Gemstones have been prized for centuries — as emblems of dynasties, as tribute and treasure, as holy relics, even as mementos of love and lust. Unearthed from the mines of India, Africa and South America, diamonds in particular have been objects of obsession for those with the means to acquire them. Their names often evoke their origins and mythos: the Mirror of Portugal, the King’s Jewel, Mountain of Light, the Great Star of Africa. The long and fascinating journeys of these and other world-famous diamonds will take center stage in a glamorous new exhibit at the Museum of Ventura County.
“Diamonds Are Forever” is a collaboration between renowned gemstone expert and replicator Scott Sucher and Ventura’s own historical figure creator George Stuart. The one-quarter-size re-creations of Elizabeth I, Louis XIV, Catherine the Great and other luminaries from history (including a brand-new figure made just for the exhibit) are shown wearing their famous bling. The diamonds have been crafted in cubic zirconia and sized to scale by Sucher to fit Stuart’s figures. In addition, Sucher’s life-size diamond replicas (also in cubic zirconia) will be displayed.
“It’s kind of a mixture of history and art,” explains exhibits manager Ariane Karakalos. “It’s a fine line between presenting something informative and also pleasing to the eye. We want the replicas to really sparkle.” To achieve that, much effort is being put into the gallery setup and lighting.
But visitors will find that the story of several of these diamonds is as dazzling as the jewelry itself. Their early history is shrouded in mystery, but most originated in India, housed in the coffers of the Mughal emperors and other dynasties of the Indian subcontinent. It isn’t until the 16th century, when jewel merchants began bringing large gemstones to the courts of Europe, that their tales come into clearer focus. Passing through many royal hands (by fair and foul means) the gems lived a life of adventure, romance and drama.
The Tavernier Blue, for example, acquired through questionable circumstances in India, was cut down to create the French Blue, which was stolen after the French Revolution and disappeared. It is widely believed to be the parent stone of the Hope Diamond. The Orlov was given to Catherine the Great by Count Grigory Orlov, her jilted lover, in an attempt to win her back. She refused Orlov — but not the stone. The Sancy might have the most intricate chronology of all; stolen twice, from two separate royal treasuries, it would disappear for decades at a time and then mysteriously turn up, again and again. It traveled through three continents and numerous owners before arriving at the Louvre in 1978. It’s this storied history that Sucher finds so remarkable about the stones he replicates. “You can discuss sociology, history, politics, economics, optics, the science of color — just by talking about the Sancy,” he says.
These are the crib notes, of course. On July 13, George Stuart will tell “little-known stories” of some of the famous gemstones featured in the collection. Several other events inspired by the new exhibit will also be offered throughout the summer.
There’s nothing quite like the glitter of diamonds to set fire to the imagination. Come see for yourself the gems and their one-time owners that even in replica bring their strange, splendid histories to life.
“Diamonds are Forever” through Aug. 24. For a full schedule of events, go to www.venturamuseum.org.