More World's Most Famous Diamonds

More Intriguing History About The World's Most Famous Diamonds

Jump to on this page: Centenary | Dresden Green | Idols' Eye | Jubilee
Sancy | Taylor-Burton

The famous Blue Hope, Cullinan, Koh-i-noor and Regent diamonds


The Orlov: 300 carats (original rough)

orlov diamond history

The history of this famous diamond is characterized by legend, fact, speculation and theory. But it is considered one of the most important items in the Treasures of the USSR Diamond Fund, one of the world's greatest collections of gems and jewelry. The USSR Diamond Fund comprises many of the historical jewels that were amassed by the rulers of Russia before the Revolution of 1917, along with exceptional diamonds unearthed in the former Soviet Union during the last three decades.

The Orlov Diamond's shape has been likened to half of a pigeon's egg. It has roughly 180 facets and is mounted in the Imperial Scepter, fashioned during the reign of Catherine the Great. The Orlov has been confused with the Great Mogul, a fascinating Indian gem that apparently disappeared without a trace. Another account holds that the earliest known fact about the Orlov diamond is that it was set as one of the eyes of an idol in a sacred temple located in the South of India. Another tale suggests that it was set as the eye of God in the temple of Sri Rangen, and was stolen by a French soldier disguised as a Hindu.

The stone takes its name from Count Grigori Grigorievich Orlov, a Russian nobleman and army officer who caught the fancy of the Grand Duchess, destined to become Catherine the Great. Catherine ascended to the throne after her husband was dethroned and murdered in a coup carried out with the help of Orlov.

After she purchased the stone, it was set beneath the golden eagle. Another legend suggests that upon entering Moscow, Napoleon sought the gem, which was concealed in the tomb of a priest in the Kremlin. Reportedly, when one of Napoleon's lieutenants attempted to secure the Orlov, the invaders were cursed by the ghost of the priest, and Napoleon and his bodyguards fled empty-handed.

The Centenary: 273.85 carats

centenary diamond history

The 100-year anniversary of De Beers Consolidated Mines coincided with the fortuitous discovery of an extraordinary diamond rough. At its centennial banquet, the De Beers chairman announced the recovery of "a diamond of 599 carats which is perfect in color, indeed, it is one of the largest top color diamonds in history. Naturally, it will be called the Centenary Diamond."

The Centenary diamond was found at South Africa's Premier Mine on July 17, 1986 using an electronic x-ray recovery system. In its rough form, the stone resembled an irregular matchbox, with angular planes, a prominent, elongated protrusion at one corner, and a deep concave on the largest flat surface. Clearly, it would be daunting to cut, with no obvious approach readily apparent.

It took a master cutter three years to transform the stone into the largest modern-cut flawless diamond. The Centenary has 75 facets on top, 89 on the bottom and 83 on the girdle, for a total of 247. The amazing result was achieved using a combination of some of the oldest cutting methods and the most sophisticated technology. Today, this marvelous gem, exemplifying the ultimate in fire and brilliance for which the diamond is prized, is part of the British Crown Jewels. It was presented at the Tower of London in 1991, where it is on permanent display.

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The Jubilee: 245.33 carats

jubilee diamond history

The Jubilee Diamond is a magnificent, colorless, cushion-cut diamond that was ranked the sixth largest diamond in the world. More importantly, many gemologists consider the Jubilee the most perfectly cut of all large diamonds because its facets are so exact that the gem can be balanced on the culet point, which measures less than 2 millimeters across.

The original rough stone weighed 650.80 carats and was an irregular octahedron in shape, lacking definite faces. Found in late 1895 at the Jagersfontein Mine in South Africa, the Jubilee was acquired by a syndicate of London diamond merchants who sent it to Amsterdam for polishing. The first cleaving of the rough yielded a fine pear-shaped diamond in excess of 13 carats that was presented by the king of Portugal to his wife. The remaining large piece was polished into the stone known as the Jubilee.

During the cutting period, when the stone's exceptional size and purity became evident, there were initial plans to present the diamond to Queen Victoria upon completion, but this did not occur. However, the following year, 1897, marked the famous Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Therefore, the gem was appropriately renamed the Jubilee to commemorate the occasion. Its introduction was also significant in the world of diamonds, which saw its first diamond with the characteristics of both the rose and brilliant cuts - which would subsequently be known as the Jubilee cut.

In 1900 the syndicate displayed the Jubilee at the Paris Exhibition, where it was an immensely popular attraction. Shortly thereafter, it was purchased by an Indian industrialist and philanthropist, Sir Dorabji Jamsetji Tata, whose family was instrumental in modern India's economic development. Tata's heirs sent the Jubilee to Cartier for sale. Cartier exhibited it with other famous, historic diamonds prior to selling it to a Paris industrialist and arts patron, M. Paul-Louis Weiller, who remains its present owner.

The Idol's Eye: 79.20 carats

idols eye diamond history

Echoing the legend of the Orlov, the Idol's Eye, a pear-shaped stone the size of a bantam's egg was once set in the eye of an idol before it was stolen. Legend also holds that it was given as a ransom for Princess Rasheetah by the Sheik of Kashmir to the Sultan of Turkey, who had abducted her.

