For many centuries there has been a global fascination with diamonds and they are widely regarded as one of the most intriguing gemstones on the planet. The famous slogan ‘Diamonds are Forever’ popularised by De Beers in their advertising campaigns, perfectly captures the essence of diamonds forged billions of years ago and surviving the forces of nature to be brought into our possession. Throughout history diamonds have been revered for their mystic powers and incredible beauty and we are attracted to their innate brilliance sparkle and fire.
Perhaps part of this fascination with diamonds throughout the years is their scarcity value which makes them even more sought after. Plus, from time to time there appears on the world stage a diamond that is so exquisite in its beauty, clarity, weight and/or brilliance that it is a real show stopper, and truly deserves to be remember in a ‘diamond hall of fame’. Some diamonds do of course deserve to be more famous than others, and here we would like to celebrate five of the world’s most famous, and greatest diamonds.
The KOH-I-NOOR diamond
The most famous and one of the world’s largest diamonds must be the Koh-I-Noor which in Persian means ‘Mountain of Light’. It is widely believed whoever owns the Koh-I-Noor ‘rules the world’, and as the most famous diamond of all time this is a very apt statement.
This breath-taking diamond has a long and bloody history, starting, according to legend as far back as 6,000 BC, although it was officially discovered in 1304 and the first recorded owners were the Kakatiya Dynasty of South India. It is believed that the Koh-I-Noor was found at Kollur Mine in India and weighed an incredible 186 carats in its rough state.
This truly majestic diamond changed hands between various parties in India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan until it was given to Queen Victoria after the 1849 conquest of the Punjab by the British. The Koh-I-Noor was originally of a similar cut to other diamonds of the Murgal era which can be seen in the Iranian crown jewels. It was displayed at the famous Great Exhibition in London in 1851 but it failed to impress as it was said to be of lacklustre appearance! Following the exhibition Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert ordered that the Koh-I-Noor be re-cut into the shape of an oval-brilliant and after this process the Koh-I-Noor now weighs 108 carats.
The Koh-I-Noor is surrounded by superstition and as its history involved much fighting and blood shed amongst men, the British Royal family believed that only women should wear this exquisite diamond. It has been worn by Queen Victoria as a brooch and a circlet, by Queen Alexandra the wife of Edward VII when it was set into a crown and then subsequently by Queen Mary as her crown and finally by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1937. This striking diamond is now on public display in The Jewel House at The Tower of London as part of the English Crown Jewels of England and still sits within the Queen Mother’s Crown.
The Blue Hope Diamond
As its name suggests, this diamond is an exquisite and much admired rare blue colour which is due to the presence of trace amounts of boron atoms and weighs an impressive 45.52 carats. The Blue Hope Diamond is one of the most talked about diamonds in the world. The story of this diamond has fascinated many people for many years hence why it is considered by many to be one of the most famous diamonds in the world.
So, beyond its innate beauty, why is this diamond so famous – the answer is for its curse! Legend tells the story that in the 17th century The Blue Hope Diamond was plucked from the eye of an Indian statue of the Hindu goddess Sita, by the French merchant traveller Jean Baptiste Tavernier. A curse was placed upon the diamond in revenge for this act of theft, bringing bad luck or death to all who touched it.
This curse has of course been dismissed as superstition and as a story invented in the late 19th century to enhance the mystique surrounding this diamond in order to generate publicity and to enhance its market value. Many claims were made of those who had met a gruesome end when owning The Blue Hope Diamond including King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette who were guillotined; the Russian Prince Ivan Kanitovski, killed by Russian revolutionists and who also shot his sweetheart; Sultan Hamid who was thrown from a precipice along with his wife (and child) the Folies Bergère actress, Mademoiselle Ledue, whilst she was wearing the jewel on stage; and also Tavernier himself, said to have been torn to pieces by wild dogs in Constantinople. Many of these claims have not withstood the test of time or scrutiny but of course add to the diamonds fascination
The facts that are known are that The Blue Hope Diamond was discovered in India in the Kollur mine in Golconda by Tavernier. In the rough it weighed around 112 carats and was a crude triangular shaped stone, which he described as a ‘beautiful violet’. Today the GIA have officially classified The Blue Hope Diamond as being fancy dark greyish blue (rare). A further test using a very sensitive colourimeter has shown that there is a very slight violent component to the deep blue colour that is indiscernible to the naked eye.
