HomeHistoryDiamonds - Dazzling, Dangerous and a Fraud that Killed a Queen

Diamonds – Dazzling, Dangerous and a Fraud that Killed a Queen

Diamonds are indisputably the timeless quintessence of everything beguiling, elegant, and extraordinary. Considered the most coveted jewels on Earth, these rare dazzling beauties have remained a strong object of desire throughout history, truly transcending time and culture.

A billion-year-old legacy – we have seen diamonds become a treasured family heirloom, a symbol of royalty and power, iconic fashion statement, and a proclamation of true love. Not to forget, these enticing stones have played a big part in the storytelling process, where they’ve shaped up some of the most classic moments in the history of cinema and pop culture. This raises an interesting question. What really makes a diamond so appealing?

Well, for starters, there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye and there’s a long billion-year-old process that goes behind the scenes to form a diamond. Deep within the Earth’s crust under extreme heat and pressure, a carbon atom crystallizes, and turns itself into a diamond! And given that these mysterious rare stones are formed super deep (approx. 150-200km) below the Earth’s surface, they’re forced back to Earth with molten lava in the form of a Volcanic eruption. Super cool, right? But, bear in mind that these are still diamonds in the rough and it requires a professional with expert knowledge to bring out their dazzling glory that we all love!

But, that’s not it. Another thing that’s so great about diamonds is that none of them are created equal and are very unique from each other. There are certain factors involved that differentiate a diamond from another i.e. the clarity, color, cut, and carat, commonly known as the 4Cs. Now, to further decode it all for us – Sachin Jain, President at Forevermark, a diamond brand from De Beers Group, world’s leading diamond company, gave us insight into what these factors are all about and how they determine the individual qualities of a diamond.

He also delved deeper into how Forevermark considers other factors that go beyond 4Cs to really determine the rarity, beauty, and value of its diamonds. In fact, the diamond has to go through twenty-nine other tests for it to earn a Forevermark inscription! Add to this, the advanced technological tools and machine-based learning used for the grading process, you get a diamond that’s consistent and beautiful in all its aspects. In a nutshell, if a diamond passes the test and becomes eligible for a Forevermark inscription, you can be assured that it’s a special diamond with unparalleled beauty!

You know what they say, ‘A diamond is forever’, so you shouldn’t compromise for anything less and pick only the most beautiful one that truly outshines (quite literally) the others, right?

Mountain of Light: The History and Lore of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond

One of the most famous diamonds in the world, and once considered to be the world’s largest, the Koh-i-Noor is deeply shrouded in mystery and myth, alongside factual origins. The diamond in its current state, weighing in at 105.6 carats, is the prominent centerpiece in Queen Elizabeth’s crown at the Tower of London.

A Koh-i-Noor replica made by John Hatleberg for for the Museum of Natural History in London.

A Koh-i-Noor replica made by John Hatleberg for the Tower London Display for the Museum of Natural History London “Diamonds” exhibition.

Mysterious Origins

The diamond has conflicting origins. Some say it was discovered in the bed of the Lower Godavari River 5,000 years ago. Others claim the Koh-i-Noor was mined in the Kollur Mine, in what is presently the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, where it became the eye of the Devi, or goddess, in a Hindu temple.

Another story claims it was found in the Amravati hills, a district headquarters of Maharashtra, worn by Raja Karna, who fought in the Mahabharara war with the diamond tied as a talisman around his arm. In the latter account, Karna died in battle, the Pandavas gained possession of the stone, and Arjun, who killed Karna, passed it to his brother, who passed it to Raja Parikshata while preparing for exile.

Bejeweled Nader Shah on horseback in the aftermath of his decisive victory at the Battle of Karnal

Bejeweled Nader Shah on horseback in the aftermath of his decisive victory at the Battle of Karnal. ( Public Domain )

Then it is said to have fallen into the hands of the giant Porus, who battled Alexander the Great—the Macedonian King—fourteen miles southwest of the battlefield in 327 BC.  Dynasties which obtained the diamond after that were the: Maurya, Harsha, Raja Lalit Datta, Khilji, Tughlaq, Mughal, Durrani, Abdali, Sikh, and British houses, in that order. 

Additional accounts of the diamond talk of the Koh-i-Noor being carried to Raja Vikramaditya, as well as it adorning the third eye of Shiva in a temple in Telangana, ripped out by Price Allaudin Khilji’s forces. Lady Login recorded it being in the possession of the Rajas of Malwa, but historians agree that the first reliable recording of the jewel was in the Memoirs of Babar . In the account, the Hindu ruler of Gwalior presented the diamond to Humayan, Babar’s son, who presented it his father, who then returned it to his son as a blessing. Babur, the conqueror, who established the Mughal Empire, renamed the Koh-i-Noor the “Diamond of Babur.” Before that, it had been acquired by the Khilji dynasty, likely from army raids.

