Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Diamonds Are Forever A Must See at the Museum of Ventura County

Multimedia sculpture of Queen Marie de Medici ...
Multimedia sculpture of Queen Marie de Medici by artist George Stuart and a cubic zirconia replica of the Sancy Diamond crafted by Scott Sucher
(Photographed at the Museum of Ventura County by  © 2014)
A history resource article by  © 2014

I always look forward to visiting the Museum of Ventura County  to enjoy the beautifully sculptured 1/4 life-size figures of famous historical personalities created by artist/historian George Stuart .  This year, the Historical Figures Foundation in cooperation with the museum and world-renown gemologist Scott Sucher, is sponsoring a joint exhibit entitled "Diamonds Are Forever" and I was privileged to photograph it a couple of weeks ago.

"Surprisingly, diamonds share some common characteristics with coal. Both are composed of the most common substance on earth: carbon. What makes diamonds different from coal is the way the carbon atoms are arranged and how the carbon is formed. Diamonds are created when carbon is subjected to the extremely high pressures and temperatures found at the earth’s lithosphere, which lies approximately 90-240 miles below the earth’s surface."

"The earliest diamonds were found in India in 4th century BC, although the youngest of these deposits were formed 900 million years ago. A majority of these early stones were transported along the network of trade routes that connected India and China, commonly known as the Silk Road. At the time of their discovery, diamonds were valued because of their strength and brilliance, and for their ability to refract light and engrave metal. Diamonds were worn as adornments, used as cutting tools, served as a talisman to ward off evil, and were believed to provide protection in battle. In the Dark Ages, diamonds were also used as a medical aid and were thought to cure illness and heal wounds when ingested." - Diamond History

English: 2008 sketch of the Golden Fleece (of ...
English: 2008 sketch of the Golden Fleece (of the Color Adornment) showing the "French Blue" diamond and the "Côte de Bretagne" dragon spinel of king Louis XV of France Français : Gouache 2008 de la Toison d'or de la parure de couleur de Louis XV, montrant le "diamant bleu de la Couronne" ainsi que le spinel "Côte de Bretagne". (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Scott Sucher crafted both life-sized and 1/4 life-sized miniatures of some of the world's most famous diamonds for this exhibit.   George Stuart then mounted the miniatures in meticulously recreated crowns, necklaces, scepters and a cravat pin that were used to accessorize his historical figures.  Stuart working with Sucher even created a now-lost insignia of knighthood known as the "Order of the Golden Fleece" for Stuart's sculpture of French King Louis XV.  The miniature was based on a replica of the French Order of the Golden Fleece recreated by Dr. François Farges, Professor of Mineralogy and Curator of Minerals and Gems at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle at Paris and an international team under the supervision of Swiss jeweler Herbert Horovitz.

The Order of the Golden Fleece was established by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy in 1430 "for the reverence of God and the maintenance of our Christian Faith, and to honor and exalt the noble order of knighthood, and also ...to do honor to old knights; ...so that those who are at present still capable and strong of body and do each day the deeds pertaining to chivalry shall have cause to continue from good to better; and .. so that those knights and gentlemen who shall see worn the order ... should honor those who wear it, and be encouraged to employ themselves in noble deeds..."

The sovereign was supposed to consult the order before a declaration of war and knights in each chapter of the order were to allow the order to settle any disputes between them.  A knight accused of rebellion, heresy or treason could demand that he be tried by his fellow members of the order as well.

Louis XV was inducted into the order in 1739 and at the exhibit, is displayed wearing the sovereign's medal around his neck.  Unfortunately, the original diamond-studded medal was stolen along with the French crown jewels in 1792 during the French Revolution.  Although some of the crown jewels were later recovered, Louis XV's Order of the Golden Fleece along with the French Blue (thought to be recut into the Hope Diamond) and Sancy diamonds disappeared from history (at least in their original forms).  Fortunately, extremely accurate drawings of Louis XV's Order were made, enabling Stuart and Sucher to recreate the piece with precisely reproduced cubic zirconia gems.

George Stuart's multmedia sculpture of Louis XV
wearing the French Order of the Golden Fleece.

Photographed at the Museum of Ventura County
 by  © 2014
Because most of the original diamonds reproduced for the exhibit originated in India, George Stuart also unveiled a newly sculpted historical figure of Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who built the Taj Mahal.  The Mughals were descendants of the warriors of Chagatai, one of the sons of the great Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan.  The Mughals ruled India from 1526 - 1857.  Shah Jahan was born in what is present-day Lahore, Pakistan in 1592 and was crowned Shah in 1628.  He ruled until 1658 when he was overthrown by his third son.

George Stuart's multimedia sculpture of Shah
Jahan admiring the Table Cut Diamond embedded
in an ornament for his turban.
at the Museum of Ventura County by
 © 2014.

India was thought to be the only source of diamonds in the world until 1866 when a 15-year-old Erasmus Jacobs came across what he thought was an ordinary pebble along the banks of the Orange River in South Africa.  The pebble turned out to be a 21.25-carat diamond and the diamond rush to such deposits as Colesberg Kopje began.

