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Happy Halloween! Here at Ferrebeekeeper we continue working through a list of snake monsters from around the world.  Today’s monster is from South African lore—but it is a little unclear what tradition it hales from.  Maybe, as in the case of, say, Bigfoot, the legends of indigenous people got mashed together with the aspirations and fears of European explorers, miners, and settlers to create an unsettling hybrid being…At any rate, this creature, the Grootslang, is said to be a colossal hybrid of an elephant and a serpent left over from the primordial building of the world.  The gods created a creature of enormous size, colossal intellect, dark cunning, and insatiable greed…oh and bendiness.  Grootslangs were soon destroying the newly created world, and the gods realized they had made a terrible mistake.  They separated the beings into different categories, giving size & intellect to the great elephants and supple cunning and greed to snakes.

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Yet some (or one?) Grootslang escaped and lived on to trouble humankind.  Myths assert that the Grootslang was even more avaricious, parsimonious, and cunning than diamond prospectors and Dutch colonial merchants (so obviously the stories are fake).  The Grootslang    is said to live in a cave filled with infinite diamonds somewhere in the Richtersveld of South Africa.  It is enormously wealthy and delights in cruelly torturing unwary prospectors to death, however its greed is it weakness and victims can prolong their life by offering it treasure and deals.  Alas, the Grootslang kept not just the cruelty strength and wealth of the ancient gods it also had their unearthly acumen and cunning, so deals made with it tended to go horribly wrong, in the manner of dragon curses from medieval tales.  So, if you run into the Grootslang you can potentially save yourself by offering it diamonds, but probably everything will come apart and you will be in a worse situation than you were originally.

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Hmm, maybe this thing is actually a metaphor for DeBeers…

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So, for those of you who like fancy tiaras and/or heists, here is a fascinating story from Karlsruhe, a city in southwest Germany. At the end of April, a thief (or multiple thieves?) entered the Badisches Landesmuesum, a Baroque Palace which contains historical artifacts from many different eras of German history and brazenly jimmied open a display case containing the tiara of Grand Duchess Hilda of Baden. The diamond crown was apparently stolen during museum hours by a deft thief with the furtiveness and dexterity to defeat the 21stCentury security apparatus of the museum (although the police have precious few leads, so maybe it was more of an inside job than it sounds like).

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The tiara was made in 1906/1907 out of white gold, platinum, and 367 diamonds. It isn’t my favorite tiara, but it has a certain elegance, and it is valuable. I wouldn’t turn up my nose if some archduke gave it to me (though I don’t covet it enough to walk into a museum full of people with a slim jim and wiggle it out of its case while I pretended to look at velvet gloves and fancy hood ornaments). I guess I am impressed that somebody can still do such things though.
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5c17c34df71391c4e9bd07fd3bda91bbThe Brazilian Goldsmith Carlos Martin manufactured the Imperial Crown of Brazil in 1841 for the coronation of Emperor Dom Pedro II.  The crown is also known as the Diamantine Crown—because it is covered with 630 diamonds—ooh, so sparkly! I guess, the crown also has 77 large pearls too, but nobody really talks about them.  The imperial crown of Pedro II replaced the unremarkable crown of the extremely remarkable Dom Pedro I, a revolutionary and reformer who was responsible for many of the things which went right for Brazil.  We’ll have more to say about him later this week.

With 8 magnificent golden arches meeting beneath an orb and cross, the crown of Brazil echoes the crown of Portugal…and rightly so, since the great South American nation began as the most magnificent Portuguese colony (although Goa, Macau, Agola, and Mozambique were quite nice too).  Here is a picture of Emperor Pedro II looking exceedingly magnificent (and perhaps a bit silly too) as he opens the annual Parliamentary session in 1872.

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So lovely was the crown of Brazil that is was the central motif of the Brazilian flag until the monarchy was abolished in 1889.  Unlike other crowns which were sold or stolen after independence, the Brazilian crown has remained in posession of the Brazilian republic and can currently be seen at the Imperial Palace in the City of Petrópolis.

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Ok, a while back Ferrebeekeeper poked some fun at the royal crown of Holland.  Thriftiness is a famous national characteristic of the Dutch and the coronation crown, made of fish paste and thinly gilded metal certainly encapsulates that dubious virtue. However, the Dutch had a globe spanning empire for a long time and do they have some exceedingly nice things.  Here is the Dutch Sapphire tiara, an 1881 love gift from King Willem III of the Netherlands to his wife, Queen Emma.  The magnificent tiara features 33 blue sapphires and 655 diamonds set in platinum.  The shape is meant to evoke the great Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages, but the workmanship is the finest the 19th century had to offer. A number of the stones are mounted “en tremblant”, which means they are attached to subtle springs which vibrate slightly with movement causing them to scintillate and glisten even more dazzlingly!

