In the world of jewels, there are diamonds that are called by the carats, and there are diamonds that have been bestowed with proper nouns. These gems have histories of royal ownership and they weigh up to 3,100 carats. Definitely, not your typical in-store diamonds.
In no particular order, here’s a primer on the most expensive diamonds in history.
The Cullinan Diamond
Weighing 3,106.75 carats, the largest rough gem-quality diamond ever found, the Cullinan is one of the most prized discoveries in history. Discovered by miner Thomas Evan Powell on January 26, 1905, in a mine in South Africa, the diamond was named after the mine’s owner Sir Thomas Cullinan.
The massive 1.4-pound gem was bought by the South African government and gifted to British King Edward VII on his birthday. Shipping the diamond to England was a tricky business for South Africans before of security problems. Rumour has it, detectives from London were placed on a steamboat headed for Europe carrying a fake stone. The real Cullinan diamond was safely shipped to England in the standard mailing system via parcel post. The diversion worked because the massive gem reached its destination safely.
That year, I.J. Asscher (an Amsterdam firm) received the royal commission to cut the stone. It was divided into nine small stones known as the Cullinans I-IX, plus 96 small brilliants and nine carats of rough fragments. Cullinan I and Cullinan II are the biggest and most popular stones that have graced the public’s eye. They are also referred to as the First and Second Stars, and they are the two largest colourless and flawless diamonds in the world.
The Cullinan I was set at the head of the Sovereign’s Sceptre and the Cullinan II graces the band of the Imperial State Crown.
The Centenary Diamond
Unearthed beneath the soil of the Premier Mine in South Africa in 1986, the Centenary Diamond was 599 carats, weighing approximately ⅓ of a pound, has a rating of colour grade D – the highest grade of a colourless diamond.
The immense stone was cut into a modified heart-shaped design. There were thirteen potential designs presented to the owner of the Centenary diamond and the cutting was a significant process for such a big piece. The work required a team of diamond cutters, a group of engineers, electricians, and security guards. The cutting process took five years to complete. The diamond was insured for $100 million USD.
The Hope Diamond
Also known as Le Bleu de France, the Hope Diamond is one of the world’s most recognizable jewels. Weighing 45.52 carats, it has a deep blue colour, an extremely rare diamond colour which makes it truly a unique stone.
The history of the Hope Diamond dates back 1.1 billion years ago, and it has a reputation for supposedly being cursed. The gem was believed to have originated from India, where it was stolen from the eye of a sculpted statue of the goddess Sita. It is believed that the rare blue diamond brings misfortune to those who have owned it. According to history, the previous owners suffered bad luck, as most of them died from murder, suicide, and violent mishaps.
Le Bleu de France was only a portion of a larger stone, and it was bought by Harry Winston in 1949 before it was given to the National Museum of Natural History in 1958 for permanent exhibition. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) determined the colour as Fancy Dark Grayish Blue and the cut if Antique Cushion.
The Regent Diamond
Discovered in India, the Regent Diamond is a 410-carat beauty (weighing approximately 0.2 pounds) with quite a history plot worthy of a movie. It was found by a slave in the Golkonda mine in India in 1698 and hid it inside of a large wound in his leg. But, an English sea captain saw this and plotted against the Indian man. The Englishman stole the gem successfully and subsequently sold it to an Indian merchant, who sold it to Governor Thomas Pitt for a fortune, which would be almost $6 million in USD today.
The Regent Diamond belonged to French royalty for a long time. Thomas Pitt sold it to Britain to be cut. The stone was acquired by Regent Philippe d’Orléans in 1717 for the French crown. The Regent was shaped into a 141-carat, cushion-cut brilliance from its original 426-carat. It was passed down from one French monarch to the next and sat on the crowns of Louis XV, Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, Charles X and Napoleon III. Marie Antoinette used it to adorn her hat and Napoleon had it set on his double-edged sword.
The jewel was described by jewellery scholar Gérard Mabille as “of the first water,” because of its exceptional clarity. You can see the final reincarnation of the stone on a Greek diadem the belonged to Empress Eugenie. It is now on display for everyone to admire at the Royal Treasury at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
The Orlov (Orloff) Diamond
The origins of the Orlov is quite unclear, but some facts are clear – it was mined in India’s Kollur Mine (like the Hope and Regent Diamonds). It weighs 787 carats and likened to “half a bird’s egg”. Its former moniker was the Great Moghul, and at one time fitted into the eye of a deity in a temple in South India. The stone was reportedly stolen by a soldier in 1747 who posed as a worshipper on a stormy night. The diamond slowly made its path to Europe, passing through the hands of various merchants, before making its way to Amsterdam.
In 1768, a diamond merchant called Shaffras sold the stone to Count Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov, the Russian nobleman who aided his lover Catherine the Great usurp Peter III. The Orlov has an unusual shape and size that makes it truly unique. According to the Kremlin’s official records, the controversial diamond weighs 189 carats with a bluish-green tint in its current state.
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