Tavernier sold The Blue Hope diamond to King Louis XVI in 1668, and it was recut by his court jeweller, Sieur Pitau. The diamond was suspended on a neck ribbon which the King wore on ceremonial occasions and called the French Blue ‘Le bleu de France’. It was stolen in 1791 during the French revolution, and in 1830 it was bought by the Englishman Henry Phillip Hope and was recut with the
largest section acquiring its “Hope” name. The Blue Hope then resurfaced and changed hands several times until 1909 when the diamond was bought by Pierre Cartier. He had it recut and set as a cushion antique brilliant diamond with a faceted girdle and extra facets on the pavilion (weighing in at 45 carats). This is the form in which the diamond appears today, and it was done to aid Cartier in the sale of the diamond to the American mining heiress and socialite, Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean, and her husband Edward who despite protracted wrangling’s bought The Blue Hope Diamond in 1911 for $300,000. On Mrs McLean’s death, the stone was purchased in 1949 by New York gem merchant Harry Winston Inc. He exhibited The Blue Hope around the world and in 1958 donated the diamond to The Smithsonian, Washington’s National Museum of Natural History where it has since remained on permanent exhibition.
The Great Star of Africa
The Great Star of Africa diamond is both the largest clear-cut diamond in the world and the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found, weighing a jaw dropping 3,106.75 carats (621.35 g) in its rough state. What is even more amazing is that many crystallographers believe that the diamond that was discovered was only a cleavage fragment of a considerably larger stone! The Great Star of Africa was discovered in the Premier No. 2 mine in Cullinan, South Africa, on 26 January 1905. It is also referred to as ‘The Cullinan I’ in honour of Sir Thomas Cullinan who was the owner of the mining company that found this amazing diamond.
This stunning diamond was cut by the world-famous cutter Asscher in Amsterdam. After cutting it weighed 530.20 carats and exhibited an extraordinary number of facets – 74 in total! In 1907 The Great Star of Africa was sold to the Transvaal Colony who then gave the diamond to King Edward VII as a 66th birthday present. It has now taken its rightful place in the hallowed halls of the Tower of London as part of the British Crown Jewel’s as it is set in the Spectre of the King.
This diamond with a stunning blue-white tint is the third largest rough diamond of gem quality ever found, originally weighing an amazing 995.2 carats (194g) – it was the largest known diamond in the world from the time of its discovery in 1893 until 1905, when the larger Cullinan diamond was found.
The Excelsior has quite an interesting story surrounding how it was found. The diamond was discovered on June 30, 1893 at the Jagersfontein Mine in South Africa by an African worker. He found it in a pile of gravel whilst he was unloading his truck, but he was frightened to tell anyone of his discovery so kept it secret until he could deliver the diamond direct to the owner of the mine. The delighted and very grateful mine owner rewarded him richly with £500 cash and a horse with a saddle and bridle.
On the day that The Excelsior was discovered the contract between the mining company and the London based syndicate which purchased its diamonds expired. The diamond’s discovery was never reported in any of the well-known British newspapers, despite its remarkable size and properties, and this could have been the reason. In 1895 another very large diamond was found in the Jagersfontein Mine which was originally called named after the President of the Orange Free State the Reitz Diamond and later renamed the Jubilee Diamond, in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It is not entirely clear as to why the Jubilee Diamond which weighed only
650.80 carats eclipsed The Excelsior in terms of infamy and many have speculated that the reason for this could be that The Excelsior was felt to be far too large and of a quality that was too superior for any prospective buyer. Consequently, The Excelsior was sent to I. J. Asscher in Amsterdam, in 1903, to be cut into ten pieces with the three largest cut diamonds weighing a very respectable 158, 147 and 130 carats.
The Orlov (Orloff)
Described as having the shape and proportions of half a hen’s egg, this is the third world’s largest cut diamond weighing more than 194 carats. The Orlov is a very rare diamond as it has retained its original Indian rose-style cut and its colour is widely described as white with a faint bluish-green tinge. It was discovered in Golkonda, India in the 17th century. According to legend, this diamond was once used as the eye of an idol in the Temple of the Brahma in Mysore until it was stolen by a French deserter, who escaped with it to Madras. Others believe that the history of the Orlov extends to the middle of the 18th century, when the diamond belonged to the King of Persia – Nāder Shāh. After his assassination it was stolen and sold to an Armenian millionaire named Shaffrass. Whichever version is correct, The Orlov diamond was purchased in 1774 by Count Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov, who in an unsuccessful attempt to regain her favour, presented it to Empress Catherine II the Great. Catherine then had the diamond mounted in the Romanov Imperial Sceptre, and it is now part of the Diamond Fund of the Moscow Kremlin.
The Orlov diamond should not be confused with the “Black Orlov diamond”, called the Eye of Brahma, which according to legend was stolen from a Temple near Pondicherry.