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Press release

Cursed black diamond goes on display for first time in UK

The Black Orlov joins Diamonds exhibition at the Natural History Museum

A 'cursed' black diamond is to go on display in the UK for the first time. Known as the Black Orlov or The Eye of Brahma, the jewel's curse allegedly began when it was removed from a Hindu idol in southern India and it is claimed to be responsible for the violent deaths of two Russian princesses. The Black Orlov will join the Diamonds exhibition at the Natural History Museum from Wednesday 21 September.

The gem's history is clouded in mystery but legend tells of a monk removing the original rough 195-carat diamond from the eye of the Idol of Brahma at a shrine near Pondicherry, India. This sacrilege allegedly cursed all future owners of the precious stone to a violent death. In 1947 Princess Nadia Vyegin-Orlov and Princesss Leonila Galitsine-Bariatinsky - both former owners of the Black Orlov - leapt to their deaths in apparent suicides. Fifteen years earlier J.W. Paris, the diamond dealer who imported the stone to the USA, had jumped to his death from one of New York's tallest buildings shortly after concluding the sale of the jewel.

In an attempt to break the curse the diamond was re-cut into three separate gems and has since been owned by a succession of private owners, all of whom seem to have escaped the curse. The 67.5-carat stone, today known as the Black Orlov, is set in a 108-diamond brooch suspended from a 124 diamond necklace. After the Diamonds exhibition closes in February 2006, the Black Orlov will travel to California to make its next star appearance at the 2006 Academy Awards.

'In the middle of the 20th century the media christened it the "Evil Death Gem" but I've never felt nervous about owning the Black Orlov,' said Dennis Petimezas, the stone's current owner. 'I've spent the past year trying to discover everything I can about the stone's melodramatic history and I'm pretty confident that the curse is broken.'

'The intriguing legend of the Black Orlov highlights the powerful way that diamonds have captured human imagination for thousands of years,' said Alan Hart, exhibition curator. 'This jewel's beauty and apparent infamy make it a fitting addition to the world's biggest diamond exhibition

True black diamonds are incredibly rare. Only one in 10,000 diamonds mined are coloured. Most coloured diamonds get their colour from chemical impurities or defects in the stone itself. Black diamonds are different: their colour comes from the presence of tiny mineral inclusions.
 The Black Orlov's colour is described as 'dark gunmetal'. Recent studies have shown that these inclusions are predominantly the iron oxide minerals magnetite and haematite along with native iron itself. When these iron rich inclusions occur in a high enough proportion they can even make diamonds magnetic.

Diamonds explores one of nature's great miracles. Showcasing some of the world's most beautiful and spectacular white and coloured diamonds the exhibition tells the story of this remarkable stone, from deep in the Earth to the red carpet. The biggest-ever diamonds exhibition, Diamonds displays such extraordinary stones as the De Beers Millennium Star, the Incomparable and the Steinmetz Pink together for the first time. Diamonds has been made possible by the generous support of principal sponsor Steinmetz, with additional support from the Diamond Trading Company. This dazzling event is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see such an astonishing array of important diamonds in one exhibition.

Ends

Visitor information
Admission: £9, £6 concessions, Family (up to five, minimum one adult) £24, FREE to under 5s
Venue: the Natural History Museum
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10.00-17.50, Sunday 11.00-17.50
Ticket booking: www.nhm.ac.uk/diamonds or 0870 013 0731

Notes for editors

  • Winner of the 2004 Large Visitor Attraction of the Year award, the Natural History Museum is also a world-leading science research centre. Through its collections and scientific expertise, the Museum is helping to conserve the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in 68 countries. The Museum is committed to encouraging public engagement with science. This has been greatly enhanced by the Darwin Centre, a major new initiative that offers visitors unique access behind the scenes of the Museum. Phase One of the project opened to the public in 2002 and Phase Two is scheduled to open in 2008.
  • With seven decades of expertise in the diamond industry, Steinmetz has interests ranging from cutting, polishing and manufacturing, jewellery and e-tail. Known for its unique approach to marketing, the group has promoted the glamour of diamonds at various events such as the Oscars, the Baftas, the Smithsonian Institute of Natural History and the Monaco Grand Prix. Steinmetz has its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, with offices around the world. Two of the most famous diamonds created by Steinmetz are the 203.04-carat internally flawless De Beers Millennium Star and the Steinmetz Pink - a 59.60-carat flawless fancy vivid pink diamond. www.steinmetz-group.com
  • The Diamond Trading Company (DTC) is the sales and marketing arm of the De Beers Group. DTC is the largest source of rough diamonds, handling approximately half the 
    world's supply. Recognised around the world by its famous advertising promise 'A Diamond is Forever', DTC has a passion and commitment to diamonds and to consumers. As part of the De Beers Group, DTC is involved in the life of a diamond from the moment it is discovered in the earth. It uses its 115 years of diamond expertise and marketing knowledge to help consumers feel more confident when making their diamond purchase. In addition, the DTC has developed significant initiatives to improve the diamond industry's standards of operation, ensuring ethical and professional practices are upheld at all times, and that there is a lasting contribution to the communities in which they operate.