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Here it is being worn by Queen Maxima of Holland.  Maxima is a great name for a queen!

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Isabel II was queen regnant of Spain from 1833 until 1868, when she was forced out by a somewhat muddled coalition of Spanish liberals and republicans.   Her reactionary reign was a long series of palace intrigues, military conspiracies, and church meddling.

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During the 19th century, there was a fashion for European sovereigns to commission small easily wearable coronet-style crowns (a fashion which was greatly promoted by Queen Victoria, the foremost monarch of the day).  Queen Isabel commissioned this beautiful little yellow crown of diamonds, gold, and topazes.  When she was forced out by the “Glorious” (but ineffective) revolution she took the crown into exile with her in Paris, however she willed it to the Atocha Chapel. If my sources are to be believed (and they are internet sources…so maybe they shouldn’t be) the little coronet is still used to adorn the church’s votive statue on high feast days.

Harlequin (as an antique French paper doll)

Harlequin (as an antique French paper doll)

Here at Ferrebeekeeper we try and try to explain things coherently, but, alas, some things just refuse to be contained into coherent categories. One of those things appropriately is “harlequin” a word which has come to mean all sorts of contradictory things—particularly when it is used to describe color.

A Scene from the Commedia dell'Arte with Harlequin and Punchinello (Nicolas Lancret, 1734, oil on canvas)

A Scene from the Commedia dell’Arte with Harlequin and Punchinello (Nicolas Lancret, 1734, oil on canvas)

Harlequin was a main character from the Italian Commedia dell arte, a form of masked farcical theater popular from the 16th through the 18th century. Commedia dell arte emphasized certain humorous stock characters (like the stingy master, the coquettish daughter, the cowardly suitor, and so forth). Harlequin was one of the most cunning and ingenious masked servants–a character so crafty that he frequently outsmarted himself. The character evolved directly from the cunning devil character of medieval pageant plays (with a bit of the king’s fool thrown in). Just as the harlequin predated Italian farcical comedy, he (and she) outlasted the form and became an integral part of circuses, burlesque shows, advertising, cartoons, and so forth, right up until the present.

Pinup Harlequin

Pinup Harlequin

Aside from their puckish wit and masks, harlequins were famed for their mottled garb of many colored diamonds or triangles. These spangled parti-colored outfits were one of the crowning glories of Commedia dell arte, and the look quickly became a part of show culture throughout the western world. Many artists, poets, and marketers were inspired by the bold & brassy look of harlequins and the word became used to describe colors and patterns.

Harlequin (yellow-green)

Harlequin (yellow-green)

Frustratingly, the word is used by different sources to describe completely different colors and patterns. Among the classically minded it still describes a triangular or diamond pattern of many different colors. To the British, from the nineteen-twenties onward, “harlequin has been the name for a bright shade of yellow-green (inclining towards green).

Harlequin car (it's a hard effect to photograph)

Harlequin car (it’s a hard effect to photograph)

To make matters even worse, in the early 21st century, paint manufacturers created a metallic paint which changes color depending on the viewing angle. This unearthly effect is accomplished by the reflection/refraction of light upon tiny aluminum chips coated with magnesium fluoride (all embedded within chromium). Naturally one of the marketing names the paint makers chose for their product was “harlequin”.

Royal Doulton Harlequin rack plate After an original work by LeRoy Neiman

Royal Doulton Harlequin rack plate
After an original work by LeRoy Neiman

Harlequin is even used to describe a garish mélange of many crazy colors with virtually no discernible pattern!  So if you are reading a contemporary work and a color is described as “harlequin” you will have to work out for yourself what it means. The whole mess makes me feel like I have been tricked by a masked fraudster from Baroque Italy. Quite possibly we all have been.

default-ehow-images-a05-4j-6b-did-harlequin-come-800x800Postscript:  As a special bonus, I am also mentioning harrlequin colored Great Danes (as suggested by bmellor2013 in her comment below.  Apparently the pattern (or at least the name for it) is unique to certain Great Danes.  Wikipedia defines the Harlequin coat as follows:

The base color is pure white with black torn patches irregularly and well distributed over the entire body; a pure white neck is preferred. The black patches should never be large enough to give the appearance of a blanket, nor so small as to give a stippled or dappled effect. Eligible, but less desirable, are a few small grey patches (this grey is consistent with a Merle marking) or a white base with single black hairs showing through, which tend to give a salt and pepper or dirty effect.

Wow! Dog coats are serious business–especially for the Great Dane, the princely “Apollo of Dogs”.  Here is a harlequin Dane relaxing with his human companion.

