The New York Times has a romantic story about the Wittelsbach diamond bought by jeweler Laurence Graff and recut to be more exotic and intense than even it’s long and storied history would have already made it. The story shows how the rage for large colored diamonds has created value that far outstrips the historical purity of keeping the original stone intact.
But that’s not what caught our eye about Guy Trebay’s excellent story. Recently, there has been a great deal of controversy about private collectors using museums to market their art and enhance its value. Yet no one has heretofore objected to Graff’s plan to exhibit his newly enhanced stone against the most famous blue diamond in the world at the Smithsonian:
First, he had it recut, reducing it from 35.52 to just over 31 carats, to eliminate the chips and “bruises” inevitable in a stone of its age but also to improve its clarity, brilliance and grade. Then he renamed it the Wittelsbach-Graff and struck an agreement with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington to display it.
Late this month, it will go on view alongside the legendary Hope, a larger stone but a slightly more drab one, and yet a rock whose allure remains potent enough to have drawn five million visitors to the national collection last year.
“The Hope Diamond is by far our most popular object,” Jeffrey E. Post, curator of the National Gem and Mineral Collection at the Smithsonian, said last week, comparable in its drawing power to the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. […]
After that the diamond will leave the Mall in Washington. What will become of it? Will the stone, its reputation revived and newly burnished by an exhibition, be offered for sale at some incalculable sum? Will it, as Richard W. Wise, a gemologist and author of “Secrets of the Gem Trade,” and an expert on both the Hope and the Wittelsbach, suggested, be snatched up “by some sheik who wants a bit of portable wealth in case he needs to get on his Gulfstream some day and get out of Dodge.” Or will it return to a vault to be taken out from time to time for the private amusement of the man Forbes last year placed at No. 305 in its list of global billionaires?
No one can blame Mr. Graff for being a brilliant marketer. But where are the cries for assurances that the stone will donated to the Smithsonian? Is a historic gem any less a part of our cultural patrimony than a painting? Or have the complaints about collectors using museum shows to enhance the value of their holdings perhaps been overstated?
Out of the Blue, Prestige and Riches (The New York Times)