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Koh-i-noor, (Persian: “Mountain of Light”) , also spelled Kūh-e Nūr, the diamond with the longest history for an extant stone, though its early history is controversial. Originally a lumpy Mughal-cut stone that lacked fire and weighed 191 carats, it was recut to enhance its fire and brilliance to a 105.6-carat shallow oval brilliant in 1852 at Garrard of London, the royal jeweler, with indifferent results.
Some sources note that the first references to the diamond, which later became known as the Koh-i-noor, appeared in Sanskrit and possibly even Mesopotamian texts as early as 3200 bce , but this claim is controversial. In contrast, some experts claim that Sultan ʿAlāʾ-ud-Dīn Khaljī took the jewel in 1304 from the raja of Malwa, India, whose family had owned it for many generations. Other writers have identified the Koh-i-noor with the diamond given to the son of Bābur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty in India, by the raja of Gwalior after the battle of Panipat in 1526. Still others have contended that it came originally from the Kollur mine of the Krishna River and was presented to the Mughal emperor Shāh Jahān in 1656. Some claim that the stone was cut from the Great Mogul diamond described by the French jewel trader Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in 1665, but the Koh-i-noor’s original lack of fire and shape make that unlikely.
In any case, it most likely formed part of the loot of Nāder Shāh of Iran when he sacked Delhi in 1739. After his death it fell into the hands of his general, Aḥmad Shāh, founder of the Durrānī dynasty of Afghans. His descendant Shāh Shojāʿ, when a fugitive in India, was forced to surrender the stone to Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler. On the annexation of the Punjab in 1849, the Koh-i-noor was acquired by the British and was placed among the crown jewels of Queen Victoria. It was incorporated as the central stone in the queen’s state crown fashioned for use by Queen Elizabeth, consort of George VI, at her coronation in 1937. The Koh-i-noor remains part of this crown.
‘An Interesting Shade’
The art of replicating diamonds is a delicate one, and perhaps no one has worked directly with so many named stones as Mr. Hatleberg, 63, who made a replica of the 31.06-carat Wittelsbach-Graff diamond for Laurence Graff, the billionaire diamond dealer, and the 273.85-carat Centenary diamond that was discovered in 1986 by DeBeers, the giant diamond company.
So perfect was his copy of the Centenary that when a group of DeBeers executives were invited to compare the two, “some could not immediately tell the difference,” said Rory More O’Ferrall, the manager of marketing liaison at the time.
For the Okavango Diamond Company, Mr. Hatleberg recently completed a copy of the Okavango Blue, a 20.46-carat fancy deep blue diamond found in 2018 in Botswana. “We wanted a replica because we need to hold on the legacy of the stone for future generations.” said Marcus ter Haar, the managing director of the Okavango Diamond Company, which is selling the original, in a telephone interview.
A perfect replica is an art form that, for Mr. Hatleberg, can require months and even years of work. Though the Smithsonian has seen many replicas of the diamond, “we have had the luxury of looking at people doing that kind of work, but John is an artist with a sense of detail and perfection,” said Jeffrey Post, the curator of the U.S. National Gem and Mineral Collection at the Smithsonian who hired him. “When John hands me a stone, I know he has thought about and analyzed it, and he would not hand it to me unless he thought it was perfect.”
For the Hope Diamond, “the difficulty was matching the color,” Mr. Post said. “It is an interesting shade, not like other shades of blue. We wanted exact replicas.” For the museum, the goal was “not to sell but to help tell the story of the history of diamond. Visitors see the sizes and shapes in a powerful way to give the history of the cutting of the stone. You cannot simply show a picture of a three-dimensional object.”
Most great stones attract enormous publicity when they are first brought out of the mines, cut and polished. But after the hoopla, the diamonds often disappear into coffers of the very rich, only to reappear when an auction hammer comes down on a mega-million-dollar sale. (The diamond industry as a whole has also seen critical headlines in recent decades, as human rights abuses and the trade of so-called blood diamonds have come to light.)
Years ago, some diamonds were bought by socialites and movie stars who relished showing them off to friends and the press. The American heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, the Hope’s last private owner, often wore it in public — or occasionally put it around the neck of her dog or wore it when she gardened. Richard Burton made headlines in 1969 when he bought a 68-carat diamond for Elizabeth Taylor, naming it the Taylor-Burton diamond. Just after the actor bought it, Cartier, the seller, put it on display in New York where 6,000 people a day lined up to gape.
But in recent years “movie stars generally don’t buy them, they borrow them,” said Henry Barguirdjian, a former chief executive of Graff USA and managing partner of Arcot, a gem investment firm, in an interview shortly before he died in October. And he added, “In America there are people who love to buy precious stones, but they are usually business people and completely anonymous. In Asia they buy the way Americans used to buy: for status symbols.”
In 2015, Joseph Lau, a businessman in Hong Kong, set a record of $48.4 million buying a 12.03-carat diamond at Sotheby’s called “Blue Moon of Josephine” for his 7-year-old daughter just after buying a 16.08-carat pink diamond, “Sweet Josephine,” for $28.5 million from Christie’s.
The Hope, often cited as a metaphor for ne plus ultra, is unusual in that it has been on view for over 60 years. (To be sure, both the French and British crown jewels, on public display, include extraordinary diamonds: among them those cut from the 3,106-carat Cullinan, found in South Africa in 1905, and the 105.6 carat Koh-i-Noor, found in India.)
The Hope’s path to America was circuitous. After Jean Baptiste Tavernier sold it to King Louis XIV in 1668, the Sun King ordered it recut in a more symmetric style popular at that time. It was then set in gold and suspended on a neck ribbon that the king wore for ceremonial events.
After its disappearance in 1792 and reappearance in London it was sold and resold until it ended up with Ms. McLean when her husband, a publishing scion, bought it in 1911. Wealthy, yes, but ill-fated. Her eldest son died in a car accident and her daughter from a drug overdose. At her death, Harry Winston bought her entire jewelry collection and in 1958 gave the Hope to the museum.
In reproducing it for the public, Mr. Post sought a sense of what the diamond had looked like in each of its three iterations.
Saga of the Cooked Tourmaline
Saga of the Cooked Tourmaline
Whenever a gem is cut, it is connected to a dop stick using either wax or glue. This connecting process is known as dopping. This way the stick can be inserted into the machine and … Ещё the stone can be manipulated for cutting.
A few weeks ago I started to cure my epoxy used for dopping in the oven. Prior to this, I would set up the stick and stone, apply the epoxy, and let it sit for about 24 hours for the epoxy to completely cure and hold the stone securely. I would get tired of waiting, so now I heat everything in the oven and it would be ready in one hour, thereby saving a lot of time.
In this case I had just finished putting a rather complex concave cut on the… Ещё
Desired, stolen, cursed: the history of the Koh-i-Noor diamond
The Koh-i-Noor is a gem of international renown, as divisive as it is beautiful. Writing for BBC World Histories magazine in 2016, William Dalrymple explores its murky history and asks: to whom should it belong now?
This competition is now closed
Published: February 4, 2020 at 5:25 pm
On 29 March 1849, the young maharajah of the Punjab, Dulip Singh, was ushered into the magnificent Mirrored Hall at the centre of the great fort in Lahore. There, in a public ceremony, the frightened but dignified child finally yielded to months of British pressure and signed a formal Act of Submission. This document, later known as the Treaty of Lahore, handed over to the British East India Company great swathes of the richest land in India – land that, until that moment, had formed the independent Sikh kingdom of the Punjab, a northern region of south Asia.
