Passion. Murder. Insanity. Intrigue. Envy. A mere hint of the fascinating stories behind the world's most remarkable diamonds. Many have been associated with famous names – the likes of Napoleon ... Sultan Babur ... Lady Astor ... Shah Jehan ... Queen Victoria ... Catherine the Great ... Elizabeth Taylor. Others have inspired awe and legend on account of their size, origins or unique qualities.
Since nearly the dawn of time, diamonds have encrusted the armor of great warriors and adorned the crowns and scepters of kings and queens. After all, the diamond was considered the emblem of fearlessness and invincibility. In fact, it was believed that mere possession of a diamond would endow the wearer with superior strength, bravery and courage.
Here are 11 of these amazing diamonds from the past and present.
1. The Blue Hope: 45.52 carats
A dark, steely blue gemstone from India, the diamond eventually named the Hope is more notorious than any other diamond. It was originally purchased by a French merchant traveler, who sold it to King Louis XIV in 1668. Set in gold and suspended on a neck ribbon, the king wore the "Blue Diamond of the Crown" or "French Blue" on ceremonial occasions. During the French Revolution in 1792, when Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette attempted to flee France, the French Blue was stolen.
Evidence suggests that it was acquired in the early 1800s by King George IV of England, and likely sold at his death in 1830 to help pay off his debts. The diamond was subsequently purchased by Henry Philip Hope, from whom it takes its name. While in the possession of the Hope family, the diamond acquired its grim reputation for bad luck: The entire Hope family died in poverty.
Henry Thomas Hope's possession of the diamond was uneventful. However, one of his heirs who came to own it, Lord Francis Hope, was in financial difficulties due to a penchant for gambling. After numerous attempts (and despite the opposition of other family members) he finally succeeded in selling the Hope diamond in 1901. The diamond was purchased by a New York diamond merchant, Simon Frankel. At this point, the diamond was said to be involved in several bizarre events, although none have been substantiated.
First, a French broker by the name of Jacques Colot was said to have bought the gemstone before becoming insane and committing suicide. Next, a Russian or Eastern European prince, Ivan Kanitowsky, supposedly loaned or gave the diamond to an actress at the Folies Bergêre, who was shot the first time she wore it. The prince himself was stabbed to death by revolutionaries. A Greek jeweler who sold the diamond to the Sultan of Turkey was thrown over a cliff while riding in a car with his wife and child. Again, it is difficult to separate the fact and fiction.
It is known that after several owners, the Hope diamond was sold by Cartier's to Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean of Washington, D.C. Some researchers believe it was Pierre Cartier who popularized the story that the gemstone brought misfortune to its owners – and anyone who touched it.
Mrs. McLean was the daughter of Thomas F. Walsh, who amassed a fortune in gold mining. She spent her early childhood in mining camps in Colorado and South Dakota, but was later educated in Washington D.C. and in Europe. She married Edward Beale McLean, son of the owner of the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Washington Post.
Although Mrs. McLean refused to believe in the legendary Hope "curse" she also endured a number of family tragedies. Her brother died young; her nine-year-old son was run over by a car and killed; her ex-husband drank heavily and died in a mental institution; and her only daughter died of a drug overdose at age 25. Mrs. McLean never recovered from the latter tragedy, and passed away only a year later. Upon her death, Mrs. McLean's extensive jewelry collection was purchased by Harry Winston Inc. of New York City. After exhibiting it among other notable gems for the next 10 years, the firm donated it to the Smithsonian Institution, where it remains one of its premier attractions.
2. The Koh-I-Noor (Mountain of Light) Current Weight: 105.60 carats Original Weight: 186 carats
Dated through legend from before the time of Christ, this oval-cut diamond is the most famous of all diamonds. It has been said that whoever owned the Koh-I-Noor ruled the world.
It was first reported in 1304 as a diamond owned by the Rajah of Malwa. Following wars in the 1500s, it ultimately fell into the hands of the Sultan Babur, and for the next 200 years the 186-carat diamond was one of the precious jewels of the Mogul Emperors. It was believed to have once been set as one of the peacock's eyes in the famous peacock throne of Shah Jehan, who reigned in the early 1650s. In 1739, Nadir Shah, who built Persia into a major power, invaded Delhi. He obtained the Koh-I-Noor – along with the sumptuous Peacock Throne – from the vanquished Indian Emperor Mohammed Shah. Allegedly, when his pillage of Delhi failed to uncover the huge gemstone, he was told by one of the harem women that the conquered Mogul emperor had hidden it inside his turban. Taking advantage of an Oriental custom, Nadir Shah invited his captive to a feast and suggested they exchange turbans. Following the feast, he unrolled the turban and released the great gem. Seeing it, Nadir Shah cried, "Koh-I-Noor," which means mountain of light.
