[The Nature of Diamonds - San Diego Natural History Museum]

This exhibition closed on September 19, 1999

Exhibit Overview

Introduction to the Exhibit

[photo of naturally etched tetrahedral diamond crystal from Guinea. Weight: 496.35 carats. Brilliant-cut diamond - 1.92 carats. Photos by Denis Finin. © AMNH]

"The Nature of Diamonds" exhibition is divided into several distinct sections, each concentrating on a different aspect of diamond. The initial section of the exhibit looks at diamond as a natural substance. As visitors enter the exhibit, the physical properties of diamond are shown through models, diagrams, and interactive exhibits. A hands-on ball and stick model of diamond's crystal structure shows the extreme physical properties of diamonds, including their hardness, density and good conduction of heat.

Visitors will learn about diamond formation on Earth, a process most active over 300 million years ago, as they journey through a recreated mine tunnel. The transit into the neck of a volcano includes actual samples from the mantle of the Earth imbedded in the tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, a large screen computer animation illustrates the source of diamond and shows how it is brought explosively to the surface of the Earth.

A Historical Panorama: Diamond's Role in Adornment

Diamond's place in cultural history is explored through its presence in legend and mythology, as well as its role in art and adornment. Breathtaking jewelry and artifacts highlight the fascinating cultural and historical significance of diamond and show how diamond and its myths traveled from India to the West. The oldest cultural object in the exhibition, a Roman ring set with two rough diamonds, is dated from 300 A.D. A major cultural significance of diamond is reflected through the chronology of the diamond betrothal rings. A collection of five centuries of diamond betrothal rings, on loan from Benjamin Zucker, celebrates this tradition and demonstrates the evolution of diamond fashioning. On display from the middle ages, the Badge of the Order of the Garter is an important example of early use of diamonds in British royalty.

[Photo of a sampling of naturally colored diamonds from the Aurora Collection. On loan from Aurora Gems, Inc., New York. Photograph ©  Harold and Erica Van Pelt. The transition from "royal diamonds" to "everyone's diamonds" at the turn of the century is examined. Diamond's connotation of class, culture, and wealth captured the heart of Hollywood and is seen in a video of film clips and still photographs of diamond in Hollywood. Famous jewels of celebrities will be displayed in this area as well, including a diamond bracelet owned by Joan Crawford, an art deco shoulder brooch previously owned by Sir Elton John, and a ring worn by Ginger Rogers. Also included is a ring worn by Hillary Rodham Clinton at the 1993 and 1997 presidential inaugurals, a bracelet from the 17th Century owned by Mamie Doud Eisenhower, and pieces from New York fashion maven, Diana Vreeland.

A major highlight of the exhibit is the walk-in diamond vault, a high security, self-contained bank-style vault housing the most fabulous and notable diamonds of the exhibit. Among these are the 407.48-carat Incomparable (on loan from Zale Corporation, Dallas, Texas; Marvin Samuels, Premier Gem Corporation, New York; and Louis Glick, Co, New York); the Aurora collection, 260 naturally colored diamonds (on loan from Aurora Gems, New York); The Pumpkin Diamond, the largest fancy orange diamond ever recorded (on loan from Harry Winston); the Eureka, considered to be the "discovery diamond" that sparked a revolution in diamond production; and the Arkansas, an example of an exemplary diamond found in the U.S.

Of historic importance, the Cullinan Blue necklace created for Lady Annie Harding Cullinan, wife of Premier Mine owner, Sir Thomas Cullinan of South Africa. The Cullinan Blue is on loan courtesy of S. H. Silver Co., Inc., Menlo Park, California. The Tiffany bow corsage ornament is on display as well as an exquisite collection of tiaras from the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Diamond Exploration, Mining, and Marketing

The history of diamond exploration, mining and marketing is described in this part of the exhibit, detailing diamonds' transition from mine, to dealer, to their use in industry or as gems. Mining and exploration have extended to every continent but Antarctica, and have developed into a large, technically sophisticated diamond mining industry. Models will be on display that demonstrate the three types of mining: kimberlite pipe, or underground mining; alluvial, or gravel mining; and marine, or beach and undersea mining.

Visitors will get an inside look at the world of diamond exploration through "Diamonds in the Tundra," a video documentary following the fast-paced, high-priced exploration for diamonds ongoing in the Northwest Territories and Arctic reaches of Canada.

Diamonds as Gems

From identification and grading of gem diamonds to the process of transforming a rough diamond into a gem, models and examples provide visitors the opportunity to see the distinct differences found among diamonds. The wide range in color and cuts of diamond is displayed, along with samples to show the differences between real diamond and synthetics and simulants. Included in this section is a brief video that demonstrates the cutting and faceting of diamonds.

Industrial and Technological Uses of Diamond

The industrial and technological uses of diamond are the subject of the final section of the exhibit. The exhibit details how the physical properties of diamond make it an ideal tool in industry. Diamond's intense strength makes it a valuable cutting tool and is seen through examples of large diamond saws, a six-inch diameter oil-well drill, grinders, wire dies, along with other products such as a marble sink top, automobile engine parts, eyeglasses and copper wire. Also included in this section is fascinating information on new and possible future uses for diamond.

Exhibition Design and Curation

"The Nature of Diamonds" was designed and executed by the American Museum of Natural History, New York. The national exhibition curator is George E. Harlow, Ph.D. In San Diego, the exhibition is curated by D. Vince Manson, Ph.D, director of strategic planning for the Gemological Institute of America, the world's foremost authority on gemology.

Exhibition Sponsors

The exhibition is co-hosted by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), located in Carlsbad, California. Sponsors and supporters include: Robinsons-May; San Diego Magazine; Del Mar Thoroughbred Club; and The Diamond Information Center on behalf of DeBeers.

Top photograph: Left: Naturally etched tetrahedral diamond crystal from Guinea. Weight: 496.35 carats. Right: Brilliant-cut diamond:1.92 carats. Denis Finin. On loan from IDC Ltd©. American Museum of Natural History.
Bottom: A Sampling of naturally colored diamonds from the Aurora Collection. On loan from Aurora Gems, Inc., New York. Photograph © Harold and Erica Van Pelt.

Nature of Diamonds | Exhibits