A K Agnihotri: DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (part iii)


The Great Star of Africa

            530.20 Carats - the Cullinan I or Star Africa diamond is the largest cut diamond in the world. Pear shaped, with 74 facets, it is set in the Royal Sceptre (kept with the other Crown Jewels in the Tower of London). It was cut from the 3,106-carat Cullinan, the largest diamond crystal ever found. The Cullinan was discovered in Transvaal, South Africa in l095 on an inspection tour of the Premier Mine. The Cullinan was cut by Joseph Asscher and Company of Amsterdam, who examined the enormous crystal for around six months before determining how to divide it. Legend has it that immediately after applying the hammer, Asscher fainted fearful that he may have broken the diamond. It eventually yielded nine major, and 96 smaller brilliant cut stones. When the Cullinan was first discovered, certain signs suggested that it may have been part of a much larger crystal. But no discovery of the "missing half" has ever been authenticated.

The Orloff

            300 Carats when found, colour: slightly bluish green, clarity: exceptionally pure, cut: Moghul-cut rose, source: India.

This gem may be found in the Diamond Treasury of Russia in Moscow.

There are so many historical episodes involving the Orloff. First, it may have been set at one time as the diamond eye of Vishnu's idol (one of the Hindu Gods) in the innermost sanctuary temple in Sriangam, before being stolen in the 1700s by a French deserter. However, the deserter just dug one eye from its socket, because he was terror-stricken at the thought of retribution, so he couldn't take the other. He went to Madras, and sold the stone quickly to an English sea-captain for 2,000 pounds.

The time passed, the stone arrived at Amsterdam where the Russian

 count Grigori Orloff, an ex-lover of Empress Catherine the Great was residing. He heard about rumours of the stone, and he bought the diamond for 90,000 pounds and took it back to Russia for Catherine's favour. The stone has been called the Orloff since then. Catherine received his gift and had it mounted in the Imperial Sceptre. She gave a marble palace to Grigori in exchange for the Orloff. However, Grigori couldn't get Catherine's love. Grigori Orloff passed away at the nadir of disappointment in 1783.

In 1812 the Russians, fearing that Napoleon with his Grand Army was about to enter Moscow, hid the Orloff in a priest's tomb. Napoleon supposedly discovered the Orloff's location and went to claim it. However, as a solider of the Army was about to touch the Orloff, a priest's ghost appeared and pronounced a terrible curse upon the Army. The Emperor, Napoleon scampered away without the Orloff.


The Centenary Diamond

273.85 Carats, discovered at the Premier Mine, in July 1986. The 'Centenary' diamond weighed 599.10 carats in the rough. Together with a small select team, master-cutter Gabi Tolkowsky took almost three years to complete its transformation into the world's largest, most modern-cut, top-colour, flawless diamond.

Possessing 247 facets - 164 on the stone and 83 on its girdle - the aptly-named 'Centenary' diamond weighs 273.85 carats, and is only surpassed in size by the 530.20 carat 'Great Star of Africa' and the 317.40 carat 'Lesser Star of Africa', both of which are set into the British Crown Jewels.


The Regent

140.50 Carats, although it is now surpassed in weight by other famous diamonds, the exceptional limpidity and perfect cut of the Regent give it an reputation as the most beautiful diamond in the world. Discovered in India in 1698, it was acquired by Thomas Pitt, Governor of Madras, who sent it to England where it was cut. In 1717 the Regent purchased it from Pitt for the French Crown. It first adorned the band of Louis XV's silver gilt crown (in the Louvre) at his coronation in 1722, going then to Louis XVI's crown in 1775. Later in 1801 it figured on the hilt of the First Consul's sword (Fontainebleau, Musée Napoléon 1st), and then on the Emperor's two-edged sword in 1812. In 1825 it was worn on the crown at the coronation of Charles x, and during the Second Empire it embellished the "Grecian diadem" of the Empress Eugenie. It can be seen today at the Louvre in Paris.


Koh-i-Noor (Mountain of Light)

105.60 Carats, an oval cut gem, now part of the British Crown Jewels. The name of this diamond means "Mountain of Light" and its history, dating back to1304, is the longest of all famous diamonds. It was captured by the Rajahs of Malwa in the sixteenth century by the Mogul, Sultan Babur and remained in the possession of later Mogul emperors. It may have been set in the famous Peacock Throne made for Shah Jehan. After the break-up of the Persian empire the diamond found its way to India. It may have travelled to Afghanistan with a bodyguard of Nadir Shah, who fled with the stone when the Shah was murdered, to be later offered to Ranjit Singh of the Punjab in exchange for military help (which was never delivered). After fighting broke out between the Sikhs and the British, The East India Company claimed the diamond as a partial indemnity, and then presented it to Queen Victoria in 1850. When the stone came from India, it weighed l986 carats; it was later recut to l08.93 carats. It was first worn by the Queen in a brooch. It was later set in the State Crown, worn by Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary, and 1937 was worn for by Queen Elizabeth for her coronation. It is kept in the Tower of London, with the other Crown Jewels.


