Rapaport Magazine

Power Symbol

Kristall Smolensk recreates Russia’s Great Imperial Crown.

By Anastasia Serdyukova
With 4,936 diamonds weighing 2,858 carats, the Great Imperial Crown has been the symbol of power for Russian rulers for more than two centuries and is one of the country’s most admired jewelry treasures. To celebrate the company’s fiftieth anniversary and highlight the design capabilities of modern Russian jewelry makers, Kristall Smolensk, the country’s largest diamond manufacturer, has created a replica of the crown using modern manufacturing techniques. 
   The new crown is dazzling at first sight with the glow of its 11,000 diamonds — more than twice the number in the original crown —
a rare 384-carat rubellite and 74 perfectly matched pearls. It took more than six months for jewelry makers at Smolensk Diamonds, Kristall Smolensk’s jewelry arm, to create this modern tribute to one of Russia’s most famous jewelry masterpieces. While it copies the Great Imperial Crown, the new creation is not an exact replica because it is unique in its own way.

   “We wanted to show the way the crown would have been done using modern technologies and having enough time,” said Dmitry Kuntsev, director of
Smolensk Diamonds.

The Inception
   The idea of creating a modern version of the Great Imperial Crown was born at a lunch in March 2012 when Kuntsev and his colleagues were brainstorming about what the company could do to celebrate its own fiftieth anniversary, as well as the half-century jubilee of Russian diamond polishing manufacturing in 2013.
   Kuntsev came up with the idea of replicating the crown, which had been worn by all Russian emperors from the Romanov family, starting with Catherine the Great. The notion seemed “way too bold” for them, yet the team decided to suggest it to Maksim Shkadov, the head of Kristall Smolensk, who immediately approved the plan.
   Kristall’s specialists arranged with the Moscow Kremlin Armory’s State Diamond Fund, where the crown is kept, to see, measure and photograph it. They were given four hours to do so without touching the old masterpiece. Only one person, Evgeny Gapanyuk, the keeper of the Diamond Fund, who’s been overseeing the crown for decades, is allowed to touch it. “The crown is made of silver and it is very fragile because the metal has oxidized with time,” said Kuntsev.
   The crown was created especially for the coronation of Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great, in 1762 by the court jewelers Georg-Friedrich Eckart and Jeremia Posier, who were given just two months to complete it. The crown consists of two hemispheres, representing East and West, united by the Russian Empire. The hemispheres, bordered with 37 very large white pearls, are an open basketwork design, decorated at the bottom by crossed palm leaves. The central arch consists of oak leaves and acorns, representing the strength of the empire. On top of the arch, the jewelers placed a unique 398.7-carat stone, believed to be the second-largest spinel in the world. A cross made of five large diamonds, symbolizing the Christian faith of the sovereign, tops the spinel.

The Story
   Legend has it that the diamonds for the original crown were hurriedly assembled from the royal inventory of diamonds and gemstones and from other jewelry at hand. As a result, the pattern of the original piece is not symmetrical because the jewelers had trouble finding perfectly matching stones. “We tried to repeat the original pattern, but to make it symmetrical,” said Kuntsev. “We didn’t want to create an exact replica copying every stone.” He explained that the diamonds in the original piece are old cut diamonds, which by modern standards would not be used in jewelry. To preserve the pattern, yet to give it a modern look, the company often used several stones in place of the one used in the old piece. This explains why the modern crown is made of more than 11,000 diamonds.
   Even though this time around, Smolensk jewelers had more time to complete the project than their predecessors at Catherine’s court, finding sufficient suitable stones was a challenging task. “We chose diamonds according to their diameter, not their carat value, so that they would fit the design well,” said Kuntsev. The diamonds are of medium characteristics. Kuntsev said that the stones were chosen to match visually by color, rather than by the stones’ grading characteristics.
   Most of the diamonds used in the new crown come from Russian rough and all of them were cut at Smolensk. The biggest stone is the 10-carat oval at the front of the crown, but the crown also includes three diamonds of 5 carats and nine diamonds of 4 carats. The biggest challenge was finding a stone to represent the large red spinel. The company searched around the globe, finally finding a rough rubellite in Southeast Asia. “It was a risk buying it rough,” said Kuntsev. Yet the risk paid off when the rough produced an almost-400-carat stone to top the crown.

Getting it Made
   Sixty jewelers worked in shifts to create the crown. The company made a 3-D model to calculate precisely the number of stones and their positions. Although the two crowns look the same at first sight, the difference is obvious under close examination because the new version has more seamless and elegant lines. White gold also was used instead of silver. “In the old crown, stones are cut roughly so it’s difficult to know whether they represent a leaf or an acorn, for instance,” said Kuntsev. The patterns of the new crown are more clear-cut and visible, while repeating the design of the original. Using modern technologies of polishing, Smolensk jewelers managed to give the new version more shine and brilliance than the original.
   “One can’t dare to call this masterpiece a mere replica. It’s a unique item of jewelry art of the highest quality,” said Gapanyuk, the person who has spent more time than any other with the original crown.
   Shkadov expressed hope that with the help of domestic sponsors, the crown will end up in one of the country’s biggest museums. Meanwhile, the masterpiece is expected to travel for a year throughout Russia to be exhibited in various locations and it may also make a tour abroad.
   “When we started the work, we couldn’t imagine what the final result would be like, but I think we exceeded the original,” concludes Kuntsev. 

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - December 2012. To subscribe click here.

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