Nadir Shah took the gem back to Persia, and following his assassination in 1747, the diamond was fought over by his successors. When the state of Punjab was annexed to British India in 1849, the East India Company took it as insurance for the Sikh Wars. As part of its 250th Anniversary festivities, the East India Company presented the Koh-I-Noor to Queen Victoria in 1850.
The gemstone was displayed at the famous Crystal Palace Exposition, but visitors were disappointed that the diamond did not show more fire. So Victoria had the gemstone recut, reducing the diamond to its present size. In 1911, a new crown was made for the coronation of Queen Mary featuring the Koh-I-Noor as the center gemstone. In 1937, it was transferred to the crown of Queen Elizabeth (now Queen Mother) for her coronation. Currently, it is on display in the Tower of London with the British Crown Jewels.
3. The Cullinan Diamonds: 3,106 carats (rough)
The largest gem-quality diamond ever found was discovered on January 26, 1905 in the Premier Mine in South Africa. The original rough of the Cullinan Diamond measured 3,106 carats and weighed about 1 1/3 pounds. It was notable for its exquisite color and exceptional purity. Just as interesting, the gemstone possessed a surprisingly smooth cleavage face on one side, leading many experts to believe that the huge gemstone was only a piece of a larger diamond that was broken up in the weathering process.
The diamond was named for Sir Thomas Cullinan, who opened the Premier Mine. The Transvaal Government bought the diamond rough for $750,000 and presented it to England's King Edward VII on his birthday in 1907. The next year, King Edward sent the gemstone to the renowned Asscher's Diamond Co. in Amsterdam for cutting. Following months of exacting study, the rough gemstone was cleaved into nine major gems, with the largest two retained by the Royal Family for the Crown Jewels. The rough also yielded 96 smaller brilliant-cut gemstones and 9 1/2 carats of unpolished pieces.
The two largest gemstones are known as the Cullinan I and Cullinan II:
The Cullinan I (also known as the Great Star of Africa): 530.20 carats
The Cullinan I is a magnificent pear-shaped diamond with 74 facets. It is the largest gemstone cut from the Cullinan rough and, until recently, the largest cut diamond in the world. (That record is now held by the Unnamed Brown, a golden brown cushion shape diamond weighing 545.67 carats.) King Edward called it "The Great Star of Africa" and ordered it to be set in the British Imperial Scepter, which had to be redesigned to accommodate it. The Scepter is on permanent display in the Tower of London.
The Cullinan II (also known as the Lesser Star of Africa): 317.40 carats
A cushion-cut brilliant, the Cullinan II is the fourth-largest cut diamond in the world. Nicknamed the Lesser Star of Africa, it is also part of the British Crown Jewels. This square gemstone is set in the British Imperial State Crown, on display in the Tower of London.
4. The Regent: 140.50 carats
This great gemstone, originally a diamond rough of 410 carats, was said to be discovered in 1701 by an Indian slave near Golconda. Golconda was a mountain fortress and a center for trading in India that included a diamond storehouse. The diamond was first owned by William Pitt, the Prime Minister of England, but the circumstances surrounding his acquisition of the gem have been called into question several times. Pitt arranged for the gemstone to be cut into its current cushion-shaped brilliant by the only person in England considered capable of the task, which took two years. The result was a stunning gem that is considered the most perfectly cut of all the celebrated diamonds of old.
The Regent is characteristic of the finest Indian diamonds, and has a beautiful light blue tinge. Known at the time as the Pitt, the diamond was sold to the Duke of Orleans, Regent of France, who was at first hesitant to purchase the gem because of the perilous state of the Treasury. Ultimately, the Duke of Orleans relented, and shortly thereafter, the gemstone was renamed "The Regent." Later, it was set in the coronation crown of King Louis XV, and later in a headband worn by his Queen. Many of the French Crown Jewels were reset numerous times at the behest of the queen. Sadly, in September 1792, the Regent and other great diamonds in the Crown Jewel collection were stolen, some disappearing forever. Fortunately, the Regent reappeared in a Paris attic a year later. After coming to power in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the diamond set in his sword hilt, which he carried at his coronation two years later. Today, the Regent can be admired at the Louvre in Paris.
5. The Centenary: 273.85 carats
The 100-year anniversary of De Beers Consolidated Mines coincided with the fortuitous discovery of an extraordinary diamond rough. At its centennial banquet, the De Beers chairman announced the recovery of "a diamond of 599 carats which is perfect in color – indeed, it is one of the largest top color diamonds ever found. Naturally, it will be called the 'Centenary Diamond.'"
