The Rare Treasures of the Earth exhibition opened today at Christie’s here in London. Promising “spectacular fancy coloured diamonds alongside rare rocks and minerals”, you know I had to be front and center at 10 o’clock this morning.
Although it’s a bit smaller than I expected, the exhibition doesn’t disappoint. Upon entry into the space, you’re greeted by pieces up for auction and other specimens for display, including some truly stunning (and big!) tourmaline, quartz, and my beloved amethyst.
“It’s always amazing to me that these things haven’t been ‘designed’, they just come out of the ground. A light from within.”
I overheard someone say that and it’s a sentiment shared by many. The monetary value of gemstones is human made, but the awe that value is based on is as natural as the sun. There’s a mystical quality to such precious stones; a curious balance of natural geometry and refracting light that gives pause to anyone who notices them. Also, the fact that they’re usually hidden underground, in caves or within otherwise “normal-looking” rocks, adds to their treasured reputation.
The irony is that while colored gems and crystals are the true rarities, no stone draws a crowd like a diamond. Naturally, this gem is the focus of the exhibition. Some of the allure of diamonds comes from years of marketing in popular culture (which I won’t get into here), associations with class and certainly with money, but at the end of the day, you just can’t look away from the winking sparkle of a diamond.
Even when it’s fake. (I’ll let you decide.)
The Hope Diamond, Millenium Star, Eureka, and the massive Cullinan are in the rockstar pantheon of diamonds for their sizes, shapes, and rare colors. Story and ownership are the primary tools in the world of gems. Once a skilled craftsperson discovers the stone’s most expressive cut, it changes hands over and over again through time, holding history, legend, emotion, violence — and even curses.
Whether you just want to stare longingly or learn something new, the exhibition has something for everyone. A number of displays go through where diamonds and other gems are typically found, how they are cut, graded, and what DeBeers is doing to keep the business of mining and selling diamonds as sustainable as possible.
All in all, it’s a beautiful and informative exhibition with much more to see than what I took photos of here. Rare Treasures of the Earth is on until 12 November at Christie’s London. (Just don’t break anything like I almost did, when I was inches from walking into a knee-high quartz. It probably would have hurt me more than I could have hurt it, but you never know.)
For more on the how, why, ooh and ah of the world’s most beautiful gems, I highly recommend this Nova documentary: