Agatha Christie was no stranger to the allure of beautiful jewels. Her stories practically shimmer with illicit and ill-fated gems: The Adventure of The Western Star sees an actress threatened with the theft of a beloved diamond; in The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan, a wealthy stockbroker's wife is burgled for her lustrous pearls; and in The Mystery of the Blue Train, a spectacular ruby causes an American heiress to lose her life. At the end of each book it's usually the duty of the author's most famous creation, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, to use his infamous "little grey cells" and recover the missing heirlooms.
Christie's own life even featured a diamond-related mystery. In 2010 a 19th Century brooch and three-stone ring that Christie inherited from her mother, both thought to have been lost after the author's death, were discovered in a locked strongbox, which had been left inside a travel trunk and unknowingly sold to one of the author's fans for just £100 in 2006. The jewels lay undisturbed until a few years later, when their new owner finally prised the box open with a crowbar. They went on to fetch almost £50,000 at auction in 2014.
So it's fitting that another legendary diamond dazzles at the heart of a brand new adaptation of Christie's 1937 novel, Death on the Nile. The film is set aboard a glamorous Egyptian steamer, where a host of mysterious characters (an all-star cast including Gal Gadot, Annette Bening and Letitia Wright) are on holiday alongside Hercule Poirot (a moustachioed Sir Kenneth Branagh, who also directs). When a murder is committed on the journey, Poirot's little grey cells are called into action once more.
In a snapshot from the film's trailer, Gadot's character (a socialite called Linnet Ridgeway Doyle) can be glimpsed on a staircase with her fiancé, played by Armie Hammer. Delicate gems twinkle about her ears and wrist, but it's her incredible necklace, with its canary-coloured pendant, that really steals the show.
'The necklace that Simon (Armie Hammer) gifts my character Linnet had to be something incredibly rare and special. I was absolutely thrilled when costume designer Paco Delgado told me it would be a recreation of the Tiffany Diamond, one of the world's most important diamonds,' explains Gal Gadot. 'It was such a fun experience to have all of the glittering Tiffany jewellery on set.'
The sparkling yellow drop is actually a replica of one of the world's largest and most exquisite coloured (or 'fancy') diamonds, the 128.54 carat Tiffany Diamond, which was unearthed in South Africa in 1877. Originally, the rough stone weighed over 287 carats but after Tiffany & Co's founder, Charles Lewis Tiffany, purchased it in 1878, he had it shipped to Paris, where his chief gemologist supervised the cutting of the stone into its current cushion shape, with 82 facets to ensure maximum radiance and 'fire'. The whole process took a year to complete and afterwards the stone travelled widely for much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries as the star of multiple global exhibitions, cementing Tiffany's status as the 'King of Diamonds'.
Now imbued with an almost mythical status, the Tiffany diamond is part of the house's precious archive and normally resides in a display case at Tiffany & Co's Fifth Avenue flagship in New York. It's only been worn in public three times since its discovery: firstly by Mrs. Mary Whitehouse who wore it to a charity gala in 1957, mounted in a simple white diamond necklace. Four years later, it formed part of a more elaborate 'ribbon' necklace by Tiffany's trailblazing in-house jeweller, Jean Schlumberger, for Audrey Hepburn to wear in a publicity photoshoot for Breakfast At Tiffany's. In 1995, the diamond was set in Schlumberger's famous 'Bird on a Rock' brooch design for a retrospective at Paris' Musée des Arts Decoratif and it remained in that setting until last year, when Lady Gaga wore it as part of a custom-made necklace to the 2019 Academy Awards - the first time the stone had ever appeared on a red carpet.
For its latest outing, the Tiffany diamond may have been replaced by a sparkling stunt double (the gem is virtually priceless and will never be offered for sale) but its presence in Death on the Nile, alongside an array of other Tiffany jewellery, is testament to Tiffany's chief artistic officer Reed Krakoff and his mission to celebrate and promote diamonds being worn and enjoyed, rather than eternally locked away in vaults. "The Tiffany Diamond is a priceless symbol of the highest standards of virtuosity and craftsmanship at Tiffany, and rarely makes an appearance beyond its vault," he has said. "A central role in the adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic novel is deserving of our priceless diamond." As a diamond lover herself, Ms. Christie herself may well have agreed.
Death on the Nile can be seen in cinemas from 18 December.
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