At the same time, Dulip (sometimes spelled Duleep) was induced to hand over to Queen Victoria arguably the single most valuable object in not just the Punjab but the entire subcontinent: the celebrated Koh-i-Noor diamond, the ‘Mountain of Light’. Article III of the treaty read simply: “The gem called the Koh-i-Noor, which was taken from Shah Sooja ool-Moolk [Shah Shuja Durrani] by Maharajah Runjeet [or Ranjit] Singh, shall be surrendered by the Maharajah of Lahore to the Queen of England.”
The East India Company, the world’s first multinational, had grown over the course of a century from an operation employing only 35 permanent staff, headquartered in one small office in the City of London, into the most powerful and heavily militarised corporation in history. Its eyes had been fixed on the Punjab and the diamond for many years, and the chance to acquire both finally arose in 1839, at the death of Dulip Singh’s father, Maharajah Ranjit Singh, when the Punjab had descended into anarchy.
How did the Koh-i-Noor diamond reach Britain?
A violent power struggle, a suspected poisoning, several assassinations, a civil war and two British invasions later, the company’s army finally defeated the khalsa (the body of devout Sikhs) at the bloody battle of Chillianwala, on 13 January 1849. At the end of that year, on a cold, bleak day in December, the governor-general of India, Lord Dalhousie, arrived in Lahore to take formal delivery of his prize from the hands of Dulip Singh.
Soon afterwards, the Koh-i-Noor was despatched to England, where Queen Victoria promptly lent it to the Great Exhibition of 1851. Long queues snaked through the Crystal Palace, in London’s Hyde Park, as the public thronged to see this celebrated imperial trophy. The diamond was locked away in its specially commissioned Chubb high-security glass safe, itself contained within a metal cage.
In this way, trumpeted by the British press and besieged by the British public, the Koh-i-Noor quickly became not only the most famous diamond in the world, but also the single most famous object of loot from India. It was a symbol of Victorian Britain’s imperial domination of the world and its ability, for better or worse, to take from around the globe the most desirable objects, and to display them in triumph, much as the Romans had once done with curiosities from their conquests 2,000 years earlier.
As the fame of this diamond grew, the many other large Mughal diamonds that once rivalled the Koh-i-Noor came to be almost forgotten, and the ‘Mountain of Light’ achieved a singular status as the greatest gem in the world. Only a few historians remembered that the Koh-i-Noor, which weighed 190.3 metric carats when it arrived in Britain, had had at least two comparable sisters: the Darya-i-Noor (‘Sea of Light’), now in Tehran and today estimated at 175–195 metric carats, and the Great Mughal Diamond, believed by most modern gemologists to be the 189.6-carat Orlov diamond, now set in Catherine the Great’s imperial Russian sceptre in the Kremlin.
A singular status
In reality it was only in the early 19th century, when the Koh-i-Noor reached the Punjab and the hands of Ranjit Singh, that the diamond had begun to achieve its pre-eminent celebrity. This was partly the result of Ranjit Singh’s preference for diamonds over rubies – a taste Sikhs tended to share with most Hindus but not with the Mughals or Persians, who preferred large, uncut, brightly coloured stones.
Indeed, in the Mughal treasury the Koh-i-Noor seems to have been only one among a number of extraordinary highlights in the greatest gem collection ever assembled, the most treasured items of which were not diamonds but the Mughals’ beloved red rubies and spinel gemstones from Badakhshan in north-eastern Afghanistan.
The growing status of the Koh-i-Noor was also partly a consequence of the rapidly growing price of diamonds worldwide in the early and mid-19th century. This followed the invention of the ‘brilliant cut’, which fully released the ‘fire’ inherent within every diamond, and which led in turn to the fashion in middle-class Europe and America for diamond engagement rings.
The final act in the Koh-i-Noor’s rise to global stardom took place in the aftermath of the Great Exhibition and the massive press coverage it had engendered. Before long huge, often cursed, Indian diamonds began to make regular appearances in popular Victorian novels such as Wilkie Collins’s 1868 The Moonstone.
So it was that the Koh-i-Noor finally achieved in European exile a singular, almost mythic global status that it had never achieved before leaving its Indian homeland. And because the other great Mughal diamonds have come to be forgotten by all except specialists, all mentions of extraordinary Indian diamonds in sources such as the Memoirs of the 16th-century Mughal emperor Babur or the Travels in India of the 17th-century French jeweller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier have retrospectively been assumed to be references to the Koh-i-Noor. At each stage its mythology has grown ever more remarkable, ever more mythic – and ever more shakily fictitious.
Today, tourists who see the diamond in the Tower of London are often surprised by its small size, especially in comparison with the two much larger Cullinan diamonds displayed alongside it: in fact, at present the Koh-i-Noor is only the 90th-largest diamond in the world.
A murky history
Small as it is, the Koh-i-Noor retains enormous fame and status, and is once again at the centre of international dissension as the Indian government – among others – calls for the gem’s return. Even now, Indian officials cannot seem to make up their mind about the Koh-i-Noor’s perennially foggy history.
On 16 April 2016, the Indian solicitor general, Ranjit Kumar, told the Indian supreme court that the Koh-i-Noor had been given freely to the British in the mid-19th century by Maharajah Ranjit Singh, and was “neither stolen nor forcibly taken by British rulers”. This was, by any standards, a strikingly unhistorical statement – all the more odd given that the facts of its surrender to Lord Dalhousie in 1849 are about the only aspect of the story not in dispute.
Anyone who today tries to establish the hard facts of the gem’s history will find that unambiguous references to this most celebrated of jewels are still almost suspiciously thin on the ground. The Koh-i-Noor may be made of the Earth’s hardest substance, but it has always attracted around it an airily insubstantial fog of mythology. Indeed there is simply no 100 per cent certain reference to the Koh-i-Noor in any Sultanate or Mughal source, despite many textual references to large and valuable diamonds appearing throughout Indian history, particularly towards the climax of Mughal rule. Some of these may well refer to the Koh-i-Noor but, lacking sufficiently detailed descriptions, it is impossible to be certain.
Conflicting claims over the jewel
In fact, there are no definitive mentions of the Koh-i-Noor in any document before the Persian historian Mohammad Kazem Marvi made what seems to be the first extant, solid, named reference in his history of the Persian Nader Shah’s invasion of India. This was written as late as the mid-1740s – a decade or so after Nader Shah had carried off the gem from India to Persia. And that was not the only time it travelled between countries. The case is often made in India that, as the Koh-i-Noor was taken by the British at the point of a bayonet, the British must therefore give it back.
Yet while the Koh-i-Noor certainly originated in south India – probably in the Kollur mines of Golconda in what’s now Telangana state – Persia, Afghanistan and Pakistan also have good claims to the jewel. It was owned at different times by Nader Shah, in the mid-18th century by Ahmed Shah Durrani (c1722–72) of Afghanistan, and of course by Ranjit Singh of Lahore, now in Pakistan. All three countries have at different times declared ownership and issued legal action to try to get it back even the Taliban registered its claim to the stone.
Moreover, Ranjit Singh took the jewel by force, just as the British did. In the same way that British sources tend to gloss over the violence inherent in their seizure of the stone, Sikh ones do likewise. Yet the autobiography of its previous owner Shah Shuja Durrani (c1785–1842), which I found in Kabul when I was working on my book Return of a King, is explicit about what happened. After being deposed as emir of Afghanistan in 1809, Shah Shuja Durrani went into exile in India. On arrival in Lahore, to which he had been invited by Ranjit Singh in 1813, Shuja was separated from his harem, put under house arrest and told to hand over the diamond. “The ladies of our harem were accommodated in another mansion, to which we had, most vexatiously, no access,” wrote Shuja in his Memoirs. “Food and water rations were reduced or arbitrarily cut off.”
