'Brilliant' diamond exhibition at Masterpiece London 2012

Sun Wave Earrings by Michelle Ong.
Sun Wave Earrings by Michelle Ong. The jewellery designer 'mixes glassy-surfaced, flat-cut diamonds with rondelle diamonds, each one visually connecting to the next with movement and light and shine,' says Brilliant curator Carol Woolton
(Image credit: Michelle Ong)

There's a general perception that diamonds are simply the world's most expensive, shiniest stones destined to take centre stage in the design of rings, earrings and necklaces - the bigger the gem, the better. So, when we visited Brilliant, an exhibition of diamonds now on show at Masterpiece London (opens in new tab), we were fascinated to see how designers at the world's top jewellery houses continually seek to swerve traditional notions of diamond design. In fact, we've never seen a collection like it.

The show, one of the biggest draws at the annual art, antiques and design fair (on until July 4) - is curated by Carol Woolton, jewellery editor of British Vogue, and includes over 30 exceptional pieces by designers including Karl Lagerfeld (opens in new tab), Shaun Leane (opens in new tab) and Victoire de Castellane. The great houses, such as Cartier (opens in new tab), Harry Winston (opens in new tab), Boucheron (opens in new tab) and Tiffany & Co (opens in new tab) are also represented.

The fact that Woolton has taken the route of viewing diamonds as a material - 'technically, a diamond is nothing more than a lump of crystallized carbon' - rather than the more obvious path of displaying them as dazzlingly pretty gems has served her subject very well indeed.

That's not to say that Brilliant is not made up of some of the most inventive jewellery you are likely to see, it's just that you know you are seeing diamonds from a refreshingly alternative perspective from the word go.

The De Beers (opens in new tab) Talisman Wonder, for instance, is set with unruly rough and polished diamonds, giving this uniquely precious plate an 'unearthed' quality. Karl Lagerfeld, meanwhile, offers his first ever diamond design: inspired by his signature high collars and set with over 1,000 black diamonds, it doesn't so much dazzle as glint mysteriously, like a piece of medieval cloth woven with precious thread.

The Hermès (opens in new tab) Chaine D'Ancre Sac Bijou - a handbag bracelet created from 'tough, tangled and tumbled diamond ropes' was chosen for its tough appeal and the fact that 'diamond' translates from the Greek adamas - 'unconquerable'.

'Diamonds are unique; no two are ever the same,' Woolton points out. 'So, in the hands of each new generation of jewellers, diamonds become contemporary and exciting. Something of great power is created when a diamond's natural beauty is harnessed into a strong design and because they never age, diamonds are eternally modern.'

Brilliant, then, is in effect a design exhibition, with the creative thinking behind each piece as intriguing as the carefully considered, compellingly beautiful stones that comprise it.

Hippo Bracelet by Fawaz Gruosi for De Grisogono.

Hippo Bracelet by Fawaz Gruosi for De Grisogono. Says Woolton: 'We are used to seeing jewelled animals, but I've never seen a muddy, lumbering hippo brought to life in diamonds'

(Image credit: Fawaz Gruosi)

Duchess Hibiscus Ring by Anna Hu.

Duchess Hibiscus Ring by Anna Hu. 'Hu reveals the full beauty of her childhood gardens growing up in Taiwan,' Woolton explains. 'In her design, an Eastern sensibility meets old-style French haute joaillerie'

(Image credit: Anna Hu)

The Diamond Queen by Asprey and Chris Levine.

The Diamond Queen by Asprey and Chris Levine. 'I like the pure essence of majesty captured in a 21st century portraiture method, using the sparkle of diamonds in the diadem'

(Image credit: Asprey and Chris Levine)

Black Diamond Pave Collar by Karl Lagerfeld for Net-a-Porter.

Black Diamond Pave Collar by Karl Lagerfeld for Net-a-Porter. 'The boundaries between fabric and jewellery are blurred in Karl Lagerfeld's soft leather, metal and diamond collar. It creates a statement about fashion now'

(Image credit: Karl Lagerfeld)

Tiffany Radiance necklace by Tiffany & Co.

Tiffany Radiance necklace by Tiffany & Co. 'I love the powerful effect of the diamond step patterns and heavy semi-circular links, reminiscent of facades of Manhattan skyscrapers around the Tiffany & Co store on Fifth Avenue'

(Image credit: Tiffany & Co.)

Ultimate Adornments Caftan Double Row Diamond Necklace by Harry Winston.

Ultimate Adornments Caftan Double Row Diamond Necklace by Harry Winston. 'Traditionally, jewels in clothing had practical functions, used as fastenings and the likes, but the diamonds in this Caftan collar are purely decorative'

(Image credit: Harry Winston)

Hermès Chaine D'ancre Sac Bijou in white gold and diamonds.

Hermès Chaine D'ancre Sac Bijou in white gold and diamonds. 'The strength of the white gold iconic Hermès Chaine d'ancre chimes with the invincibility of the diamonds'

(Image credit: press)

A sketch of the Hermès Chaine D'ancre Sac Bijou

A sketch of the Hermès Chaine D'ancre Sac Bijou

(Image credit: press)

Chandelier by Solange Azagury Partridge

Chandelier by Solange Azagury Partridge. 'A well-cut diamond makes the light perform in breathtaking ways. Solange's chandelier exacerbates the shine of diamonds'

(Image credit: Solange Azagury Partridge)

Majestic Beauty Fan' by Cindy Chao

'Majestic Beauty Fan' by Cindy Chao. 'Cindy has portrayed the curves, textures and veins of tree branches and trunks with realism'

(Image credit: Cindy Chao)

Cypris Tourbillon Diamond Watch

Cypris Tourbillon Diamond Watch. 'This masterful horological complication needs to be set with the King of Stones to show it off in all its glory'

(Image credit: press)

'Oval Bird Cage Earrings' by Bochic for Annoushka.

'Oval Bird Cage Earrings' by Bochic for Annoushka. 'The combination of diamonds with mammoth ivory, somewhat paradoxically invests the earrings with a contemporary look'

(Image credit: Bochic for Annoushka)