunity to see them—including this crazy pair of boots encrusted with 38,883 diamonds totaling 1,527 cts. from Diarough.

#thesebootsaremadeforgawking

As I drove home from Carlsbad last Wednesday, the words of Stephen Dubner, coauthor of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, rang in my ears:

“Why do people buy diamonds?” he said during his keynote address at Conclave 2015. “The reason people buy diamonds is because they believe they’re precious, because they have that reputation. Why? They’re given that reputation through stories. People want diamonds because they’re expensive. If they were cheap, they wouldn’t have that signal.”

I suspect the same rationale applies to a $10,000 coffee-table book produced by two British photographers who devoted eight years to its creation. In other words, snap this baby up while supplies last—and prepare to be seduced by its fantastical depiction of the world’s finest diamonds.