At the height of the pandemic, diamonds (at least newly minted) may have lost their luster. But in the studio of his New York apartment, John Hattleberg bet he’ll be back soon.
For months, he has been at work, hunched over a gemstone faceting machine, where he cuts and polishes a synthetic material that will be used to make an exact replica of the Hope diamond that existed in the 17th century.
Perhaps no diamond has as much brilliance as this glowing blue 45.52-carat stone, surrounded by 16 white diamonds and on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (temporarily closed, but its treasure shines 24-7 online). Heavy in mystique as well as weight, it is full of a history of royal ownership, theft and family curses and has long been the most popular site in Smithsonian, where about four million visitors a year come to stare.
After finishing the copies of the original stone and the hope itself, Mr. Hattleberg is trying to finish the French Blue from the winter.
He strives to ensure that his replicas have exactly the same angles and color as his inspiration, a process that includes seven trips to Azotic LLC, a laboratory for gems and crystals in Rochester, Min. There, experts cover and cover the replica with the help of a thick level of precious metals to match the lush blue of Hope.
Mr. Hattleberg does not work for a wealthy private client who wants money to travel. Instead, his three lines will appear next to Hope in the Smithsonian. When?
The art of reproducing diamonds is delicate, and perhaps no one has worked directly with as many named stones as Mr. Hattleberg, 63, who made a replica of the 31.06-carat Wittelsbach-Graff diamond for Lawrence Graf, the billionaire diamond dealer and 273 , The 85-carat Centenary diamond, discovered in 1986 by DeBeers, the giant diamond company.
His copy of Centenary was so perfect that when a group of DeBeers executives were invited to compare the two, “some could not immediately understand the difference,” said Rory Moore O’Ferral, marketing manager at the time.
For the Okavango Diamond Company, Mr. Hattleberg recently completed a replica of Okavango Blue, a 20.46-carat exquisite deep blue diamond found in 2018 in Botswana. “We wanted a replica because we need to preserve the stone’s legacy for future generations,” said Marcus ter Haar, managing director of Okavango Diamond, the company that sells the original.
The perfect replica is an art form that, for Mr. Hattleberg, can take months or even years of work. Although the Smithsonian has seen many copies of the diamond, “we had the luxury of looking at people doing this kind of work, but John is an artist with a sense of detail and perfection,” said Jeffrey Post, curator of the U.S. National Precious Stones and Minerals Collection in the Smithsonian, which hired him. “When John hands me a stone, I know he thought and analyzed it and wouldn’t have given it to me unless he thought it was perfect.”
For Hope Diamond, “the difficulty was to match the color,” Mr Post said. “It’s an interesting shade, not like the other shades of blue. We wanted exact copies. For the museum, the goal was “not to sell, but to help tell the story of the diamond.” Visitors see the dimensions and shapes in a powerful way to give a history of stone cutting. You can’t just show a photo of a 3D object. “
Most large stones attract huge publicity when they are first removed from the mines, cut and polished. But after a blasphemy, diamonds often disappear into the coffers of the very rich to reappear when the auction hammer collapses at a mega-million sale. (In recent decades, the diamond industry as a whole has also seen critical headlines as human rights abuses and the so-called blood diamond trade have come to light.)
Years ago, some diamonds were bought by worldly people and movie stars who enjoyed showing them to friends and the press. American heiress Evelyn Walsh McLean, Hope’s last private owner, often wore it in public – either occasionally putting it around her dog’s neck or wearing it when gardening. Richard Burton made headlines in 1969 when he bought a 68-carat diamond for Elizabeth Taylor, calling it the Taylor-Burton diamond. Just after the actor bought it, the salesman Cartier put it on display in New York, where 6,000 people lined up every day.
But in recent years, movie stars don’t usually buy them, they borrow them, “said Henry Bargurdjian, a former CEO of Graff USA and managing partner of Arcot, a gem investment company, in an interview shortly before his death in October. He added: “There are people in America who like to buy gems, but are usually businessmen and completely anonymous. In Asia, they buy the way Americans did: for status symbols. ”
In 2015, Joseph Lau, a Hong Kong businessman, set a record $ 48.4 million by buying a 12.03-carat diamond at Sotheby’s called Josephine’s Blue Moon for his 7-year-old daughter as soon as he bought a pink a 16.08-carat diamond, “Sweet Josephine,” for $ 28.5 million from Christie’s.
