Science - A girl's best friend

An exhibition shows off the royal diamond collection

Alessio Bernardelli

The dazzling Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration exhibition at Buckingham Palace shows the many ways in which diamonds have been used and worn by British monarchs over the past two centuries - including an unprecedented display of the Queen's personal jewels.

There are the stunning coronation earrings and necklace made for Queen Victoria, which have been passed down and worn by Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II. The exquisite necklace is made from 25 graduated, cushion-shaped, brilliant-cut diamonds with a central drop-shaped pendant weighing 22.48 carats. Then there is the dramatic Fringe Brooch, beloved of Queen Victoria, which the Queen Mother wore for her daughter's coronation in 1953.

Arguably the most charming item, however, is the beautiful miniature crown worn by Queen Victoria for her Diamond Jubilee. Tiny and delicate, it became a favourite for her to wear over a veil after the death of Prince Albert.

But if students are awed by the glittering spectacle, they can also be encouraged to learn more about the gems' life story; how they are hidden some 140-190km below the Earth's surface and only begin to emerge when confronted with immense pressure and scorching temperatures. Deep volcanic eruptions force them upwards. Then, once they are mined, they shimmer under the sun's light for the first time.

But, of course, this is not a swift process. Diamonds can take 1 to 3.3 billion years to form. Look at the spectacular display of colour as it refracts off a diamond and encourage students to think about what has happened during the jewel's lifetime: the beginning of life as we know it; the dinosaurs; the Romans; two World Wars and so much more.

Then there is the science of diamonds. They can emerge from below, but they can also be created by strikes from above. When meteorites plunge through the atmosphere and hit the Earth's surface, the heat and pressure they produce can cause tiny diamonds to appear in the craters.

In the modern age, there are also more unnatural ways to make diamonds, speeding up the creation process to just a few hours. One company even creates diamonds from the ashes of the dead for their families.

Exploring the different ways these beautiful gems are born will hopefully make students even more amazed when they see the stunning regalia.

Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration is on during the summer opening of Buckingham Palace from 30 June to 8 July and will open again between 31 July and 7 October.

Alessio Bernardelli is a TES subject adviser

What else?

Compare the characteristics of different gems with a top trumps game from dawnsalter1.

Help pupils understand the difference between asteroids, comets, meteors and meteorites with russellarnott's PowerPoint.

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Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources035.

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Alessio Bernardelli

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