The Heart of Eternity
It was expected that some 12-million people would visit the De Beers Millennium Jewels Exhibition at the Millennium Dome in London. There they were on view in a specially designed exhibit for the entire year of 2000. It is worth it to pause a moment and reflect on the rarity of blue diamonds. Pre-20th century accounts of great blue diamonds reinforce the trade's historical links with India, the only known early source of diamonds. These accounts tell of diamonds such as Tavernier Blue (now known as the Hope Diamond; 45.52 carats) and the 30.82-carat Blue Heart, which today are valued for their history and mystique as much as for their rare color. These diamonds are famous because of their incredible rarity - only red diamonds are rarer - and the De Beers collection of blues is something that will never be seen again.
In modern times, De Beers Premier mine in South Africa has become the only important source of blue diamonds, yet they make up much less than 0.1 percent of all diamonds recovered at this mine. Of all De Beers South African rough production, however, there is on average only one significant blue diamond mined per year. The best blue diamonds have a beauty that is not comparable to that of any other gem. These are greatly admired and eagerly sought after by collectors and connoisseurs. Of the ten highest per-carat prices paid for colored diamonds at auction, six have been blue diamonds. Some of these unique stones were sold for $550,000-$580,000 per carat. One 20 carat blue stone fetched well in excess of $10 million. "Fancy blue diamonds contain impurities of boron, which result in their blue color. Usually the blue of a diamond is strongly modified by gray or black. Few stones have intense, saturate color," explains Livnat, stressing that "the blue color is often not evenly spread throughout the stone and that, occasionally, parts of a blue stone may be totally white. To get a beautiful pure blue stone is truly a professional challenge."
Natural blue diamonds are much weaker in saturation than the blue objects they are compared to. Blue colors are not overly abundant in nature, although they do occur in certain flowers, fruits, birds, and gemstones. Actual diamond blues, however, are more likely to mimic the blue colors of indigo, ink and steel. Whatever term is used to describe blue diamonds, it is their combination of color, brilliance and rarity that makes them so special. The rough diamond was found by an alluvial digger in the early nineties. It originated in what was then known as Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and was purchased there many years ago by a De Beers buyer on the open market. The stone has been held in deliberate anticipation of this moment, though its polishing took more than three years. Its beauty has now been released by the extraordinary skill of the expert craftsmen, and international team (South African, Israeli, Belgian & American). The cutters received the ultimate compliment when former De Beers Chairman, the late Harry Oppenheimer, undoubtedly the doyen of the diamond industry and who has probably handled more important diamonds in his 70-year career than any other person in the world, described the Millennium Star as "the most beautiful diamond I have ever seen."
Originally, the rough stone was 777 carats, a magic number. Found in the Buyimai district, the discovery set off a gold-rush type of influx of diggers hoping to find a similar stone. But, as it was the only stone of this type found in the present millennium, statistically the odds are against finding another one within the next few hundred years or so. After studying and planning the cutting of the stone for about 4 to 5 months, it was decided to cut the rough in three pieces. The Millennium Star is the outcome of the largest piece. The cutters were very tightlipped about what happened to the other two pieces. In order to cut and polish the stone a special "operating theater" was built, not dissimilar to the conditions in a sterile hospital room. "No dust is allowed to touch the stone so the scaifes must be adjusted accordingly. It is vital to monitor the temperature of the stone during the cutting and polishing process. Actually, the temperature must be strictly controlled in order to avoid cracks or other damage, explains Nir Livnat, managing director of Johannesburg-based Ascot Diamonds, a member of the Steinmetz Group of Diamond Companies. Special tangs had to be designed to hold the stone, he added.
The craftsmen weren't about to reveal their company's professional secrets and refrained from giving more details on the manufacturing process itself, except to note that "the infrastructure and skills required to polish such large stones is extremely complex and dramatically different from the usual polishing factory." It was learned, however, that some 100 plastic models of the original rough were made, and these were almost all used to plan and design the optimum polished stone, both in terms of beauty and weight. The stone's classic pear shape totals 54 facets. Often large stones contain more facets in order to optimize the use of rough; having fewer facets invariably necessitates losing weight, but this loss is offset by far greater brilliance.
Nicky Oppenheimer was careful not to put a value on the Millennium Star, saying that any figure he would give would be purely academic. The London Evening Star was not as conservative as Mr. Oppenheimer and insured the Star for 100 million English pounds. This is believed to be a fraction of its true worth. Beny Steinmetz, Co-Chairman of the Steinmetz Diamond Group, echoed the cautious approach of Oppenheimer, but pointed out that the previous record price paid for any polished diamond was $16.5 million for a 100.10 carat D-Flawless stone, the Star of the Season, that was auctioned by Sotheby's in May, 1995, thus selling for about $165,000 per carat. According to market sources, that stone was also manufactured and sold by the Steinmetz group. To the two senior principals of the Steinmetz Group, brothers Beny and Danny Steinmetz, it is rather symbolic that they were chosen to cut the De Beers Limited Edition Millennium Diamond. It is exactly 50 years ago, almost to the day, that the Steinmetz Diamond Company was established by the late Ruben Steinmetz, father of the present principals. "Ruben Steinmetz was known for manufacturing high quality goods," recalls his son, and, without saying so, one could sense that the sons are truly moved by their ability to continue family tradition. Nobody will ever "accuse" the hard and successful businessmen, what the Steinmetzes are, of being sentimental. But in the presence of the Millennium stones times stands still and one must reflect on one's past, one's roots and on the future.
Chairman Nicky Oppenheimer, who tends to be emotional about diamonds, summed it up by recalling that these incredible diamonds have been collected at the end of this millennium and presented to the world to celebrate the beginning of the next. Nature gives us so few blue diamonds that most people will not see one in their lifetime. "As we come together to celebrate the new Millennium, De Beers is giving the world a chance to see this unique collection - truly a once in a Millennium experience", reflects Oppenheimer. "To be able, therefore, to unveil a truly spectacular new diamond on the threshold of the new millennium is surely a uniquely opposite combination of two very rare events. To be able to unveil not only one diamond, but a collection of such rarity that most of us will not see its like again is, I think, the only adequate way to mark the passage of 2000 years of man's history," concludes Oppenheimer.
The Heart of Eternity paid a visit to the Smithsonian Museum in the summer of 2003, being part of an exhibit titled The Splendour of Diamonds (above photo). The exhibit lasted from June 27th to September 15th and featured a number of other unusual colored diamonds, namely the Allnatt, the Millennium Star, the Pumpkin Diamond, the Moussaieff Red (formerly known as the Red Shield), the Ocean Dream, and the Steinmetz Pink. An interesting note, every source I've seen mention the stone up till the Splendour of Diamonds exhibition describes the Heart of Eternity as Fancy Intense Blue, but the Smithsonian website says GIA has graded it as Fancy Vivid Blue, one color grade higher. The gem is on loan to the exhibit by a private collector, in other words, it was sold sometime after the Millennium Dome Exhibition. Sources: Chaim Even-Zohar, Famous Diamonds by Ian Balfour, the Smithsonian Institute and various articles on and off the internet.