This is the third of the Inventions series I’ve read, and the last in the series, which is a shame as they’ve been a great series of short, fascinating stories from history. This is probably the best of the three, partly because it has the strongest story at the centre.
In 1905, Henri Lemoine claimed that he was the first to crack the secret of manufacturing diamonds, something that had long been chased unsuccessfully. Lemoine approached Sir Julius Wernher, one of the governors of a major diamond corporation, to provide a demonstration. Wernher, worried about the possible impact on his business, decided to do a deal with Lemoine, who would sell Wernher all the diamonds he produced, and wouldn’t reveal his formula to anyone. Even Wernher wouldn’t know, as the formula was sealed in an envelope and kept in a safe deposit box, only accessible by Wernher in the event of his partner’s death.
Wernher set up a lab for Lemoine, but as the years passed, no diamonds emerged. Feeling that he had been had, Wernher sued Lemoine for the money paid and demanded that the envelope be unsealed.
Had Wernher been conned? Or was the process more difficult and less reliable than expected? The case played out in the trial, but captivated the public as the press descended and they wondered if man-made diamonds were about to become reality.
The court case, and the colourful characters at the centre make this an enjoyable read and Simone writes it brilliantly, providing the facts in an entertaining and involving narrative. She retells the events in short, clever prose and I couldn’t get enough.
What makes it even more interesting is that as well as what’s happening in the case, we see how the public of the time reacted. Lemoine became viewed as a hero, while Wernher was vilified for his perceived greed. It’s interesting to see how the press and public respond to things, and how this effects the players.
There are some nice twists along the way, as Simone reveals the story as those involved found things out, rather than being a straight timeline of the whole thing. This adds drama and surprise, and keeps the story fresh.
I really enjoyed discovering this story, and it made me wonder what other interesting stories might have been forgotten. I’m gonna keep an eye out for more historical narratives like these.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.