List O’ Ten Tales of Ten Famous Diamonds

top ten list-top ten famous expensive diamondsDiamonds have always been more than just gems for men and women. These precious stones, formed over thousands of years, have a mystique of their own, along with all the legend and mystery of the stories that accompany the special diamonds of the world. This list presents ten of the most famous diamonds and the tales of history and romance that they represent.

10. The Dresden Green

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  • Size: 41 carats
  • Value: unknown

The Dresden Green gets its name from the capitol of Saxony where it has been on display for more than 200 years. The earliest known reference to its existence occurs in The Post Boy, a London new-sheet of the 1700′s. The issue dated October 25th – 27th, 1722 included this article:

An early reference to the Dresden Green “On Tuesday last, in the afternoon, one Mr. Marcus Moses (an important diamond merchant in London during the first part of the 18th century), lately arrived from India, had the honor to wait on his Majesty [King George I (ruled 1714-27)] with his large diamond, which is of a fine emerald green color, and was with his Majesty near an hour. His Majesty was very much pleased with the sight thereof. It is said there never was seen the like in Europe before, being free from any defect in the world; and he has shown his Majesty several other fine large diamonds, the like of which ’tis said were never brought from India before. He was also, the 25th, to wait on their Royal Highnesses with his large diamond; and they were surprised to see one of such largeness, and of such a fine emerald color without the help of a foil under it. We hear the gentlemen value’s it at 10,000 pounds.”

Another early reference to the Dresden Green is found in a letter dated from 1726, from Baron Gautier, the “assessor” at the Geheimes Rath’s Collegium in Dresden, to the Polish ambassador in London, which speaks of the green diamond being offered to Frederick Augustus I (1694-1753) by a London merchant for 30,000 pounds.

The Gemmological Institute of America examined the stone in 1988. The Dresden Green Diamond was proved to be not only of extraordinary quality, but also a rare type IIa diamond. The clarity grade determined by GIA was VS1 and the gem has the potential of being internally flawless. The gem measures 29.75 x 19.88 x 10.29mm. The GIA graded the symmetry good and the polish very good. This is astonishing for a diamond cut prior to 1741. The Dresden Greed Diamond is displayed Albertinium Museum in Dresden.

9. The Heart of Eternity

top ten list-ten famous expensive diamonds-heart of eternity-Diamond

  • Size: 27.64 carats
  • Value: $16 million

Originally, the rough stone was 777 carats, a magic number. Found in the Buyimai district of South Africa, the discovery set off a gold-rush type of influx of diggers hoping to find a similar stone. But, as it was the only stone of this type found in the present millennium, statistically the odds are against finding another one within the next few hundred years or so. After studying and planning the cutting of the stone for about 4 to 5 months, it was decided to cut the rough in three pieces. The Millennium Star is the outcome of the largest piece. The cutters were very tight-lipped about what happened to the other two pieces. In order to cut and polish the stone a special “operating theater” was built, not dissimilar to the conditions in a sterile hospital room. “No dust is allowed to touch the stone so the scaifes must be adjusted accordingly. It is vital to monitor the temperature of the stone during the cutting and polishing process. Actually, the temperature must be strictly controlled in order to avoid cracks or other damage, explains Nir Livnat, managing director of Johannesburg-based Ascot Diamonds, a member of the Steinmetz Group of Diamond Companies. Special tangs had to be designed to hold the stone

Pre-20th century accounts of great blue diamonds reinforce the trade’s historical links with India, the only known early source of diamonds. These accounts tell of diamonds such as Tavernier Blue (now known as the Hope Diamond; 45.52 carats) and the 30.82-carat Blue Heart, which today are valued for their history and mystique as much as for their rare color. These diamonds are famous because of their incredible rarity – only red diamonds are rarer. Of all De Beers South African rough production, however, there is on average only one significant blue diamond mined per year, less than 0.1% of all mined diamonds annually.

8. The Spirit of de Grisogono

top ten list-top ten famous expensive diamonds-The Spirit of de Grisogono

  • Size:312.24 carats
  • Value: unknown

The Spirit of de Grisogono, at 312.24 carats, is the world’s largest cut black diamond (extremely rare), and world’s 5th largest diamond. When it was discovered the Spirit of de Grisogono weighted 587 carats (117g), the largest natural black diamond ever found.

The Spirit of de Grisogono was mined several decades ago in west Central Africa before being imported into Switzerland. It was then cut using the Mogul diamond cutting technique. This historic cutting method was developed centuries ago in India and can be seen in a number of historic diamonds.