The Idol's Eye

70.20 Carats, a flattened pear-shaped stone the size of a bantam's egg. Another famous diamond that was once set in the eye of an idol before it was stolen. Legend also has it that it was given as ransom for Princess Rasheedah by the Sheikh of Kashmir to the Sultan of Turkey who had abducted her. 

The Taylor-Burton

69.42 Carats, Pear-shape.

It was found in 1966 in the Premier Mine in South Africa. The rough, which weighted 240.80 carats, was cut into a 69.42 pear shape diamond.

Richard Burton bought and named this stone as a gift for Elizabeth Taylor. Richard Burton bought it $1,100,000. He also named this stone as an engagement. After Burton's death in 1979, Liz Taylor sold the stone for charity and reportedly received $2.8 million. She donated in his memory to a hospital in Biafra.   It was last seen in Saudi Arabia. 

Sancy Diamond

Little is known of the Sancy Diamond before the 14th century when it was most likely stolen from India. It was first recorded as measuring 100 carats when it was part of the dowry of Valentina, Galeazzo di Visconti's daughter in 1389. She married Duke d'Orleans who was the brother of Charles VI of France. This began a long history of the diamond being used as collateral and going in and out of pawn over the next few hundred years. Duke John of Burgundy acquired the stone as a spoil of war victory and passed it down through his family for several generations including Charles the Bold. Charles brought the stone into battle believing it was good luck. This turned out not to be true as he lost the battle and his life and the stone was missing for 14 years. It then turned up in the possession of Jacob Fugger who sold it to the King of Portugal. When Phillip II of Spain Invaded Portugal he claimed the Sancy, however, the king escaped with several other jewels which he sold the French and English Crown. The Sancy found itself in the ownership of Elizabeth I, who also owned the Three Brothers stone which was also lost by Charles the Bold. Elizabeth secretly pawned the stone to finance a Dutch war against Spain. The diamond changed hands again and found a new owner Nicolas Harlay de Sancy whose wife had an appetite for diamonds. Elizabeth I wanted the diamond back and Sancy who eventually went bankrupt was convinced to sell it back to James I of the English Crown. The diamond disappeared again for 25 years long enough for the statue of limitations to expire, when it surfaced to be purchased by Nicholas Demidov, who gave it to his wife. It was then sold to Sir Jamsetee Jeejeebhoy and eventually to William Astor in 1865. The Astor family kept possession of the stone until 1976 when they sold it for an undisclosed amount to the Louvre Museum where it still resides today.. Most experts agree that the Sancy was part of a much larger diamond that was re-cut at some point however there is no consensus which diamond it originally came from.

Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond is the previous record holder for being the largest faceted diamond and is probably the most well known and historically interesting of all diamonds. The Hope Diamond was originally known as the Tavernier Blue which was a crudely cut triangular diamond. According to legend, it was stolen from an Indian statue of Sita and purchased by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier around 1660. The diamond was sold to King Louis XIV of France who had it cut into a 67.125 carat stone. It was renamed the French Blue and worn for ceremonial functions in France. The diamond was rarely seen until Louis XVI gave it to Marie Antoinette who added it to her jewellery collection. When the French Revolution started the diamond was stolen and resurfaced in La Havre four years later. The diamond disappeared for another 20 years (which coincidentally is exactly how long it took for the statute of limitations to run out on the crime) when it resurfaced in the hands of a London diamond merchant Daniel Eliason in 1812. Henry Philip Hope purchased the diamond in 1824, after his death his heirs fought over the diamond. It passed through three generations of the Hope family until Henry Francis Hope Pelham-Clinton Hope fell into bankruptcy and was forced to sell the stone. The diamond continued to change hands until Pierre Cartier acquired it in 1910. They reset the stone and sold it to socialite Evelyn Walsh McLean. She left the stone to her heirs, however it had to be sold again to settle outstanding debt. The stone was purchased by legendary jeweller Harry Winston who had the lower portion of the stone cut to increase its brilliance. After having the diamond as part of his traveling exhibit known as "the court of jewels," he donated it to the Smithsonian Institution where he sent it through the US postal service in plain brown wrapper. The diamond is said to have been cursed by the Hindu God from whose statue it was originally stolen because financial ruin or sudden death occurred to many who owned it. The diamond was also the inspiration for the fictional "Heart of the Ocean" in the movie Titanic. In 2005 new computer research proved that the Hope Diamond was indeed the French Blue that was stolen from the jewellery collection of Marie Antoinette.

Hortensia Diamond

 The Hortensia Diamond is a pale pink, orange diamond that was originally part of the jewel collection of the French Crown. named after the Queen of Holland, the step-daughter of Napoleon Bonaparte, this gem is part of the French Crown Jewels and may be viewed at the Louvre in Paris. It was lost/stolen with all of the other gems in Marie Antoinette's collection during the French Revolution. A man named Depeyron confessed its secret location while on the chopping block facing execution. The Regent Diamond was also recovered from the secret hiding spot. The diamond gets its name from Hortense de Beauharnais the Queen of Holland who wore the diamond. It was also mounted on the epaulette braid of Napoleon for a short time.