The World's Most Famous Diamonds

Enjoy these fascinating stories about the history of some of the world's most famous diamonds.

Jump to on this page: Koh-I-Noor | Cullinan | Regent

The famous Centenary, Dresden Green, Idols' Eye, Jubliee,
Orlov, Sancy and Taylor-Burton diamonds on the next page

Passion. Murder. Insanity. Intrigue. Envy. The fascinating history behind the world's most famous diamonds. Many have been associated with famous people such as Napoleon … Sultan Babur … Lady Astor … Shah Jehan … Queen Victoria … Catherine the Great … Elizabeth Taylor. Others have inspired awe and legend because of their size, origin or unique qualities.

Diamonds were considered the emblem of fearlessness and invincibility and it was believed that possession of a diamond would endow the wearer with superior strength, bravery and courage. They adorned the crowns and scepters of kings and queens, and encrusted the armor of great warriors. Here is a short history behind 11 of these amazing diamonds.

The Blue Hope: 45.52 carats

famous blue hope diamond history

A dark, steely blue stone from India, the Blue Hope Diamond diamond is more notorious than any other famous diamond. Originally purchased by a French merchant traveler who sold it to King Louis XIV in 1668, who then set it in gold, suspended it on a neck ribbon and wore the "Blue Diamond of the Crown" or "French Blue" on ceremonial occasions. The "French Blue" was stolen during the French Revolution, when Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette attempted to flee France.

Evidence suggests that it was acquired in the early 1800s by King George IV of England, and very likely sold when he died in 1830 to help pay off his debts. The diamond was then purchased by Henry Philip Hope, from whom it takes its name. While in the possession of the Hope family, the diamond acquired its grim reputation for bad luck: The entire Hope family died in poverty.

Henry Thomas Hope's possession of the diamond was uneventful, however, one of his heirs who came to own it, Lord Francis Hope, was in financial difficulties due to a penchant for gambling. After numerous attempts, he sold the Hope diamond in 1901. The diamond was purchased by a New York diamond merchant, Simon Frankel. At this point, the diamond was said to be involved in several bizarre events, although none have been substantiated.

First, a French broker by the name of Jacques Colot was said to have bought the stone before becoming insane and committing suicide. Next, a Russian or Eastern European prince, Ivan Kanitowsky, supposedly loaned or gave the diamond to an actress at the Folies Bergère, who was shot the first time she wore it. The prince himself was stabbed to death by revolutionaries; a Greek jeweler who sold the diamond to the Sultan of Turkey was thrown over a cliff while riding in a car with his wife and child. Again, it is difficult to separate the fact and fiction.

It is known that after several owners, the Hope diamond was sold by Cartier's to Mrs. Evelyn Walsh McLean of Washington, D.C. Several researchers believe it was Pierre Cartier who popularized the story that the stone brought misfortune to its owners and to anyone who touched it. Mrs. McLean was the daughter of Thomas F. Walsh, who amassed a fortune in gold mining and spent her early childhood in mining camps in Colorado and South Dakota, but was later educated in Washington D.C. and in Europe. She married Edward Beale McLean, son of the owner of the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Washington Post.

Although Mrs. McLean refused to believe in the Hope Curse, she had a number of family tragedies. Her brother died young; her nine-year-old son was run over by a car and killed; her ex-husband drank heavily and died in a mental institution and her only daughter died of a drug overdose at age 25. Mrs. McLean never recovered from the latter tragedy, and passed away only a year later. Upon her death, Mrs. McLean's extensive jewelry collection was purchased by Harry Winston Inc. After exhibiting it among other famous diamonds for 10 years, the firm donated it to the Smithsonian Institution, where it is one of its premier attractions.

The Koh-I-Noor (Mountain of Light)
Current Weight: 105.60 carats, original weight: 186 carats

kohinoor diamond history

Dated through legend from before the time of Christ, this oval-cut gem is the most famous of all diamonds. It has been said that whoever owned the Koh-I-Noor Diamond ruled the world.

The diamond's history began in 1304, where it was reported as owned by the Rajah of Malwa. Following wars in the 1500s, it ultimately fell into the hands of the Sultan Babur, and for the next 200 years the 186-carat diamond was one of the precious jewels of the Mogul Emperors. It was believed to have once been set as one of the peacock's eyes in the famous peacock throne of Shah Jehan, who reigned in the early 1650s. In 1739, Nadir Shah, who built Persia into a major power, invaded Delhi. He obtained the Koh-I-Noor, along with the Peacock Throne, from the vanquished Indian Emperor Mohammed Shah.

