LONDON — The Natural History Museum here is showing all facets of the diamond, the glitter and the grit, in a major exhibition that features some of the world’s most precious gems.
“We were fascinated by the material side of the diamond — after all, it’s just carbon — and why it has such glamour and cachet,” said Sharon Ament, director of public engagements at the museum, where the show runs until Feb. 26. “After all, we humans are mostly carbon, too, and no one makes that much of a fuss over us.”
“Diamonds: The World’s Most Dazzling Exhibition,” sets out to balance the regal glamour of the stones with the realities of their origins in the crater-like mines of Botswana, the rivers of the Congo, or the wilds of the Brazilian countryside.
The De Beers Group, which sells three-fifths of the world’s rough diamonds, and The Steinmetz Diamond Group, one of the largest global diamond manufacturers, are the co-sponsors and have loaned some of the priceless gems in the collection, including the Steinmetz Pink, the world’s largest fancy vivid pink, flawless diamond.
The show features some of the biggest colored rocks ever found. They’re suspended in a series of black cases, and are so bright a spectator has to blink or look away after a few seconds.
The show opens with the 59.6-carat Steinmetz Pink, which took almost two years to cut out of its rough crystal shell. The diamond, which is the size of a small fist, is priceless because it is unique.
The museum would not reveal the values of any diamonds or diamond jewelry because of insurance issues.
Ament said the Steinmetz Pink is by far the most popular stone with museum-goers. “It’s unexpected. I don’t think most people realize there are colored stones out there,” she said.
In that same lineup is the 5.11-carat Moussaief Red, one of the rarest diamonds in the world. There’s something eerie and unnatural looking about the claret-colored stone — even the Gemological Institute of America said it had never graded such a diamond before.
There’s also the 27.64-carat Heart of Eternity, a brilliant blue diamond from South Africa and The Ocean Dream, a 5.51-carat fancy, deep blue-green stone that got its color from exposure to high-energy radiation over thousands of years.
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The Millennium Star, the largest, flawless pear-shaped diamond known to exist, is also part of the show. The stone, which weighs in at 203.04 carats, was the target of a botched theft from London’s Millennium Dome in 2000. By contrast, there’s the 616, a 616-carat diamond crystal that remains uncut — and has a spooky inner glow.
The show also traces the history of diamond jewelry from the Roman Empire to the present, and all of the lightning-bright moments in between.
There are Indian Mogul treasures, including turban ornaments made from table-cut diamonds and The Spanish Inquisition Necklace, with its 374 diamonds and antique cut emeralds. A 17th-century piece, the necklace is thought to have been worn by Spanish royalty and members of the French court.
There are diamond shoe buckles worn by the King of Poland in the 18th century; the ruby and diamond Garter Star worn by King George III and later Queen Victoria; and a grand, Fabergé tiara with brilliant-cut and rose-cut diamonds.
There is also a diamond ring given by King George III to his wife, Queen Charlotte. The diamond display ends with the spiderweb dress and spider brooches designed by Scott Henshall for the London premiere of “Spider-Man 2.”
Most of the jewelry is on loan from private collections, including that of Queen Elizabeth, and museums such as London’s Victoria & Albert, the Smithsonian Institution and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Interspersed with all of the glitter are displays and explanations of how diamonds are discovered, mined, cut and polished. Another section shows how diamonds are manipulated and used in industry — for surgical and laboratory instruments or for windows in chemical manufacturing plants, and on guided missiles.
The show, which opened the day after the July 7 terrorist attacks, has already attracted thousands of visitors, although school groups have canceled tours because of the risks associated with riding on the London Underground.
Over the next seven months, the show will be tweaked with new objects and displays to coincide with events such as London Fashion Week and the winter holidays.
Nir Livnat, chief executive officer of Steinmetz, said it was the right time to display the rocks.
“Since Sept. 11, there’s been an increase in marriages and diamond jewelry sold,” he said at the opening party. “There has also been an increase in demand for diamond jewelry in places like China and India, and a general hunger to know about diamonds and their origins.
“We really wanted an international forum to show these diamonds — and we wanted to share the most rare ones with the public.”