A Story for Every Diamond

A Story for Every Diamond

A diamond lasts forever...so do their stories.


We want Diamonds!

Diamonds top charts. There is no other way to put it. Simply, people just love them. They twinkle, sparkle, and are just downright gorgeous. Some diamonds sail their way right onto a ring just like that. A simply story for a simple diamond. But some diamonds are not so simple and so they are deserving of great stories to uphold their magnificence. Here are some of those diamonds.


Koh-i-Noor - Big and with the British

Big diamonds are crowning jewels that surpass almost all others. This upholds for those that are without flaw. The Koh-i-Noor is a fairly large cut diamond, currently at about 105 carats. Firstly, it had been unearthed in India. Outside of that, its origins are murky at best. One report places it as having been found in the mid 1500s, but another puts it an an earlier date, around the 1300s. The diamond was supposedly stumbled upon by a peasant who was working in their field. Now, this would have been an amazing find for such a person in the modern era, but of course, back then, the stone had to be appropriated and seized. If the story is true, the peasant lost the stone and through some way, it had been firmly placed in the hands of the Mughals. Or, should we say, in the throne of the Mughals. By then, of course, the diamond was cut. If we follow legend, then it was a hack job.  As the story goes, a man by the name of Hortensio Borgio butchered the Koh-i-Noor, lopping off hundreds of carats, if true. If he really did cut it badly, the number seems to vary. In any case, as punishment for his bad job, the Mughals confiscated all he had and sent him away. As legend has it, he barely escaped with his life. However, we should treat this as a story to drum up attention to this already, really, fascinating story.

Still, the Mughals had the precious diamond. The Koh-i-Noor was entrenched in the Peacock Throne. Now, in order to paint the picture as to how amazing this throne was, it didn't just have the Koh-i-Noor. No, in fact, among the other stones that dotted the throne, there was another famous one: the Timur Ruby. In other words, the Mughals were wealthy. But, fitting for the beautiful diamond, it was the crowning piece, entrusted at the top to watch over all others.

Eventually, however, warfare would ensue. Of course, when the Mughals had that much money, when they were stricken with conflict, plundering was rampant. Soldiers and kings couldn't ignore such opulence, and they clearly wanted some of it for themselves. The Persians, specifically, figured that, through the war, they were going to loot some of the Mughals gemstones. Of course, they just took the Peacock Throne. However, they were able to take much more than that. Still, the Persian ruler at the time, Nader Shah dislodged the Timur Ruby and Koh-i-Noor, opting to wear it instead. And it is actually there where the stone gets its name, as the Shah had called it the Koh-i-Noor, or, "Mountain of Light." However, Nader Shah was not able to enjoy it very long, as he was eventually assassinated. 

At some point in time, the Koh-i-Noor fell into the hands of a Ranjit Singh, leader of the Sikhs. This was sometime around 1813. So, it was finally won back. This was a monumental victory for them. The stone exchanged hands with rulers and countries, but was Ranjit Singh was dying, he was going to make a bold move with it. Rather than let it fall into the hands of yet another leader, he decided that was going to gift it to a Hindu temple. The British hated this. They, who had no history with the stone, were disgusted with the fact that such a glorious diamond would be in the hands of a heathen faith. The British were going to take advantage of the turbulent times and get the stone for themselves. Now, this blatant act of greed and assertion of colonial will. They had no regard for the heritage of the people, they just wanted to get the most amount of money from this while also being able to subjugate the people. One newspaper wrote that the "Brahmins say that the owner of the Koh-i-noor will always be ruler of India." Of course, if they ever lost the stone again, it would be utterly demoralizing, since they had, not long ago, just reacquired it. 

The British, however, were going to have it. By the end of the Second Anglo-Sikh war in 1849, the British acquired the Koh-i-Noor in a treaty. The diamond was then gifted to Queen Victoria. The British had just won the war, seized the famous Koh-i-Noor, hauled it all the way back to Britain, advertised it, and put it on display. It was then the subject of great criticism. However, it was not from the means through which the stone was acquired, rather, people thought the stone didn't look good. To them, this was a legendary diamond. It had an interesting past with a hint of mystery, not to mention it was seated in the magnificent Peacock Throne and was worn by the Shah Nader. While impressive in story, they commented and complained, suggesting that the stone might even be glass. After so many had died for it to be entrenched in British soil, the people felt that its radiance should be reflected like that found in the myth. So, the stone was then recut, resulting in a smaller but more magnificent diamond of stunning lustre. 

