Witte de With Contemporary Art
Program—Property of a Lady
Sediments — 1971 | November 2014

Property of a Lady
By Amy Zion

The Deepdene Diamond.

Christie’s Geneva: 20 November 1997


The second time the Deepdene Diamond, a colored stone weighing 104.53 carats, surfaced at Christie’s in Geneva, the famous auction house had the opportunity to publish their version of the gem’s contentious history. As one of the highlights of their 1997 Magnificent Jewels auction, it was allotted more pages in the catalogue than any other item. Although it was the largest jewel on offer that day, the space was necessary to add some descriptive polishing.

As the 1997 catalogue states, on 27 May 1971, Van Cleef & Arpels reportedly bid 1.9 million SFr. (about $2.1 million at today’s conversion rate) for what they thought was a natural “fancy” (intense-colored) yellow diamond.1Christie’s Geneva. Magnificent Jewels. 20 November, 1997, p. 268.[auction catalog.] The jewelers were rumored to be bidding on behalf of Aristotle Onassis, who wanted it for his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. According to Christie’s, renowned gemologist Dr Eduard Gübelin came forward just before the sale and claimed he had examined the gem previously and was convinced it had received artificial treatment to enhance its yellow color. Nonetheless, Christie’s did not remove the diamond from the auction or amend the listing. Instead, after the sale, they sent the gem to the London Gem Testing Laboratory, where Dr Basil Anderson confirmed the allegation and the sale was rescinded.2Christie’s, ibid.

The catalogue continues: it was Frankfurt jewelers Friedrich who purchased the stone in 1970 without a certificate and had it tested twice at two separate labs; both claimed the stone was natural. Until the 1980s, mystery ensued as to when the stone was treated and by whom. Christie’swas, however, able to confirm after the 1971 sale that the stone was the same Deepdene Diamond which had been exhibited publicly at the Natural Science Academy in Philadelphia in 1938, before it was treated, when it weighed an extra .35 carats. Christie’s credits this confirmation to Dr Siegfried Rösch, who compared photos of the pre- and post-treatment diamond with a criminal research microscope and found identical, natural slivers of “rough” near its girdle.3Christie’s, ibid. Over a decade later, another renowned gemologist, American Dr Frederick Pough, heard about the debate over the diamond’s treatment and confirmed that he had treated the diamond back in 1955.4The Christie’s catalogue does not include a date, this comes from: Overton, Thomas W. and James E. Shigley. “A History of Diamond Treatments,” Gems and Gemology (Spring, 2008), 40.

That second sale estimated the diamond, in its current setting designed by Friedrich, would sell for between $200–500,000—a far cry from the two million it had sold for when listed as a naturally colored stone in 1971, even before factoring in twenty-five years’ inflation. Ultimately, it sold to Graff Diamonds for $715,320.5Overton and Shigley, op. cit. Graff is quoted saying he paid “about 700,00” in:: Meredith Etherington-Smith, Graff: The Most Fabulous Jewels in the World (London and Easthampton, MA: Cultureshock Media, 2007), 112. On that evening, Christie’s finally sold the diamond as a treated stone and cleared the record about its history and their involvement. But, like the treated diamond, their tale is riddled with small, almost indiscernible fissures; elisions, odd facts, and dates that do not quite add up to an honest mistake.

Most experts agree that the Deepdene was likely found in a South African mine around 1890, when yellow diamonds were discovered with more frequency in the Cape Province.6Emmanuel Fritsch, “The Nature of Color in Diamonds,” in The Nature of Diamonds, ed. George E. Harlow (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 36. It was cut in Amsterdam and sold to New York diamantaire Lazare Kaplan, who sold it to Los Angeles dealer Martin Ehrmann. Its first private owner was gem collector and member of the family that founded Curtis Publications, Cary W. Bok. Bok and his first wife Helena named the stone after their New York property. In 1938, the Boks lent the Deepdene for exhibition at the Philadelphia Academy of Science for one year, at which point its weight was recorded at 104.88 carats.

Christie’s notes that the cyclotron bombardment treatment occurred after the diamond was sold by the Boks in 1954 and next appeared in the possession of a Canadian named Eleanor Loder. At some point, Loder parted with the piece and its next owner sold the stone to Friedrich without certificates. This version of the story leaves several questions unanswered: Who bought the stone from the Boks? Who had arranged the irradiation? How could it be that the expert opinion of Dr Gübelin, who examined the diamond prior to the Christie’s sale, was not factored into its inclusion in the sale as a natural stone? How did it take a decade for Dr Pough to be informed of the situation?