There are not many black stones in the world of famous diamonds, mainly the Black Orlov and the Amsterdam Diamond, which weigh 67 and 33 carats respectively, and several diamonds in the Crown Jewels of Iran, among them the Taj-I-Mah Diamond. The Great Mogul, a 279-carat diamond, is another famous Mogul cut diamond, but its whereabouts are unknown. The more modern rose cut is a variation on the old Mogul cut. A 205-carat black diamond called the ‘Black Star of Africa’ is rumored to exist, being sold to a buyer in Asia during the 1980′s, but this has never been substantiated.

The diamond was mined decades ago in the west of Central Africa and imported into Switzerland to be cut using the traditional Mogul diamond cutting technique by Swiss jeweler De Grisogono. Today The Spirit of de Grisogono has a white gold mounting and it is set with 702 white diamonds totaling 36.69 carats. The ring was sold to a private client by Fawaz Gruosi, the icon jeweler and famous diamond cutter who leads the de Grisogono House of jewellery, for an undisclosed amount.

7. The Idols Eye

top ten list-top ten famous expensive diamonds-Idols Eye

  • Size: 70.2 carats
  • Value: unknown

The idols eye is one of the most mysterious diamonds in the world. Its entire history is unknown- we have no idea where it came from, when it was discovered or who owned it. The only clue is its name, The Idols Eye. It appeared in a note, at Christies when it was described as a flawless large diamond. It was bought by an anonymous buyer and disappeared again for some years.

Legend 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 stones to a private buyer.

6. The Cullinan I

top ten list-top ten famous expensive diamonds-The Cullinan I-star of africa

  • Size: 530.2 carats
  • Value: priceless

One of the most famous diamonds in existence, Cullingam I – Also known as The Star of Africa – was considered the largest diamond in the world up to the discovery of the Golden Jubilee. It is called the Cullinan I because it’s the largest of the 9 large stones cut from the Cullinan Diamond, (the Cullinan II is a 317.40-carat cushion shaped diamond in the center-front of the Imperial State Crown of Great Britain).

Late one afternoon in 1905, Mr. Frederick Wells, the superintendent of the prolific Premier Mine in South Africa, was making a routine inspection trip through the mine when his attention was attracted by something reflecting the last slanting rays of the setting sun. Curious, he stopped for a closer look. He was eighteen feet below the surface of the earth, and the shiny object was on the steep wall of the mine a few feet above him. Mr. Wells quickly scaled the wall and extracted from the ground what appeared to be a large diamond crystal. At first, he thought he was being fooled by a large piece of glass, but tests proved it to be the largest gem-quality diamond ever discovered. It weighed 3106 carats, or about 1? pounds. It was named after Sir Thomas Cullinan, who opened the mine and was visiting on that eventful day.

The Star of Africa holds the place of 2nd largest cut diamond in the world and is on display with the other Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. In fact, currently it is the head of St. Edwards scepter, one of the British Crown Jewels and can be removed and worn as a brooch.

5. The Florentine

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  • Size: 137 carats
  • Value: priceless

Once the great yellow diamond of the Medici Family, this historic Indian stone is actually light yellow in color with a very slight green overtone and is fashioned in the form of an irregular, nine-sided, one 126-facet double rose cut.

Legends surrounding the stone date as far back as 1467, when Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, is said to have been wearing it when he fell in battle. A peasant or foot soldier found it on the Duke’s person and sold it for a florin, thinking it was glass, after which it changed hands innumerable times for small sums of money. Pope Julius II is named as one of the owners.

Authentic history begins when Tavernier, the famous French jeweler and traveler, saw the stone amoung the treasures of the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1657. When the last of the Medici’s died, it passed to Vienna through the marriage of Francis Stephan of Lorraine (who later became the Grand Duke of Tuscany) to Empress Maria Theresa and was placed in the Hapsburg Crown Jewels in the Hofburg, Vienna; at the time, it was valued at $750,000.

After the fall of the Austrian Empire, during World War I, the Florentine was taken by the Imperial Family into exile in Switzerland. Later, it was thought to have been stolen by a person close to the Family and taken to South America with other gems of the Crown Jewels. After this, it was rumored that the great diamond was brought into the United States in the 1920′s and was recut and sold. As a matter of record, it must be listed with other “lost” renowned diamonds of the world.