Decades later, the stone, still, does not shy away from any sort of controversy and criticism. This Mountain of Light sure shines on the British crown, but it casts a grim shadow over its colonial history. It is often demanded that they return the stone over to India. Some argue that the stone should be returned, as it is a colonial possession, or, it was stolen from India. The British government, and other defenders, often cite that the ownership of the Koh-i-Noor is complicated. The first point often being that the original owners no longer exist. For example, if we say that the Mughal Empire was the original owner, does that mean India should still have the stone? The Sikh Empire, too, no longer exists. However, some say that India may not even be the original owner, claiming its founding there is merely speculation. Finally, others put forth that the stone was not actually obtained illegally, as it was handed over through a treaty, therefore, it was legally acquired in war. That does mean it was not, technically speaking, looted. They, then, argue that the stone is rightfully British. It then could easily spiral into a debate about who should be the rightful owner, not the legal owner. In which case, we start heading in circles again as to who the original owner is. To further complicate things, the Solicitor General in India said the Koh-i-Noor was a gift to Britain, but the government still demands its return.

The stone is likely not going to leave the British crown any time soon. They are quite adamant that they are the true owners and will continue to hold the famous Koh-i-Noor for some time. Its story is fascinating, but not without controversy.


Sancy Diamond

It's fancy, it's Sancy. The diamond's history likely begins in India, as the cut would suggest. Finding the origins past the first known owner is difficult to say the least. In other words, we do not know how it exactly came into the hands of Charles the Bold. But it did, and the Duke of Burgundy held onto it for sometime. Charles the Bold was an ambitious ruler for sure. During his reign, starting in 1467, the end of Hundred Years' War would have been fresh in the minds of the unlucky many to have lived through its horror. Charles the Bold, however, living to his title, sought to expand the Burgundian state. Ambition soon erupted into war. Charles the Bold, however, died on the battlefield in Nancy, resulting in the immediate conflict for the succession of Burgundy. That is, France wanted its territory, but so did the House of the Habsburgs. Regardless, what was clear was that Burgundy was going to be ruled by others. 

Now, what does medieval history have to do with Sancy? Well, a few things. Firstly, the stone is, like many others, said to be cursed. Those who possess it are doomed in one way or another. Secondly, Charles the Bold had it and died on the battlefield. And finally, the years after his death were horrible for Burgundy. So, this, of course, is the beginning of the story and of the curse. One interesting component that we will see in this stone's history is that it is hard to follow. Not because it's complex, but the story is riddled with myth and legend to to build hype around the story. Of course, nothing sells like saying that everyone who had this stone was cursed to die. In any case, since Charles the Bold had died, the stone had to be passed onto someone else. 

The next reliable source of possession is that of Nicolas de Sancy, that is how the stone got its name. From here, there are a few different accounts about what happened. The first being that a soldier looted the corpse of Charles the Bold and then sold the stone. A priest or some sort bought it and sold it to a dealer. The person who bought it was the King of Portugal, Manuel I. The claimant of the Portuguese throne, Antonio, then sold the stone to de Sancy. However, another story insists that de Sancy actually bought the stone from someone in Constantinople. However, these are only somewhat reliable accounts. The others, we assure you, are not worth entertaining. So, however it happened, we do know for sure that de Sancy owned the stone. We could give a date on when de Sancy acquired it, but as you might guess, the range varies.

However, again, things start to diverge. There are several accounts as to who owned it right after de Sancy, varying from French kings, English kings, and English queens, all at different times. The stone disappears and reappears frequently under different rulers at varying dates. These stories relay differing accounts as to how the stone ended up in that person's possession. All these varying narratives and stories have led some to believe that Sancy is a name that actually applies to several diamonds, so the original Sancy (The one from Charles the Bold) is almost impossible to trace. 

However, the more reliably sources story seems to be that, due to financial pressure, de Sancy ended up selling the diamond. The willing buyer was the English Crown, but accounts vary from who it was. Either it was Queen Elizabeth, or, her successor, James I. In any case, we know it fell into English hands or crowns, primarily due to the writing of the Tower of London's inventory. From there, it finally fell with James II. Long history short, James II had to flee England and ended up heading towards France for safety. James II had the stone, but was willing to sell it. Louis XIV bought it and it became part of the French crown jewels. That is, until it was supposedly stolen and returned a few years later. France held on to the stone for some time, and French writing indicates it was in possession in 1791, but then vanished the following year. 

From 1792, the stone simply cannot be traced reliably. We have no idea who owned it, who bought it, or who sold it until 1828, when we know Prince Demidov purchased it. However, it wouldn't last for long, as it was eventually sold again to Sir Jamisetjee Jeejeebhoy in 1865. Once again, this Prince didn't carry it for long, as he seemingly sold it a while after. This is because the famous Sancy appeared in the Paris Exposition in 1867. But then it promptly vanishes once more. Finally, the most reliable owner would surface just under forty years later when the Astor family bought it in the early 1900s. Now it remains in France at the Louvre. Sancy, as you can see, has quite the history of disappearing and reappearing. This, combined with the seeming mishaps from ownership, particularly with Charles the Bold, has led some to argue that the stone is cursed. But who can really say? A lot of the diamonds on this list are supposedly cursed. Maybe good fortune just means bad luck.


