An Amsterdam Museum Tells the Story of Diamonds

Visitors who missed the blockbuster Vermeer exhibition at the Rijksmuseum here earlier this year will still be able to spot plenty of pearls among the half-dozen of his paintings still on display in the museum’s Gallery of Honor through Oct. 10. But for anyone interested in learning about diamonds, a better bet is just a three-minute walk away: the Diamond Museum Amsterdam.

Opened in 2007 and operated by a foundation established by the gem polishing company Royal Coster Diamonds, the museum has two floors displaying real and reproduction stones.

An introductory video describes how diamonds are formed and mined and how Amsterdam grew to be a global center for diamond polishing in the 17th century — though it has been surpassed, the museum said, particularly by Antwerp, Belgium, where about 80 percent of all rough diamonds and 50 percent of cut diamonds are traded today.

The exhibition includes a timeline of diamond-related milestones; the history of shipping routes from India, an early supplier of gems to Europe; details about the process of cutting and polishing a raw stone; and head-turning nuggets, such as the fact that most mined diamonds end up in tools like saw blades and surgical knives rather than rings and tiaras.

A section on colored diamonds tells how pure white diamonds are rare and that color in diamonds comes from impurities: a blue diamond, for example, contains boron; a yellow, nitrogen.

While a few of the diamonds on display are real, most of the “gems” and “royal crowns” are clearly marked as reproductions, including one of the storied 105.6-carat Koh-i-Noor diamond taken from India when it was under British rule. (In 1852, Coster was tapped by Queen Victoria to repolish the gem, a process said to have taken 38 days. It is now part of the crown of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.)

The real stone is part of the British crown jewels in the Tower of London, though India wants it back: The repatriation controversy led to Queen Camilla’s opting to use a different crown during the coronation of King Charles III in May.

In the Dutch museum, there is a room designed to make you feel as if you are inside a diamond, with walls covered in images including that of Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” as the “Diamonds Are Forever” song from the 1971 James Bond film plays in the background.

Another room is dedicated to “Diamond Heist,” a game in which players can try their hand at being a jewel thief by striving to evade an array of more than a dozen red lasers to reach and “steal” a (fake) diamond about the size of a pear. If a laser beam hits a player, the lights flicker and an alarm goes off. Those who successfully reach the stone will hear applause.

The museum is open daily; tickets for adults are 12.50 euros ($13.70) and include entry to a second building a few doors away where Royal Coster workers can be observed polishing and setting diamonds for private commissions or for the museum gift shop.

During a recent visit, Pauline Willemse, clad in a royal blue work smock, noticed that a female visitor was wearing a diamond ring displaying five different cuts and came from behind her workbench to chat.

Ms. Willemse, a diamond polisher, said she had worked for Royal Coster for 35 years. In 1994, she was listed by Guinness World Records for hand-cutting the smallest brilliant-cut diamond in the world: creating 57 facets on the 0.0000743-carat gem. The Guinness entry describes it as being smaller than the average grain of sand.

She can easily spot a fake, she said: “When they’re not real, my eyes hurt.”

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