4. The Orlov

top ten list-top ten famous expensive diamonds-The-Orlov-Diamond

The Orlov is one of the more intriguing diamonds in the world, with a legendary past of mystery and intrigue. It is said that the diamond was originally set as the diamond eye of Vishnu’s idol in the innermost sanctuary temple in Sriangam, before being stolen in the 1700s by a French deserter. The soldier dug just the one one eye from its socket, because he was so terrified at the thought of retribution, he fled before taking 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 rumors of the stone, and he bought the diamond for 90,000 pounds and took it back to Russia for Catherine’s favor. 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 Orlov diamond is now in the possession of the Russian government and it is set in the Imperial scepter. It is estimated at 189 carats but its historical value cannot be priced.

3. The Golden Jubilee

top ten list-top ten famous expensive diamonds-Golden Jubilee Diamond

  • Size: 545.67 carats

The Golden Jubilee is currently the largest faceted diamond in the world, taking the title held by Cullinan I – The Great Star of Africa – until 1908. The “Unnamed Brown”, as the Golden Jubilee was first known, was considered something of an ugly duckling by most. It was given to Gabriel Tolkowsky by De Beers for the purpose of testing special tools and cutting methods which had been developed for intended use on the flawless D-colour (“colourless”) Centenary. These tools and methods had never been tested before, and the “Unnamed Brown” seemed the perfect guinea pig; it would be of no great loss should something go amiss.

To the surprise of all concerned, what resulted was a yellow-brown diamond in a fire rose cushion cut, outweighing Cullinan I by 15.37 carats (3.07 g). The diamond was brought to Pope John Paul II in the Vatican to receive the papal blessing. It was also blessed by the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch and the Supreme Imam in Thailand.It is now located in the Royal Thai Palace as part of the crown jewels. When the diamond was put on display in Thailand, there was a mile-long queue to see the diamond.

2. The Hope Diamond

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The Hope Diamond is not only one of the most famous gems in the world, but it is also one of the largest blue diamonds (4th largest). Its physical value might be estimated but its historical importance is priceless. It is so old that no one knows exactly when it was discovered. However, it already had an owner in 1668, in the person of an Indian slave who claimed that the 112 carats stone (which he believed to be a sapphire) came from the eye of an idol. Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a traveler and a gem merchant bought it and sold it afterwards to King Louis XIV of France. Its price today is estimated at $250 million. The legend says that this diamond was cursed by the Hindu priests of the temple from where it was stolen.

1. Koh-I-Noor: The Real British Crown Jewel

top ten list-top ten famous expensive diamonds-Koh-i-noor

This is one of the oldest diamonds known to man. According to the legend, this diamond is more than 2000 years old, from before the birth of Christ. However, a much more documented hypothesis is that it was discovered in the early 1300s. The earliest recorded mention of the diamond is in the memories of Babur (Baburnama), the first Mogul ruler of India.

Here is the detailed history, for those who are interested:

In April 2002, a few days after the death of the UK Queen Mother, her crown was taken from behind its ultra-high-security armoured glass in the Tower of London and carried in open view through the streets of London. It remained there during her Lying-in-State as members of the public filed past to pay their last respects to the Queen Mother, the last Empress of India.

Interestingly enough, she had only ever worn this crown once, 65 years earlier, at the Coronation of herself and her husband, King George VI, in 1937. The largest and most important jewel in this crown is the priceless Koh-i-noor Diamond, which had been presented to Queen Victoria by Lord Dalhousie in June 1850. This followed the British annexation of the Punjab, India, after the British had defeated the Sikhs. From that date the diamond became part of the British Crown Jewels.

The Origins of the Koh-i-noor

Some say that the Koh-i-noor was originally found more than 5000 years ago, and is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit writings. Devout Hindus claim that it was once worn by the great god Krishna, but was stolen from him as he lay sleeping. By contrast, another source has it that the diamond was discovered in a river bed in 3200 BC. The first reliable evidence of it, however, is in the writings of Babur, the founder of the Mogul Empire, who names this diamond as part of the treasure won by Ala-ud-deen (Aladdin) at the conquest of Malwah in 1304 AD. The Moguls acquired the diamond in 1526.

At that time it was said to weigh 793 carats, but through some incredibly ham-fisted cutting and polishing by a jeweller named Borgio it was reduced to 186 carats. Borgio had been working on it for years, but so enraged was Aurungzebe (the Emperor at the time) at the result that he confiscated all Borgio’s worldly goods and contemplated executing him as well.

