The Great Mogul Diamond
A grand jewel fit for royalty, the Great Mogul Diamond is wrapped in mystery. It was likely mined around 1650, from Golconda in southern India. The rough stone was used as part of diplomacy negotiations with the 5th Mughal emperor. The diamond was eventually cut into a high 787.5 carat dome covered in facets, known as a rose cut.
The Grand Mogul Diamond stayed with the imperial family until the invasion of Nadir Shah and his Persian armies in the early 1700s. The Shah returned to his home in Isfahan with his prize, but the diamond vanished after his murder in 1747. Though there is speculation as to the jewel’s fate, no theory has ever been disproven or confirmed.
The Cullinan Diamond
The Cullinan Diamond is the largest gem quality diamond ever mined, its rough weighing 3106.75 carats, or 621.35 grams. The stone was discovered in 1905 in the Premier Mine in South Africa and soon named in honor of the mine’s owner, Sir Thomas Cullinan. After careful thinking on the matter, the country gifted the jewel to its imperial ruler. The Cullinan was presented to King Edward VII for his birthday before it was sent to the Royal Asscher Diamond Company for cutting.
The diamond was eventually divided into 9 major stones and 96 smaller pieces, with the larger nine serving as members of the British Crown jewels. The biggest piece, a 530.2 carat pear shape also known as the Great Star of Africa, is set into the top of the Sovereign Septre, while the 317.4 carat cushion cut Second Star of Africa is mounted into the band of the Imperial State Crown. The remaining seven are set into a variety of pieces, including brooches, a necklace and a ring. These jewels are available for viewing online and are at times on public display.
The Excelsior Diamond
One of the largest gem quality diamonds ever found, the Excelsior Diamond was found in 1893 in South Africa. In its rough state the stone measured 995.2 carats or 194 grams, and unusually shaped, flat on one side and peaked on the other. This form earned it a name meaning “higher.” Despite its size and remarkably light hue, the diamond’s discovery yielded little attention.
Due to the lack of prospective buyers, the Excelsior’s owners decided to have the jewel cut into smaller, more affordable pieces. The Asscher Company cut the diamond to about 20 pieces, with the largest eleven named Excelsior I, Excelsior II, and so forth. Unlike many other named diamonds, all portions of this stone remain in private hands, away from museums and the public eye.
The Lesotho Promise
As its name indicates, the Lesotho Promise originates from the southern African kingdom of Lesotho. The 603 carat, golf ball sized rough was unearthed on August 2006, making it the largest diamond to be found in the 21st century. Between its size and completely colorless hue, the diamond earned 12.4 million dollars at auction.
Among its new owners was Graff Diamonds, who was tasked to cut the massive find. Despite the Lesotho Promise’s stellar carat and color, its clarity was poor, veined with cracks that could threaten the stone’s structural integrity. Months of careful planning and still more of vigilant cutting were necessary to divide the diamond into separate jewels. The stones were soon reunited, with all 26 set into a piece called The Lesotho Promise Necklace.
The Beau Sancy
The Beau Sancy weighs a substantial 34.98 carats and retains its antique pear shaped rose cut, a flat bottomed cut adorned with triangular and trapezoidal facets. Originally from India, the diamond spent much of its life traveling among the royal houses of Europe. It gets its name from the mid-1500s French ambassador to India, Nicolas de Harlay, Lord of Sancy, who bought the stone and took it to his home country.
The diamond was soon set into the coronation crown of the French queen Marie de Medici, who eventually sold it to the Dutch royal family. Though the Queen Mary II pawned the jewel to finance her house’s political ambitions, the Beau Sancy was bought back for her son’s wedding. Between its size and its adventures, the diamond was a source of great interest in recent times, netting 9.7 million dollars at a 2012 Sotheby’s auction.
The Orlov is a 189.62 carat unusually cut diamond originating from Andhra Pradesh, India. Unlike most faceted diamonds of today which often contain a cone or pyramid shaped bottoms, the Orlov has a high dome shape with a flat base. Its round yet faceted form is a rare example of the old style Indian rose cut.
Most of the jewel’s original history remains unknown. The first confirmed record of the stone dates to 1774, when it was purchased by the Russian Count Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov in to gain favor of Empress Catherine II. While she didn’t bestow him with special gifts or attention, she accepted the diamond, commissioning a scepter to display the diamond as its centerpiece. The Orlov now part of the Diamond Fund on display at the Moscow Kremlin, still the mounting the Empress ordered.
The Taylor-Burton Diamond
Elizabeth Taylor and her husband Richard Burton were famous for the jewelry they loved and collected. Many of the gemstones they bought are named in their honor, including the Taylor-Burton Diamond. Its 241 carat rough emerged from South Africa in 1966, and cut not long after cut by Harry Winston into a pear weighing 69.42 carats, making it the twelfth largest faceted diamond at the time.
Taylor and Burton made headlines when they purchased the diamond and its naming rights in 1969 for a speculated to $1.1 million. Ms. Taylor wore her majestic jewel to awards shows, television appearances and social events, but did not own the diamond for very long. She auctioned the diamond in 1978 to fund the construction of a hospital. The Taylor Burton Diamond has changed hands a few times since then, and has been recut to a slightly smaller 68 carats for greater shine.
The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond
The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond, previously known as the Krupp Diamond, was the actress’ favorite piece. According to the Gemological Institute of America, the 33.19 carat jewel is completely colorless and contains tiny inclusions only visible under 10x magnification. The stone has been shaped into an Asscher cut with a relatively large bottom facet characteristic of pre1920s Asscher cuts.
Ms. Taylor’s received the diamond in 1968 as a gift from her then husband Richard Burton. She wore the jewel as the center stone on a ring, attending many work and social events with glittering companion. According to her, “My ring gives me the strangest feeling for beauty. With its sparks of red and white and blue and purple, and on and on, really, it sort of hums with its own beatific life.” After Ms. Taylor’s death, the diamond was renamed in her honor and auctioned by Christie’s. Her beloved stone was sold to the South Korean company E-Land for a record setting $8,818,500, or $265,697 per carat.
The Koh-i-Noor diamond has a long regal history. It was mined from the Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur district in India, its rough measuring 793 carats. The jewel went into the custody of the region’s Kakatiya dynasty, who placed it into the statue of a Hindu goddess. Around 1310, invading members of the Turkish Khilji house raided the Andhra Pradesh region, taking the jewel as one of their prizes. This event marked the beginning of the stone’s many transfers from one royal family to another. During its journeys, the diamond was reduced by hundreds of carats to 186 carats, and gained its name from the Persian words “mountain of light.”
In the mid-19th century, the Koh-i-Noor was wrangled into British hands. After the diamond was presented in 1850 to Queen Victoria, it was displayed to the London public as a showpiece during the 1851 Great Exhibition. Many viewers were unimpressed by the stone’s beauty, leading the Queen’s consort to have the jewel recut. Despite strict supervision and advanced technology, the Koh-i-Noor lost 42% of its mass, now weighing 105.602 carats. After its trimming, the diamond was mounted into a brooch, before it was eventually set into Queen Alexandra’s coronation crown, where it resides to this day.