The story goes that when his pillage of Delhi failed to uncover the huge gem, he was told by one of the harem women that the conquered Mogul emperor had hidden it inside his turban. Taking advantage of an Oriental custom, Nadir Shah invited his captive to a feast and suggested they exchange turbans. Following the feast, he unrolled the turban and released the great gem. Seeing it, Nadir Shah cried, "Koh-I-Noor," which means mountain of light.

Nadir Shah took the gem back to Persia, and following his assassination in 1747, the diamond was fought over by his successors. When the state of Punjab was annexed to British India in 1849, the East India Company took it as insurance for the Sikh Wars. As part of its 250th Anniversary festivities, the East India Company presented the famous Koh-I-Noor diamond to Queen Victoria in 1850.

The diamond was displayed at the famous Crystal Palace Exposition, but visitors were disappointed that the diamond did not show more fire. So Victoria had the stone recut, reducing the diamond to its present size. In 1911, a new crown was made for the coronation of Queen Mary featuring the Koh-I-Noor as the center stone. In 1937, it was transferred to the crown of Queen Elizabeth (now Queen Mother) for her coronation. Currently, it is on display in the Tower of London with the British Crown Jewels.

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The Cullinan Diamonds: 3,106 carats (rough)

cullinan diamond history

The history of the largest gem-quality diamond ever found began on January 26, 1905, where it was discovered in the Premier Mine in South Africa. The original rough of the Cullinan Diamond measured 3,106 carats and weighed about 1 1/3 pounds. Notable for its exquisite color and exceptional purity, the stone also possessed a surprisingly smooth cleavage face on one side, leading many experts to believe that the huge stone was only a piece of a larger diamond that was broken up in the weathering process.

The famous Cullinan diamond was named for Sir Thomas Cullinan, who opened the Premier Mine. The Transvaal Government bought the diamond rough for $750,000 and presented it to England's King Edward VII on his birthday in 1907. The next year, King Edward sent the stone to the renowned Asscher's Diamond Co. in Amsterdam for cutting. Following months of exacting study, the rough stone was cleaved into nine major gems, with the largest two retained by the Royal Family for the Crown Jewels. The rough also yielded 96 smaller brilliant-cut stones and 9 1/2 carats of unpolished pieces.

The two largest stones are known as the Cullinan I and Cullinan II:

The Cullinan I Diamond (also known as the Great Star of Africa): 530.20 carats
The Cullinan I is a magnificent pear-shaped diamond with 74 facets. It is the largest stone cut from the Cullinan rough and, until recently, the largest cut diamond in the world. (That record is now held by the Unnamed Brown, a golden brown cushion shape diamond weighing 545.67 carats.) King Edward called it "The Great Star of Africa" and ordered it to be set in the British Imperial Scepter, which had to be redesigned to accommodate it. The Scepter is on permanent display in the Tower of London.

The Cullinan II Diamond (also known as the Lesser Star of Africa): 317.40 carats
A cushion-cut brilliant, the Cullinan II is the fourth-largest cut diamond in the world. Nicknamed the Lesser Star of Africa, it is also part of the British Crown Jewels. This square stone is set in the British Imperial State Crown, on display in the Tower of London.

The Regent: 140.50 carats

regent diamond history

Originally a diamond rough of 410 carats, the Regent Diamond was said to be discovered in 1701 by an Indian slave near Golconda, a mountain fortress and a trading center in India that included a diamond storehouse. The diamond was first owned by William Pitt, the Prime Minister of England, but the circumstances surrounding his acquisition of the gem have been called into question.

Pitt arranged for the stone to be cut into its current cushion-shaped brilliant by the only person in England considered capable of the task, which took two years. The result was a stunning gem that is considered the most perfectly cut of all the celebrated diamonds of old.

The Regent is characteristic of the finest Indian diamonds and has a beautiful light blue tinge. Known at the time as the Pitt diamond, it was sold to the Duke of Orleans, Regent of France, who was at first hesitant to purchase the gem because of the perilous state of the Treasury. Ultimately, he relented and shortly thereafter, the stone was renamed "The Regent."

It was later set in the coronation crown of King Louis XV, and then in a headband worn by his Queen. Many of the French Crown Jewels were reset numerous times at the behest of the queen. Sadly, in September 1792, the Regent and other great diamonds in the Crown Jewel collection were stolen, some disappearing forever. Fortunately, the Regent reappeared in a Paris attic a year later.

After coming to power in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the famous diamond to be set in his sword hilt, which he carried at his coronation two years later. Today, the Regent diamond can be admired at the Louvre in Paris.

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