LARGE AND FAMOUS DIAMONDS.
Whenever possible, I provide, in parentheses, today's equivalent prices in US dollars. These prices take account of inflation and are based on available historical exchange rates. The inflation rate is calculated on the assumption that 1 oz. of gold has always the same value; only due to a loss, with time, of currency value it takes more money to buy the same 1 oz. of gold.
Since the discovery of the South African diamond-fields, large diamonds have become less rare; as we shall see later on, stones up to 150 carats in weight have been found there with comparative frequency, while not a few of several hundred carats have been met with. The largest undoubtedly genuine diamond ever discovered, either here or elsewhere, was found at the Cape, in 1893, and weighed 971 3/4 carats. Probably the largest crystal of diamond to be seen in a public collection is the diamond presented to the British Museum by Professor John Ruskin; this is a symmetrically developed octahedron weighing 129 2/3 carats.
The size of diamonds, as of all other precious stones, is estimated from their weight expressed in carats. It will be however, difficult for the general reader to form a correct mental conception of the size of a given stone from its weight in carats alone, hence the figure shows the actual sizes of diamonds weighing 1, 10, 100, 500, and 1000 carats respectively, each having the form of a regular octahedron, which is the form most frequently presented by crystals of diamond.
In this section about the larger and more famous diamonds, figures are given representing the actual sizes of these stones, usually in their cut form, Plate 2 and Plate 5, but in a few cases in their rough form. Plate 6 gives the actual sizes of brilliants varying in weight between one and one hundred carats.
There are a comparatively small number of diamonds in existence which, either on account of their size, beauty, or historic and ancient associations, possess a special interest. While the origin and early history of many stones in existence at the present day is a complete blank, there are others, of which reliable accounts and drawings are given in ancient writings, whose present whereabouts is entirely unknown; the latter may have been destroyed or lost, or, on the other hand, they may lie hidden in the treasure-houses of some Oriental princes, whose predecessors possessed a taste for the collection of gems.
All the older famous diamonds of large size and enormous value, which are known by special names, come from India; only in comparatively recent times, namely, about the middle of the eighteenth century, have stones of remarkable size been found in Brazil, while the discovery of the South African diamonds was still later. The South African deposits have already yielded more large stones than are comprised in the aggregate yield of India and Brazil during hundreds of years; these stones are usually, however, of a yellowish tinge, and are, in consequence, less highly valued than are the blue-white diamonds of India and Brazil. Only a few of the many large stones, which have been found in South Africa, have, in consequence, received distinctive names. The value of these rare stones is naturally enormous, and they usually find a place amongst the crown jewels of different countries, rarely entering the possession of private individuals except in the case of wealthy collectors, especially in eastern countries.
The subject of famous diamonds is specially dealt with in a book entitled, The Great Diamonds of the World (London, 1882), by Mr. E. W. Streeter; also in Le Diamants (Paris, 1886), by Mons. E. Boutan, who has made a careful study of the tangled history of each stone. Much of the information given in the account, which follows, has been derived from these sources, as well as from older works. Most of the well-known famous diamonds are figured in their cut condition and actual size in Plate 4. and Plate 5.; the form of cutting most general is that of the brilliant, but Examples of other forms will be found.
A few of the large stones, of which accounts have been given, are very probably not diamond at all, but some one of the minerals with which diamond is often confused. Among these is, in all probability, the "Braganza", which, if genuine, would rank as the largest of known diamonds. This stone, which is the size of a hen's egg, and weighs 1680 carats, came from Brazil, but the exact locality is unknown. It is preserved with the Portuguese crown jewels, and is not available for detailed examination; should it be proved to be topaz, which is very probably what it is, its value would at once sink to a comparatively insignificant amount.
Another large diamond, the genuineness of which is open to question, is a stone long ego belonging to the Rajah of Mattan, in Borneo; it is known there as the "Danau Rajah", but is generally referred to as the "Mattan". It weighs 367 carats, and, if a genuine diamond, is by far the largest ever found in Borneo. It is pear-shaped, and about the size of a pigeon's egg, and is said to have been found in 1787, in the district of Landak, in western Borneo; the name "Danau Rajah", however, suggests the neighbourhood of the River Danau, in the south-east of the island, as a more probable locality. The stone examined at Pontianak, in Borneo, in 1868, when it was declared to be rock crystal; this decision is generally accepted, although it has been stated that an imitation, and not the real stone, was submitted for examination.