Shuja regarded this as an ill-mannered breach of the laws of hospitality. “It was a display of oafish bad manners,” he wrote, with all the hauteur he could muster, dismissing his captor as “both vulgar and tyrannical, as well as ugly and low-natured.”
Gradually, Ranjit increased the pressure. At the lowest ebb of his fortunes, Shuja was put in a cage according to one account, his eldest son was tortured in front of him until he agreed to part with his most valuable possession. “Ranjit Singh coveted the Koh-i-Noor diamond beyond anything else in this world,” wrote the chronicler Mirza ‘Ata Mohammad, “and broke all the laws of hospitality in order to get possession of it. The king [Shah Shuja] was imprisoned for a long time, and his guards left him out in the burning sun, but to no effect as he would not confess where the jewel was hidden. At length they took his young son, Prince Muhammad Timur, and made him run up and down ladders on the bare roof of the palace in the burning sun, with no shoes or head-covering the child had been gently brought up and had a delicate physique which could not stand this burning torture, so he cried out aloud and seemed about to pass away. The king could not bear to see his beloved child suffer so.”
Finally, on 1 June 1813, Ranjit Singh arrived in person and waited upon Shah Shuja with a few attendants. He was received by Shuja “with much dignity and, both being seated, a pause and solemn silence ensued, which continued for nearly an hour. Ranjit then, getting impatient, whispered to one of his attendants to remind the Shah of the object of his coming. No answer was returned, but the Shah with his eyes made a signal to a eunuch, who retired, and brought in a small roll, which he set down on the carpet at an equal distance between the chiefs. Ranjit desired his eunuch to unfold the roll, and when the diamond was exhibited and recognised, the Sikh immediately retired with his prize in his hand.”
Koh-i-Noor diamond curse
The question of whether or not the Koh-i-Noor was cursed greatly exercised the proudly rational Victorians. Lord Dalhousie was firmly of the belief that the great diamond was not cursed he quoted Shah Shuja Durrani, who told Ranjit Singh that it brought only good fortune, “as those who possess it have it in their power to subdue their enemies”. Lord Dalhousie pointed out that the diamond had belonged to some of the luckiest, richest and most powerful monarchs of history, and scoffed at the notion that a curse was even possible.
Yet, as my years of research into the Koh-i-Noor have confirmed, many of the diamond’s owners – Shah Shuja among them – have indeed suffered in the most appalling ways, and its history is littered with owners who have been blinded, slow-poisoned, tortured to death, burned in oil, threatened with drowning, crowned with molten lead and assassinated by their own family and closest bodyguards. Even the passengers and crew of HMS Medea were scythed down by a cholera epidemic and storms as the vessel carried the Koh-i-Noor across the seas from India to England in 1850.
So what should happen now to this allegedly cursed diamond? Some have suggested that a museum should be built for the stone at Wagah, on the border between India and Pakistan – a unique institution accessible from both sides. Others have mooted that the stone should be cut up once again, and a piece be given to each of those countries that make a credible argument for its return, including Iran and Afghanistan. However, it is most unlikely that such Solomonic wisdom would ever be entertained by the British nor, indeed, would it satisfy any of the various parties involved.
The Koh-i-Noor was not the largest diamond in Mughal hands – and it later lost much of its weight during the cutting ordered by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, in 1852 – yet it retains a celebrity unmatched by any of its larger or more perfect rivals. This, more than anything else, has made it the focus of demands for compensation for colonial looting, and set in motion the repeated attempts that have been made to have it returned to its various different former homes.
This story still raises not only important historical issues but contemporary ones, too. In many ways it is a touchstone and lightning rod for attitudes towards colonialism, posing the question: what is the proper response to imperial looting? Do we simply shrug it off as part of the rough-and-tumble of history, or should we attempt to right the wrongs of the past?
What is certain is that the immediate future is not likely to see this diamond prised from its display case in the Tower of London. Last seen in public on the coffin of the British Queen Mother in 2002, it awaits a new queen consort. Given the diamond’s violent and often tragic history, this may not be good news for the future of the monarchy, nor the next couple to sit on the throne.
For nearly 300 years after Nader Shah carried away the great diamond from Delhi, fractur-ing the Mughal empire as he did so, and 170 years after it first came into British hands, the Koh-i-Noor has apparently lost none of its power to create division and dissension. At very best it seems to bring mixed fortunes to whoever wears it, wherever it goes.
William Dalrymple is a historian and writer. He is the co-author, alongisde Anita Anand, of Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Famous Diamond (Bloomsbury, 2017).
Return of Koh-I-Noor Diamond Back to India
In 1747, Nadir Shah was assassinated by his own guards and the diamond came in control of Shujah Shah Durrani but he was defeated and made prisoner by his brother, Mahmud Shah. However, before being captured, he managed to send his family to Punjab to seek refuge with Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Maharaja marched and got Shah Shuja released and took the possession of Koh-I-Noor. Ranjit Singh wore the diamond on all the important occasions. It is said that at the time of the death of Ranjit Singh in 1839, his priests tried to get the diamond to be donated to the Temple of Jagannath. Though he agreed, he was unable to speak and so the royal treasure refused to release the diamond.
Raja Ranjit Singh agreed to donate the diamond to Jagannath Temple, India but he was not able to speak, nor his will was executed. Image Source: myoksha.com
A replica of the Koh-i-noor diamond, the gem's blood-soaked history is related in a new book by William Dalyrmple and Anita Anand
New Delhi (AFP) - Many precious stones have a blood-soaked history, but a new book reveals the world's most famous diamond the Koh-i-Noor surpasses them all, with a litany of horrors that rivals "Game of Thrones".
The Koh-i-Noor ("Mountain of Light"), now part of the British Crown Jewels, has witnessed the birth and the fall of empires across the Indian subcontinent, and remains the subject of a bitter ownership battle between Britain and India.
"It is an unbelievably violent story. Almost everyone who owns the diamond or touches it comes to a horribly sticky end," says British historian William Dalrymple, who co-authored "Kohinoor: The Story of the World's Most Infamous Diamond" with journalist Anita Anand.
"We get poisonings, bludgeonings, someone gets their head beaten with bricks, lots of torture, one person blinded by a hot needle. There is a rich variety of horrors in this book," Dalrymple tells AFP in an interview.
In one particularly gruesome incident the book relates, molten lead is poured into the crown of a Persian prince to make him reveal the location of the diamond.
Today the diamond, which historians say was probably first discovered in India during the reign of the Mughal dynasty, is on public display in the Tower of London, part of the crown of the late Queen Mother.
The first record of the Koh-i-Noor dates back to around 1750, following Persian ruler Nader Shah's invasion of the Mughal capital Delhi.
Shah plundered the city, taking treasures such as the mythical Peacock Throne, embellished with precious stones including the Koh-i-Noor.
"The Peacock Throne was the most lavish piece of furniture ever made. It cost four times the cost of the Taj Mahal and had all the better gems gathered by the Mughals from across India over generations," Dalrymple says.
The diamond itself was not particularly renowned at the time -- the Mughals preferred coloured stones such as rubies to clear gems.
Ironically given the diplomatic headaches it has since caused, it only won fame after it was acquired by the British.
"People only know about the Koh-i-Noor because the British made so much fuss of it," says Dalrymple.