George Stuart's multimedia sculpture of
Queen Victoria wearing the Koh-I-Noor diamond
in a brooch.
 Photographed at the
Museum of Ventura County by  © 2014
Of the Indian diamonds on exhibit, probably one of the most famous, the Koh-i-Noor, as well as the Great Table diamond, were once embedded in Shah Jahan's Peacock Throne.  The Shah Jahan figure in the exhibit holds a turban ornament that is embedded with the Shah Jahan Table Cut Diamond.  It appeared to be blue because of the exhibit lighting but the real stone is colorless.

As part of the opening ceremonies, Scott Sucher gave two fascinating presentations in the museum's new 3500 sq. ft. event pavilion.  His first lecture was about the history of the Hope Diamond and how Sucher, along with other scholars, used precise measurements of a lead replica of the French Blue Diamond, discovered in the archives of the National History Museum at Paris in 2007, and a software program called GemCad, to virtually recreate the French Blue.  Then Sucher received permission from the Smithsonian Institution to measure the Hope Diamond and recreated a virtual 3-D model of it.  Using these virtual models, Sucher was able to demonstrate that the virtual Hope Diamond could fit inside the virtual French Blue.  Furthermore, the amount of material that would have had to have been removed during a recutting process would not have resulted in any additional commercially marketable gemstones - the hallmark of a perfectly executed recut.   Sucher expressed his belief that this evidence is the most scientifically accurate method used to date to prove the French Blue (no longer in existence) was recut into the Hope Diamond.  Sucher's efforts were featured in a Smithsonian Channel documentary "Mystery of the Hope Diamond". ( I found a digital standard DVD resolution copy of it available through Amazon Instant Video for only $1.99.)

Sucher's second lecture focused on the history of diamond cutting itself.

I learned that even though diamonds are considered the hardest known natural material on earth, they can be damaged if they are dropped on a hard surface and the impact point occurs along a cleavage plane of the crystal's structure.

Historian Pliny the Elder describes how the Romans tested the hardness of stones thought to be diamonds:

"These stones are tested upon the anvil, and will resist the blow to such an extent, as to make the iron rebound and the very anvil split asunder. Indeed its hardness is beyond all expression ... When, by good fortune, this stone does happen to be broken, it divides into fragments so minute as to be almost imperceptible. These particles are held in great request by engravers, who enclose them in iron, and are enabled thereby, with the greatest facility, to cut the very hardest substances known." - Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia

The first attempts at faceting diamonds were a result of grinding off such damaged areas.  It was during these "repairs" that gemcutters discovered the process also increased the brilliance of a stone.  Sucher included animations that clearly demonstrated how the brilliance of diamonds has improved over the centuries by the practice of removing more and more points of the raw diamond's structure.  This process was further faciliated in 1475 when the scaifing machine was invented. By the 16th century, mere polishing became genuine faceting.

Diamond cutting machine illustrated in this copper
engraving dated 1710
.  Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons.

The Rose Cut emerged and the early table cuts received extra facets on both the crown and pavilion to form an array of new cuts. Longer rectangular stones, named Hogbacks by Tillander formed a forerunner to the Baguette Cut and were extensively used to form letters and figures. Diamonds were cut to shape to be combined into Rosettes. The most popular cuts were the Table Cut and Point Cut.  - A History of Diamond Cutting

George Stuart's multimedia sculpture of Queen
Marie Antoinette wearing the Regent Diamond
as a hair ornament.
 Photographed at the Museum of
Ventura County
by  © 2014.
By the early 1900's diamond saws and jewelry lathes were developed enabling the "modern round brilliant" cut so popular today.  This was just in the nick of time as on June 25, 1905 the largest gem-quality diamond in the world, weighing 3,106 carats, was found in Cullinan, South Africa.  From this stone the "Great Star of Africa" (also known as the Cullinan 1), weighing 530.2 carats, was produced along with eight other major stones and 96 smaller brilliant-cut stones.

A cubic zirconia replica of the "Great Star of Africa" crafted
by world-renown gemologist Scott Sucher of Albuquerque,
New Mexico.
 Photographed at the Museum of  Ventura County
 by  © 2014.

Not only was there a replica of the "Great Star of Africa" in the exhibit itself, but Sucher brought a case of replicas to the lecture.  After he finished speaking, he opened the case and encouraged attendees to pick them up.  It was a thrill to hold even a replica of the "Great Star of Africa" in the palm of my hand!

Catherine the Great holds a scepter containing the Orlov Diamond.  Multimedia sculpture by George Stuart.  Full size Orlov replica by Scott Sucher.  Photographed at the Museum of Ventura County by  © 2014.
I was told that to see all of the original diamonds represented in this exhibit you would have to travel to nine different countries.  The "Diamonds are Forever" exhibit will be on display at the Museum of Ventura County until August 24, 2014.  If you are visiting the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend taking the 1 1/2 hour drive up to Ventura to see it!

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