The genuineness of the diamonds now to be described is unquestionable; of these the Indian stones will be first considered, and afterwards the Brazilian and the South African.
The large Indian diamonds are often supposed to be of very ancient discovery, the majority, however, probably do not date back to very early times. No definite information can be gleaned from ancient writings, but it is a well-established fact that the diamonds in the possession of the Romans were all of small size.
Probably the largest of Indian diamonds is the Great Mogul, the history of which is very obscure. This was seen in the treasury of the Great Mogul, Aurungzebe, in 1665, by Tavernier, who both drew and described the stone in detail. This diamond had then the form of a very high and round rosette (Plate 4., Fig. 2), and was of good water. It weighed 319 ratis, which Tavernier calculated to be equivalent to 280 carats, assuming 1 rati = 7/8 carat. Authorities, which consider this value of the rati too high, give the equivalent as 188 carats. The rough stone is supposed to have been found between 1630 and 1650, in the mines at Kollur, and to have originally weighed 787 1/2 carats, a weight which would make it unquestionably the largest of Indian diamonds.
The considerable disparity between the weight of the rough stone and its weight when cut, has been attributed to the unskilful manner in which it was cut by Hortensio Borgis, the Venetian diamond-cutter, who at that time was domiciled in India. The subsequent history of the "Great Mogul is a complete blank; it has been variously supposed to have been lost or destroyed, to be in existence under another name, such as the "Orloff" diamond, or the "Koh-i-noor," to be in the possession of the Shah of Persia, or to be lying forgotten among the jewels of some Indian prince.
Another large diamond of the same weight, namely, 320 ratis, is described in the memoirs of Baber, the founder of the Mogul dynasty. According to this account the stone had long been famous in India, and had formed part of the spoils of war of many an Indian prince, finally passing into the possession of Baber in 1556. This stone is regarded by Professor Story-Maskelyne as being identical with the diamond seen at Delhi, and described as the "Great Mogul" by Tavernier, and identical with the stone at present known as the "Koh-i-noor"; this view is very generally accepted.
Nadir Shah, the Persian conqueror of the Mogul Empire, appropriated The Koli-i-noor in 1739; in 1813 it passed into the possession of the Rajah of Lahore, and after the British annexation of the Punjab, became the property of the East India Company, which in 1850 presented it to Queen Victoria. The stone had then the form of an irregular rosette (Plate 4, Figs. 4a, 4b), with numerous facets above, below a broad cleavage surface, and on the side a second smaller cleavage surface. The weight of the Indian-cut stone was 186 1/16 carats, which agrees closely with the weight of 320 ratis, recorded long before as the weight of the stone described by Baber. In order to improve its form, which was very far from perfect, it was re-cut in England in 1852 by the diamond-cutter, Voorsanger, of the Amsterdam firm of Coster; the work of re-cutting occupying thirty-eight days, of twelve hours each.
The "Koh-i-noor" is now a stone of considerable beauty, weighing 106 1/16 carats; its new form (Plate 2 Figs. 5a, 5b, 5c) is, however, too thin for a perfect brilliant; moreover, it is not of the purest water, and the colour is slightly greyish. In spite of these blemishes it is valued at £100,000 ($11,125,244). The question as to the identity of the "Great Mogul" with the "Koh-i-noor" can scarcely now be decided. Tennant regarded them as identical, and suggested that the "Koh-i-noor" and the "Orloff" are both parts of the rough stone of 787 carats, mentioned by Tavernier, and that the third and remaining portion of it is the plate of diamond weighing 132 carats, often mentioned as having been taken by Abbas Mirza with other jewels from Reeza Kuli Khan at the capture of Coocha, in Khorassan. Tennant constructed models of these separate portions in fluor-spar, a mineral which has the same octahedral cleavage as diamond, and by piecing the portions together arrived at the conclusion that the rough stone had the size of a hen's egg, the form of a rhombic dodecahedron, and a weight of about 793 carats, which agrees closely with Tavernier's account.
