Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Famous Diamonds

The price per gram of diamond increases with its weight but stones beyond a certain size are so rare that they cannot be valued on this scale. The few very large and spectacular diamonds are priceless and can trace their complex and controversial history through tales of war. intrigue and love. It is, in fact, the story of their passage through the lives of several owners and not their size, lustre or other properties that determines the price that they command.

The kohinoor or the 'Mountain of Light' diamond was found two thousand five hundred years ago by a villager of Matanga in Kollur in Andhra Pradesh. Old palm leaf manuscripts record the weight of the rough stone as 1986 carats. Sanskirt legends report that Karna, the King of Anga, wore this diamond in his crown to give him invincibility during the great Mahabharata war. The stone later came into the possession of Emperor Vikramaditya of Ujjain (60 BC). During the early Persian invasion of India, the diamond was apparently taken to the court of Darius the Great but after the break-up of the Persian Empire, the gem found its way back to India. There is recorded evidence that the Kohinoor was with the family of the Rajah of Malwa in India, for several centuries, having been passed down from generation to generation. When the Moghuls invaded India, Sultan Babar, the first of the Moghuls emperors, acquired the diamond in 1340 AD. It was hidden in the Moghul treasury for about two centuries and in 1526 the diamond was set as one of the peacock's eyes in the famous Peacock Throne of Shah Jahan. In 1739, Nadir Shah of Persia, invaded India and captured Delhi and seized the Peacock Throne but could not find the Kohinoor diamond about which he had heard to much. Nadir Shah later learned from informants that the Moghul emperor had hidden the stone is his turban. During a dinner party Nadir Shah suggested an exchange of turbans, a custom prevalent at the time. The Emperor could not refuse this request and reluctantly undid his silk turban, revealing the gem. Nadir Shah then named it the 'Mountain of Light'. Historians disagree about the source of the name of the stone and insist that the name was a variant on Kollur, where it was found.

When Nadir Shah was murdered, one of his bodyguards took the Kohinoor to Afghanistan. Years later, Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Punjab acquired it in exchange for military help to Ahmed Shah, the Moghul king. After the British won the war against the Sikhs, they annexed the Punjab and the East India Company claimed the diamond as partial idemnity. To mark the two-hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Company in 1850, the directors presented the diamond to Queen Victoria who wore it in a brooch after it was cut to 800 carats. It was re-cut to a smaller size of 219 carats and later cut again to a more striking oval cut diamond of 108.93 carats before it was set inn the State Crown, worn by Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary. Queen Elizabeth 2 wore it in 1952 for her coronation. The diamond in now part of the British Crown Jewela. The Indian government has now laid claim to the diamond as it was taken by force from this country.

The Great Moghul was also found in 1650 near Kollur in India, according to the French traveller, Tavenier. In the rough it weighed 787.5 carats. Reports say that it was presented to Emperor Shah Jahanin 1656 by Mir Jumla and so was named after the ruler. The Emperor asked Hortensio Borgis, the Venetian diamond-cutter, a lapidary who at that time was domiciled in India, to cut the stone. The work was done so badly that Borgis was forced to pay a heavy fine. When Tavernier last saw the Great Moghul in the treasury of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1665, he described it as looking like an egg and having the form of a very high and round rosette weighing 280 carats. The stone then disappeared and it is possible that it lies in some secret treasury somewhere.

The excelsior, another very large diamond, flawless with a beautiful blue-white colour weighed 971.75 carats and came from the Jagersfontein mine in South Africa. It was afterwards renamed the 'Jubilee,' to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the accession of Queen Victoria. The African who found it in a spade of gravel on June 30, 1893 was rewarded 500 in money and a horse equipped with saddle and bridle. Two years later, its value varied between 1,000,000. The rough stone, however, had a black spot near centre of its mass that was removed by cleaving the stone in two. The larger portion yielded a perfect brilliant weighing 239 carats. A smaller, 18-carat marquise stone was cut from the remaining portion.

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