The Centenary diamond was found at South Africa's Premier Mine on July 17, 1986 using an electronic x-ray recovery system. In its rough form, the gemstone resembled an irregular matchbox, with angular planes, a prominent, elongated protrusion at one corner, and a deep concave on the largest flat surface. Clearly, it would be daunting to cut, with no obvious approach readily apparent.
It took a master cutter three years to transform the gemstone into the largest modern-cut flawless diamond. The Centenary has 75 facets on top, 89 on the bottom and 83 on the girdle, for a total of 247. The amazing result was achieved using a combination of some of the oldest cutting methods and the most sophisticated technology. Today, this marvelous gem, exemplifying the ultimate in fire and brilliance for which the diamond is prized, is part of the British Crown Jewels. It was presented at the Tower of London in 1991, where it is on permanent display.
6. The Orlov: 300 carats (original rough)
The history of this famous diamond is characterized by legend, fact, speculation and theory. But it is considered one of the most important items in the Treasures of the USSR Diamond Fund, one of the world's greatest collections of gems and jewelry. The USSR Diamond Fund comprises many of the historical jewels that were amassed by the rulers of Russia before the Revolution of 1917, along with exceptional diamonds unearthed in the former Soviet Union during the last three decades.
The Orlov's shape has been likened to half of a pigeon's egg. It has roughly 180 facets and is mounted in the Imperial Scepter, fashioned during the reign of Catherine the Great. The Orlov has been confused with the Great Mogul, a fascinating Indian gem that apparently disappeared without a trace. Another account holds that the earliest known fact about the Orlov is that it was set as one of the eyes of an idol in a sacred temple located in the South of India. Another tale suggests that it was set as the eye of God in the temple of Sri Rangen, and was stolen by a French soldier disguised as a Hindu.
The gemstone takes its name from Count Grigori Grigorievich Orlov, a Russian nobleman and army officer who caught the fancy of the Grand Duchess, destined to become Catherine the Great. Catherine ascended to the throne after her husband was dethroned and murdered in a coup carried out with the help of Orlov. After she purchased the gemstone, it was set beneath the golden eagle. Another legend suggests that upon entering Moscow, Napoleon sought the gem, which was concealed in the tomb of a priest in the Kremlin. Reportedly, when one of Napoleon's lieutenants attempted to secure the Orlov, the invaders were cursed by the ghost of the priest, and Napoleon and his bodyguards fled empty-handed.
7. The Idol's Eye: 79.20 carats
Echoing the legend of the Orlov, this flattened, pear-shaped gemstone the size of a bantam's egg was once set in the eye of an idol before it was stolen. Legend also holds that it was given as a ransom for Princess Rasheetah by the Sheik of Kashmir to the Sultan of Turkey, who had abducted her.
Despite abundant unproven accounts of its early origins, the first authenticated facts of this diamond's history were associated with its appearance at a Christie's sale in London in 1865. At the sale, it was sold to a mysterious buyer later identified as the 34th Ottomon Sultan, Abd al-Hamid II. Hamid II was ultimately defeated by opposition that became known as the Young Turks. One version of events holds that in exile, he entrusted his jewels to a servant who betrayed him and sold them in Paris, including the large diamond known as the "Idol's Eye."
The Idol's Eye re-emerged at the end of World War II, when it was acquired by a Dutch dealer, and subsequently by Harry Winston in 1946. Winston sold it to Mrs. May Bonfils Stanton, the daughter of the publisher and co-founder of the Denver Post. It was reported that Mrs. Stanton lived in isolation in a palatial mansion and wore the Idol's Eye to her solitary breakfast every morning. After her death, the diamond went through a succession of owners, until it was sold with two other important gemstones to a private buyer.
8. The Taylor-Burton: 69.42 carats
As many people today remember, this was the spectacular pear-shaped diamond the late actor Richard Burton bought as a gift for his fifth wife, Elizabeth Taylor. The gemstone came from a rough piece of 240.80 carats that was purchased by Harry Winston. Once it was cut, the larger piece yielding the pear-shaped gemstone was sold to Mrs. Harriet Annenberg Ames, whose brother, Walter Annenberg, was the American ambassador in London during Richard Nixon's presidency. Mrs. Ames felt uncomfortable wearing such a large diamond, and sent it to auction in New York in October, 1969.
The diamond was purchased at auction for a then-record $1,050,000, with the understanding that it could be named by the buyer. Cartier of New York proved the successful bidder and immediately christened it 'Cartier.' However, the next day, Richard Burton bought the gemstone for Elizabeth Taylor for an undisclosed sum. She first wore the gem as a pendant at Princess Grace's 40th birthday party in Monaco.
