Diamonds and Pearls

Facts and fantasies about the most sought-after stone

The weight of the diamond, as every one knows, is estimated in carats all over the world. And what is a carat, pray? and whence its name? It is of Indian origin, a kirat being a small seed that was used in India to weigh diamonds with. Four grains are equal to one carat, and six carats make one pennyweight. But there is no standard weight fixed for the finest diamonds. Competition alone among purchasers must arrange their price. The commercial value of gems is rarely affected, and among all articles of commerce the diamond is the least liable to depreciation. Panics that shake empires and topple trade into the dust seldom lower the cost of this king of precious stones; and there is no personal property that is so apt to remain unchanged in money-value.

Diamond anecdotes abound, the world over; but we have lately met with two brief ones that ought to be preserved.

“Carlier, a bookseller in the reign of Louis XIV., left, at his death, to each of his children,—one a girl of fifteen, the other a captain in the guards,—a sum of five hundred thousand francs, then an enormous fortune. Mademoiselle Carlier, young, handsome, and wealthy, had numerous suitors. One of these, a M. Tiquet, a Councillor of the Parliament, sent her on her fete-day a bouquet, in which the calices of the roses were of large diamonds. The magnificence of this gift gave so good an opinion of the wealth, taste, and liberality of the donor, that the lady gave him the preference over all his competitors. But sad was the disappointment that followed the bridal! The husband was rather poor than rich; and the bouquet, that had cost forty-five thousand francs, (nine thousand dollars,) had been bought on credit, and was paid out of the bride's fortune.”

“The gallants of the Court of Louis XV. carried extravagance as far as the famous Egyptian queen. She melted a pearl,—they pulverized diamonds, to prove their insane magnificence. A lady having expressed a desire to have the portrait of her canary in a ring, the last Prince de Conti requested she would allow him to give it to her; she accepted, on condition that no precious gems should be set in it. When the ring was brought to her, however, a diamond covered the painting. The lady had the brilliant taken out of the setting, and sent it back to the giver. The Prince, determined not to be gainsaid, caused the stone to be ground to dust, which he used to dry the ink of the letter he wrote to her on the subject.”

Let us mention some of the most noted diamonds in the world. The largest one known, that of the Rajah of Matan, in Borneo, weighs three hundred and sixty-seven carats. It is egg-shaped and is of the finest water. Two large war-vessels, with all their guns, powder, and shot, and one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in money, were once refused for it. And yet its weight is only about three ounces!

The second in size is the Orloff, or Grand Russian, sometimes called the Moon of the Mountain, of one hundred and ninety-three carats. The Great Mogul once owned it. Then it passed by conquest into the possession of Nadir the Shah of Persia. In 1747 he was assassinated, and all the crown-jewels slipped out of the dead man's fingers,—a common incident to mortality. What became of the great diamond no one at that time knew, till one day a chief of the Anganians walked, mole-footed, into the presence of a rich Armenian gentleman in Balsora, and proposed to sell him (no lisping,—not a word to betray him) a large emerald, a splendid ruby, and the great Orloff diamond. Mr. Shafrass counted out fifty thousand piastres for the lot; and the chief folded up his robes and silently departed. Ten years afterwards the people of Amsterdam were apprised that a great treasure had arrived in their city, and could be bought, too. Nobody there felt rich enough to buy the great Orloff sparkler. So the English and Russian governments sent bidders to compete for the gem. The Empress Catharine offered the highest sum; and her agent, the Count Orloff, paid for it in her name four hundred and fifty thousand roubles, cash down, and a grant of Russian nobility! The size of this diamond is that of a pigeon's egg, and its lustre and water are of the finest: its shape is not perfect.

The Grand Tuscan is next in order,—for many years held by the Medici family. It is now owned by the Austrian Emperor, and is the pride of the Imperial Court. It is cut as a rose, nine-sided, and is of a yellow tint, lessening somewhat its value. Its weight is one hundred and thirty-nine and a half carats; and its value is estimated at one hundred and fifty-five thousand, six hundred and eighty-eight pounds.

The most perfect, though not the largest, diamond in Europe is the Regent, which belongs to the Imperial diadem of France. Napoleon the First used to wear it in the hilt of his state-sword. Its original weight was four hundred and ten carats; but after it was cut as a brilliant, (a labor of two years, at a cost of three thousand pounds sterling,) it was reduced to one hundred and thirty-seven carats. It came from the mines of Golconda; and the thief who stole it therefrom sold it to the grandfather of the Earl of Chatham, when he was governor of a fort in the East Indies. Lucky Mr. Pitt pocketed one hundred and thirty-five thousand pounds for his treasure, the purchaser being Louis XV. This amount, it is said, is only half its real value. However, as it cost the Governor, according to his own statement, some years after the sale, only twenty thousand pounds, his speculation was “something handsome.” Pope had a fling at Pitt, in his poetical way, intimating a wrong with regard to the possession of the diamond; but we believe the transaction was an honest one. In the inventory of the crown-jewels, the Regent diamond is set down at twelve million francs!

The Star of the South comes next in point of celebrity. It is the largest diamond yet obtained from Brazil; and it is owned by the King of Portugal. It weighed originally two hundred and fifty-four carats, but was trimmed down to one hundred and twenty-five. The grandfather of the present king had a hole bored in it, and liked to strut about on gala-days with the gem suspended around his neck. This magnificent jewel was found by three banished miners, who were seeking for gold during their exile. A great drought had laid dry the bed of a river, and there they discovered this lustrous wonder. Of course, on promulgating their great luck, their sentence was revoked immediately.

The world-renowned Koh-i-noor next claims our attention.

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