There are three parties whose roles require further scrutiny: Rösch, Pough, and one person whose name is missing altogether. Rösch claimed in an article he wrote on the “Deepdene debate” in 1973 that it was Dr Gübelin who had confirmed, on 4 June 1972, that the Deepdene was the same stone exhibited in Philadelphia. Before that, Gübelin held the position that there were two similar stones, and that the Deepdene was still privately held in the US. Rösch was part of the debate over how the diamond’s color changed and who was responsible, but does not seem to take credit for confirming the stone’s identity. He did, however, name the main character missing from Christie’s revision as none other than the famous jeweler Harry Winston.

Today, it is accepted that Winston bought the stone from Bok7Overton and Shigley, op. cit., 40., but at the time of the scandal, Winston denied that he had owned it.8Dr Siegfried Rösch, “Die Farben des Deepdene-Brillanten,” reprinted as a leaflet from: Gold + Silber, 1973. Thank you to Jesi Khadivi from Texual Bikini for assistance with the translation. Bok’s second wife, as well as his secretary who arranged the sale and delivery to Winston, confirmed in 1971 and 1972 respectively, that Winston was the successive owner.9Rösch, ibid. Treating the stone would not only affect its value significantly if disclosed, as the gulf between the 1971 and 1997 sales illustrates, but the lack of disclosure was a breach of Federal Trade Commission rules issued in 1957, two years after the treatment.10Although the rules had not been formally in place, they were already developed in Europe and understood to be an ethical breach at the time of the irradiation in 1955. See: Thomas W. Overton, “Gem Treatment Disclosure and U.S. Law” Gems and Gemology, Summer 2004, 109. Apparently, the artificial enhancement of gems without disclosure was such an issue in New York State that it became a criminal offense in 1962.11Overton and Shigley, op. cit., 35. So whether or not Winston hired Pough to treat the stone, one could understand why he and his company would want to distance themselves from the Deepdene during the 1971 scandal.

The Deepdene Diamond was treated in 1955 in order to enhance its color, making it a more unique object. There is evidence that, at least since Roman times, colored diamonds were highly valuable12Fritsch,op. cit., 23., and alongside the history of colored diamonds, there has been a tradition of artificially treating a diamond’s surface in order to increase its value. It was enough of a problem that Pliny referred to it as the most profitable form of fraud.13Overton (2004), 107. Back then, this meant coating or backing the diamond with oils or other materials. Diamond treatments often involved applying a blue coating to diamonds with a slight natural yellow hue so that it would hide ‘impurities’ and make it appear colorless in addition to coating the surface in order to enhance a colored diamond’s intensity, making it seem more rare and exquisite.14Although there is around one colored diamond for every ten colorless, at certain points in time, colored diamonds held a lower stature because color marked impurities, specifically the presence of atoms that blocked various color waves in order to produce the appearance of color. The Deepdene, for instance, likely contains nitrogen, which absorbs blue and violet light to produce its yellow color. Colorless diamonds have no such atoms, and therefore the full light spectrum is able to pass through the stone. It was not until the twentieth century that diamond treatment technology would advance past surface treatments.15Overton and Shigley, op cit., 37.

Etymologically, “diamond” means, literally, “unconquerable” but developments in treatment technology in the last century changed the understanding of the diamond as an impenetrable material. In 1904, Sir William Crookes was the first to expose diamonds to radiation, which breached the surface layer and altered the diamond’s color.[ref]Ibid.[/ref] The change was often temporary but Crookes and other scientists who repeated his experiments later discovered that the material could stay radioactive for up to several hundred years.16Ibid. In the 1940s and 1950s, scientists began to use cyclotrons to expose diamonds to radiation.17Cyclotrons were machines that used magnetic energy to accelerate atoms instead of radium. See: Overton and Shigley, ibid. These stones only remained radioactive for a short period of time; the color produced by this form of radiation was a result of damage caused by the radiation passing through the stone. Cyclotron radiation went deeper into the stone and as the technology was refined, the color produced was more even and therefore harder to detect even with spectroscopic techniques.18Rösch, op cit.