A spoil of Indian and Persian rulers and wars, many conquered and gained possession of the Koh-i-Noor, and it frequently was passing hands.

Later on, the Koh-i-Noor was rumored to be mounted on the Peacock throne by Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal), and was later owned by Aurangzeb (his son) who incarcerated his father.

Painting depicting the Peacock Throne in the Diwan-i-Khas of the Red Fort of Delhi.

Painting depicting the Peacock Throne in the Diwan-i-Khas of the Red Fort of Delhi. ( Public Domain )

In another story, the diamond was found at the Kolar Mine on the Krishna river, and was presented to the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jehan in 1656 by Mir Jumula. The diamond given could not have actually been the Koh-i-Noor though, as gem merchant and traveler Jean-Baptiste Tavernier examined it personally in Shah Jehan’s treasury in 1644.

Glass replica of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond in its original form. (From the Reich der Kristalle museum in Munich.)

Glass replica of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond in its original form. (From the Reich der Kristalle museum in Munich.) (  Chris 73  / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The Mountain of Light

Whatever the tales, historians agree the diamond passed from Aurangzeb to Nader Shah, a great Persian warrior. In one account he carried off the Peacock Throne in a raid— Koh-i-Noor diamond, pearl and gemstone encrusted, and all. In a more likely account, Nader Shah used his wiles to trick Aurangzeb into giving him the diamond through an exchange of turbans amongst “brothers”—exchanging his, covered in stones, for that with the Koh-i-Noor hidden inside. Unwrapping the turban in a dark tent, the bright flash of light caused him to exclaim “KOH-I-NOOR”, which translates to “Mountain of Light”—this is how the great diamond got its name.

Portrait of Nader Shah.

Portrait of Nader Shah. ( Public Domain )

Koh-i-Noor’s Many Travels

In the possession of Nader Shah, the Koh-i-Noor made its way to Persia. June 8, 1747 brought Nader’s death, by an assassin hired by his plotting nephew, Ali Kuli Khan. The diamond then passed through the hands of several generations, to Shah Zaman, who succeeded the throne in turbulent times, with brothers and cousins forming coups and rebellions to overthrow him.  Resolving to not let it fall into his brothers’ keeping, he concealed the diamond in the crack of the walls of his room. Later recovered, and in a turn of events, the diamond was returned to India. 

Wafa Begam, wife of Shah Sjuja-ul-mulk, promised to give the diamond to the Maharaja in return for saving her husband, who was then a prisoner in Kashmir. Although she and her husband initially went back on their side of the bargain after he was freed, the diamond was ultimately obtained when the Maharaja punished their disloyalty by cutting off basic nourishment. 

Under the Sikh Maharajas, the Koh-i-Noor saw life as a sirpesh (ornament) for a turban, the drop of a tolah (Vedic measurement) weight, and as an armlet with a diamond on either side. Maharaja Dalip Ranjit, the last male in the family, ultimately inherited it.

March 29, 1849 saw the British victory over the Sikhs in the second Anglo-Sikh War—terms included the surrender of the Koh-i-Noor to the Queen of England. The stone weighed 191 cts. before being moved to England, where Voorsanger, a Dutch diamond cutter at Messrs Garrads, cut it.

Detail of a portrait sculpture of Queen Victoria of England by George Stuart shown wearing the Koh-I-Noor Diamond in a brooch.

Detail of a portrait sculpture of Queen Victoria of England by George Stuart shown wearing the Koh-I-Noor Diamond in a brooch. (Flickr/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

Additional accounts of the diamond talk of the Koh-i-Noor being carried to Raja Vikramaditya, as well as it adorning the third eye of Shiva in a temple in Telangana, ripped out by Price Allaudin Khilji’s forces. Lady Login recorded it being in the possession of the Rajas of Malwa, but historians agree that the first reliable recording of the jewel was in the Memoirs of Babar . In the account, the Hindu ruler of Gwalior presented the diamond to Humayan, Babar’s son, who presented it his father, who then returned it to his son as a blessing. Babur, the conqueror, who established the Mughal Empire, renamed the Koh-i-Noor the “Diamond of Babur.” Before that, it had been acquired by the Khilji dynasty, likely from army raids.

A spoil of Indian and Persian rulers and wars, many conquered and gained possession of the Koh-i-Noor, and it frequently was passing hands.

