WASHINGTON, D.C. — By all accounts it looked to be an average Wednesday evening at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Uniformed guards milled about the entrance, lingering visitors were flushed from the halls and the stuffed elephants, birds and other resident taxidermy of the institution’s 125 million specimens struck their rightful poses.

But earlier this month, deep in the museum’s recesses in a vault far from the galleries, Jeffrey Post, the curator of the National Gem Collection, prepared to make diamond history. For the first time, three of the world’s finest blue diamonds — the Smithsonian-owned Hope Diamond (45.5 carats) and Blue Heart diamond (30.62 carats), and the privately owned Steinmetz Heart of Eternity diamond (27.64 carats) — would be removed from their settings to be compared, contrasted and tested.

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