In this essay, I am going to aim to answer this question, using two examples – ‘The Tiffany Yellow Diamond’ in its various forms and settings; priceless because of its legacy at Tiffany and Co. and the unique size and cut of the diamond itself, and the work of Banksy on the streets of London and Bristol; priceless because of its short life-span, its locations on public buildings, and the reluctance of Banksy to let it be sold.
The Tiffany Yellow diamond was discovered in either 1877 or 1878 in a French mine in South Africa (this was before they kept accurate records of the origins of stones, hence the uncertainty of the date) weighing 287.42 carats. It was bought for the firm for $18,000 and then shipped to Paris, where a French gemmologist George F Kunz set about the task of cutting it down to its current 128.54 carats;
"The cutting process took exceptional courage and insight. Kunz added an additional 32 facets to the accepted square antique brilliant cut, bringing the total to ninety. The result is an exceptionally scintillating cut which returns a great deal of light to the eye. Large diamonds of comparable brilliance were not fashioned until well into the 20th century."
He was said to have cut it in this style "not to make it more brilliant, but less brilliant. The stone was of yellow colour, and it was thought better to give it the effect of a smothered, smoldering fire than one of flashing radiance."
Only two women have ever worn this diamond, Mrs Sheldon Whitehouse in the form of a necklace with white diamonds, at a Tiffany ball in 1957, and by Audrey Hepburn in 1961, in publicity photos for ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (a Truman Capote book, turning into a film by Blake Edwards and released by Paramount Pictures).
Since then, Jean Schlumberger (one of Tiffany and Co’s top designers) has reset the diamond into the ‘Bird on the Rock’ Brooch, which it stayed as for many years, on display in the Tiffany’s flagship store, until recently when it was converted by a team of jewellers into a necklace to mark Tiffany’s 175th anniversary, with the conversion taking over a year of designing and research.
Although the diamond, now in its necklace form, has no price tag, thus rendering it priceless, there have been both valuations and attempts to sell the diamond over the years. The most recent valuation was in 1983 and deemed the famous yellow diamond to be worth approximately $12 million.
Banksy is an anonymous street artist who often creates both illegal and provoking murals on the walls of Bristol and London, starting from an early age at the infamous Barton Hill Youth Club. Started by John Nation, as a way of helping the young boys in the area to stay out of trouble, it became “the Mecca for graffiti writers, drawing them in first from Bristol, then from across England and finally from even further afield.” The project was later stopped, as local law enforcement felt it was encouraging the lads to graffiti illegally on neighbouring houses and properties.
Banksy started as a traditional graffiti artist, using his tag (originally ‘Robin Banx’ which later became ‘Banksy’) but then started to explore more pictorial styles using stencils after nearly getting caught by the police;
“As I lay there listening…