A major pioneer and leading authority of this last technique was Dr Pough, who left his job as curator at the Natural History Museum in New York in 1952 to become president of his own company, Gem Irradiation Laboratories.19Roskin, ibid. Although Dr Pough confirmed in 1981 that he treated the Deepdene, he was largely dismissive of questions concerning his role in the Deepdene ordeal.20Overton and Shigley, op cit. But in 2004, just two years before his death at age ninety-nine21Interestingly, Pough collapsed while attending the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium and later died in hospital. He was up to date on the latest gem debates until his last breath., he revealed in a video interview at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) that after Gübelin examined the stone in 1971, he contacted Pough who confirmed that he had treated the Deepdene diamond. He was restricted by a confidentiality agreement not to disclose this publicly.22Overton and Shigley, op cit. Considering he was a leading figure on the subject and regularly attended conferences in which both he and Gübelin were speakers, it is hard to believe that he could have been ignorant of the situation for so many years, as the 1997 catalogue claims.23For example, the fall 1970 issue of Gems and Gemology, an academic journal produced by the GIA, summarized a conference in which both Gübelin and Pough were speakers.

It is not clear whether Pough revealed his mystery client in the GIA’s video, which is restricted to staff access only.24Considering this restriction, my sources here are from an article that GIA published which refers to excerpts of the video. Overton and Shigley. (2008), 36. Winston’s denial of association with the gem in 1954 is highly suspicious but not confirmation that he commissioned the treatment. And, even if he did, this does not mean that he kept the knowledge from the successive owner, as there remains a hole in the provenance between Loder and Jeweler Frederich; this mysterious person may have destroyed documentation of the stone’s treatment in order to pass the treated stone off as natural.

In the same article in which Rösch points a finger at Winston for not coming forward during the Deepdene debates, he notes Gübelin’s first examination of the diamond as 23 November 1970. This means that Friedrich, the jewelers who purchased it that year, should have been aware of or alerted to the fact that a leading authority on diamond treatment claimed it was not natural, although the 1997 Christie’s catalogue states that Friedrich had it tested twice and both results concluded the stone was untreated. Apparently the treatment done to the stone was extremely “artful” and subtle, so it could be that some tests did not yield the same results, but I cannot figure out why Rösch and Christie’s dates are so out sync. If Rösch’s date is correct, it also means that Gübelin may have had Pough’s confirmation of the diamond’s treatment before the auction (but could not disclose it). In the 1973 article, Rösch also mentions that a Dr Crowningshield of the GIA had examined the stone, although the Christie’s catalogue included a reproduction of a letter from Dr Crowningshield of the GIA to Friedrich dated 1983, in which he confirms his belief that the diamond was treated and polished sometime after 1954—but why was the letter dated a decade later? Did Friedrich seek out this document later in 1983 in order to sell the stone to its next owner? Did Christie’s include this piece of evidence to support their version of the story, in which Pough remains ignorant about the debate for a whole decade? Who sold the stone to Frederich without documentation? (And what did Aristotle end up buying for Jackie?)

The most unexpected claim in Rösch’s article is that the Deepdene was not originally a yellow “cape,” but a golden yellow diamond cut in a style that predates the discovery of the South African mines.25Rösch, op cit. He quotes three distinct sources that examined the stone before 1938 (when irradiation was not yet possible), including the record taken at the Academy of Science when it was on exhibition in 1938, which states that the stone was “golden yellow” and not the color of a cape.26Rösch, ibid. The other testimonies come from an associate curator of mineralogy from the Academy of Natural Sciences who wrote in a 1939 article that the Deepdene was “golden yellow,” and Bok’s secretary Myrtle Moss who recalled a “deep golden yellow color” and refuted that it was the color of a cape. Irradiation treatment, particularly in those early days of experimentation, could destroy a stone and its value completely, and if the stone’s original color was remarkable, these testimonies to its pre-treatment color are significant because it bares the question: Why was the stone treated at all?27The treatment, as Christie’s stated, was not significant as it was difficult to discern it from a natural stone and would have only enhanced the color from “golden yellow” to “fancy.”

Some time after 1997, Graff notes that he sold the Deepdene Diamond to author Danielle Steel and although she never responded to my message, I have not found any clues as to further change in ownership.28Etherington-Smith, op cit. I also combed through some of the public sales of Steel’s jewelry but did not find record that she sold it. Whether or not she still owns it is inconsequential. Perhaps she was attracted by the stone’s literary pedigree (that it was first owned by publishing magnates) or the mystery and drama surrounding its provenance. But provenance, as they say, is pedigree, and although there is no doubt as to why it was so important for Christie’s to dedicate four pages to put forth its own account in advance of the 1997 sale, critical approaches to provenance can provide alternative social histories of objects that tell us as much about how value is created in a given society and how changes in ownership change perspectives through which objects are seen and valued. It would be a shame if auction houses continued to enjoy a monopoly on the practice.

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