While to the casual observer, this is an example of fine made jewellery that sits in the Gem and Gold Gallery, Teck Suite of Galleries: Earth Treasures with other fine made jewellery pieces. As is reflected in the layered design of the brooch, this piece has layers of information and history as well. The piece is the perfect trifecta of Diamonds, Design and Science all rolled into an object that measures only 7 cm high. This stunning brooch in platinum composed of 10 flower sets with 47 natural fancy coloured and fancy cut diamonds weighing 29.38 carats was made by Bulgari. Bulgari is one of the pre-eminent Italian jewelers who have been in the jewellery business since 1884. Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor are two of the famous stars who were frequent customers. This brooch is comprised of white, yellow and light pink diamonds set on the tiniest of springs, which ‘tremble’, just as in nature, at the slightest movement.
The ROM has had this piece in the collection since 1983, but didn’t know much about the history, other than it was purportedly Bulgari. A flurry of emails across the Atlantic to the Bvlgari archivist in Rome unveiled a bigger story about the piece. The brooch was part of a series of pieces designed by Max Halpern, between 1960 and 1962 after a parcel of unset coloured diamonds were purchased. The floral motif was a great way to showcase the diverse colours of diamonds they had just acquired. Each of the floral brooches is completely one-of-a-kind, and the archivist was thrilled to know that the ROM had one in its possession and sent along a digital copy of the original sketch from the Bulgari archives.
What came out of the initial search to confirm that the piece was indeed Bulgari was a whirlwind tour of Europe. The brooch was requested for loan for a huge Bulgari exhibition in Rome, and then Paris celebrating Bulgari’s 125 year anniversary. This wonderful brooch is well traveled and has been displayed in a case with other floral brooches, some owned by the late Elizabeth Taylor and recently bought back by Bulgari at auction after her passing.
The science of this brooch is equally as fun and illuminating. Diamonds sometimes fluoresce/luminescence. As with all luminescent material, the absorption of UV radiation causes an electron from a ground state to excite and jump up to a higher energy level in the atom. This higher energy state is temporary and when the electron falls back to its ground state, it releases energy in the form of light. Submicroscopic structures that allow this movement of electrons are called luminescence centres. These centres arise from structural defects in the crystal lattice of the diamond, or in some cases, other atoms incorporated into the structure of the diamond that promotes its colour. As part of documenting the brooch, we wanted to know what diamonds fluoresced and which ones didn’t as it serves as a fingerprint for the entire brooch as a whole. This stunning photo is by B. Boyle. As you can see, some stones have high fluorescence, some mildly fluoresce, and others not at all.