GemNotes

Exhibition explores the ‘nature of diamonds’

The jewelry industry markets the diamond as a blanket statement of love and adoration, but millennia of violent geological events, cultural lore and human struggle also lie behind the sparkle of the everlasting stone.

Every facet of the diamond and its history will be explored during “The Nature of Diamonds,” an exhibition scheduled to run Nov. 1 through April 26 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The exhibition is organized by George E. Harlow, curator in the museum’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and is sponsored by the Diamond Information Center, New York City.

Exhibits will first pay tribute to the cold, hard facts about the cold, hard stone. Visitors will enter a mine tunnel leading to a re-created diamond pipe, like the kind blasted into existence 3 billion years ago by volcanic eruptions. This volcanic rock from the earth’s mantle, known as kimberlite, and embedded diamonds will line the walls of the re-creation. A computer-animated video presentation in the tunnel will demonstrate how pipes of kimberlite are formed and how diamonds are brought to the earth’s surface. Scale models will represent a working South African diamond pipe and the processes used to extract diamonds.

A hands-on model of the diamond crystal structure will allow visitors to explore the structure’s strength, capacity to conduct heat and light refractivity. Samples of real diamond crystals will show the mineral’s diversity.

Next, the exhibition will look at the diamond’s beauty as celebrated by cultures throughout the world. A walk-in diamond vault will house some of the world’s treasures created with diamonds, some of which have never been viewed in North America. Among them are jewels from the Kremlin, including the Diamond Crown of Peter the Great and a Gospel cover (inlaid with more than 2,000 diamonds) belonging to Catherine the Great. The 128.54-ct. Tiffany Diamond and the 24-ct. Arkansas Diamond will be on loan from Tiffany & Co. The National Palace of Ajuda Museum in Lisbon, Portugal, will lend the necklace of Maria Amelia, Queen Consort of Carlos I of Portugal, as well as other 18th-century jewelry.

A historical gallery will feature six centuries of portraits capturing diamond-wearing royalty, including famous paintings of Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia (circa 1610) and Catherine the Great (circa 1775-1790). Other historical highlights will include Peter Carl Fabergé’s replica of the Russia Regalia; the diamond monogram of Ann of Denmark (circa 1610); jewels from the National Museum in Szczecin, Poland; 17th- and 18th-century jewelry from French, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg; and five centuries of diamonds in betrothal rings.

Other exhibits will include a diamond lapidary workshop, a video on diamond fashioning, models of alluvial and marine mining in South Africa, a video on Canadian diamond exploration, two Brazilian white diamonds of 35 and 135 carats, 240 naturally colored diamonds from Aurora Gems in New York City and a resource center with information for visitors, including an Internet site.

The exhibition is accompanied by The Nature of Diamonds, a book with more than 200 photographs, maps and charts and text on the science, history, art, symbolism and technology of diamonds. The book is edited by Harlow and co-published by Cambridge University Press and the American Museum of Natural History.

GROUP RECOMMENDS LIMITED RESUMPTION OF IVORY HARVESTING

This summer’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) recommended the limited resumption of ivory harvesting in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.

Ivory trade has been banned among CITES’ 19 member nations since 1989 to protect elephant herds. The recommendation to relax the ban follows a growth in elephant herds and a demand for “excess” elephants to be culled. Under the recommendation, Botswana could export 25.3 tons of ivory, Zimbabwe 20 tons and Namibia 13.8 tons.

The resumption of the trade, which is called “experimental,” would start with exports to Japan after an 18-month waiting period (in 1999) and would occur “under an international monitoring and reporting system.” It also would require governmental approval in the participating country.

Japan and Switzerland are among the countries that favored relaxing the ban. The U.S. was one of several countries that lobbied strongly against the action, fearing that poaching would resume and put the herds at risk. Despite the CITES recommendation, the U.S. still bars the import of elephant ivory in any form.

Rough diamond sale ends De Beers’ monopoly in Congo

The new government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) has sold its first consignment of diamonds to a buyer other than De Beers. Su, a company based in Belgium, Antwerp, bought 538,335.5 carats at an auction in July.

De Beers had maintained an exclusive arrangement with the country’s now-deposed dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, for many years. The new government of Laurent Kabila, which took power in May, sold diamonds to De Beers three times but then switched to an auction system.

MIBA, the state-run diamond producer, accounts for about one-third of Congo’s total diamond output of roughly 20 million carats. Over the past few years, as copper production has slipped, diamonds have became Congo’s most important source of foreign exchange. But production at MIBA has been sliding since 1991. In fact, Congo’s minister of mines, Kambala Kabila Mututulo, said production at MIBA had fallen below break-even, which he put at 7.5 million carats.

Well over half of Congo’s diamonds are sold by the private sector, with a large proportion smuggled out of the country. De Beers has buying offices in Congo that buy diamonds other than those produced by MIBA.

De Beers, Guinea sign mining Pact

De Beers and the government of Guinea have signed a new agreement regarding diamond prospecting in the West African state. The agreement includes terms under which De Beers might operate mines found during prospecting and how it would market those diamonds.

De Beers has operated two offices for the purchase of rough diamonds in Guinea since 1992 and has prospected for diamonds in eastern Guinea since 1995. The new agreement is the first of its type granted under the country’s new mining code. The code covers such issues as fiscal objectives of the state and financial and economic interests of Guinea and De Beers.