Sunday, December 8, 2013

Aurora Butterfly of Peace: A History of the Collection

The Aurora Butterfly of Peace, on exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Photo: Kristjan Stone for NHMLAC.

The Aurora Butterfly of Peace: 240 natural fancy colored diamonds, here viewed at an unusual angle. Photo / Copyright: Eloïse Gaillou.

When New Jersey diamond dealer Alan Bronstein saw his first colored diamond in 1979 he was immediately captivated. He thought the canary yellow diamond shone like the sun. Surprisingly to him, such beautiful stones were something of an underground commodity. Back in the 1970s and 80s, colored diamonds were not commercially popular and 99% of dealers had no interest in them.  Bronstein began to collect these diamonds, buying one stone at time from the few other dealers who loved them. Diamond dealers tend to be secretive, hoarding knowledge, protecting their sources. A few dealers were willing to sell the colored diamonds and to teach him more about the stones and their origins. These dealers often became his close friends and mentors and together they could share their enthusiasm for the elusive stones.

Bronstein’s collection grew gradually, with some diamonds sold and replaced by better examples. By 1989 he had amassed a fine assortment. He arranged 60 stones into the outline of a butterfly, determined to fill it in. Over the next twelve years he did just that, eventually reaching the current arrangement of 240 diamonds. The Butterfly is a spectacular work of art in harmony with nature. The stones are perfectly arranged to show a wide spectrum of color that natural diamonds can have. The selection process of placing diamonds of similar size and color on each wing also creates an amazing display under ultraviolet light. Stones of the same color may also show a similar color in fluorescence. When seen in UV light, the butterfly becomes a rainbow of glowing diamonds.

An early version of the Aurora Butterfly (scanned image). Photo Courtesy of Alan Bronstein.

The Butterfly grows as more diamonds are added (scanned image). Photo courtesy of Alan Bronstein.

For years Mr. Bronstein showed the collection only to friends and colleagues who would most appreciate the rarity of the diamonds (as well as the time and effort that went in to obtaining them). Eventually he showed the Butterfly to Nicola Bulgari, a man of discerning tastes who is not easily impressed.  When Bulgari saw the Butterfly he exclaimed “This, I have never seen before!”. That moment convinced Mr. Bronstein that he should show the collection to a larger audience. The first public showing of the Butterfly was at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. At that time it contained only 162 diamonds. When it had reached its current size, Mr. Bronstein approached the Curator of Minerals at the Smithsonian, Dr. Jeffrey Post. Dr. Post visited Mr. Bronstein’s New York office intending to stay for ten minutes. He left four hours later with a promise to have the Butterfly displayed in Washington D.C.

Left to right: Dr. Eloïse Gaillou, Assoc. Curator of Mineral Sciences with Alan Bronstein, Curator of the Aurora Collection and Dr. Jeffrey Post, Curator, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Photo by Kristjan Stone for NHMLAC.

Associate Curator Eloïse Gaillou welcoming guests at the unveiling of the Aurora Butterfly of Peace exhibit. Photo: Kristjan Stone for NHMLAC.

On December 4th, 2013 the Butterfly arrived at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Mr. Bronstein believes the Butterfly belongs in museums dedicated to science and education. He stresses his admiration and support for institutions whose mission is to inspire a love of knowledge and concern for our natural world. Though the Butterfly is a stunning artistic piece, it is more importantly a part of the Earth, created by nature. He believes its greatest significance lies in its ability to impart a sense of wonder of the universe. There are few, if any, opportunities for most people to see such a variety of colored diamonds together in one exhibit and it can make a lasting impression. He has seen children (even very young ones) get so excited at the sight of the diamonds and ask so many questions about them. The beauty of the Butterfly is universally appreciated and draws people in, they cannot help but wonder where the diamonds come from and what makes them so beautiful.  

Mr. Alan Bronstein's speech at the unveiling of the Aurora Butterfly of Peace exhibit. Photo: Kristjan Stone for NHMLAC.

We are so happy that the Butterfly has now alit in the Hixon Gem Vault at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Gathering around the display case in the Gem Vault for the unveiling. Photo: Kristjan Stone for NHMLAC.

Mr. Alan Bronstein unveiling the Aurora Butterfly of Peace in the Gem Vault. Photos: Kristjan Stone for NHMLAC.

Left to right: Annette Bronstein, Eloïse Gaillou and Alan Bronstein.

Young admirers. Photo: Kristjan Stone for NHMLAC.

Let's end with some close-up pictures of the Butterfly of Peace, as never seen before. All  pictures below are by Eloïse Gaillou.

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