Later on, the Koh-i-Noor was rumored to be mounted on the Peacock throne by Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal), and was later owned by Aurangzeb (his son) who incarcerated his father.

Painting depicting the Peacock Throne in the Diwan-i-Khas of the Red Fort of Delhi.

Painting depicting the Peacock Throne in the Diwan-i-Khas of the Red Fort of Delhi. ( Public Domain )

In another story, the diamond was found at the Kolar Mine on the Krishna river, and was presented to the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jehan in 1656 by Mir Jumula. The diamond given could not have actually been the Koh-i-Noor though, as gem merchant and traveler Jean-Baptiste Tavernier examined it personally in Shah Jehan’s treasury in 1644.

Glass replica of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond in its original form. (From the Reich der Kristalle museum in Munich.)

Glass replica of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond in its original form. (From the Reich der Kristalle museum in Munich.) (  Chris 73  / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The Mountain of Light

Whatever the tales, historians agree the diamond passed from Aurangzeb to Nader Shah, a great Persian warrior. In one account he carried off the Peacock Throne in a raid— Koh-i-Noor diamond, pearl and gemstone encrusted, and all. In a more likely account, Nader Shah used his wiles to trick Aurangzeb into giving him the diamond through an exchange of turbans amongst “brothers”—exchanging his, covered in stones, for that with the Koh-i-Noor hidden inside. Unwrapping the turban in a dark tent, the bright flash of light caused him to exclaim “KOH-I-NOOR”, which translates to “Mountain of Light”—this is how the great diamond got its name.

Portrait of Nader Shah.

Portrait of Nader Shah. ( Public Domain )

Koh-i-Noor’s Many Travels

In the possession of Nader Shah, the Koh-i-Noor made its way to Persia. June 8, 1747 brought Nader’s death, by an assassin hired by his plotting nephew, Ali Kuli Khan. The diamond then passed through the hands of several generations, to Shah Zaman, who succeeded the throne in turbulent times, with brothers and cousins forming coups and rebellions to overthrow him.  Resolving to not let it fall into his brothers’ keeping, he concealed the diamond in the crack of the walls of his room. Later recovered, and in a turn of events, the diamond was returned to India. 

Wafa Begam, wife of Shah Sjuja-ul-mulk, promised to give the diamond to the Maharaja in return for saving her husband, who was then a prisoner in Kashmir. Although she and her husband initially went back on their side of the bargain after he was freed, the diamond was ultimately obtained when the Maharaja punished their disloyalty by cutting off basic nourishment. 

Under the Sikh Maharajas, the Koh-i-Noor saw life as a sirpesh (ornament) for a turban, the drop of a tolah (Vedic measurement) weight, and as an armlet with a diamond on either side. Maharaja Dalip Ranjit, the last male in the family, ultimately inherited it.

March 29, 1849 saw the British victory over the Sikhs in the second Anglo-Sikh War—terms included the surrender of the Koh-i-Noor to the Queen of England. The stone weighed 191 cts. before being moved to England, where Voorsanger, a Dutch diamond cutter at Messrs Garrads, cut it.

Detail of a portrait sculpture of Queen Victoria of England by George Stuart shown wearing the Koh-I-Noor Diamond in a brooch.

Detail of a portrait sculpture of Queen Victoria of England by George Stuart shown wearing the Koh-I-Noor Diamond in a brooch. (Flickr/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

Dazzling and Dangerous? Examining the History of the Exquisite Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond is one of the most well-known diamonds in the world. This famous diamond has been on exhibition in the National Museum of Natural History (which is administered by the Smithsonian Institution), in Washington D.C., since 1958. Nevertheless, the history of the Hope Diamond can be traced back several centuries, and a number of notable historical figures are involved in it.

It is widely believed that the Hope Diamond is cursed, as bad luck has (supposedly) befallen a number of people who were connected to the diamond. A counter-claim also exists, which states that there is no evidence to support this popular belief, and that the curse was fabricated solely to arouse interest in the diamond.

The Rise of the Diamond

The Hope Diamond is believed to have been formed deep beneath the earth’s surface, and was then carried upward by a volcanic eruption more than a billion years ago. Unlike ordinary diamonds, which are colorless, the Hope Diamond has a deep-blue color, as a result of trace amounts of an element known as boron within its crystal structure. Only one out of several hundred thousand diamonds have this deep-blue color. The diamond weighs 45.52 carats, and is the largest known deep-blue diamond.

The Hope Diamond in the National Museum of Natural History

The Hope Diamond in the National Museum of Natural History (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

According to one version of the origin story of the Hope Diamond, this diamond once adorned an idol in a Hindu temple in India. One day, the diamond was stolen by a Hindu priest, who was punished with a slow and agonizing death for his crime. Somehow, the diamond is said to have ended up in a mine by the Krishna River in southwest India.

