The Antwerp Diamond Council (HRD) organized from 10th October to 10th November 2002 the exhibition “Living diamonds, fauna and flora in diamond jewelry until 1960” in the new Diamond Museum of Antwerp. The exhibition was the first spectacular display in the treasury of the new Diamond Museum, which has opened on May 25th 2002.

living diamonds
Set of 14 vineyard leaves (third Quarter 19th Century). © Sotheby’s

The 2002 exhibition theme illustrates how animals and plants have been incorporated in diamond jewelry in the past, in what shape they were most popular, their symbolic value and their influence on the future development of diamond jewelry.

living diamonds
Crown with sheaves of wheat set with diamonds (approx. 1810). © Katharina Faerber

Symbolism

Animals and plants have been part of mankind’s artistic repertoire ever since prehistoric man drew simple, yet amazingly realistic images of horses, bison and mammoths on cave walls. Since then, animals worn by men are seen in all cultures and in every stratum of society. These “living” adornments had a typical symbolic value. ln ancient times animals were rendered naturalistical ly for amulet(ic) purposes. Later on these animal features became more abstract. During the Renaissance animal representations still had an allegorical significance. Roses and lilies, but also a dog, lion or eagle are frequently represented in coat of arms and orders of knighthood. Some of these orders such as the Habsburger Order of the Golden Fleece – with the skin of a buck – or the French order of the Holy Spirit – with the dove – only belong to the highest rank of nobility.

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Neo-Egyptian Tiara (approx. 1900). Privé Collectie
Tiara with cyclamen leaves and flowers set with diamonds, Fabergé (approx. 1900). © Christie’s Images
Brooch bird of paradise (1927). © Van Cleef & Arpels
Bracelet ‘Chimère’ (1929). Photo Nick Welsh, © Carter
Flamingo Brooch. Property of the late Duchess of Windsor (1940). © Sotheby’s
Brooch in the form of foliate stems set with diamonds (approx. 1825). © Donald Barry Woodrow
Diadem, two snakes encircling a pear-shaped and a brilliant-cut diamond (1921). © Donald Barry Woodrow