India has tried in vain to get the stone back since winning independence in 1947, and the subject is frequently brought up when officials from the two countries meet.
Iran, Pakistan and even the Afghan Taliban have also claimed the Koh-i-Noor in the past, making it a political hot potato for the British government.
Over the course of the century that followed the Mughals' downfall, the Koh-i-Noor was used variously as a paperweight by a Muslim religious scholar and affixed to a glittering armband worn by a Sikh king.
It only passed into British hands in the middle of the nineteenth century, when Britain gained control of the Sikh empire of Punjab, now split between Pakistan and India.
Sikh king Ranjit Singh had taken it from an Afghan ruler who had sought sanctuary in India and after he died in 1839 war broke out between the Sikhs and the British.
Singh's 10-year-old heir handed over the diamond to the British as part of the peace treaty that ended the war and the gem was subsequently displayed at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London -- acquiring immediate celebrity status.
"It became, for the Victorians, a symbol of the conquest of India, just as today, for post-colonial Indians, it is a symbol of the colonial looting of India," Dalrymple says.
The Koh-i-Noor, which is said to be cursed, has not been worn by a British monarch since the death of Queen Victoria in 1901.
It last emerged from its glass case in the Tower of London for the funeral of the Queen Mother, when it was placed on her coffin.
So might it be worn again -- perhaps by Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, when Prince Charles ascends to the throne?
"If that doesnât finish the monarchy, nothing else would" laughs Dalrymple.
June 26, 2005
London, June 25: In a gesture that will infuriate diehard Indian nationalists, the British are to put a replica of the original uncut Koh-i-Noor, the most famous diamond in the world, on display at the Natural History Museum in London from July 8.
The Koh-i-Noor was taken as booty by the British when Lord Dalhousie annexed Punjab.
It was then “presented” by Maharaja Duleep Singh to Queen Victoria in 1850.
The British say the Maharaja gifted the diamond to the Queen but as he was only a minor at the time, it has been a matter of historical debate whether the British stole the treasure or whether it really was a present.
One thing is for sure: the British have got it, they have it on display as the centrepiece of the crown jewels, and though many indignant Indians have sought its return, the English are not going to hand their booty any more than they are going to give back the Elgin Marbles to the Greeks.
For some reason, the Natural History Museum has had an original plaster cast of the Koh-i-Noor in its collection for more than 150 years.
At the Great Exhibition of 1851 at Crystal Palace, the diamond went on show, where thousands queued up to marvel at its size. Uncut, it amounted to 186.1 carats.
But unlike the Indians, whose emperors preferred to wear their baubles in their natural state, westerners like the sparkle from myriad faces. In its Indian incarnation, the Koh-i-Noor had 200 facets — four times more than 99 per cent of cut diamonds — and was intended to be worn on an armlet to catch the light.
Prince Albert had the Koh-i-Noor recut into an oval weighing 106 carats.
The museum began collaborating with the American gem artist, John Hatleberg, in January to create a replica of the diamond.
Hatleberg said: “For 14 years, it has been my quest to recreate the original Koh-i-Noor and I am thrilled it will now receive its first showing at the diamonds’ exhibition in London.”
There will be other diamonds on show as well.
“Within the world of diamonds, the Koh-i-Noor above all others demands to be regarded in the realm of the fantastic,” Hatleberg added.
He used the museum’s model to create a map showing every facet of the diamond and painstakingly recreated it from natural and synthetic materials. It had 30 instances where six facets met in one point and 24 instances where five facets met. Standard brilliant cut diamonds do not have six facets meeting in one point.
The actual Koh-i-Noor is kept at the Tower of London as the centrepiece of the Maltese cross of the coronation crown made for the Queen Mother in 1937. It was briefly shown on her coffin during her funeral service.
Five years ago, a group of Indian MPs demanded the return of the Koh-i-Noor.
One of them was Kuldip Nayar, veteran journalist and a Rajya Sabha member then, who said: “The Greeks have been asking for the return of the Elgin Marbles for a long time now and the Blair government has even set up a committee to trace cultural relics to the country of their origin. And if they can consider returning the Elgin marbles, why not the Koh-i-noor?”
The Koh-i-Noor in London and the Great Exhibition of 1851
The Koh-i-Noor’s arrival in London could not have been better timed. Although powerful royals throughout Europe possessed important diamonds, Britain’s queen had none. The consort of King George III, Queen Charlotte (1744–1818), had been rather infamous for wearing diamonds, and critics of her consumption habits were regularly preoccupied with the amount of diamond jewelry she owned and wore. 10 This criticism of her jeweled presentation resulted in subsequent British royal women wearing diamonds far more selectively and sparingly. On the other hand, the restored French monarchy possessed the 140-carat Pitt diamond and Catherine the Great had installed the 190-carat Orlov diamond into the Russian imperial scepter. Diamonds possessed an increasingly important function in the presentation of the royal body—particularly the body of a queen—so the moment was apt for Victoria to receive and wear a large, important diamond through which she could assert her royal authority while simultaneously enhancing her feminine presentation.
Prince Albert was particularly enthusiastic about the Koh-i-Noor’s arrival and planned to use its exotic allure to generate further interest in the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, set to open in less than a year (fig. 4). Political and social upheaval had plagued Europe for years, and the Great Exhibition of 1851 was to provide a space for healthy competition between nations—a global battle of one-upmanship in the realms of science, industry, and technology—all in the spirit of universal uplift and progress. 11 As Victoria’s “Prince Consort,” he had no official power or duties attached to his title. Indeed, many of the features typically associated with royal masculinity were withheld from him and possessed by his wife she was a queen, a future empress, and the wielder of great social, political, and economic power. Involvement in projects that emphasized the masculine domains of science and progress—like the Great Exhibition of 1851—was one of the ways in which Albert could demonstrate and assert his masculinity, fashioning himself as a man of vision and innovation. The success of the Great Exhibition would be a proclamation to his wife’s subjects of his own economic and cultural prowess.
That the public perceived the Prince Consort as submissive and weak is evident in a number of cartoons that highlight concerns and popular perceptions about his questionable masculinity. A lithograph from 1840, for example, commemorates the moment in which Victoria famously proposed to her handsome German cousin (fig. 5). Albert sits up rigidly with a passive, coy expression on his lowered face. He appears reserved and coquettish, clenching his top hat nervously between his legs and too bashful to meet Victoria’s adoring gaze. In contrast, the queen unabashedly wraps her right arm over his shoulder. With her left hand she strokes Albert’s chin, immodestly expressing her affection physically. The words “Albert will you marry me?” stream out of her mouth and are projected on the wall behind them, next to an image of Victoria as queen, standing autonomously as the great British monarch.
The queen was certainly aware of the imbalance of power that existed within her marriage and the challenge this posed to society through the inversion of traditional gender conventions. To address this, she effectively strategized modes of presentation that would ease tensions in her subjects about her roles as both sovereign and dutiful wife while enhancing Albert’s manliness. This was accomplished largely through the production of collectible cartes de visite intended for mass distribution, staged as a “spectacle of royal domestic privacy,” in which she fashioned herself as a doting wife to her physically powerful husband. 12 Such images, comprehensively discussed by numerous scholars including Margaret Homans and Anne M. Lyden, demonstrate one of several ways in which the royal couple constructed or manipulated public perceptions of the power dynamics within their relationship by stressing Victoria’s femininity and highlighting Albert’s masculinity. Another way in which the couple could adhere to gender conventions of the time was through the prince consort’s publicized involvement in projects related to the masculine realms of economic, technological, and scientific advancement. This strategy, as I will soon demonstrate, also implicated the Koh-i-Noor diamond.