The hope, often cited as a metaphor for ne plus ultra, is unusual in that it has been viewed for more than 60 years. (Of course, both French and British jewelry that is displayed in public includes unusual diamonds: among them are those cut from the 3,106-carat Cullinan, discovered in South Africa in 1905, and the 105.6-carat Koch. -i-Noor, found in India.)
Hope’s path to America was paved. After Jean-Baptiste Tavernier sold it to King Louis XIV in 1668, the Sun King ordered it to be cut in a more symmetrical style popular at the time. It was then placed in gold and hung on a neck band, which the king wore to ceremonial events.
After his disappearance in 1792 and reappearance in London, he was sold and resold until he found himself with Mrs. McLean, when her husband, a publishing descendant, bought him in 1911. Rich, yes, but unfortunate. Her eldest son died in a car accident and her daughter from a drug overdose. At her death, Harry Winston bought her entire jewelry collection and in 1958 gave hope to the museum.
Reproducing it to the public, Mr. Post looked for what the diamond would look like in each of the three iterations.
“Nuts for precious stones”
Mr. Hattleberg’s interest in such work began as a child: his mother was a documentary photographer for the Smithsonian’s gem collection. Growing up in Bethesda, Md., He recalls: “Then we all studied geology in school. People brought crystals, agates and everything. I was crazy about gems, so my mother found a retirement center in a community recreation center where there was a gem cutting course. I like.”
After graduating in sculpture from the Academy of Fine Arts in Cranbrook, Mr. Hattleberg made a living from artificial tiling and other handicrafts.
He first had access to the Hope diamond in 1988 when he made a stencil out of it, which he used for chocolate copies, which were sold at the Smithsonian’s gift shop for a while.
Then in 2007, “I learned about a new method of coloring my diamond replicas,” he said. “Before, it was difficult to color fashionable colored diamonds.” This connection was extremely valuable, as colored stones are usually the most valuable.
“The ‘colorless’ material gives you much less to worry about,” said John King, a former director of quality at the American Gemological Institute’s lab. “Richer colors are more valuable. But when you start coloring it and you’re not happy with the original color, it’s a much bigger problem. “
The process can be nervous: “We’re doing multi-iterations,” said Azotic President Steve Stark. “It may be a little too purple or a little too blue in our initial samples. John would say, “Can you push him a little further in that direction?”
Constructing what the Hope Diamond looked like in his earlier lives was an adventure. The original tavern stone is recreated from paintings from this period. The second was a mystery until 2009, when Francois Farges of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris discovered a long-lost lead ebb of the stone.
Barbara Barrett, the U.S. Secretary of the Air Force who was a member of the Smithsonian’s board, supported the project with her husband Craig, Mr Post said.
Mr. Hattleberg is far from the only person to make copies. Many of them are made with the help of colored cubic zirconia. Scott Sucher, who specializes in replicas of famous diamonds, usually relies on photographs and line drawings to create his works, although there are some exceptions. For Koh-i-Noor, the Natural History Museum in London gave him a plaster model of the historic version of the diamond.
He then scanned it with a laser in Antwerp, Belgium, and used this data as a cutting guide. For a Discovery Channel program, Mr. Sucher had access to the original and created a replica using colored zircons. As part of the arrangement, the Discovery Channel gave it to the museum, although it is not on display. In a telephone interview, Mr Sucher said copies of his work are in a number of museums.
Of course, many of them are already closed.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hattleberg’s progress, who only makes molds from the original stone and finds cutting almost as daunting as the right color, has been slowed by travel restrictions.
When he made his remark on the Centennial of 1992, “I went back and forth to London every two months for more than a year,” he recalled. “It was extremely difficult because of the design of the veneers. The entire tip of the diamond is cut at angles less than 15 degrees. This meant that the differential in the corners was small and difficult to control. “
To get an idea of how difficult the initial cut was, DeBeers set up a special underground room in Johannesburg for a team led by Gabi Tolkowski, the famous diamond knife, so as to rule out any technical factor that might interfere with cutting. “The vibration is problematic and the city is shaking, in part because of the gold mining that has taken place there,” Mr More O’Ferral said.
For most people, isolating a pandemic can be difficult. But apart from not being able to travel or deliver the finished French Son, this may be the best quarantine project for Mr Hattleberg. Even after making copies of dozens of large stones, the work has not lost its appeal. At first, he said, he found the gems: “rare, precious and beautiful. I was completely intrigued. ”
In other words, the diamond is forever – and the lock is only temporary.