Harlequin Great Dane

Harlequin Great Dane

The Gandik Diraja, the crown of the Queen of Malaysia

Known as the “Gandik Diraja”, the crown of the Queen of Malysia is a diadem made of diamonds and platinum.  The crown centers around a large diamond star and crescent which are surrounded by abstract “awan larat” designs.  The crown is also a transformer and can be taken apart to form a locket and a set of brooches (if wearing a crown seems to ostentatious, and the queen yearns for the modest elegance of, you know, huge platinum diamond brooches).   In 1984, the Gandik Diraja was created from a previous version by Garrard jewelers, an ultra-luxury jeweler in London.

Malaysia has an unusual version of monarchy in which the king (or more properly the Yang di-Pertuan Agong) is elected every 5 years from among the rulers of the nine Malay states.  The Gandik Diraja therefore gets passed around a lot! It was designed to be bland (well, bland for a huge jeweled hat) so that it would go with many different outfits and suit the varying tastes of lots of different royal consorts.  The tiara is accompanied by the Kalung Diraja, a large diamond and platinum necklace which unaccountably looks like echinoderms or spiders. Just like the diadem, the necklace can be taken apart and worn as earrings and brooches.  Who knew that Malysian royalty had such a penchant for brooches?

The Kalung Diraja

The Crown of Empress Marie Louise (made in 1810)

Although I often write about crowns, I have barely ever seen one.  I live in a republic and, sadly, I rarely go overseas where monarchs (and their headdresses) are located.  Today’s crown however is an exception.  I have seen it often at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington. The crown was created as a wedding gift from Napoleon to his second wife Maria Ludovica Leopoldina Franziska Therese Josepha Lucia von Habsburg-Lothringen (aka Marie Louise), Empress of the French from 1810 to 1814.  Napoleon divorced his first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais for failing to provide a son and he then married Marie Louise, the eldest child of Emperor Francis I of Austria in order to provide both legitimacy for his royal dynasty and an heir.  Concerning his second wife Napoleon is said to have remarked that he “had married a womb.”

French Empress Marie Louise

Whatever his feelings, the crown Napoleon gave his second Empress is certainly lovely.  The crown itself is made of silver and encrusted with 950 diamonds. It originally had 79 large emeralds but these were replaced with Persian turquoise cabochons when the crown was purchased from from Archduchess Alice Elisabeth and her son Archduke Karl Stefan in the early 1950s by Van Cleef & Arpels jewelers. To quote allaboutgemstones.com:

The original emeralds were re-set by Van Cleef & Arpels into contemporary jewelry and marketed with the slogan, “An emerald for you from the historic Napoleonic tiara.” The Marie-Louise tiara is now located at the Smithsonian Institution’s American Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.

Although undoubtedly the original emeralds were lovely, I have always liked the distinctive look of the turquoise set among the diamonds.  Many 19th century crowns were made of the most precious gems, but no others have the unique silver and sky blue color scheme which resulted from the crown’s strange history.

Above is the emerald and diamond tiara of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, the Duchess of Angoulême.  Through several peculiar quirks of fate it is one of the few crown jewels of France to remain unaltered after the rest were sold or stolen. It can be found today in the Louvre surrounded by various crowns which are made of paste or missing their valuable jewels.

Marie-Thérèse was a strange figure in history.  She was the only child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to survive the French Revolution.  During the Reign of Terror, her royal relatives in the Temple prison were carried away and beheaded one by one until she alone was left.  On May 11th 1794, two days after sending her aunt to the guillotine, Robespierre visited Marie-Thérèse.  The details of their discussion are unknown to history but whatever she said seems to have saved her life since the Terror ended 2 months later.

Marie Thérèse Charlotte (painted by Antoine Jean Gros)

In 1799, she married a powerful nobleman Louis Antoine, Duke of Angoulême who was also her father’s brother’s son (her first cousin). When her uncle Louis XVIII died in1824, her father-in-law became King Charles X and her husband became heir to the throne. She was the Queen of France for 20 minutes during the time between when her father-in-law signed a document of abdication and when her husband was reluctantly forced to sign one himself.

To quote InternetStones.com, “The tiara which was designed and executed by the French Royal Jewelers Evrard and Frederic Bapst in 1819, was a masterpiece of the French jewelry craftsmanship of the early 19th century. The design of the tiara was a symmetrical design of scrolling foliage, mounted with over a thousand diamonds set in silver, and 40 emeralds set in gold.”  The piece was technically part of the crown jewels because it was assembled from the royal jewel collection for a noble directly in line for the throne.

The tiara today (photo courtesy of the Louvre)

When Marie-Thérèse abdicated she returned the tiara to the French treasury.  During theSecond Empire it was the favorite crown of Empress Eugenie.  However she too returned it to the treasury when Napoleon III abdicated in the aftermath of the disastrous Franco-Prussian war.  The tiara was auctioned off by the National Assembly during the third republic. It passed through private hands until it was purchased by the Louvre in 2002 thereby falling into the hands of the fifth republic (the current government of France).

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