With the legendary jewel now in London, Albert began to use its exotic allure aggressively to publicize the Great Exhibition of 1851 at which it would be unveiled to the public. The Crystal Palace—itself a tremendous feat of technology—was erected in Hyde Park specifically for the event, and thirty thousand square feet of it were allocated for the exhibition of India. The India court was prominently positioned near the main entrance of the Crystal Palace and filled the west side of the building’s north–south transept. The East India Company and appointed members responsible for the India court sought to display and narrate their version of an authentic India—one that would dazzle the masses of visitors and reveal to them the many benefits to be gained through occupation. 13 This “faithful picture” of India emphasized two extremes: a timeless, fertile, largely untapped wellspring of resources and a land of garish decadence and unfathomable excess.
Visitors to the India court were immediately struck by a gold howdah owned by the queen which was perched on the back of an imposing stuffed elephant at the center of the exhibit (fig. 6). The taxidermied animal had been brought in from Essex, dressed up in colorful fabrics, and adorned with ornaments hanging from its ears. The flamboyantly festooned elephant mirrored the effeminate “barbaric pomp” of Indian rulers presented at the exhibition while explicitly highlighting British domination over the once powerful land. 14 Other contributions of India included raw materials, “innumerable specimens of wood,” precious metals, fabrics, carpets, shawls, ivory, and a “profusion of gold and gems, rubies and diamonds, emeralds and pearls.” 15
In addition to jeweled armory and gem-studded princely clothing, a cabinet in the India exhibit contained a dazzling array of ornaments, many of which had previously been housed in the Lahore treasury along with the Koh-i-Noor. The famed Daria-i-Noor had been heavily publicized in papers before the exhibition opened and appeared in an armlet, a massive pink table-cut diamond surrounded by ten smaller diamonds. Reports circulated about its exceptional quality and inconceivable value, but like many of the jeweled objects in the India court, its opulence was jarring to visitors, with one observer calling it “a gem of prodigious beauty, but obscured by the tastelessness of its setting.” 16 The sartorial conventions of South Asian kingship had for a long time captured the attention of European travelers to the subcontinent whose fascination with and aversion to the bejeweled male body appear in numerous personal accounts about the Eastern rulers’ predilection for extravagance and luxury. 17 Such reactions persisted among visitors who strolled through the India exhibit, aligning the princely opulence of India with exorbitant vanity and excess. At the Great Exhibition, the masculine pursuits of progress, machinery, industry, and science were clearly differentiated from feminine concerns with jewelry, clothing, textiles, and luxury. This division effectively aligned the interests and behaviors of Indian rulers with the consumption habits of women. Indeed, the process of miniaturizing and domesticating India at the Crystal Palace was simultaneously a process of feminizing the subcontinent.
Touted by the press as the “Lion of the Great Exhibition,” the Koh-i-Noor sat in its own specially designated exhibition space, isolated from the timeless “fairyland” of the India court. The three diamonds of Ranjit Singh’s armlet were removed from their setting and suspended between prongs in a manner that presented them in a more raw form (fig. 7). The Koh-i-Noor and its sister diamonds were displayed under a structure described by the Illustrated London News as “a golden cage or a prison” and by another observer as a “great parrot-cage with gilded bars,” topped with a small golden crown. 18 The grandiose display was ostensibly to protect the stones from theft, but this method of display also meant that viewers could only see the diamonds from a considerable distance, through the bars of a cage, and finally under a glass dome within which they were contained. Beneath its imposing enclosure, the diamond “appeared the size of a pigeon’s egg” or, as another spectator remarked, “not bigger than half a fair-sized walnut.” 19 The “Mountain of Light” that had been so widely reported in the press was rendered minuscule and unimpressive under the formidable confines of the British crown.
In addition to being thoroughly miniaturized and domesticated through its display, the Koh-i-Noor was also, like the India court, presented as a spectacle with a feminine appeal. Women in particular were reported as losing all sense of civility and public grace in the presence of the Koh-i-Noor. It was designated as “the loadstone [sic] of the fairer sex,” and one visitor remarked, “Wherever the ladies obstruct circulation and crowd one on the other you may be sure there are jewels exhibited.” 20 An illustration in the satirical weekly publication Punch demonstrates this correlation between women and the Koh-i-Noor diamond, as ladies in their imposing hoop skirts swarm around the jewel, which is completely hidden from view (fig. 8). The gold enclosure towers over them, its voluminous shape mimicking the rounded edges of the women’s skirts. The cage itself appears like a giant hoop skirt with a crown at its top, transforming the diamond’s confines into the imperial body of Queen Victoria, who subsumes the Koh-i-Noor and, by extension, all of India represented by it.
For hours, crowds waited to catch a glimpse of the fabled Koh-i-Noor, which “disappointed the public in no ordinary degree.” 21 Assuming it would be much larger, many were dismayed at its size, while others were confused by its “ungraceful peculiarity of shape” and the “ineffective manner” in which it had been cut. 22 In describing the appearance of the diamond, one author wrote rather unfavorably, “It was however almost devoid of shape. That it did not possess any beauty as an ornament, at least in that respect, may be surmised when we state that its conformation was, as near as possible, that of the hulk of a vessel, one of whose stern corners had been completely sliced off.” 23 Most disappointing of all, however, was that the diamond failed to shine. Under its massive cage, the stone “had by no means the dazzling lustre that its romantic history … would naturally lead you to expect.” 24 Various efforts were made to improve its appearance throughout the duration of the Great Exhibition, but nothing was successful at increasing its sparkle. “To ordinary eyes it is nothing more than an egg-shaped lump of glass. … On ordinary days, that is, the shilling days, it is exposed in its great cage, ornamented with a policeman, and they rely on the sun to cause it to sparkle but on the Friday and Saturday it puts on its best dress it is arrayed in a tent of red cloth, and the interior is supplied with a dozen little jets of gas, which throw their light on the god of the temple. Unhappily, the Koh-i-Noor does not sparkle even then.” 25 After all the attention that the Koh-i-Noor had garnered in the press before the opening of the Great Exhibition, even in “its best dress” the boorish “mountain” was no larger than a nut, and the “light” it cast paled in comparison even to the dull English sun.
Improving the Koh-i-Noor
Disheartened and ashamed by the diamond’s reception, Prince Albert resorted to science and technology to improve the Koh-i-Noor. He wanted the stone recut, an assault on the jewel that would increase its luster but inevitably reduce its size. That its shine did not meet the expectations of the public was due in large part to the manner in which it had been cut for its Eastern owners. Diamonds were first discovered and traded in India as early as the fourth century BC, and of greatest value to Indians was the crystal’s octahedral shape. 26 Interest had long been in preserving as much of the diamond’s natural size and shape as possible for the wearer to benefit most from the stone’s talismanic properties. The Koh-i-Noor was shaped in what is today referred to as the mughal cut, defined in the 1977 Diamond Dictionary as “an older style of cutting which is a rather lumpy form with a broad, often asymmetrical base, an upper termination consisting of a set of usually four shallow facets or a table, and two or more zones of strip facets parallel to the base and oriented vertically. It is derived from cleavage pieces” (fig. 9). 27 This method of cutting the stone generally required far less intrusion and loss than the rose cut and the later brilliant cut, both of which enhanced the diamond’s light effects through many small, inclined facets. 28 These more complex methods of cutting were preferred in Europe, with ever-increasing efforts to achieve perfect symmetry and the most brilliant sparkle. The Koh-i-Noor did not, therefore, conform to European tastes and was viewed as cumbersome, “badly mutilated,” and in “an incomplete condition.” 29
To correct the diamond, Albert first contacted a number of British academic scientists to seek their advice on how best to refashion the stone and release from the jewel its fullest light. 30 He next approached diamond cutters, many of whom refused to be implicated in the cutting of the Koh-i-Noor out of concern that it would be irreparably damaged. 31 A plan for the stone’s recutting was devised and submitted by the Coster firm in Amsterdam, assuring Albert that only a negligible amount of the carat weight would have to be discarded in the process. The plan was accepted and, on July 16, 1852, the aggressive procedure of reshaping the diamond began. 32 To inaugurate the process, the eighty-three-year-old Duke of Wellington was invited to make the first cut. He was the great savior of the empire and most venerated military leader in Britain for his successful campaigns in India and, more important, for having defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. As the emblem par excellence of British masculinity, his appointment as the first to strike the diamond further suggests an assertion of British masculine forces on the former emblem of Indian masculine power.