Another version of the story has its first European owner, a French merchant by the name of Jean Baptiste Tavernier, as the sacrilegious thief. Additionally, it is claimed that Tavernier was struck by the ‘curse’, coming down with a raging fever shortly after stealing the diamond, dying, and his corpse being ravaged by wolves. However, this appears to be a legend – Tavernier is recorded to have lived until a ripe old age of 84, returned to France, sold the diamond to the French king, retired to Russia, and died peacefully many years later.

The Disappearance of the Diamond

A more plausible story is that Tavernier had acquired the diamond from the Kollur Mine in Golconda, India. At this point of time, the diamond was crudely cut, and was possibly 115 carats or 112 3/16 carats in weight.

After acquiring the diamond, Tavernier returned to France, and sold the diamond to the French king, Louis XIV, in 1668, along with 14 other large diamonds and several other smaller ones. In 1673, the diamond was recut by the court jeweler, Sieur Pitau, into a 67 1/8 carat stone, which was known as the diamant bleu de la Couronne de France (‘Blue Diamond of the Crown of France’ or more simply as the ‘French Blue’). The diamond remained in possession of the French monarchy until the French Revolution, when it was stolen in 1792.

The Hope Diamond in 1974.

The Hope Diamond in 1974. (Smithsonian Institution Archives)

The Hope Diamond disappeared for a while, and re-emerged in London in 1812. A diamond similar to the French Blue is documented to have been in the possession of a London diamond merchant by the name of Daniel Eliason.

It is strongly believed that this diamond was the French Blue, but that it had been recut during its disappearance from France. It has been speculated that the diamond was purchased by George IV of the United Kingdom. The king’s debts were so enormous that at his death in 1830 the diamond was sold, perhaps through private channels.

King George IV.

King George IV. ( Public Domain )

More Owners

The diamond next appears to be in the possession of Henry Philip Hope, after whom the diamond is now named. There is no record, however, as to the person Hope had purchased the diamond from, or the price that he paid for it. The diamond remained in Hope’s family until 1901, when it was sold to pay off the debts of Lord Francis Hope, the grandson of Henry Philip Hope’s nephew. During the next 9 years, the diamond changed hands several times. The Hope Diamond’s next known owner was Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean, who bought the diamond in 1911, and kept it until her death in 1947.

Washington Post scion Edward Beale McLean and his wife, mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, in 1912. The couple owned the diamond for many years.

Washington Post scion Edward Beale McLean and his wife, mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, in 1912. The couple owned the diamond for many years. ( Public Domain )

Mrs. McLean’s jewelry collection, which included the Hope Diamond, was purchased by Harry Winston Inc. of New York. The Hope Diamond was shown at many exhibitions and charitable events, before being donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958. The diamond is thought to have left the museum only four times throughout this part of its history.

Marie Antionette’s Diamond Necklace: The Fraud That Killed A Queen

This is the story of Marie Antoinette, the 18 th century Queen of France, and a diamond necklace that was never actually hers. Although the story seems so outlandish as to be fiction, it is all true, and the scandal of the diamond necklace ultimately became the reason for her execution.

The most shocking fact is that the Queen was unaware of this scam, that was being carried out under her nose. The fraudsters used the name of Marie Antoinette to pin the blame. But in this affair, she was blameless.

The Fuss About the Necklace

The diamond necklace was made by the Parisian jewelers, Bassenge and Boehmer, and consisted of 647 diamonds. There were different carat diamonds with varying sizes and shapes to make the necklace look more appealing.

The necklace was considered to be the most expensive piece of jewelry in all of France. The diamond necklace was commissioned by Louis XV to give as a present to his mistress, Madame du Barry. But, the King died one year after he commissioned the jewelry. The necklace wasn’t completed by then and was not expected any time soon.

The creators were almost bankrupted from gathering the diamonds, assembling them, and completing the jewelry. When it was complete, the creators were then keen to sell off this necklace to recoup their costs. But as the cost was extremely high, the only potential buyer was the Royal Family of France.

Gift to Marie Antoinette

In the year 1778, the makers of this impeccable diamond jewelry approached Louis XVI. They offered the necklace for him to buy for Marie Antoinette. The Queen saw the necklace, tried it, and expressed her interest in it.

However, the sale did not go through, as the asking price was too high even for a King of France. Instead, Marie Antionette felt they should utilize the money to buy some battleships for the empire.

