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Fancy ’Diamonds’ for the Poor

стальное ожерелье
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

Few people know why d'Artagnan duelled Athos and Aramis, whilst everyone knows the story of Porthos. The Gascon found himself entangled in Porthos' cloak and thereby learnt that a sumptuous dressing embroidered with gold was made of buffalo leather. Of course, the term 'ostentation' does not originate in Alexandre Dumas' novel, but the baldric of a plump musketeer is often used as a synonym of the word.

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Let's have a look at the numbers first. One-carat diamond is 6.4 millimetres in diameter; hence, 3 millimetres is roughly half a carat or 0.1 gram. Suppose a necklace is decorated with 1300 such stones - that would be 130 grams or 650 carats. At a minimum value of 10 euros per carat, the jewel would cost no less than six and a half thousand euros.

In the late-16th century, diamonds were even more expensive, and creative craftsmen from Woodstock, Oxfordshire's workshops found a smart solution - diamond-cutting technology. Small steel pieces were cut to form 12 to 16 diamond-shaped facets - that would be a truncated cone - and then polished with a thick cloth. However, the aim was not to imitate gemstones but make buckles and buttons. In time such substitutes became virtually an essential product coming from Birmingham's manufactories.

стальные бриллианты
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

Russian masters from Tula adopted the British decoration technique but on a much larger scale: they crafted ceremonial weapons and fittings for presents sent to dignitaries from abroad.

Among the Mining Museum's exhibits, in St. Petersburg, there is one such item - and surprisingly a very light one, despite the 1300 steel inserts. Its secret is in the collet made of brass, whereas the inserts are hollow inside. There is no way to find out now who was that fastidious fashionmonger a piece of jewellery was initially meant for, likewise why the jewel did not end up on her neck. Yet its price would be lower if it were decorated with genuine diamond dust, with the reason being the item's uniqueness. Who cares to see the frontside of Porthos' dressing? One in two musketeers wore such. But had there been a hall of musketeer fame, many would probably come to have a look at its reverse side. Bijouterie is, therefore, at times, more expensive than real jewels.