The press once again eagerly publicized Albert’s role in the process as a pioneer of progress, with a squadron of supportive scientists, technicians, and military heroes at his behest. He personally oversaw the thirty-eight-day process of the Koh-i-Noor’s transformation like the Great Exhibition in the previous year, the cutting of the diamond became his project, through which he could assert his masculine identity and inscribe it permanently onto the stone. The primacy of British technology, machinery, and taste would be carved into the Koh-i-Noor, and, if successful, it would be a victory both for Britain and for the prince consort. While the London press reiterated the Coster firm’s promise that the diamond could be cut without greatly reducing its size, the claim quickly unraveled as it became evident that the stone could not sustain such a drastic alteration without significant loss. In the end, 43 percent of the Koh-i-Noor’s original carat weight was lopped off the legendary 186-carat mughal cut diamond was replaced by a 105-carat oval stellar brilliant. 33
The Second Koh-i-Noor (1852–)
Meanwhile, in India, the deposed maharaja Duleep Singh was enduring his own civilizing process, having been placed by Dalhousie in the care of John and Lena Login in 1849. At age twelve, he decided of his own will to convert to Christianity and was enthusiastic about a visit to England. In an appeal to the Government House for permission to travel, the young maharaja wrote, “I wish to say that I am very anxious to go, and quite ready to start whenever his Lordship gives me permission. I do not want to go to make a show of myself, but to study and complete my education, and I wish to live in England as quietly as possible.” 34 Permission was granted, and he arrived in London in the summer of 1854.
Upon meeting him, Queen Victoria was so impressed by the fifteen-year-old maharaja’s handsome Sikh costume that she had Franz Winterhalter paint his portrait. A favorite of Victoria’s, the artist had Duleep Singh stand on a dais in order to elongate his stocky frame, explaining to him that he would “grow into” the picture. As the maharaja remained rather short his entire life, the painting portrays a svelte and excessively flattering version of the subject. 35 Winterhalter’s painting depicts the young king in his Indian finery, dressed in silks and wearing some of the jewels he was allowed to keep when the Lahore treasury was confiscated (fig. 10). Set against an imagined desert landscape with minarets and a dome in the distance, Duleep Singh stands in all his exotic princely splendor.
Amid his many jewels, a small portrait of Queen Victoria hangs off a five-strand pearl choker he wears tightly around his neck, a pendant that displays both his allegiance to and dependence on the queen.
It was while he was posing for his portrait that Victoria decided to show Duleep Singh the new Koh-i-Noor. An account from Mrs. Login’s memoirs describes the awkward encounter, during which the maharaja saw and touched his diamond that had been reduced to nearly half its size:
[A] slight bustle near the door made me look in that direction, and [I] beheld, to my amazement, the gorgeous uniforms of a group of beef-eaters from the Tower, escorting an official bearing a small casket, which he presented to Her Majesty. This she opened hastily, and took therefrom a small object which, still holding, she showed to the Prince, and, both advancing together to the dais, the Queen cried out, “Maharajah, I have something to show you!” … Duleep Singh stepped hurriedly down to the floor, and, before he knew what was happening, found himself once more with the Koh-i-Noor in his grasp, while the Queen was asking him “if he thought it improved, and if he would have recognized it again?” … [A]s he walked towards the window, to examine it more closely, turning it hither and thither, to let the light upon its facets … there was a passion of repressed emotion in his face, patent to one who knew him well, and evident, I think, to Her Majesty, who watched him with sympathy not unmixed with anxiety—that I may truly say, it was to me one of the most excruciatingly uncomfortable quarters-of-an-hour that I ever passed! … seeing him stand there turning and turning the stone about in his hands, as if unable to part with it again, now he had it once more in his possession! At last, as if summoning up his resolution after a profound struggle, and with a deep sigh, he raised his eyes from the jewel and … moved deliberately to where Her Majesty was standing, and, with a deferential reverence, placed in her hand the famous diamond, with the words: “It is to me, Ma’am, the greatest pleasure thus to have the opportunity, as a loyal subject, of myself tendering to my sovereign the Koh-i-Noor!” 36
When news reached Dalhousie of Duleep Singh’s gesture, he wrote that the “talk about the Koh-i-Noor being a present from Dhuleep Singh to the Queen is arrant humbug. He knew as well as I did that it was nothing of the sort: and if I had been within a thousand miles of him he would not have dared to utter such a piece of trickery.” 37 Duleep Singh made no mention then or ever about the many other jewels of the Lahore treasury that had, since their display at the Crystal Palace, been given to Queen Victoria by the East India Company “as a reward for her interest in their exhibit.” 38 Later in life, however, he would refer to the queen as “Mrs. Fagin,” a receiver of stolen goods, and make several unsuccessful attempts to reclaim the Koh-i-Noor and his kingdom, both of which he felt had been unjustly obtained. 39
The jewel-wearing kings of India had come to be aligned with opulence and femininity in England, with many of their precious gems, like Duleep Singh’s Koh-i-Noor, finding new homes on the bodies of English women. Marcia Pointon has proposed that diamonds worn on the bodies of British royal women could be read symbolically as expressions of fecundity and fertility (as opposed to pearls, which had become synonymous with the virginal self-fashioning of Queen Elizabeth I). 40 Yet, though diamonds in Europe were worn on women’s bodies, it was men who dominated the economic and scientific fields associated with them, establishing areas in which they could be involved with diamonds “without compromising ideas about their masculinity.” 41 Thus, staging diamonds on the body of a woman asserted a man’s wealth and power while simultaneously accentuating the wearer’s feminine beauty.
The Koh-i-Noor that had adorned the brows and biceps of Indian despots for generations was transformed into an ornamental brooch on the breast of the queen, with Prince Albert orchestrating and supervising the entire procedure (fig. 11). Wearing the diamond was yet another way in which Victoria’s private and public identities were conflated, bridging her body politic as female monarch with her body natural or body personal as adored (and adorned) wife. 42 Through it, she managed to enhance her feminine public persona, announce the power and affection of her husband, proclaim her imperial fortitude, and assert the conclusive subordination of India under her rule—all with just one stone.
