July 10, 2005

Protest takes some of the sparkle off diamond show

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - "Diamonds," a new exhibition in London,
boasts an impressive carat count and some of the world's most
glittering gems, but protests over the treatment of African
bushmen by mining giant De Beers exposed some flaws.

The company, which controls about two thirds of the world's
uncut diamond supply and is sponsoring the show, strongly
denies claims by advocacy group Survival International that
evictions of bushmen by the Botswana government are linked to
its diamond mining activities.

A group of about 50 protesters, led by actress Julie
Christie, carried placards outside the exhibition venue as
guests arrived for the gala opening on Wednesday.

Similar demonstrations marked the opening of the De Beers
LV store in New York last month, although for most visitors to
the show at London's Natural History Museum it was the
fascination and beauty of diamonds that mattered most.

"We think it's the largest display of world famous diamonds
and pieces of jewelry assembled," said Alan Hart, head of
collections in the museum's mineralogy department.

The highlight of the exhibition is the De Beers Millennium
Star, more than 203 carats of flawless, colorless diamond that
was the target of a foiled robbery attempt in 2000.

Its presence alongside hundreds of other rare and priceless
gems prompted a major security operation for "Diamonds," which
is open until February. The entrance to the show looks more
like an airport than a museum, with metal detectors and guards.


The Star, the world's largest 'D' color, internally and
externally flawless diamond, takes pride of place in the "VIP
lounge" of extremely rare stones, giving off flashes of
colorful light as it rotates in a separate showcase.

Alongside it is the Steinmetz Pink, the world's largest
fancy vivid pink, flawless diamond at nearly 60 carats, and the
407-carat Incomparable, the third-biggest cut diamond.

Far smaller, but as striking, is the Orange Flame, only
3.23 carats in weight but exceptionally rare for its deep
orange color caused by small amounts of nitrogen in the

Hart said that "Diamonds" aimed to explain the science
behind the formation of the gems, some of them older than the
stars, and also their unique allure through history.

"The king who carries a beautiful diamond with glittering
flashes has a force that triumphs over all other powers," reads
a 6th century Sanskrit text at the exhibition's opening.

Legends of their purity and power began at least 4,000
years ago in India and continue to this day.

Arguably the most notorious of all diamond was the
Koh-i-Noor, or "Mountain of Light," coveted by Mogul Emperors
and Persian kings and now part of the crown jewels in London.

"Diamonds" features a replica of the gem before it was
recut in the 19th century to increase its sparkle.

The show also includes the Shah Jahan diamond that has been
identified as the stone once mounted in the turban ornament
held by Shah Jahan in a 1616 miniature painting.

"This is the first time the two items have been brought
together since the miniature was painted," Hart said.

"The stone was lost for years and years until in the 1980s
it turned up in London."

Explaining the lasting appeal of the diamond, he added:
"People tend to be attracted to things that sparkle. And after
all, it is the most portable form of wealth that we know."