Boehmer and Bassenge then left France, to try and sell this necklace to the wealthy nobles and royal families outside France. But, as the price was so high, these makers had no luck in selling it.

The Clergyman And The Con

Jeanne de la Motte, who was descended from former French royalty through the Valois family, had no nobility in her nature. Bluntly, she was a young wife of a conman. In 1784, she came in contact with Cardinal de Rohan. He was a high-ranking clergyman and was also a diplomat.

Cardinal de Rohan (Unknown Author / Public Domain )

Rohan’s relationship with Queen Marie Antoinette was unpopular at court, which resulted as a barrier to his ambitions in the political world. He was eager to win the favor of Queen, but instead only welcomed his downfall!

Jeanne convinced Rohan that she is an agent for Queen Marie Antoinette. Eager to win the trust of the Queen, he used to write humble letters to Antoinette. He wanted to express devotion and loyalty towards the empire and the Queen. Rohan thought he was receiving replies from Her Majesty, but these were fraudulently written by Jeanne or her husband.

The letter replies were so humble and affectionate that Rohan believed the Queen was in love. Rohan asked Jeanne to make an arrangement for him to secretly meet with Marie. Jeanne responded positively and organized a night-time meeting with a Paris prostitute, who resembled the Queen.

The Diamond Jewlery Scam

Soon, Jeanne de la Motte became a member of high society, by borrowing large sums of money from Rohan. Not just Rohan, but soon, others started to believe that Jeanne was truly an agent to Queen Marie Antoinette. And amongst all those men, the diamond jewelry makers, Bassenge and Boehmer, also believed Jeanne.

In late 1784 the Parisian jewelers reached out to Jeanne and asked her to convince the Queen to buy the necklace. Jeanne and her conman husband couldn’t resist the opportunity and agreed to it. Jeanne then forged some fake papers and convinced Cardinal de Rohan to acquire the necklace on behalf of Queen Marie.

Replica of the necklace and portrait of Marie Antionette (Château de Breteuil / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Replica of the necklace and portrait of Marie Antionette (Château de Breteuil / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The price for the diamond necklace was 1.6 million livres (c$12 million in today’s money), and the forged fake papers claimed that the amount would be paid in installments. The necklace was then bought by Rohan, and the jewelers were instructed to hand the necklace to Jeanne and her husband.

But that was the last Rohan or anyone else saw of the necklace. The diamonds and gold were chipped off and sold in London and Paris black markets by Jeanne and her husband.

The Swindle Is Uncovered!

The things came to light when the cardinal failed to make the first payment on the diamond necklace, and was also not able to produce the necklace. The makers of the diamond necklace then met with the Queen to raise a complaint against this fraud. But the Queen professed to be ignorant of the whole affair and had neither heard of nor received the necklace from Rohan.

The culprits were quickly arrested. Rohan, Jeanne, her husband, the forger of papers, other prostitutes, and a few people involved in this scandal were arrested. Jeanne was accused of being the ringleader.

Cardinal de Rohan was acquitted of the crime and was exiled to one of his properties in Southern France. The forger and the prostitute were also acquitted and exiled, and in fact all of the other culprits, except Jeanne, were exiled by the order of the King.

Jeanne was sentenced and imprisoned for life in a prison for prostitutes named Salpetriere. But she escaped the prison by disguising herself as a boy and fled to London. In the year 1789, she proposed yet another scam by releasing her memoirs and blaming Marie Antoinette for the entire fraud.

The Execution of Marie Antoinette

Louis XVI and the Queen were alarmed by this new scheme of Jeanne’s. Therefore, they decided to prosecute her in public to retrieve their honor. But it backfired, and the Queen lost her reputation amidst the empire. People believed that Queen communicated with Jeanne to take revenge on Rohan, who was considered her enemy.

The affair of the necklace hastened Marie Antoinette’s execution (Unknown Author / Public Domain)

The affair of the necklace hastened Marie Antoinette’s execution (Unknown Author / Public Domain )

In truth Marie Antoinette was not guilty at all! But the incident led to the dissolution of the ancient regime and catalyzed the French Revolution. And this corruption of the regime led to the execution of Queen by guillotine!  

Sources:

https://www.ancient-origins.net/artifacts-other-artifacts/diamond-necklace-0015805

https://www.ancient-origins.net/artifacts-other-artifacts/dazzling-and-dangerous-examining-history-exquisite-hope-diamond-005343

https://in.mashable.com/culture/13568/explained-what-makes-a-diamond-truly-special-and-beautiful

https://www.ancient-origins.net/artifacts-other-artifacts/mountain-light-history-and-lore-koh-i-noor-diamond-005172

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