During Victoria’s life, the Koh-i-Noor was set in a brooch, a bracelet, a tiara, and a regal circlet and continued to be reset following her death in 1901. 43 The diamond was placed in the crown worn by Alexandra for the coronation of her husband, King Edward VII, and subsequently by the queen consorts Mary in 1911 and Elizabeth in 1937. Elizabeth, the queen mother, was the last royal to wear the diamond, which was the central stone of her crown for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Since its arrival in England, and in keeping with the British effeminization of the Koh-i-Noor, the diamond has never been worn by a male, reserved exclusively for the adornment of queen consorts since the death of Victoria. 44
The miniaturized, feminized, and domesticated India presented at the Crystal Palace stood in stark opposition to the grand masculinist principles of science, industry, and progress advocated by the Great Exhibition. The Koh-i-Noor itself endured a process of emasculation through its reduction and subsequent deployment as a decorative ornament reserved exclusively for women. That the Koh-i-Noor’s life in Britain is a metaphor for the civilizing mission inflicted on India is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the famous words of John Forbes Royle, who, in 1849, did not say that India was “the jewel in the crown” of the British Empire, but rather that India was the “Koh-i-Noor of the British Crown.” 45 Though its association with India is less palpable today than it was in the nineteenth century, in its altered form and current setting the diamond remains associated with imperial conquest and royal femininity.
The process of feminizing the stone heightened Albert’s masculine presentation through his imposition of Western science and technology on the diamond as well as his essential role in transforming the stone from a jewel of kings to an heirloom on his wife’s breast. When worn by Victoria, the Koh-i-Noor was more than just a symbol of India’s subservience it was, as with other British women who displayed diamonds, a declaration of her husband’s masculine power. In India the Koh-i-Noor had always been a power symbol of men, worn in their turbans and on their biceps as an emblem of valor and fortitude. In England, too, the diamond passed through the hands of many men who used it to assert their masculinity—at the jewel’s expense, however. Today, the Koh-i-Noor’s legacy among emperors, sultans, and maharajas has been erased entirely from its context and surface. Enshrined behind bulletproof glass at the Tower of London, the diamond remains a static symbol of the former submission of India to the British crown and as a decorative ornament in the regalia of British royal women.
Siddhartha V. Shah is a PhD candidate at Columbia University, specializing in South Asian and nineteenth-century European art. His research focuses on the opulence of the British Raj, emphasizing the role of traditional Indian ornament in displays of imperial power.
I am grateful to Vidya Dehejia, Anne Higonnet, Nancy Rose Marshall, and Meredith Martin for guidance and valuable suggestions. Archival research in the UK was made possible through the generous support of the Dr. Lee MacCormick Edwards Fellowship at Columbia University.
- 1. “Something about Diamonds,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, vol. 19 (1859), 478.
- 2. Danielle C. Kinsey, “Koh-i-Noor: Empire, Diamonds, and the Performance of British Material Culture,” in Journal of British Studies 48, no. 2 (April 2009): 395.
- 3. Ian Balfour, Famous Diamonds (London: Christie, Manson and Woods, 1997), 167.
- 4. Ibid.
- 5. Hipponax Roset [Joseph Rupert Paxton], Jewelry and the Precious Stones: With a History, and Description from Models, of the Largest Individual Diamonds Known (Philadelphia: Pennington and Son, 1856), 21.
- 6. Balfour, Famous Diamonds, 167.
- 7. Kinsey, “Koh-i-Noor,” 396.
- 8. Ibid., 394.
- 9. Balfour, Famous Diamonds, 168 Michael Alexander and Sushila Anand, Queen Victoria’s Maharajah: Duleep Singh, 1838–93 (New York: Taplinger, 1980), 15. Though Dalhousie arranged a durbar in which Duleep Singh was personally to offer the Koh-i-Noor to Queen Victoria, the young king did not arrive in London or meet Victoria until the diamond was already in her possession. What actually took place at this durbar, including how and to whom Duleep Singh gave the stone, is not clear.
- 10. Kinsey, “Koh-i-Noor,” 391.
- 11. Jeffrey A. Auerbach, The Great Exhibition: A Nation on Display (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 27.
- 12. Margaret Homans, “‘To the Queen’s Private Apartments’: Royal Family Portraiture and the Construction of Victoria’s Sovereign Obedience,”Victorian Studies37, no. 1 (Autumn 1993): 4.
- 13. Lara Kriegel, “Narrating the Subcontinent in 1851: India at the Crystal Palace,” in The Great Exhibition of 1851: New Interdisciplinary Essays, ed. Louise Purbrick (New York: Manchester University Press / Palgrave, 2001), 152.
- 14.“India and Indian Contributions to the Industrial Bazaar,” in Illustrated Tribute to the World’s Industrial Jubilee: Sketches, by Pen and Pencil, of the Principal Objects in the Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations (London: J. Cassell, 1852), vol. 4 of The Great Exhibition: A Documentary History, ed. Geoffrey Cantor (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2013), 218.
- 15. Ibid., 236.
- 16. Ibid., 161.
- 17. An encounter in 1617 between Sir Thomas Roe and the Mughal emperor, Jahangir, conveys the effect of this mode of presentation on a European spectator: “Here attended the Nobilitie, all sitting about it on Carpets until the King came who at last appeared clothed or rather loden with Diamonds, Rubies, Pearles, and other precious vanities, so great, so glorious … his head, necke, breast, armes, above the elbows, at the wrists, his fingers every one, with at least two or three Rings fettered with chaines, or dyalled Diamonds Rubies as great as walnuts, some greater and Pearles such as mine eyes were amazed at. Suddenly he entered into the scales, sate like a woman on his legges, and there was put in against him many bagges to fit his weight.” See Sir Thomas Roe, The Embassy of Sir Thomas Roe to the Court of the Great Mogul, 1615–1619: As Narrated in His Journal and Correspondence (Hakluyt Society, 1899), 412. During his four years in the court of Jahangir, Roe repeatedly elaborated on the copious jewels worn by the emperor but rarely described his face or bodily features in any detail. See Romita Ray, “All That Glitters: Diamonds and Constructions of Nabobery in British Portraits (1600–1800),” in The Uses of Excess in Visual and Material Culture, 1700–2010, ed. Julia Skelly (London: Ashgate, 2014), 23. The remark that follows Roe’s lengthy description of the emperor’s adorned body—that he sits on the scales “like a woman”—suggests that a possible correlation between jeweled adornment and femininity informed Roe’s perception of Jahangir.
- 18. John Tallis, History and Description of the Crystal Palace, and the Exhibition of the World’s Industry in 1851 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 1:150.
- 19. “What the Richer Are We?,” in The Expositor: A Weekly Recorder of Inventions, Designs, and Art-Manufactures, 24 May 1851, 59, vol. 4 of Cantor, The Great Exhibition, 115.
- 20. Kriegel, “Narrating the Subcontinent,” 166 and John Lemoinne, “Letters of M. John Lemoinne,” in The Great Exhibition and London in 1851: Reviewed by Dr. Lardner & C. (1852), 573–92, vol. 4 of Cantor, The Great Exhibition, 10.
- 21. Z. M. W., “A Lady’s Glance at the Great Exhibition,” Illustrated London News, 23 August 1851, 242–43, vol. 3 of Cantor, The Great Exhibition, 160.
- 22. Ibid., 161.
- 23. Roset, Jewelry and the Precious Stones, 12.
- 24.“A Country Minister, Notes of a Visit to the Great Exhibition,” MacPhail’s Edinburgh Ecclesiastical Journal 13 (1852): 84–101 and 214–32, vol. 3 of Cantor, The Great Exhibition, 322.
- 25. Kinsey, “Koh-i-Noor,” 406. Kinsey is quoting John Tallis in Tallis’s History and Description of the Crystal Palace, and the Exhibition of the World’s Industry in 1851 (London, 1852), 2:150.
