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The Aurora Collection's Pyramid of Hope display.

  Fate of the world's most celebrated colored diamond collection to be decided in NY courtroom

April 13, 2012

One of the world's most celebrated collections of natural, fancy colored diamonds has become the focus of a nasty court battle as the family of the one of the two men who created it faces off against his long-term partner and step son.

The Aurora Collection includes 296 fancy colored diamonds, with a total weight of 267.45 carats. They were painstakingly gathered over almost a quarter of a century by two New Yorkers, Harry Rodman and Alan Bronstein, and over the years have been seen by millions, at exhibitions hosted by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Natural History in New York, and the Natural History Museum in London.

The older of the two, Rodman, died in 2008 at the age of 99. He had been a gold dealer and jeweler, who began his romance with colored diamonds only in 1986 after he sold his refining business. His interest was piqued by Bronstein, a young diamond dealer who already at that stage had established his name as a leading authority on colored diamonds. He is the author of two of the most well known books about fancy colored diamonds, "Collecting and Classifying Colored Diamonds - An Illustrated Study of the Aurora Collection" and "Forever Brilliant: The Aurora Collection of Colored Diamonds."

Together they established Aurora Gems, naming the company for the aurora borealis, the spectacular northern lights that are visible only in the upper reaches of the Arctic Circle. The company's mission was to educate, source and supply the most exclusive and beautiful natural fancy colored diamonds.

"Most of our time was spent running from place to place, trying to be the first to see a new stone that may have come off the cutting wheel, been imported from another country, or just been removed from an antique piece," Mr. Bronstein wrote.

One of the more famous stones in the collection was a 2.50-carat pear-shaped dark olive green diamond, which was bought for Rodman and Bronstein by a friend visiting Israel. Bronstein put the diamond in his vault and, when he open it a week later discovered the stone now displayed an intense yellow color. All of a sudden it changed back changed back to its original olive green, and Bronstein realized that they had chanced upon a rare chameleon diamond.

As the collection grew, Rodman and Bronstein arranged the stones in different patterns, creating designs that formed the basis of exhibition. The most famous was the Aurora Pyramid of Hope, which was on public display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York from 1989 to 2005 in the Morgan Hall of Gems. The pyramid was also the centerpiece for the 1998 exhibition, The Nature of Diamond,s organized by the American Museum of Natural History, which toured Japan, Canada and the United States.

Another patterned display was the Aurora Butterfly of Peace, which has been shown at the Smithsonian Institute, and includes 240 natural, fancy colored diamonds in various sizes, shapes, and cuts, weighing 167 carats.

In 2001, seven years before his death, Rodman married Bronstein's 81-year-old mother, Jeanette. "Harry became my best friend, my mentor and my stepfather," Bronstein said recently.

The relationship between the two, business-wise and family-wise, has come under public scrutiny in a courtroom in the Bronx. In a lawsuit brought against Bronstein by several of Rodman's heirs, including a grandniece and four grandnephews, it is claimed that Bronstein took advantage of an elderly man by deceiving Rodman into signing away his interest in Aurora Gems for $10,000. According to an appraisal commissioned by Rodman's family, the collection today is worth about $14 million.

The case is complicated by the fact that, over the years, Rodman wrote a number of wills, and, in a statement delivered to the court by his lawyer, Bronstein claimed that the transfer to him of Mr. Rodman's interest in that business was consistent with his prior estate planning.

"The value of the diamonds is contested and is one of the issues to be resolved by the court," said Bronstein.

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