Mysterious and alluring, diamonds have been a source of fascination and envy for centuries. From symbols of royal decadence to prizes for wealthy collectors to gifts exchanged by celebrity couples, let’s take a look at some of the more outstanding diamonds through the ages.
The Great Star of Africa
This gorgeous, pear-shaped dazzler, which also goes by the name of “The Cullinan”, is considered the largest cut diamond in the world at 530.4 carats. Discovered in Transvaal, South Africa in 1095, the original diamond was a massive 3,106 carats. It took nearly six months for experts to decide what to do with it -- can you blame them? In the end, the gem yielded nine major diamonds and 96 small cut stones. Today, the largest piece is set on the Royal Scepter in the Tower of London.
Arguably the most beautiful diamond in the world, the Regent is 140.5 carats of utter perfection. Discovered in India in the late 17th century, it was immediately shipped to England to be cut. Destined for greatness, the French Crown purchased the gem in 1717 to adorn the crown of Louis XV and later Louis XVI. In the 19th century, the diamond made an appearance on Napoléon’s sword and on the coronation crown of Charles X. And where did it end up after all of this prestigious ownership? At the Louvre, of course.
With a history spanning over 700 years, it’s of little wonder that this precious 105.6 carat stone is one of the world’s finest diamonds. The gem, whose name means “Mountain of Light”, was first documented in 1304 then stolen by Mongols in the 16th century. It remained in Mongol possession until the fall of the Persian Empire, first ending up in India and later Afghanistan. Surviving war and strife, the diamond was presented to Queen Victoria in 1850. Two other British queens took ownership before Queen Elizabeth wore it proudly during her 1937 coronation. Another fine example of jewels found in the Tower of London.
Currently residing at the Diamond Treasury in Moscow, this exquisitely pure, mogul-cut gem has survived many incarnations since its ancient origins as the 300-carat “eye” of a Hindu idol. In the 18th century, the Orloff was stolen from a sacred temple in Srirangam, India and resurfaced years later in Amsterdam. It was here that a Russian count by the name of Grigori Orloff bought it for £90,000 to win back the heart of his former lover, Catherine the Great. The Empress promptly mounted it on her Imperial Scepter but paid her old flame with a stately marble palace in lieu of her affections. Love hurts.
And from fairytale romance to Hollywood glamour, the aptly named Taylor-Burton is as stunning as its legendary onetime owner, Elizabeth Taylor. Discovered at a South African diamond mine in 1966, the 69.4 carat gem was bought by Richard Burton as an engagement present for his lovely leading lady for 1.1 million dollars. After his death in 1979, Ms. Taylor sold it for a charitable cause; raising over 2.8 million dollars for a hospital in Biafra (now part of Nigeria). The last sightings of the famous diamond were said to have taken place in Saudi Arabia.
The Hope Diamond
This magnificent diamond is perhaps best known for the misfortunes befalling its owners. The 45.5 carat sparkler was first brought to Europe from India (in 1642) as part of a larger piece. Louis XIV was the first prominent owner. It was promptly stolen during the French Revolution, only to resurface, considerably smaller, in 1830. The new owner, esteemed English banker Henry Thomas Hope continued the streak of bad luck when his son lost his entire fortune shortly after inheriting it. Next, an American widow suffered a multitude of hardships upon acquiring the stone: the death of her only child, the breakup of her marriage, bankruptcy sadly culminating in her own suicide. Today, the diamond sits safely (fingers crossed) at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.