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WITH a mysterious change of title twixt press release and actual book, from Diamonds of the World to the rather more pretentious and windy showing as above, this is an English-version catalogue of an exhibition on diamonds, originally created by the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, a museum founded by the kings of France and formerly called the King’s Botanical Garden. One of the exhibition’s sponsors was the jewellery group Mouawad, whose president Robert Mouawad, writes a lively preface about the audacity of mounting an exhibition of the most famous gems and jewels ever attempted.

This book explores the cultural significance of a gem that is a religious talisman, an instrument of power, a source of literary inspiration and ultimately the stuff of legend.

The “Divine Stone” is discussed within three sections in 13 chapters by assorted geologists, mineralogists, archivists and art historians, with information on the diamond’s crystallisation and its properties, including its formation and rareness, and a discourse on the science of gems and their quality. “From the heads of kings to the fingers of the people” has maybe lost a certain poetry in the translation, but these chapters cover the Parisian diamond market in the 16th and 17th centuries and the diamonds of the maharajahs and mughals.

Marvellously illustrated and good value at £40, there is one photograph which stays in the mind. On pages 286 and 287 there is a grainy black and white picture, taken around 1922, of the Crown Jewels of Imperial Russia laid out on a table, accompanied by the committee responsible for its safekeeping and inventory, an inventory begun by Fabergé in 1913 and which Trotsky insisted that Fabergé continue. In 1923 the Soviets sold part of this fabulous collection at Christie’s. They did so anonymously, calling themselves “a trade union”. Out of the 124 lots at auction, half were jewels from the private collections, but the remainder included many state jewels. These included the Russian Pink, very brilliant and very pure, which fetched £11,800 while the sob-in-the-throat piece of Russian history, the Imperial Nuptial Crown went for £6100. And there is a lot more of the same about the diamonds, the hardest, the brightest, the rarest and the most coveted.