Despite the many unproven accounts of its early origins, the first authenticated facts about the Idols Eye history were associated with its appearance at a Christie's sale in London in 1865. At the sale, it was sold to a mysterious buyer later identified as the 34th Ottomon Sultan, Abd al-Hamid II. Hamid II was ultimately defeated by opposition that became known as the Young Turks. One version of events holds that in exile, he entrusted his jewels to a servant who betrayed him and sold them in Paris, including the large diamond known as the "Idol's Eye."

The Idol's Eye re-emerged at the end of World War II, when it was acquired by a Dutch dealer, and subsequently by Harry Winston in 1946. Winston sold it to Mrs. May Bonfils Stanton, the daughter of the publisher and co-founder of the Denver Post. It was reported that Mrs. Stanton lived in isolation in a palatial mansion and wore the Idol's Eye to her solitary breakfast every morning. After her death, the diamond went through a succession of owners, until it was sold with two other important stones to a private buyer.

The Taylor-Burton: 69.42 carats

taylor-burton diamond history

As many people today remember, the Taylor-Burton diamond was the spectacular pear-shaped rock the late actor Richard Burton bought as a gift for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor. The stone came from a rough piece of 240.80 carats that was purchased by Harry Winston. Once it was cut, the larger piece yielding the pear-shaped stone was sold to Mrs. Harriet Annenberg Ames, whose brother, Walter Annenberg, was the American ambassador in London during Richard Nixon's presidency. Mrs. Ames felt uncomfortable wearing such a large diamond, and sent it to auction in New York in October, 1969.

The diamond was purchased at auction for a then-record $1,050,000, with the understanding that it could be named by the buyer. Cartier of New York proved the successful bidder and immediately christened it "Cartier." However, the next day, Richard Burton bought the stone for Elizabeth Taylor for an undisclosed sum. She first wore the gem as a pendant at Princess Grace's 40th birthday party in Monaco.

In 1978, following her divorce from Mr. Burton, Miss Taylor announced that she was putting the diamond up for sale, with the proceeds dedicated to building a hospital in Botswana. Due to the tremendous costs of showing it, prospective buyers were required to pay $2,500 just to inspect the famous diamond. Miss Taylor eventually sold the Taylor-Burton for a reported figure of $5 million in 1979. The gem was last seen in Saudi Arabia.

The Sancy: 55 carats

sancy diamond history

The pear-shaped Sancy Diamond disappeared during the French Revolution in 1782. It was originally owned by Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, who lost the diamond in battle in 1477. It was named after a later owner, Seigneur de Sancy, a French Ambassador to Switzerland during the late 16th century. There are numerous questions about how Mr. Sancy obtained this diamond, but most likely, he acquired it on his travels in the Far East.

Nicholas de Sancy served two French monarchs loyally: He loaned the diamond to the French king, Henry III, who strategically placed it on his cap to conceal his baldness. It was also pledged by Sancy for the purpose of raising troops in Switzerland. He employed his diamond again on behalf of his sovereign, now Henry IV, the first of the Bourbon dynasty. By 1596, Sancy himself was in need of money and eventually sold the large diamond to King James I of England.

In 1625, Charles I disposed of other diamonds but retained the Sancy, which was taken by Queen Henrietta Maria along with other jewels in the Royal Treasury. It later came into the possession of Cardinal Jules Mazirin, acting First Minister of the Crown, who bequeathed the Sancy and another stone to the French Crown. Following the French Revolution, a stone believed to be the Sancy found its way to a Spanish nobleman, and eventually in 1828 to Prince Nicholas Demidoff, whose family owned industries and silver mines in Russia. The Sancy passed to his son, who gave it to his Finnish bride.

Following additional travels around the world, the Sancy was purchased by William Waldorf Astor in the 1890s for his wife, Lady Astor. Lady Astor, the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, wore the Sancy set in a tiara at numerous state occasions. In 1978, Viscount Astor sold the Sancy, reputedly for $1,000,000. It is now on view at the Louvre in Paris.

The Dresden Green: 41 carats

dresden green diamond history

This lovely, almond-shaped stone is the largest apple-green diamond known in history. Its green color is attributed to the crystal's close contact with a radioactive source at some point in its lifetime. The Dresden Green, which probably started out as a rough crystal of 100 carats or more, is unique among world-famous gems for not only its color, but also its elongated shape. The Dresden Green gets its name from the capital of Saxony where it has been on display for more than 200 years.

Although of Indian origin, nothing was known of the diamond until Frederick Augustus II of Saxony purchased it at the Leipzig Fair in 1743 for about $150,000. Set in an elaborate shoulder knot, the stone was exhibited with the other Crown Jewels of Saxony in the famous Green Vaults under the Dresden Palace. After World War II, these gems were confiscated by the Russians, but they were returned to Dresden in 1958, and are again on display in the palace.

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