Famous diamonds often have complex and even controversial histories because of the secrecy surrounding such stones

The Star of Africa

At 530.20 carats the Cullinan I or Star Africa diamond is the largest cut diamond in the  world. Pear-shaped, with 74 facets, it is set in  the Royal Scepter (kept with the other Crown Jewels in the Tower of London). It was cut from the 3,106-carat Cullian, the largest  diamond crystal ever found.  The Cullian was discovered in Transvaal, South Africa in l095 on an inspection tour of the Premier Mine. The Cullian was cut by Joseph Asscher and Company of Amsterdam, who examined the enormous crystal for around six  months before determining how to divide it. It eventually yielded nine major, and 96 smaller brilliant-cut stones. When the Cullian was first discovered, certain signs suggested that it may have been part of a much  larger crystal. But no discovery  of the “missing half” has ever been authenticated.

The Excelsior

Probably the second largest stone ever found (if the lost Braganza cannot be found and authenticated). A high-clarity, blue-white stone, it was found in l893 by a South African  mine worker who picked it out of a shovelful of gravel. Because of its irregular shape, it was cut into 21 polished stones, of which the largest was a marquise of 69.80 carats. A smaller, 18-carat marquise stone cut  from the Excelsior was displayed a the l939 World’s Fair by De Beers.

The Great Mogul

The world’s third largest gem-quality diamond was named after Shah Jehan who built the Taj Mahal. It was found in the mid-seventeenth century in Hyderabad, India. It’s whereabouts  are not presently known, and it may no longer exist as a single large stone e. It has been confused with several other famous diamonds, most importantly the Orloff, which has also been described as a faintly blue  rose-cut stone. It is said that the stone was so badly cut that the lapidary, instead of being paid by the Shah, was forced to pay a heavy fine. When Tavernier so the Mogul, he described it as looking like an egg, and  weighing 280 old carats.

The Darya-i-Nur

The Darya-i-Nur is a flawless,  transparent pink stone, estimated at 175 to 195 carats. It is the largest and most remarkable gem in the Crown Jewels of Iran, and was one of the spoils of Persia’s attack on Delhi in l739. It is now set in a gold frame  with other diamonds, topped by a crown bearing lions with ruby eyes, holding scimitars. It was worn by the last Shah for his coronation in l967.

The Koh-i-Nur

The name of this diamond means; Mountain of Light” and its history, dating back to1304, is the longest of all famous diamonds. It was  captured by the Rajahs of Malwa in the sixteenth century by the Mogul, Sultan Babur and remained in the possession of later Mogul emperors. It may have been set in the famous Peacock Throne made for Shah Jehan. After  the break-up of the Persian empire the diamond found its way to India. It may have traveled to Afgahnistan with a bodyguard of Nadir Shah, who fled with the stone when the Shah was murdered, to be later offered to  Ranjit Singh of the Punjab in exchange for military help (which was never delivered). After fighting broke out between the Sikhs and the British, The East India Company claimed the diamond as a partial indemnity, and  then presented it to Queen Victoria in 1850. When the stone came from India, it weighed l986 carats; it was later recut to l08.93 carats. It was first worn by the Queen in a brooch. It was later set in the State Crown,  worn by Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary, and 1937 was worn for by Queen Elizabeth for her coronation. It is kept in the Tower of London, with the other Crown Jewels.

The Hope

The ironically named Hope diamond (named for its purchaser, Henry Thomas Hope) may have had a long and  illustrious history before it became associated with a run of bad luck for its owners. It is thought to be a part of the famous Blue Tavernier Diamond, brought to Europe from India in l642. The Blue was purchased by  King Louis XIV who had it cut to 67.50 carats from 112 carats to bring out its brilliance. The diamond was stolen during the French Revolution, and a smaller diamond of similar color was sold in l830 to Hope, an English  banker.  After inheriting the diamond, Hope’s son lost his fortune. It was eventually acquired by an American widow, Mrs. Edward McLean, whose family the had suffered a series of catastrophes: her only child was  accidentally killed, the family broke up, Mrs. McLean lost her money, and then committed suicide. When Harry Winston, the New York diamond merchant, bought the stone in l949, many clients refused to touch the stone. It  is now on display at the Smithosonian Institute in Washington.

Diamond Magic

Diamonds were once believed to hold many magical, mystical and medicinal properties. The phosphorescence of certain diamonds (their ability to glow in the dark) was considered a proof of the stone’s extraordinary  powers. Diamonds were thought to calm the mentally ill, and to ward off devils, phantoms and even nightmares. They were supposed to impart virtue, generosity and courage in battle, and to cause lawsuits to be determined  in the wearer’s favor. A house or garden touched at each corner with a diamond was supposed to be protected from lightning, storms and blight.

The ancient Indians believed the the human soul could pass through various  incarnations, animating gemstones as well as plants and animals. And Plato, the Greek philosopher, shared the belief that gems were living beings, produced by a chemical reaction to vivifying astral spirits. Later  philosophers divided talisman into male and female specimens, and even claimed that they could marry; and reproduce!

Minerals were among the first medicinal ingredients. In the middle ages it was believed that a  diamond could heal if the sick person took it bed and warmed it with his body, of breathed upon it while fasting or wore it next to the skin. A diamond held in the mouth would correct the bad habits of liars and scolds.  And diamonds were worn as a talisman against poisoning.

Diamond powder administered internally, however, was a legendary poison. The Turkish Sultan Bajazet (1447 – 1513) was perhaps murdered by his son, who slipped a  large quantity of powdered diamond in his father’s food. In l532, his doctors dosed Pope Clement VII with fourteen spoonfuls of pulverized gems, including diamond, which resulted in death for the patient, as well as a  very high bill for his treatment. In the same century, Catherine de Medici was famous for dealing out death by diamond powder, and Benvenuto Cellini, the famous s Italian goldsmith, described an attempt on his life by  an enemy who ordered diamond powder to be mixed in his salad. But the lapidary responsible for grinding the diamond filched the stone, replacing it with powdered glass (thereby saving Cellini).

The association of diamonds with poison may have been promoted to discourage the practice of stealing diamonds by swallowing  them, particularly during mining.