How the Koh-i-noor Got Its Name

The Koh-i-noor remained with the Mogul emperors until 1739, when Nadir Shah of Persia, the conqueror of India, got hold of it after laying siege to Delhi. According to legend it was a member of the harem of the Mogul Emperor Mohammed Shah who told Nadir Shah that the jewel was kept hidden in the Emperor’s turban. So, at a victory celebration, Nadir used a cunning ploy. He suggested that he and the Emperor partake in a well-known Oriental custom whereby the two leaders would exchange turbans. This would symbolise their close ties and eternal friendship. For the Mogul to refuse would have been a great insult to the conqueror. Later that night, when Nadir Shah unfolded his host’s turban he duly found the gem, and cried out ‘Koh-i-noor’, which means ‘mountain of light’. Nadir Shah then brought the jewel back with him to Persia.

From Persia to Afghanistan to India

After the death of Nadir Shah the Koh-i-noor came through devious means into the possession of Ahmed Shah, the Lord of the Royal Treasury and an Afghan chief. Then Ahmed Shah, after a series of long and fierce battles, established himself in Kabul as King of Afghanistan, and held on to ‘the great diamond’ as a symbol of his authority. Through various subsequent upheavals and rebellions the diamond came back into the possession of the Indian princes, until the annexation of the Punjab secured it for the British.

The British

The British colonial officials found the Koh-i-noor in 1849, in the treasury of the Punjabi capital, Lahore. They confiscated everything they found in the treasury as compensation for having to fight against the Sikh army, who didn’t think much of the British claims to power in India.

Sir John Lawrence, Governor General of India, used to tell the story of how the Sikhs handed the diamond to him in a plain old battered tin box, which he then forgot about. Weeks later London was asking him if he had any idea where the diamond was. He replied in the negative. Then came a second, more urgent letter, in which London expressed a desire to present the jewel to the Queen. Following another negative reply, the Prime Minister himself, Lord Palmerston, sent a plea. Sir John searched high and low but couldn’t find it, until one of his servants remembered there was ‘a bit of glass in an old tin box’. Luckily the servant was the sort of person who never throws anything away, and eventually discovered it in the tool-shed. There it was, not even wrapped – the most famous gem of India, the fabled Koh-i-noor, the ‘Mountain of Light’, the jewel to die for (and very many unfortunate people had done just that). And Lawrence didn’t have the faintest idea what it was.

The Curse of the Koh-i-noor

The British were rather disappointed at the lack of ‘fire’ in the diamond, and so they decided it should be re-cut to make it more brilliant. This further reduced it from 186 carats to its present size of just under 109 carats. Over centuries of murder and mayhem, brutality and torture – not to mention deceit and duplicity – the stone had long carried with it a curse that misfortune would always befall its owner, though any woman wearing it would remain unharmed. There was some talk of whether Queen Victoria would return the stone because of the curse. Defiant as always, however, she was adamant it should instead be re-cut and set in a tiara along with over 2000 other royal diamonds.

In 1911 a new crown was made for the coronation of Queen Mary, with the Koh-i-noor at its centre. Then in 1937 the stone was transferred to another new crown, this time for the coronation of Elizabeth (later to become the Queen Mother) as Queen Consort and Empress of India.

Conflicting Claims

In October 1997, Queen Elizabeth II made a State Visit to India and Pakistan to mark the 50th anniversary of Independence. Many Sikhs in India and Britain used the occasion to demand the return of the Koh-i-noor diamond , which had been won from the Sikhs (whose ruler was Duleep Singh, a young boy at the time) after a fierce battle. But the Sikhs had surrendered, and one of the terms of the surrender was that they hand over the diamond. A simple Punjabi farmer in his 70s, Beant Singh Sandhawalia, has claimed to be the last surviving descendant of Duleep Singh, through adoption. He wrote to Buckingham Palace and to Prime Minister Tony Blair asking for the return of the Koh-i-noor. Sandhawalia says he doesn’t want the Koh-i-noor for himself, but will give it to the museum at the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the holiest Sikh shrine.

The Sikhs, however, are not the only people who want the diamond. In November 2000 the Taleban regime demanded the return of the Koh-i-noor diamond to Afghanistan, saying that the British should hand the gem back to them as soon as possible. They have claimed that it is the property of Afghanistan, and that history shows that it went to India from Afghanistan and therefore the Afghans have a stronger claim than the Indians. While an Indian parliamentary committee has insisted that the gem be sent back to New Delhi, the Taleban have claimed that Maharajah Ranjit Singh (the father of Duleep Singh) stole it from Afghanistan while he was ruler of the Punjab.

British officials take the view that the multiplicity of competing claims makes it impossible to establish the gem’s former ownership. Thus, for now, at least, it looks likely to remain one of the jewels in the British Crown.

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