30 November 2017




This week the Royal family announced the engagement of Prince Harry to actress Meghan Markle. A lot of discussion has been focused on her engagement ring, and not for reasons one may think. It is because the ring the Prince commissioned uses diamonds from the personal collection of his late mother, Princess Diana. Using diamonds belonging to the late Princess Diana is not a new phenomenon; in Prince William’s engagement to Kate Middleton, he proposed using the late Princess Diana’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring.

So, what is it about diamonds?

Diamonds were first mined in India, with earliest descriptions dating back to the fourth century BC. Resources for mining allowed for limited quantities of diamonds distributed among an equally limited market – India’s elite and wealthy classes. By the thirteenth century, diamonds started to appear in European regalia and jewelry, set as accent pieces among pearls and gold. At this point, King Louis IX declared that diamonds were only for the king, showing the rarity and value of diamonds throughout the world.

Over the centuries, diamonds began spreading through the aristocracy of European elite; however, with political upheavals, especially the French Revolution, the distribution of wealth changed. More and more people were able to afford the luxury of diamonds. During this time, the distributors of diamonds shifted from India to Brazil, and then South Africa in the 1800s as the demand for diamonds expanded to North America. In the last 150 years, diamond distributors also expanded into Botswana, Canada, and Australia.

Therefore, this week, I would like to throw it back to some of the world’s most extravagant  diamonds housed in museums.

1. The Hope Diamond – Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., USA

This 45.52 carat diamond was found in India in 1642, cut from an original diamond worth 132.00 carats. The Hope Diamond was originally set in the royal crown of King Louis XIV in 1688, and stolen during the French Revolution. In 1839, a blue diamond was described in the collection of Henry Phillip Hope (which is where the name comes from). His grandson was forced to put it up for sale, eventually ending up in New York City and traveling between many hands, including the House of Cartier and Harry Winston. In 1958, Harry Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian. Rumour has it that this diamond is cursed, bringing misfortune to anyone who owns it.

The Hope Diamond. Source.

2. Crown Jewels – Tower of London in London, England

The Crown Jewels are part of the Royal Collection, and are the most powerful symbols of the British monarchy, containing over 23,000 gems. The Crown Jewels are under armed guard in the Jewel House at the Tower of London, due to the destruction of the Crown Jewels at the Tower after the Civil War. They were remade for Charles II for his coronation in 1661. Included in the collection is the Coronation Regalia, St. Edward’s crown, the Sovereign’s Orb and Jewelled Sword of Offering, the Sovereign’s Scepter and Rod, and the Imperial State Crown.

The Cullinan I is the world’s largest and top quality white cut diamond, with the Cullinan II as the second largest. These diamonds are now set in the band of the Imperial State Crown. The Mountain of Light diamond, which has a reputation for bringing bad luck to men, was presented to Queen Victoria in 1849, and now adorns the Queen Mother’s Crown belonging to Queen Elizabeth. The Crown Jewels hold significant importance because they symbolize the passing of authority from one monarch to the next.

The Mountain of Light (Koh-i-Nûr) Diamond on the Queen Mother's Crown. Source.

The Imperial State Crown with the Cullinan I Diamond. Source.
3. The Orloff Diamond – The Diamond Fund, The Armoury Museum in Moscow, Russia

The Orloff Diamond weighs approximately 200 carats, and is part of the Crown Jewels collection in the Diamond Fund located inside the Armoury Museum in Moscow, Russia. Its shape is described as half a chicken egg, and is most famously mounted in the Imperial Scepter during the reign of Catherine the Great (1762-1796). Originally, the diamond was one half of eyes of Sri Ranga, a Hindu Temple God. Stolen by a French soldier stationed in India, the diamond eventually ended up in the hands of Khojeh, a Persian jeweller and friend of Prince Gregory Orloff, the lover of Catherine the Great, who then presented the diamond as a gift. Catherine the Great was a lover of diamonds and constantly adorned herself in them; however, she never wore the Orloff Diamond. Instead, she mounted it in the Imperial Scepter, showing she never accepted Prince Orloff’s love and rather chose to rule alone. The Diamond Fund’s Crown Jewels collection also contains the Great Imperial Crown, which was also created for Catherine the Great and contains 4,936 diamonds (2,858 carats).

Orloff (Orlov) Diamond set in the Imperial Sceptre of Catherine the Great. Source.
Great Imperial Crown of Catherine the Great. Source

Diamonds and other precious stones are an important tool for understanding the diverse aspects of any cultural history and society. By looking at the history of diamonds, we can reveal the conditions and processes in which ordinary pieces develop value, both monetarily and culturally. From these examples, we can see that diamonds hold meaning for individuals and families, and, therefore, can be woven into the cultural patterns of society.

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