We hadn't planned on seeing it. I've always been nonplussed about Damien Hirst. But as we were passing by the White Cube in Mayfair, we thought it wouldn't hurt to pop in. It was sheer production from beginning to end and I freely admit we were taken in by the awesome theatricality of it all.
We were asked to get a free ticket from the counter around the side of the gallery. We joined a roped off queue of ten; some of us had our bags searched by black suited security guards. We were called inside and ushered up some back stairs and waited, hushed, in a corridor as a woman all in black told us to please leave our bags in the hall, to take a moment to adjust our eyes to the dark once inside the room, and that we would only have two minutes to view it.
The room was pitch black and the diamond skull twinkled and glowed from a pedestal in the centre. We tiptoed around it, awed into reverential silence: A life-size 18th century human skull cast in 2,156 grams of pure platinum and encrusted with 8,601 flawless, ethically-sourced pave-set diamonds weighing a total of 1,106.18 carats from jewellers Bentley & Skinner. Mounted within the skull's forehead is a dazzling, flawless light pink brilliant-cut pear-shaped diamond weighing 52.40 carats. This is the largest diamond piece commissioned since the Crown Jewels and it took the prestigious Bond Street jewellers 18 months to complete.
The cost of the raw materials to create the work was £12 million, split between Hirst and his dealer and White Cube owner Jay Jopling. Hirst's search for the high quality diamonds in such a short space of time affected the market and pushed the price of diamonds up - as Bentley & Skinner sourced each stone, the price went up! The skull is now on sale for £50 million and it is rumoured there are already two potential buyers.
Indulgent, unnerving, breathtaking, gorgeous, stunning, frightening - Damien Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull made me feel I'd finally met both the Devil and God face to face.
Also this wet and rainy Saturday, we've viewed a smogasbord of paintings in the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition, abstract expressionist artist Joan Mitchell at Hauser & Wirth, and Keith Arnatt at The Photographers' Gallery. We've shopped for menswear in Selfridges and Browns. Browsed for Japanese guidebooks and Indian chicklit in Waterstone's on Piccadilly, and for Japanese photobooks in Claire de Rouen Books. We've eaten parma ham and parmesan ciabatta sandwiches and a roasted vegetable with goats cheese puff pastry flan, plus the best Chelsea bun I've ever eaten - moist dough encrusted with hundreds of tiny fruity currents - in Soho's Fernandez and Wells. Scoffed jelly babies and cola cubes from Mrs Kibble's Olde Sweet Shoppe on Brewer Street. Drunk beers and cocktails in Soho's Alphabet Bar. And we've devoured a delicious smogasbord dinner of herrings, meatballs and smoked mackerel at Swedish restaurant Upper Glas in Islington with dear Oxford friends D and J, whose civil partnership ceremony in St Albans last year I was a witness at.
But it's that dazzlingly macabre skull of diamonds that I cannot get out of my head tonight.