Regent Diamond - A French Crown Jewel

With a name like "Regent Diamond" one can only assume what glorious leader has been blessed with such a stone. The stone was found in India and then purchased by a man named William Pitt. Upon acquiring the stone, he set sail for England to get the stone cut. When cut, it was large, absolutely gorgeous, and expensive enough to make a lord's coffer weep. As the story goes, even Louis XIV was opposed to buying it. In any case, Pitt was not comfortable keeping the diamond. He wanted to sell it and he found a buyer in France: the Duke Philippe d’Orléans. Thus, in 1717 the stone was sold for £135,000 (about £28,947,015 in 2020. Or, $39,760,172). He bestowed the title upon the stone. At the time, it was certainly worthy of such a title. After that, it became an essential part of all French rulers. It was seated in the crown of Louis XV, embedded Napoleon I's sword, and ruled Empress Eugénie's crown. 

 


Hope Diamond

Although safe and sound now, the Hope Diamond had a long history rife with theft, mystery, and intrigue.  It exchanged hands many times in the last few centuries and was cut and reset numerous times. The Hope Diamond is currently a 45.52 carat stone with a “cushion” cut. It has a deep blue color (rare for diamonds). Its tale is long, spanning more than three-hundred years at the very least. French Merchant Jean Baptiste Tavernier bought the diamond. It was, at the time, 112 3/16 carats. Tavernier sold it, along with other diamonds, to King Louis XIV. In 1673 it was recut by Sieur Pitau, producing a 67 1/8 carat stone. It became known as the “French Blue”. In 1749 it was reset at the request of King Louis XV. In 1791, during the French Revolution, the diamond was seized by the revolutionary government. In 1792 it was stolen.

It reappeared in 1812. John Francillion took note of a blue diamond in the possession of Daniel Eliason, a diamond merchant in London. King George IV acquired the stone at some point, but his debt was high and it was sold. At some point, Henry Philip Hope came into possession of the diamond (and is the diamond’s namesake).  For some time, the Hope Diamond would be passed down through inheritance in the Hope family. First, after Henry Philip Hope died in 1839 and passed down to Henry Thomas Hope.  When Henry Thomas Hope died, it was passed down to May Yohe and her husband Lord Francis Hope. Not long after coming into its possession, Lord Francis Hope sold it for $150,000 in 1901 to pay off some debts. Unfortunately, Francis Hope had many issues in addition to his debts. Other than being on the brink of bankruptcy, Yohe had become infatuated with a man, P. Bradley Strong. She left Francis Hope to go to Japan with her new lover. There was also the trouble that the sale couldn’t go through until Francis Hope’s family agreed. It finally did sell to the Frankels and was mediated by Adolf Weil.

While the Hope family had it for some time and many members held on to it for years, for the next few years the Hope Diamond would rapidly change hands between a wealthy buyer and a jewel seller. Not long after the Frankels bought it, it would be sold to Selim Habib who in turn gave it to the Sultan of Iran, Abdul Hamid. But in 1909, Habib sold it, hardly a year after buying it. C.H. Rosenau in 1909 came into its possession and immediately sold it. Pierre Cartier purchased the diamond for a reported amount of $80,000, slightly more than half of what it sold for in 1901. In 1910 he obliged to have it reset at the request of Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean. For the first time in years, it had a permanent home. She took the Hope Diamond and kept it until 1947 when she passed away. Harry Winston Inc. bought her whole collection in 1949. The Hope Diamond went on exhibit for a decade until it finally found a permanent home: The Smithsonian Institution.  It was received through a generous donation and has only left the Smithsonian four times since.


The Wrap Up

As you can see, diamonds are no strangers to great stories. These, in a way, only scratch the surface of a much larger history of many, many more stones. It's always nice to know where some of these stones come from, well, aside from a mine anyway. Stones truly are fascinating and many have a unique or interesting history. Who knows, maybe your favorite gemstone will embark on a multi-century journey!


Sources

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-koh-i-noor-diamondand-why-british-wont-give-it-back-180964660/

Isidore Kozminsky, The Science and Magic of Jewels and Stones.

Robinson Constitution "The Jeweled Tomb" - 1880.

https://www.louvre.fr/en/explore/the-palace/sun-gold-and-diamonds

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/04/18/india-to-britain-guess-you-didnt-steal-our-diamond-after-all/

https://www.langantiques.com/university/sancy-diamond/

“History of the Hope Diamond.” Smithsonian Institution, www.si.edu/spotlight/hope-diamond/history.

“Hope Diamond Was Sold for a ‘Neat’ Sum.” Red Bluff [Red Bluff, California], 9 July 1909

“The Hope Diamond.” Smithsonian Institution, www.si.edu/spotlight/hope-diamond.

“McLeans Shun the Hope Diamond.” Herald Democrat [Leadville, Colorado], 10 May 1911

Journal Print. Co. “The Hope ‘Sparkle’ Sold.” The Minneapolis Journal [Minneapolis, Minnesota], 14 Nov. 1901.




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