By Michelle Graff
This $2 million fancy vivid yellow SI1 diamond owned by L.J. West is on display at the New York Stock Exchange until late November, but it doesn’t look anything like this.
New York—There is a $2 million diamond on display at the New York Stock Exchange right now, but you can’t really see it.

On Friday, the New York Stock Exchange and MIT opened “The Redemption of Vanity,” a work by conceptual artist Diemut Strebe that involved coating a 16.78-carat vivid yellow diamond with carbon nanotubes, muting the diamond’s color, flattening its lines and making it essentially invisible against a black background.

The stone is from the collection of L.J. West Diamonds Inc., a New York-based company that specializes in natural colored diamonds.

In an interview at the stock exchange Friday, the Boston-based Strebe said her project has numerous aspects to it, standing as a statement on contrast, value and the monopolization of materials in the art world.

There is, first, the juxtaposition of the two materials, the “unification of extreme opposites,” she said.

While both the diamond and the tubes are made of the same element, carbon, one absorbs light while the other reflects it.

The patented carbon nanotube technology used in Redemption was developed by Professor Brian Wardle and his necstlab (pronounced “next lab”) research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Strebe is the Ida Ely Rubin Artist in Residence at MIT.)

Any object covered with CNT material is flattened out, reduced to a black silhouette, and, in the case, of a diamond, loses its sparkle.

At the New York Stock Exchange, the now-shrouded-in-black stone sits at one end of the Board Room, an opulent turn-of-the-century event space located two levels above the trading floor.

On display to the left of the diamond is a juxtaposing image indeed—a giant screen displays a rotating, 360-degree image of the 16.78-carat vivid yellow radiant-cut stone, sparkling in its polished state.

Secondly, Strebe said she wanted the work to be a statement on the arbitrary and man-made nature of value, a topic that artists—she mentioned specifically French artist Yves Klein, who once organized an exhibition that consisted of nothing but an empty room—have been creating works around for decades.

20190917 Redemption resizedThese photos by Diemut Strebe show the 16.78-carat vivid yellow before and after the introduction of the carbon nanotube material, which was applied via heating and can be removed.
In looking at The Redemption of Vanity, one might say the artist has devalued this diamond by concealing what is considered, in the diamond world at least, to be valuable about it—its saturated and evenly dispersed color.

But, she pointed out, someone could see value in the piece as a work of art and offer to pay more for it; objects are worth what they are perceived to be worth.

“People take this man-made system [of value] as the physical laws of nature,” Strebe said, “and it is not.”

Strebe said she approached, and was rebuffed by, a number of big-name jewelers about lending her a diamond for her project before coming across the name L.J. West in an CNN article. She eventually got in touch with company President Larry West, and the longtime diamantaire readily agreed to participate.

West said he’s always had an interest in the sciences—he actually wanted to be a scientist before his father died in the early 1970s and he had to step in to help run the family business—and he also likes the questions the exhibition raises about the arbitrary nature of value.

Is the diamond worth more now, or less?

20190917 Redemption of Vanity inset 1“The Redemption of Vanity” is on display at the New York Stock Exchange, which artist Diemut Strebe considers the perfect setting for a statement on value as it is an epicenter of rising, and falling, value. (Photo credit: Michelle Graff)

West chose this particular stone from his company’s vast collection because of its size—almost 17 carats—and because it had so much brightness, color and brilliance, a fitting contrast to the matte nature of the CNT material.

In addition to serving as a commentary on contrast and value, The Redemption of Vanity stands as a statement against the purchase of exclusive rights to a carbon nanotube formula for use in artwork by British sculptor Anish Kapoor (he did the sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park popularly known as “The Bean”).

Strebe said monopolization of materials in this manner is a “business approach” that does not have a place in art. The CNTs Wardle and Strebe created for the diamond exhibition use a different composition that’ll be available for any artist to use.

The Redemption of Vanity will be on display at the New York Stock Exchange until Nov. 25.

It is available for viewing by appointment only. To schedule one, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Get the Daily News >
National Jeweler

Fine Jewelry Industry News

Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.