Diamonds and Pearls

Facts and fantasies about the most sought-after stone

We were lately lounging away a Roman morning among the gems in Castellani's sparkling rooms in the Via Poli. One of the treasures handed out for rapturous examination was a diamond necklace, just finished for a Russian princess, at the cost of sixty thousand dollars, and a set of pearls for an English lady, who must pay, before she bears her prize homeward, the sum of ten thousand dollars. Castellani junior, a fine, patriotic young fellow, who has since been banished for his liberal ideas of government, smiled as he read astonishment in our eyes, and proceeded forthwith to dazzle us still further with more gems of rarest beauty, till then hidden away in his strong iron boxes.

Castellani, father and son, are princes among jewellers, and deserve to be ranked as artists of a superior order. Do not fail to visit their charming apartments, as among the most attractive lesser glories, when you go to Rome. They have a grand way of doing things, right good to look upon; and we once saw a countrywoman of ours, who has written immortal words in the cause of freedom, made the recipient of a gem at their hands, which she cannot but prize as among the chief tributes so numerously bestowed in all parts of the Christian world where her feet have wandered.

Castellani's jeweller's shop has existed in Rome since the year 1814. At that time all the efforts of this artist (Castellani the elder) were directed to the imitation of the newest English and French fashions, and particularly to the setting of diamonds. This he continued till 1823. From 1823 to 1827 he sought aid for his art in the study of Technology. And not in vain; for in 1826 he read before the Accademia dei Lincei of Rome, (founded by Federico Cesi,) a paper on the chemical process of coloring a giallone (yellow) in the manufacture of gold, in which he announced some facts in the action of electricity, long before Delarive and other chemists, as noticed in the “Quarterly Journal of Science,” Dec., 1828, No. 6, and the “Bibliotheque Universelle de Geneve,” 1829, Tom. xi. p. 84.

At this period Etruria began to lay open the treasures of her art. All were struck by the beauty of the jewels found in the tombs; but Castellani was the first who thought of reproducing some of them; and he did it to the great admiration of the amateurs, foremost among whom may be mentioned the Duke Don Michelangelo Caetani, a man of great artistic feeling, who aided by his counsels and his designs the renaissance of Roman jewelry.

The discovery of the celebrated tomb Regulini-Galassi at Cervetri was an event in jewelry. The articles of gold found in it (all now in the Vatican) were diligently studied by Castellani, when called upon to appraise them. Comprehending the methods and the character of the work, he boldly followed tradition.

The discoveries of Campanari of Toscanella, and of the Marquis Campana of Rome, gave valuable aid to this new branch of art.

Thus it went on improving; and Castellani produced very expert pupils, all of them Italians. Fashion, if not public feeling, came to aid the renaissance and others, in Rome and elsewhere, undertook similar work after the models of Castellani. It may be asserted that the triumph of the classic jewelry is now complete. Castellani renounced the modern methods of chasing and engraving, and adhered only to the antique fashion of overlaying with cords, grains, and finest threads of gold. From the Etruscan style he passed to the Greek, the Roman, the Christian. In this last he introduced the rough mosaics, such as were used by the Byzantines with much effect and variety of tint and of design.

The work of Castellani is dear; but that results from his method of execution, and from the perfect finish of all the details. He does not seek for cheapness, but for the perfection of art: this is the only thing he has in view. As he is a man of genius, we have devoted considerable space to his admirable productions.

The Talmud informs us that Noah had no other light in the ark than that which came from precious stones. Why do not our modern jewellers take a hint from the ancient safety-boat, and light up accordingly? We dare say old Tavernier, that knowing French gem-trader of the seventeenth century, had the art of illuminating his chateau at Aubonne in a way wondrous to the beholder. Among all the jewellers, ancient or modern, Jean Baptiste Tavernier seems to us the most interesting character. His great knowledge of precious stones, his acute observation and unfailing judgment, stamp him as one of the remarkable men of his day. Forty years of his life he passed in travelling through Turkey, Persia, and the East Indies, trading in gems of the richest and rarest lustre. A great fortune was amassed, and a barony in the Canton of Berne, on the Lake of Geneva, was purchased as no bad harbor for the rest of his days. There he hoped to enjoy the vast wealth he had so industriously acquired. But, alas! stupid nephews abound everywhere; and one of his, to whom he had intrusted a freight worth two hundred and twenty thousand livres, caused him so great a loss, that, at the age of eighty-four, he felt obliged to sail again for the East in order to retrieve his fortune, or at least repair the ill-luck arising from his unfortunate speculation. He forgot, poor old man! that youth and strength are necessary to fight against reverses; and he died at Moscow, on his way, in 1689. When you visit the great Library in Paris, you will find his “Travels,” in three volumes, published in 1677-79, on a shelf among the quartos. Take them down, and spend a pleasant hour in looking through the pages of the enthusiastic old merchant-jeweller. His adventures in search of diamonds and other precious commodities are well told; and although he makes the mistakes incident to many other early travellers, he never wilfully romances. He supposed he was the first European that had explored the mines of Golconda; but an Englishman of the name of Methold visited them as early as 1622, and found thirty thousand laborers working away for the rich Marcandar, who paid three hundred thousand pagodas annually to the king for the privilege of digging in a single mine. The first mine visited by Tavernier was that of Raolconda, a five-days' journey from Golconda. The manner of trading there he thus describes—

