Friday, May 11, 2018

Prince Albert and the great diamond debacle by Karla Stover

Wynter's Way
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Murder, When One Isn't Enough


The entire diamond business rests on two supports—vanity and greed.

                                                              1997, anonymous

In 1850, James Andrew Broun-Ramsay. Earl of Dalhousie and India’s governor-general had the Koh-i-Noor diamond “sewn and double-sewn into a belt secured around his waist, one fastened of the best to a chain around my neck,” and left Lahore for Bombay where the gem would start its journey to England. “My stars! What a relief to get rid of it,” he wrote a friend.
Though it may be older, in 1304 the diamond is known to have belonged to Allaudin Khiliji, the Emperor of Dehli. Five years later, records written in Hindu reveal a curse was place on it—to wit: “He who owns this diamond will own the world but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity.” The gem was returned to its place of origin, Samarkand, in 1339.
Curse or not, the diamond was gifted by the Sultan Ibrahim Lodi to Babur Muhammad, founder and first Emperor of the Mughal dynasty. One of Babur’s descendants, protected the diamond and passed it on to his heirs.

Sadly, the dynasty was weakening and in 1739, the Persian general Nadir Shah went to India intending to conquer the throne. The reigning sultan lost a decisive battle and surrendered to Nadir. It was Nadir who first called the diamond Koh-i-noor, meaning Mountain of Light. After his assassination in 1747, he lost the “Light,” and Generals, Ahmad Shah Durrani became the next owner. In 1813, his descendants, Shah Shuja Durrani took the stone back to India and gave it to Ranjit Singh, Maharaja of Punjab and founder of the Sikh Empire.

Enter Great Britain whose forces defeated those of the Punjab and confiscated their properties. The Koh-i-noor was transferred to the treasury of the British East India Company in Lahore. The diamond was shipped to Britain on a ship where a story goes that cholera broke out and the keeper of the diamond lost it for some days before his servant returned it. On July 3, 1850, the diamond was handed to Queen Victoria. Shortly after, and in keeping with the curse, a man named Robert Pate struck her in the head while she was riding in her carriage.

In 1850, while the queen was giving birth to Prince Arthur, getting a diamond, and getting hit, her husband Prince Albert was working on the Great Exhibition, the first-ever international exhibition of manufactured products. People wanted to see the famed diamond, so it was put on display. A near riot ensued when crowds mobbed the building in which it was housed. For their efforts, the people were met with disappointment. Indian diamond cutters polished to preserve size not for maximum brilliance, and the Koh-i-Noor just didn’t sparkle.

Prince Albert undertook the task of making the stone more attractive to the western eye. He called in experts to examine the diamond and eventually chose a Dutch firm. In 1843, Queen Victoria made the House of Garrard the court’s Crown Jewelers. First, a small steam engine was assembled there, the cutters arrived from Holland, and the Duke of Wellington rode up on a white charger to watch. The engine driving the grinding wheel was fired up. The protective wrap made of lead was removed to reveal the first bit of the stone that was to be ground off. The price put the gem on the diamond Scaife grinding machine and the first angle was made.

All in all, it took 38 days for the Koh-i-Noor to “reduce the diamond from 186 carats to 108.03. Prince Albert was dismayed at the loss of weight, and rumors of the curse were repeated. In the end, Queen Victoria only wore the diamond occasionally. Her will stipulated that only a female queen should wear the Koh-i-noor, or if the head of state was a man, his wife would have to carry the diamond. After her death, the Koh-i-noor became part of the Crown Jewels.

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