Opinions differ also as to the derivation of the name "Koh-i-noor," which is sometimes said to signify "Mountain of Light," and is supposed to have been given to the stone by Nadir Shah. It has also been supposed to be a corruption of Kollur, the locality at which it was found, and the name by which it is formerly known in India.
The Orloff was the largest of the diamonds comprised in the Russian crown jewels, and formed the termination of the imperial sceptre; it is a stone of the finest water, perfectly pure and with a brilliant lustre. In form (Plate 2, Figs. 1 a, 1b, 1c) it is very similar to that of Tavernier's drawing of the "Great Mogul", being an almost hemispherical rosette bounded on the lower side by a cleavage surface, as was the case with the Indian-cut "Koh-i-noor." Its height is 10 lines, its greatest diameter 15 1/2 lines, and its weight 194 3/4 carats. This stone has had a chequered career; it is said at one time to have formed one of the eyes of an idol in the Brahmin temple on the island of Sheringha In, in the Cauvery River near Trichinopoly. It was stolen from here, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, by a French soldier, passed into the hands of an English ship's captain, and so found its way into Europe, and in 1791 was bought in Amsterdam (being on this account sometimes known as the "Amsterdam" diamond) by Prince Orloff for the Empress Catharine II of Russia for the sum of 1,400,000 Dutch florins.
There is a story to the effect that this stone came into the possession of the Russian crown through an Armenian, named Schafras; this story probably, however, applies not to the "Orloff" but to another large diamond in the Russian crown jewel, namely, the Moon of the Mountains. This diamond, which weighs 120 carats, became the booty of Nadir Shah, who used it for the adornment of his throne. At his assassination, an Afghan soldier, from whom it passed into the possession of the Armenian Schafras, stole it with other jewels. The latter sold it in 1775 to Catharine II for 450,000 roubles ($7,731,625), an annuity of 4,000 roubles ($68,725), and letters of nobility.
The Polar Star, a beautiful brilliant of 40 carats (Plate 5., Fig. 15), also belonged to the Russian crown, as did the peculiarly shaped stone known as the Shah. The Persian prince, Chosroes, the younger son of Abbas Mirza, presented this latter stone in 1829 to the Czar Nicholas. It is of the purest water and in form a very irregular prism (Plate 4, Figs. 3a, 3b), 1 inch 51/2 lines long and 8 lines wide in the thickest part. The boundaries of the stone are partly cleavage faces and partly artificially cut facets; on three of the latter the names of three Persian kings are engraved, so that the "Shah" is one of the few Examples of engraved diamonds. Professor Gustav Rose, who saw the stone soon after it was brought to St. Petersburg, gave the weight as 88 carats, but this does not agree with a subsequent statement to the effect that the stone has been re-cut and its weight reduced from 95 to 86 carats, the interesting inscriptions being lost in the process.
Another engraved diamond is the Akbar Shah, so called from its first possessor, the Great Mogul, Akbar; when in the possession of Jehan, Akbar's successor, Arabic inscriptions were engraved on two of its faces. It subsequently disappeared for a long period, reappearing in Turkey, under the name of the "Shepherd's Stone," comparatively recently, and still recognisable as the "Akbar Shah" by its Arabic inscriptions. It at first weighed 116 carats, but after re-cutting in 1866 its weight was reduced to 71 or 72 carats and the inscriptions were lost in the process. In 1867 the stone was sold to the Gaikwar of Baroda for £35,000 ($3,802,928).
One of the largest of Indian diamonds is the Nizam, a stone of 277 carats, which has been known only since 1835, and which is supposed to have been picked up by a child on the ground in the neighbourhood of Golconda. This, however, is not the only version of the discovery of this stone, and its original weight has been placed at 440 carats; it was supposed to be in the possession of the Nizam of Haidarabad. The Great Table, of Tavernier, in 1642 at Golconda by this traveller, who states that it weighed 242 3/16 carats, and that it was the largest diamond he had seen in India in the hands of dealers. His offer of 400,000 rupees for the stone was rejected and, as in the case of the "Great Mogul" its subsequent history is obscure.
The Shah of Persia was in the possession of two large diamonds of which also very little is known. One of these, the Darya-i-noor (Sea of Light), weights 186 carats, and the other, Taj-e-mah (Crown of the Moon), weighs 146 carats. Both are of the purest water and cut as rosettes formerly set in a pair of armlets.
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