A very pretty sight is that presented every morning by the children of the master-miners and of other inhabitants of the district. The boys, the eldest of which is not over sixteen or the youngest under ten, assemble and sit under a large tree in the public square of the village. Each has his diamond weight in a bag hung on one side of his girdle, and on the other a purse containing sometimes as much as five or six hundred pagodas. Here they wait for such persons as have diamonds to sell, either from the vicinity or from any other mine. When a diamond is brought to them, it is immediately handed to the eldest boy, who is tacitly acknowledged as the head of this little band. By him it is carefully examined, and then passed to his neighbor, who, having also inspected it, transmits it to the next boy. The stone is thus passed from hand to hand, amid unbroken silence, until it returns to that of the eldest, who then asks the price and make the bargain. If the little man is thought by his comrades to have given too high a price, he must keep the stone on his own account. In the evening the children take account of stock, examine their purchases, and class them according to their water, size, and purity, putting on each stone the price they expect to get for it; they then carry the stones to the masters, who have always assortments to complete, and the profits are divided among the young traders, with this difference in favor of the head of the firm, that he receives one-fourth per cent. more than the others. These children are so perfectly acquainted with the value of all sorts of gems, that, if one of them, after buying a stone, is willing to lose one-half per cent. on it, a companion is always ready to take it.

Master Tavernier discourses at some length on the ingenious methods adopted by the laborers to conceal diamonds which they have found, sometimes swallowing them,—and he tells of one miner who hid in the corner of his eye a stone of two carats! Altogether, his work is one worthy to be turned over, even in that vast collection, the Imperial Library, for its graphic pictures of gem-hunting two hundred years ago.

Professor Tennant says, “One of the common marks of opulence and taste in all countries is the selection, preservation, and ornamental use of gems and precious stones.” Diamonds, from the time Alexander ordered pieces of flesh to be thrown into the inaccessible valley of Zulmeah, that the vultures might bring up with them the precious stones which attached themselves, have everywhere ranked among the luxuries of a refined cultivation. It is the most brilliant of stones, and the hardest known body. Pliny says it is so hard a substance, that, if one should be laid on an anvil and struck with a hammer, look out for the hammer! [Mem. If the reader have a particularly fine diamond, never mind Pliny's story: the risk is something, and Pliny cannot be reached for an explanation, should his experiment fail.] By its own dust only can the diamond be cut and polished; and its great lustre challenges the admiration of the world. Ordinary individuals, with nothing to distinguish them from the common herd, have “got diamonds,” and straightway became ever afterwards famous. An uncommon-sized brilliant, stuck into the front linen of a foolish fellow, will set him up as a marked man, and point him out as something worth looking at. The announcement in the papers of the day, that “Mademoiselle Mars would wear all her diamonds,” never failed to stimulate the sale of tickets on all such occasions. As it may interest our readers to know what treasures an actress of 1828 possessed, we copy from the catalogue of her effects a few items.

“Two rows of brilliants set en chatons, one row composed of forty-six brilliants, the other of forty-four; eight sprigs of wheat in brilliants, composed of about five hundred brilliants, weighing fifty-seven carats; a garland of brilliants that may be taken to pieces and worn as three distinct ornaments, three large brilliants forming the centre of the principal flowers, the whole comprising seven hundred and nine brilliants, weighing eighty-five carats three-quarters; a Sevigne mounted in colored gold, in the centre of which is a burnt topaz surrounded by diamonds weighing about three grains each, the drops consisting of three opals similarly surrounded by diamonds; one of the three opals is of very large size, in shape oblong, with rounded corners; the whole set in gold studded with rubies and pearls.

“A parure of opals, consisting of a necklace and Sevigne, two bracelets, ear-rings the studs of which are emeralds, comb, belt-plate set with an opal in the shape of a triangle; the whole mounted in wrought gold, studded with small emeralds.

“A Gothic bracelet of enamelled gold, in the centre a burnt topaz surrounded by three large brilliants; in each link composing the bracelet is a square emerald; at each extremity of the topaz forming the centre ornament are two balls of burnished gold, and two of wrought gold.

“A pair of girandole ear-rings of brilliants, each consisting of a large stud brilliant and of three pear-shaped brilliants united by four small ones; another pair of ear-rings composed of fourteen small brilliants forming a clustre of grapes, each stud of a single brilliant.

“A diamond cross composed of eleven brilliants, the ring being also of brilliants.

“A bracelet with a gold chain, the centre-piece of which is a fine opal surrounded with brilliants; the opal is oblong and mounted in the Gothic style; the clasp is an opal.

“A gold bracelet, with a grecque surrounded by six angel heads graven on turkoises, and a head of Augustus.

“A serpent bracelet a la Cleopatre, enamelled black, with a turkois on its head.

“A bracelet with wrought links burnished on a dead ground; the clasp a heart of burnished gold with a turkois in the centre, graven with Hebrew characters.

“A bracelet with a row of Mexican chain, and a gold ring set with a turkois and fastened to the bracelet by a Venetian chain.

“A ring, the hoop encircled with small diamonds.

“A ring, a la chevaliere, set with a square emerald between two pearls.

“A gold chevaliere ring, on which is engraved a small head of Napoleon.

“Two belt-buckles, Gothic style, one of burnished gold, the other set with emeralds, opals, and pearls.

“A necklace of two rows coral; a small bracelet of engraved carnelians.

“A comb of rose diamonds, form D 5, surmounted by a large rose surrounded by smaller ones, and a cinque-foil in roses, the chatons alternated, below a band of roses.”
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