DIVA Diamond Exhibition
Telling the whole story of gems and jewels in early modern Europe
Precious gems have attracted humans since the dawn of time. With this project, Dr Michael Bycroft aimed to bring the history of these rare jewels to a wider public. Based in the heart of Antwerp’s diamond district, the project went further than simply exhibiting the gems. Instead, the public gained a deeper understanding of the impact precious stones had on early modern Europe.
Many researchers had explored the history of gemstones from a wide range of angles. Yet, very few have successfully combined aspects such as the art, commerce, science and technology of gems. “Gems in the Early Modern World” needed to tell the whole story of precious stones in Europe. In addition, this had to be communicated to the widest audience possible, spreading the project’s insights to the general public.
Working with the DIVA Museum, Antwerp, Dr Byrcoft helped to inform the exhibition’s content and resolve key issues with the collection:
Setting the themes and chronologies, and ensuring that they did full justice to the history of jewellery
Showing the link between Antwerp and the objects in the planned collection
Explaining gaps in the historical record
Identifying themes for temporary exhibitions
This research project was funded by The Leverhulme Trust.
Dr Bycroft made a significant contribution to the merging and renovation of Antwerp’s Museum for Silversmithing and the Museum for Diamonds. A series of workshops brought together academics and museum staff, ensuring that their input was included from the earliest planning stages. Dr Bycroft’s own specialism in fake jewels and gem collections led to significant changes to several sections.
The exhibition has brought key elements of science and history together. Fields as diverse as crystallography, electricity and optics, measurement of density now form part of the stories of the gems, their trade and their role in art. This has had a wide impact, with around 200,000 tourists visiting the permanent collection of the museum in every year since its existence. With a number of museums in China eager to co-operate on future exhibitions in Europe and Asia, this number is set to rise further. Dr Bycroft has helped the DIVA museum fulfil its purpose – to instruct and entertain the public. In addition, this exhibition has forged new partnerships between science and history, and between academics and museum staff.