Nothing says glamor quite like a diamond. Since the middle of the 20th century, it has been customary for engagement rings to contain a diamond, which is often cut to bring out its natural sparkle as much as possible. For the upper classes, no jewelry collection is complete without an array of diamond rings, necklaces, and other trinkets studded with this precious jewel.
Diamonds aren’t all alike, of course; some are substantially more valuable—and carry a larger price tag—than others. The value of a given diamond is calculated according to the “four Cs”: carat (the weight of the diamond), clarity (relating to the number of defects present in the diamond), color, and cut (the way it has been shaped).
Diamonds judged to be of extraordinary quality by these standards can be very expensive, but there is an elite level that goes beyond even this. These are diamonds that you won’t find for sale at the local jewelry shop––diamonds so valuable that even the act of viewing them in person is an uncommon privilege; diamonds that are famous around the world; diamonds that have a documented history longer and more colorful than that of many nations.
Would you like to learn more about these superstar gemstones? What follows is an overview of the most famous diamonds in history.
The Daria-i-Noor Diamond of Iran
“Daria-i-noor” means “sea of light” in Persian, and this is a fair description of this diamond, which is one of the largest in the world. It weighs around 182 carats. Its most striking quality is its pinkish coloring, which is very rare among diamonds. The enormous prestige of the Darya-i-Noor (alternatively called Darya-e Noor or Darya-ye Noor) may be measured by the fact that no one is quite certain where it is being stored at present—some accounts place it in a bank vault in Tehran, Iran; others claim it’s being safely held in Bangladesh. It’s certainly not the kind of merchandise that you leave lying around for everyone to see.
The Daria-i-Noor comes from the legendary (now inactive) Kollur Mine in Andhra Pradesh, India, from which a number of the world’s most famous diamonds were mined between the 16th and 19th centuries. For several centuries the diamond was alternately owned by various Indian dynasties.
In 1849, it fell into British hands. This led to the diamond becoming one of the colorful displays at the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, which took place in London (1851). This was an international cultural fair that had exhibits from twenty-five countries; literally millions of people went to see this event, and the Daria-i-Noor was one of its prime attractions (along with revolutionary inventions such as the world’s first public toilet and a primitive voting machine).
Shortly afterward, the diamond was put up for auction, where it was purchased by Indian nobleman Khwaja Alimullah, who promptly took it back to India. The fame of this diamond has only increased in the years since.
The Hope Diamond
The striking Hope Diamond has a history as vivid as its dazzling deep blue coloring. Like the Daria-i-Noor, this diamond may have originated in the Kollur Mine of India, but its early days are shrouded in mystery. What is known for sure is that its first recorded owner was the French gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689).
At this time, the future Hope Diamond was part of a much larger uncut gemstone that came to be known as the Tavernier Blue diamond. Tavernier sold this huge diamond to King Louis XIV, who turned right around and had it recut to his specifications. The result was a gemstone named the Blue Diamond of the Crown of France, otherwise known as the French Blue. It was the property of the French royal families for generations.
The diamond disappeared during the chaos of the French Revolution, however, and for decades its whereabouts were unknown. Somehow it resurfaced, twenty years after the French Revolution, in London, England. A wealthy banker named Thomas Hope purchased it for a huge sum.
From this point forward, this precious gemstone would be known as the Hope Diamond. For decades, the Hope Diamond would be passed from one owner to another, its selling price increasing steadily as the years went by.
The legend of the Hope Diamond grew along with its skyrocketing price tag, but the stories surrounding it sometimes took on a dark tone. The stone was rumored to be cursed, bringing doom to anyone who owned it. Part of the inspiration for these odd stories was the unusual coloring of the gemstone—when exposed to ultraviolet light, it radiated an eye-popping red glow for a period of time.
Cursed or not, the Hope Diamond eventually came into the possession of the prominent New York jeweler Harry Winston, one of the most famous diamond merchants in the world. (How famous? He’s actually mentioned by name in the song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”) Winston decided to donate it to the National Museum of Natural History in 1958. It’s still there today, with an appraised value of over $200 million.
Cullinan Major Diamonds
In 1905, a huge, striking diamond that tipped the scales at 3,106 carats was discovered in a South African mine. It was—and still is—the largest diamond ever found, and the chairman of the mine, a certain Thomas Cullinan (1862-1936), had the honor of naming it after himself. The Cullinan diamond was then given to King Edward VII during his 66th birthday celebration—and this was only the beginning of this gemstone’s journey.
The massive Cullinan subsequently would be cut into no fewer than 105 separate diamonds. The largest of these is the so-called Cullinan I (also called the Great Star of Africa). This comes in at 530 carats, making it the world’s largest cut diamond. Not quite so large, but still pretty big, is the 317-carat Cullinan II. These two diamonds belong to the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. Additionally, there are seven other Cullinan diamonds currently owned by Queen Elizabeth II as private possessions.
The Noor-ul-Ain tiara
Here’s another Persian word to learn: “Noor-ul-Ain” means “the light of the eye.” It’s also the name of one of the world’s biggest pink diamonds, which is mounted onto a tiara belonging to the Iranian Crown Jewels. Probably discovered in India’s Golconda mines, the Noor-ul-Ain can trace its recorded history back to the 18th century, when it fell into the hands of the Nader Shah Afshar (1698-1747) after he led his army on a rampage through Delhi. In 1958, the diamond was permanently mounted on the Noor-ul-Ain tiara.
If you hadn’t noticed by now, a lot of famous diamonds come from India. The Koh-i-Noor (or Kohinoor)—it’s Persian for “mountain of light”—is yet another in this category. This colorless diamond originally came in at a hefty 793 carats, but it was later recut to a more manageable 105-carat size. It has an unusually long recorded history, having been discovered sometime in the 13th century.
The diamond would stay in the South Asia region for centuries, its ownership successively transferred from one party to another, before it was given to Queen Victoria in 1849. Unfortunately, its royal owner didn’t care for its drab appearance, and she had it recut to bring out more sparkle. The new and improved Koh-i-Noor became another part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.
Traditionally, the Koh-i-Noor has been worn only by female members of the royal family—it’s said to bring bad luck to males.
The Regent Diamond
Some famous diamonds have rather humble beginnings, despite their enviable beauty. That’s certainly true of the lovely Regent Diamond. It was discovered in 1698 at the Kollur Mine by a slave worker who allegedly smuggled out the diamond by hiding it inside an open wound in his leg. A few years later it was obtained by the English merchant Thomas Pitt, who, rumor had it, may or may not have stolen it. In any event, Pitt decided to have the large (410 carats) gemstone recut to its present 140-carat size and sell the prettified diamond to the French royal family.
Over the years the Regent Diamond was affixed to Louis XV’s crown for his coronation, attached to one of Marie Antoinette’s hats, and set into the pommel of Napoleon Bonaparte’s sword. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, the Regent Diamond briefly disappeared; it was later found in an attic, safe and sound. In 1887, it was added to the permanent collection of the Louvre Museum, where it remains today.
It goes without saying that none of these diamonds are for sale, and, even if they were, they would be well out of reach for the vast majority of us. If you’re searching for diamonds with a reasonable price tag, though, you can always come to a GEM Pawnbrokers location in New York.