In 1978, following her divorce from Mr. Burton, Miss Taylor announced that she was putting the diamond up for sale, with the proceeds dedicated to building a hospital in Botswana. Due to the tremendous costs of showing it, prospective buyers were required to pay $2,500 just to inspect the diamond. Miss Taylor eventually sold the Taylor-Burton for a reported figure of $5 million in 1979. The gem was last seen in Saudi Arabia.
9. The Sancy: 55 carats
This pear-shaped gemstone with a confused heritage disappeared during the French Revolution in 1782. It was originally owned by Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, who lost the diamond in battle in 1477. It was named after a later owner, Seigneur de Sancy, a French Ambassador to Switzerland during the late 16th century. There are numerous questions regarding how Mr. Sancy obtained his diamond, but most likely, he acquired it on his travels in the Far East.
Nicholas de Sancy served two French monarchs loyally: He loaned the diamond to the French king, Henry III, who strategically placed it on his cap to conceal his baldness. It was also pledged by Sancy for the purpose of raising troops in Switzerland. He employed his diamond again on behalf of his sovereign, now Henry IV, the first of the Bourbon dynasty. By 1596, Sancy himself was in need of money and eventually sold the large diamond to King James I of England. In 1625, Charles I disposed of other diamonds but retained the Sancy, which was taken by Queen Henrietta Maria along with other jewels in the Royal Treasury. It later came into the possession of Cardinal Jules Mazirin, acting First Minister of the Crown, who bequeathed the Sancy and another gemstone to the French Crown. Following the French Revolution, a gemstone believed to be the Sancy found its way to a Spanish nobleman, and eventually in 1828 to Prince Nicholas Demidoff, whose family owned industries and silver mines in Russia. The Sancy passed to his son, who gave it to his Finnish bride.
Following additional travels around the world, the Sancy was purchased by William Waldorf Astor in the 1890s for his wife, Lady Astor. Lady Astor, the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, wore the Sancy set in a tiara at numerous state occasions. In 1978, the four Viscount Astor sold the Sancy, reputedly for $1,000,000. It is now on view at the Louvre in Paris.
10. The Dresden Green: 41 carats
This almond-shaped gemstone is the largest apple-green diamond known. Its green color is attributed to the crystal's close contact with a radioactive source at some point in its lifetime. The Dresden Green, which probably originated in a rough crystal of 100 carats or more, is unique among world-famous gems for not only its color, but also its elongated shape. The Dresden Green gets its name from the capital of Saxony where it has been on display for more than 200 years.
Although of Indian origin, nothing was known of the diamond until Frederick Augustus II of Saxony purchased it at the Leipzig Fair in 1743 for about $150,000. Set in an elaborate shoulder knot, the gemstone was exhibited with the other Crown Jewels of Saxony in the famous Green Vaults under the Dresden Palace. After World War II, these gems were confiscated by the Russians, but they were returned to Dresden in 1958, and are again on display in the palace.
11. The Jubilee: 245.33 carats
The Jubilee is a magnificent, colorless cushion-cut diamond that at one time ranked the sixth largest diamond in the world. More importantly, many gemologists consider the Jubilee the most perfectly cut of all large diamonds. That is because its facets are so exact that the gem can be balanced on the culet point, which measures less than 2 millimeters across.
The original rough gemstone weighed 650.80 carats and was an irregular octahedron in shape, lacking definite faces. It was found in late 1895 at the Jagersfontein Mine in South Africa, and acquired by a syndicate of London diamond merchants who sent it to Amsterdam for polishing. The first cleaving of the rough yielded a fine pear-shaped diamond in excess of 13 carats that was presented by the king of Portugal to his wife. The remaining large piece was polished into the gemstone known as the Jubilee.
During the cutting period, when the gemstone's exceptional size and purity became evident, there were initial plans to present the diamond to Queen Victoria upon completion, but this did not occur. However, the following year, 1897, marked the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Therefore, the gem was appropriately renamed the Jubilee to commemorate the occasion. Its introduction was also significant in the world of diamonds, which saw its first diamond with the characteristics of both the rose and brilliant cuts – which would subsequently be known as the Jubilee cut.
In 1900 the syndicate displayed the Jubilee at the Paris Exhibition, where it was an immensely popular attraction. Shortly thereafter, it was purchased by an Indian industrialist and philanthropist, Sir Dorabji Jamsetji Tata, whose family was instrumental in modern India's economic development. Tata's heirs sent the Jubilee to Cartier for sale. Cartier exhibited it with other historic diamonds prior to selling it to a Paris industrialist and arts patron, M. Paul-Louis Weiller, who remains its present owner.