Diamonds and Pearls

Facts and fantasies about the most sought-after stone

A Venetian diamond-cutter (wretched, bungling Hortensio Borgis!) reduced the great Koh-i-noor from its primitive weight—nine hundred carats—to two hundred and eighty. Tavernier saw this celebrated jewel two hundred years ago, not long after its discovery. It came into the possession of Queen Victoria in 1849, three thousand years, say the Eastern sages, after it belonged to Karna, the King of Anga! On the 16th of July, 1852, the Duke of Wellington superintended the commencement of the re-cutting of the famous gem, and for thirty-eight days the operation went on. Eight thousand pounds were expended in the cutting and polishing. When it was finished and ready to be restored to the royal keeping, the person (a celebrated jeweller) to whom the whole

care of the work had been intrusted, allowed a friend to take it in his fingers for examination. While he was feasting his eyes over it, and turning it to the light in order to get the full force of its marvellous beauty, down it slipped from his grasp and fell upon the ground. The jeweller nearly fainted with alarm, and poor “Butterfingers” was completely jellified with fear. Had the stone struck the ground at a particular angle, it would have split in two, and been ruined forever.

Innumerable anecdotes cluster about this fine diamond. Having passed through the hands of various Indian princes, violence and fraud are copiously mingled up with its history. We quote one of Madame de Barrera's stories concerning it:—

“The King of Lahore having heard that the King of Cabul possessed a diamond that had belonged to the Great Mogul, the largest and purest known, he invited the fortunate owner to his court, and there, having him in his power, demanded his diamond. The guest, however, had provided himself against such a contingency with a perfect imitation of the coveted jewel. After some show of resistance, he reluctantly acceded to the wishes of his powerful host. The delight of Runjeet was extreme, but of short duration,—the lapidary to whom he gave orders to mount his new acquisition pronouncing it to be merely a bit of crystal. The mortification and rage of the despot were unbounded. He immediately caused the palace of the King of Cabul to be invested, and ransacked from top to bottom. But for a long while all search was vain; at last a slave betrayed the secret;—the diamond was found concealed beneath a heap of ashes. Runjeet Singh had it set in an armlet,  between two diamonds, each the size of a sparrow's egg.”

The Shah of Persia, presented to the Emperor Nicholas by the Persian monarch, is a very beautiful stone, irregularly shaped. Its weight is eighty-six carats, and its water and lustre are superb.

The various stories attached to the Sancy diamond, the next in point of value, would occupy many pages. During four centuries it has been accumulating romantic circumstances, until it is now very difficult to give its true narrative. If Charles the Bold, the last Duke of Burgundy, ever wore it suspended round his neck, he sported a magnificent jewel. If the Curate of Montagny bought it for a crown of a soldier who picked it up after the defeat of Granson, not knowing its value, the soldier was unconsciously cheated by the Curate. If a citizen of Berne got it out of the Curate's fingers for three crowns, he was a shrewd knave. De Barante says, that in 1492 (Columbus was then about making land in this hemisphere) this diamond was sold in Lucerne for five thousand ducats. After that, all sorts of incidents are related to have befallen it. Here is one of them.—Henry IV. was once in a strait for money. The Sieur de Sancy (who gave his name to the gem) wished to send the monarch his diamond, that he might raise funds upon it from the Jews of Metz. A trusty servant sets off with it, to brave the perils of travel, by no means slight in those rough days, and is told, in case of danger from brigands, to swallow the precious trust. The messenger is found dead on the road, and is buried by peasants. De Sancy, impatient that his man does not arrive, seeks for his body, takes it from the ground where it is buried, opens it, and recovers his gem! In some way not now known, Louis XV. got the diamond into his possession, and wore it at his coronation. In 1789, it disappeared from the crown-treasures, and no trace of it was discovered till 1830, when it was offered for sale by a merchant in Paris. Count Demidoff had a lawsuit over it in 1832; and as it is valued at a million of francs, it was worth quarrelling about.

The Nassuck Diamond, valued at thirty thousand pounds, is a magnificent jewel, nearly as large as a common walnut. Pure as a drop of dew, it ranked among the richest treasures in the British conquest of India.

What has become of the great triangular Blue Diamond, weighing sixty-seven carats, stolen from the French Court at the time of the great robbery of the crown-jewels? Alas! it has never been heard from. Three millions of francs represented its value; and no one, to this day, knows its hiding-place. What a pleasant morning's work it would be to unearth this gem from its dark corner, where it has lain perdu so many years! The bells of Notre Dame should proclaim such good-fortune to all Paris.

But enough of these individual magnificos. Their beauty and rarity have attracted sufficient attention in their day. Yet we should like to handle a few of those Spanish splendors which Queen Isabel II. wore at the reception of the ambassadors from Morocco. That day she shone in diamonds alone to the amount of two million dollars! We once saw a monarch's sword, of which

“The jewelled hilt,
Whose diamonds lit the passage of his blade,”

was valued at one hundred thousand dollars! But one of the pleasantest of our personal remembrances, connected with diamonds, is the picking up of a fine, lustrous gem which fell from O.B.'s violin-bow, (the gift of the Duke of Devonshire,) one night, after he had been playing his magic instrument for the special delight of a few friends. The tall Norwegian wrapped it in a bit of newspaper, when it was restored to him, and thrust it into his cigar-box! [O.B. sometimes carried his treasures in strange places. One day he was lamenting the loss of a large sum of money which he had received as the proceeds of a concert in New York. A week afterwards he found his missing nine hundred dollars stuffed away in a dark corner of one of his violin-cases.]

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