Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend...

My birthday is coming up next month, and the divine providence that caused me to be born in April also conferred upon me the greatest of all potential birthstones -- the diamond. I received my first piece of diamond jewelry when I was very young, in fact, it is one of my earliest memories, fuzzy though it may be. I mostly remember sitting on the couch, looking at the little golden pendant that spelled out my name, with a diminutive diamond attached. I clutched its little black velvet box, and moved the necklace back and forth in the light, watching it sparkle. I would wear it on special occasions for years, and in college, when I chose to wear only one piece of jewelry and never take it off for fear of having things stolen in the dorm, it was my "Haley necklace."

I was completely beside myself the day that it fell off the corner of my desk and I inadvertently rolled over it with my desk chair while I was looking for it, breaking it into two pieces. That day stands with the day I lost my first credit card as the most traumatic material possession-related moments of my life. Luckily for me, my parents replaced the broken necklace with a more elegant, mature pendant for my 20th birthday. And it just so happened that the diamond was bigger too. Now, nary a moment goes by that I'm not wearing diamonds in some form, whether it be my new necklace, or some diamond earrings. I might flirt with other baubles, but for me, diamonds are forever.

So, when the Field Museum announced its new exhibit, The Nature of Diamonds, last October, it immediately became a must-see for me. However, I never seemed to be able to persuade anyone to go with me. I hinted, asked, and badgered, but nobody was biting. So today, with only a month left in the exhibit's run, I sucked it up and went alone.

As one might expect of the Field Museum, the first portion of the exhibit focused on the geological and historical backgrounds of diamonds. Plentiful reader rails and infographics discussed the formation of diamonds and the process through which they are brought to the Earth's surface by volcanic pipes. The history and technology of diamond mining is also explored at length, as the exhibit traces the discovery of diamonds in India, South America, South Africa, Russia, and most recently, Canada. Interesting, the exhibit chose to avoid the political implications of diamond mining in Africa entirely, and only gave a cursory nod to the role of the DeBeers monopoly in controlling the diamond market throughout the 20th century.

However, there was an interesting panel on DeBeer's role in diamond marketing, which shed light on how the company created and expanded the market for their product. For instance, the famous, "Diamonds Are Forever" campaign was originally intended not to brand diamonds as an eternal symbol of love, but to instruct consumers that the stones were heirlooms, and should not be sold or purchased on the second-hand market as had been the earlier custom. I have hand it to them, the DeBeers folks have always had a knack for advertising.

Fascinating though the information was, I found it difficult to focus on what was in front of me when I knew that the exhibition's real draw was just around the corner -- the mind-boggling jewels. Diamond jewelry from all periods of history were represented, with a few ancient Indian and Roman pieces being the oldest. Imperial and court jewelry from the 16th through 19th centuries also made a respectable showing, but the true standout pieces came from the turn of the 20th century and onward, when the discovery of rich diamond deposits in Africa made the gems more accessible to a wider audience. There were phenomenal Art Deco bracelets, naturalistic brooches from the 1950s and 60s, and fanciful, avant-garde contemporary pieces that had me drooling. All told, I spent about two hours salivating over the glittering creations.

Normally, thinly-veiled edutainment really annoys me, but in this case, I'm going to let it slide. After all, the Field Museum does provide some solid educational material to back up what is obviously an attempt to draw a massive female audience. I might be blinded by the sparkles, but I felt like The Nature of Diamonds was still appropriate for the Field's stated mission.

Simply put, if you are a magpie, or even remotely interested in jewelry or geology at all, you owe it to yourself and check out The Nature of Diamonds before it closes at the end of the month.

1 comment:

  1. I'm very pleased that getting that necklace is one of your earliest memories...I still remember seeing that ad in the NY Times and calling them to order it...