Friday, November 03, 2017

Music Friday: Drawing by 3-Year-Old Julian Lennon Inspires The Beatles' 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds'

Welcome to Music Friday when we bring you fantastic throwback songs with jewelry, gemstones or precious metals in the lyrics or title. Today, we deliver the inside scoop on one of the most famous — and controversial — diamond songs of all time. It's been 50 years since The Beatles released "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," a psychedelic song that stirred a media frenzy over what appeared to be a not-so-subtle reference to drugs. The evidence: the first letter of each of the title nouns spells "LSD."

Even though the LSD debate persists today, the song's co-writer John Lennon had debunked the drug ties to Lucy and her diamonds during a 1971 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show. The song, it turns out, was innocently inspired by a kid's drawing.

Lennon told the host, "My son came home with a drawing of a strange-looking woman flying around. He said, 'It's Lucy in the sky with diamonds.' I thought, 'That's beautiful.' I immediately wrote the song about it."

Lucy, it turns out, was a classmate of three-year-old Julian Lennon at the private Heath House School in the UK. Lucy O'Donnell (later Lucy Vodden) told the BBC in 2007 that she remembered "doing pictures on a double-sided easel, throwing paint at each other, much to the horror of the classroom attendant."

Noted Julian, "I don't know why I called it [Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds] or why it stood out from all my other drawings, but I obviously had an affection for Lucy at that age. I used to show Dad everything I'd built or painted at school, and this one sparked off the idea."

Co-writer Paul McCartney said the song's fantastical imagery is a nod to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland books.

McCartney told an interviewer, "We did the whole thing like an Alice In Wonderland idea, being in a boat on the river... Every so often it broke off and you saw Lucy in the sky with diamonds all over the sky. This Lucy was God, the Big Figure, the White Rabbit."

"Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" was released as the third track from wildly successful Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, which spent 15 weeks at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart and eventually sold more than 32 million copies worldwide. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the album #1 on its list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time."

The Beatles remain the best selling band in history with an estimated 800 million albums sold worldwide.

Trivia: In 2004, astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics named a white dwarf star "Lucy" as a nod to The Beatles' song because they believe the super-dense star is made primarily of diamond. Previously known as BPM 37093, the star is said to be a chunk of crystallized carbon (diamond), weighing 10 billion trillion trillion carats.

Please check out the audio track of The Beatles performing "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds." The lyrics are below if you'd like to sing along...

"Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds"
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Performed by The Beatles.

Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
Towering over your head
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she's gone

Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain
Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies
Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers
That grow so incredibly high

Newspaper taxis appear on the shore
Waiting to take you away
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds
And you're gone

Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Picture yourself on a train in a station
With plasticine porters with looking glass ties
Suddenly someone is there at the turnstile
The girl with the kaleidoscope eyes

Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Ah Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Ah Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Credit: Image by Parlophone Music Sweden [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Namibia's 'Forbidden' Diamond-Mining Town Is Open to the Public for the First Time in Its 81-Year History

For the first time in its 81-year history, the Namibian town of Oranjemund, which lies in a diamond-rich region called the Sperrgebiet ("prohibited area" in German), is open to the public.

The town was established in 1936, following the discovery by Hans Merensky of gem-quality alluvial diamonds on the north bank of the Orange River. For more than eight decades, the area around Oranjemund has been producing a staggering 2 million carats per year.

Due to its vast riches, the town has been locked away, behind strict access control and permit requirements, for most of its history. Consolidated Diamond Mines (CDM) and later, Namdeb Diamond Corporation (Pty) Ltd., a joint venture of the Government of the Republic of Namibia and the De Beers Group, have been the guardians and caretakers of the area. Settlement in Oranjemund had been restricted to mining-industry employees and their relatives.