- 26.Herbert Tillander, Diamond Cuts in Historic Jewellery 1381–1910 (London: Art Books International, 1995), 17.
- 27. Ibid., 64.
- 28. Ibid.
- 29. Ibid., 149. In the appendix to his 1889 translation of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier’s Travels in India, V. Ball wrote that the Koh-i-Noor, when it first arrived in London, “had been badly mutilated, after cutting, and that it cannot have been left in such an incomplete condition by the jeweller who cut it and polished it.” See Tillander, Diamond Cuts in Historic Jewellery, 149.
- 30. Ibid., 413.
- 31. Ibid., 415.
- 32. Ibid., 416.
- 33. Balfour, Famous Diamonds, 170.
- 34. Alexander and Anand, Queen Victoria’s Maharajah, 39.
- 35. Ibid., 45.
- 36. Ibid., 47–48.
- 37. Balfour, Famous Diamonds, 171.
- 38. Alexander and Anand, Queen Victoria’s Maharajah, 48.
- 39. Ibid., 49.
- 40. Marcia Pointon, “Intriguing Jewellery: Royal Bodies and Luxurious Consumption,” Textual Practice 11, no. 3 (1997): 498 and 503.
- 41. Danielle C. Kinsey, “Imperial Splendor: Diamonds, Commodity Chains, and Consumer Culture in Nineteenth-Century Britain” (PhD diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2010), 65.
- 42. Homans, “‘To the Queen’s Private Apartments,’” 4.
- 43. Balfour, Famous Diamonds, 171.
- 44. The story of a curse on the diamond that endangers men who wear it is often recounted, perhaps in defense of the practice in England of only deploying the Koh-i-Noor on the bodies of royal women. Indeed, after the diamond arrived in London, a rumor of a curse emerged, possibly started by the Delhi Gazette. The rumor stated that all who possessed the Koh-i-Noor were bound for ruin. This created such a stir in London that Queen Victoria personally wrote to Dalhousie asking if the report of a curse was true. His reply stated that, in fact, the diamond carried “Good Fortune for whoever possesses it has been superior to all his enemies.” The English newspapers, however, devised an even more effective response—the queen, being a British woman, rendered the curse on the exotic jewel ineffective as it applied “only toward the ‘Oriental’ despot.” Thus, the belief that the jewel can be worn only by women seems to have been fabricated in London and has no precedent in India. See Kinsey, “Koh-i-Noor,” 400–401.
- 45. Kriegel, “Narrating the Subcontinent,” 166.
The Koh-i-Noor armlet, ca. 1830. Gold, enamel, rock crystal, glass, rubies, pearls, and silk, 4 × 6 in. (approx. 10 × 15 cm) without fittings. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016.
Diamonds on Location: Golconda
For nearly two thousand years, the word Golconda has conjured images of wealth, prosperity, and most importantly, diamonds. Did you know some of the most famed diamonds and gemstones originally hail from the Golconda region of India, today known as Hyderabad? Famous diamonds from this area include the Hope Diamond, Koh-i-noor, Idol’s Eye, and many more.
Take a closer look at the history of the region and famous, gorgeous diamonds that come from Golconda.
The ruins of the ancient Golconda Fort lie about 11 kilometers from the city of Hyderabad in southern India. Originally constructed in the 12 th century on a granite hill over 400 feet high, the Golconda Fort rose to prominence in the 16 th century as the capital of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, only to fall under conquest by the Mughal Empire in 1687. The fort was a massive granite fortification housing a royal palace, treasury, mansions of nobility, and a bazaar where diamonds were traded.
Diamonds have been known in India since the 4 th century BCE or earlier. In the 13 th century, Marco Polo mentioned diamonds in his manuscript detailing his travels. Jean Baptiste Tavernier, the famed jeweler and traveler, wrote extensively about this area in his journal. Published as a two-volume work in 1676-1677, his Six Voyages provided vivid and compelling descriptions of the exquisite diamonds he saw there.
The original Golconda diamond mines were located outside of the fort, but within the territories of the Kingdom of Golconda. They comprised an area about 210 miles long by 95 miles wide. During the period of the 16th through the mid-19th century, there were roughly 20 mines in operation.Mining diamonds was difficult and arduous. Reports from the time period described different methods depending on terrain and area including tunneling and open pit mining.
The mines ceased most production by the early 20th century – but the Geological Survey of India periodically utilizes modern equipment and new exploration techniques in the area to discover if there are any diamonds to be extracted.
Famous Diamonds From The Golconda Region
Many famous large diamonds came from Golconda, like the Dresden Green and the Wittelsbach-Graff. Diamonds with documented histories that date to before the discovery of diamond deposits in Brazil are likely from Golconda, and their cut and shape may further indicate origin. They are typically cushion, oval, pear, marquise, but there are other shapes as well.
Another possible identifying characteristic of Golconda diamonds is their diamond type, which is directly related to color. Diamonds from the Golconda region tend to be type lla diamonds – quite rare since only two percent of all diamonds fall into this category. Type lla diamonds have no measurable nitrogen or boron impurities and because they are so pure, they transmit UV and visible light that type I diamonds block. Colorless type lla diamonds are exceptionally transparent. As was the convention of the time, a diamond’s color or transparency was described in comparison to water. Tavernier described Golconda diamonds as the first water, perfect water, beautiful water, etc.
Colored diamonds, like pink, can be type I or type II. The majority of blue diamonds are type IIb, and are also nitrogen-free and owe their color to traces of boron.
Even though diamond production in the region has ended, we are fortunate that some of the diamonds unearthed so long ago are still will us. In addition to their breathtaking beauty, many carry fascinating histories, as they changed hands and traveled continents through the centuries. Here are a just few for your browsing pleasure:
Koh-i-noor is one of the most celebrated Indian diamonds and perhaps the best-known. A modified oval brilliant cut, the 105.60 ct diamond is set in Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s Crown. This is the name of the platinum crown that was designed for Queen Elizabeth, consort (or wife) of George VI, to wear at the Coronation of her husband in 1937. The Koh-i-noor is now on display in the Tower of London.
The 105.60 ct Koh-i-noor diamond, set in the front of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s Crown. Photo: Kenneth Scarratt. Courtesy: The Gemmologists, the Crown Jewels.
Le Grand Condé has also been referred to as Condé and Condé Pink. This 9.01 ct pink pear-shaped diamond from the Golconda region of southern India is on display at the Museé de Condé in Chantilly, France.
The Golconda ‘D’ is a 47.29 ct round brilliant cut, D color, Flawless diamond that is said to have originated in the Golconda region. Acquired by Laurence Graff, Graff Diamonds, in 1984, the early history behind this famous diamond remains a mystery.
A cubic zirconia replica of the 47.29 ct Golconda ‘D’. Photo: C.D. Mengason/GIA. Courtesy: Graff
The Idol’s Eye is a 70.20 ct Very Light blue diamond that has been described as being between and round and a pear shaped brilliant cut It is believed to have originated from the Golconda region.Another famous blue diamond from Golconda is the Hope Diamond.
The 70.20 ct Idol’s Eye diamond. Courtesy: Graff Diamonds.
While the Golconda mines are no longer producing, the stunning diamonds from this area continue to radiate the fortune and legend of the region. See more Famous Diamonds on our blog, like the Portuguese, the Jubilee, and Granny’s Chips (Cullinan III and IV). And if you want to learn more about where diamonds come from, read the other installments in our series: Diamonds on Location: Canada and Diamonds on Location: Lesotho.
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