Having learned about Amsterdam’s major beer and liquor exports (or as my mother tells it: how I drank my way across Europe,) I decided to spend a few hours in a 19th century villa, immersing myself in the history of the diamond trade in the Netherlands.
It was a great way to spend an hour; if you aren’t into jewelry there is enough history, art and production value to keep you entertained!
This museum is sponsored by Coster Diamonds, an Amsterdam based diamond polishing and trading diamond firm established in 1840.
Here is a quick history of the sparkly hard stuff in the Netherlands:
In the 17th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important centers of diamond production and trade. Jews fleeing catholic countries in the South of Europe, settled in Amsterdam and developed the diamond trade because the diamond polishing profession was one of the only craftsmen guilds that was open to them.
This coincided with Amsterdam’s Golden Age when it was the wealthiest city in the world. Ships sailed from Amsterdam to the Baltic Sea, North America, and Africa, as well as present-day Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, and Brazil, forming the basis of a worldwide trading network. In 1602, the Amsterdam office of the Dutch East India Company became the world’s first stock exchange by trading in its own shares.
And then plague hit the Netherlands in in 1623–1625, and again in 1635–1636, 1655, and 1664, devastating Amsterdam’s population.
Then more bad times for the Netherlands during the 18th and early 19th centuries. The wars of the Dutch Republic with England and France took their toll and during the Napoleonic Wars Holland was absorbed into the French Empire.
At the end of the 19th century things started to look up. The United Kingdom of the Netherlands was established in 1815, the Industrial Revolution hit and new canals were dug to give Amsterdam a direct connection to the Rhine and a shorter connection to the North Sea. The discovery of diamonds in South Africa in Dutch colonies topped things off and reinstated Amsterdam as a diamond center.
Until things took a terrible turn when Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, taking control of the country and deporting more than 100,000 Dutch Jews to Nazi concentration camps, devastating the city and the diamond trade.
Today, the polishing of diamonds has been largely transferred to Asia and Amsterdam has only a few diamond factories.
Now for some sparkly pictures:
I enjoyed the temporary exhibition devoted to the crown as the symbol of royal power and the worldly glory.
Bridal crowns came into being from the custom of adorning young girls with wreaths as a sign of their virginity. In Europe, brides wearing marriage crowns began in the Middle Ages.
Princess Maxima wears the 150 year old star tiara featured in the middle of the display.
She also sported it at at her wedding in 2002.
The Netherlands has been a constitutional monarchy since 1815 and a parliamentary democracy since 1848. The monarch is the head of state, at present Queen Beatrix. In January 2013 Queen Beatrix announced her abdication from the throne on April 30, 2013. Willem-Alexander, crown prince, will from that moment on be the King of the Netherlands. He will get a crown and scepter at the coronation but won’t wear the crown on his head, symbolising that he is only the head of state.
Princess Máxima of the Netherlands is the wife of Willem-Alexander. When her husband takes the throne as King Willem-Alexander this April, Princess Máxima will become queen consort of the Netherlands. Through her father, she is a descendant of King Afonso III of Portugal and his son King Denis of Portugal and many noble families of the Iberian Peninsula. She is also a descendant of Túpac Huallpa, a puppet Inca Emperor. Oh royal families, I love you!
This quote comes from Queen Elizabeth I’s Golden Speech that she delivered to 141 Members of the Commons on November 30th, 1601, shocking everyone by revealing that it would be her final Parliament. In her speech she addressed the love and respect she had for the country, her position, and the Members themselves. The Golden Speech marks a symbolic end of her reign, widely considered one of the Golden Eras of England’s history.
The musuem also boasts replicas of famous diamond jewelry from around the world. Like this little thing:
The art exhibit features Van Gogh copies like this Starry Night made with 504 diamonds and set in white gold, naturally.
And this lithograph by Damien Hirst based on his famous work “For the Love of God”, a sculpture produced in 2007. Hirst is reportedly Britain’s richest living artist, with his wealth valued at £215m in 2010. The work’s title was supposedly inspired by Hirst’s mother, who asked, “For the love of God, what are you going to do next? Love that.
Death is a central theme in Hirst’s works and he became famous for a series of artworks in which dead animals (including a shark, a sheep and a cow) are preserved—sometimes having been dissected—in formaldehyde.
The original sculpture consists of a platinum cast of an 18th century human skull encrusted with 8,601 flawless diamonds, including a pear-shaped pink diamond located in the forehead that is known as the Skull Star Diamond.
The skull’s teeth are original, and were purchased by Hirst in London. The artwork is a Memento mori, Latin for “Remember your mortality” or “Remember you must die”, referring to a genre of artworks that vary widely but share the same purpose: to remind people of their mortality, an artistic theme dating back to antiquity.
Costing 14 million euro to produce, the work was placed on its inaugural display at the White Cube gallery in London in an exhibition Beyond belief with an asking price of £50 million. This would have been the highest price ever paid for a single work by a living artist. It was reportedly sold for £100m.
The museum featured a diamond disco ball room inspired by the Hirst sculpture with mirrored walls and Madonna’s Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend playing on loop. It was a little trippy.
At the Coster Diamond cutting factory I watched craftsmen cutting and polishing diamonds. Diamond has the highest hardness and thermal conductivity of any bulk material. It takes a diamond to cut a diamond so special diamond-bladed edges are required.
I befriended one of the craftsmen. He took a look at my ring and pronounced it the real thing!!!! Whew. (Just kidding Joe) He was excited to see diamonds in an old-fashioned style as my ring is from 1890.
After a long hard morning looking at diamonds I lunched on a ridiculously delicious cherry pancake at The Pancake Carousel. That was not cherry pie filling like you’d get at IHOP! I did not ride the carousel in the middle of the restaurant, maybe next time.