On October 21, all that changed with a gala celebration that announced to the world that Oranjemund was open to the public. The diamond-mining town is hoping to boost eco-tourism and diversify its economy. Oranjemund is promoting itself as a unique location at the confluence of river, ocean, desert and diamonds. The town council revealed a marketing campaign called OMD 2030, which aims to transform the once-forbidden city into a multi-faceted thriving town by 2030.

Tourists will be treated to guided tours through the Sperrgebiet, while learning about the history of diamonds and mining in the town.

The new openness coincides with Namdeb's announcement that it will be winding down its land-based operations and focusing more heavily on offshore mining.

In 2016, Debmarine Namibia, also a 50/50 joint venture between the Government of the Republic of Namibia and the De Beers Group, mined more than 1.2 million carats of high-quality diamonds off the shore of the southwestern edge of the African continent. This past June, we reported on the launch of the mv SS Nujoma, a state-of-the-art ship capable of probing the ocean floor for diamond deposits. It’s the sixth and most advanced vessel in De Beers’s growing fleet.

Credits: Mining image via; Oranjemund images via and; Map by Google Maps.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Historic Donnersmarck Diamonds Expected to Fetch Up to $13.7 Million at Sotheby's Geneva

A pair of fancy intense yellow diamonds steeped in history and weighing 82.47 carats and 102.54 carats, respectively, is expected to fetch up to $13.7 million at Sotheby's Geneva next month. "The Donnersmarck Diamonds" were famously owned by La Païva, a Russian-born courtesan who ascended into French high society in the mid-1800s, eventually marrying Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck, one of Europe's wealthiest men.

Sotheby's announced that the two diamonds will be sold as a single lot. The larger of the two diamonds is cushion shaped and carries an SI1 clarity grade. The smaller one is pear shaped and boasts a VS2 clarity.

La Païva, also known as Countess Henckel von Donnersmarck (1819–1884), was said to be so enchanted by her diamonds that she insisted that the central staircase of her mansion in Paris — Hôtel de la Païva — be made of Algerian yellow marble to match their hue.

Noted David Bennett, Worldwide Chairman of Sotheby’s International Jewellery Division: “These stunning diamonds carry with them a fascinating story, full of romance and determination over adversity, which could have inspired some of the greatest novels and operas, from Manon Lescaut to La Traviata."

Born Esther Lachman of a Russian family of modest means, La Païva arrived in Paris at the age of 18 to pursue her dreams. She was rapidly introduced to the city's cultural and artistic circles by her lover, piano composer and pianist, Henri Herz. Among her close friends were composer Richard Wagner, conductor Hans von Bülow, poet Théophile Gautier and journalist Emile de Girardin.

In 1851, she married the Portuguese Marquis Albino Francisco de Araújo de Païva, an heir to two important Macao wholesale fortunes. That marriage would last only one day, but her nickname, La Païva, would last her lifetime.

A year later, she crossed paths with a 22-year-old Prussian industrialist and mining magnate, Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck. According to one account, she pursued him across Europe, pretending not to be interested in him, but always being at the same social events. A relationship ensued, and 19 years later, in 1871, the 42-year-old La Païva would receive an annulment from her one-day marriage and tie the knot with von Donnersmarck.

Among her wedding gifts was a triple-strand diamond necklace formerly owned by the deposed French empress, Eugénie. He also gifted her the twin baubles that would be known as The Donnersmarck Diamonds.

La Païva’s died in 1884 and The Donnersmarck Diamonds would remain in the Donnersmarck family for more than a century. They first appeared at a public auction in 2007, where the pair earned slightly less than $8 million at Sotheby's. Now, 10 years later, Sotheby's has the good fortune of presenting them once again. They will be previewed during a five-city tour, which started in Singapore and includes stops in Hong Kong, Taiwan, New York and Geneva.

The Donnersmarck Diamonds will be a featured lot at Sotheby's Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale in Geneva on November 15.

Credits: Image of The Donnersmarck Diamonds courtesy of Sotheby's. La Païva image [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.