In mankind’s history with the diamond there are many stunning examples, their fire and scintillation commanding awe from any who behold them, but few are so iconic and wildly desirable as that which sits at the heart of the British Crown Jewels. The Koh-I-Noor is a stone of such majesty and beauty that it has passed through the hands of many kings and queens, forming a symbol of their power and dominion.
Literally translating as “The Mountain of Light” the stone lives up to its name. Even the more extravagant of diamonds to be found in antique engagement rings tend to weigh between 1 and 3 carats, but the truly immense Koh-I-Noor’s weight has been estimated at around 105.6 carats. Its size is truly remarkable, as is the absence of flaws and its completely clear appearance. Whilst there are other diamonds which have captured the hearts of many over the years none share this combination of size and grandeur.
It is precisely this transcendent beauty which has given this colourless stone such a colourful past.
A Stone of Kings
The discovery of the Koh-I-Noor is an event shrouded in mystery, and no sources can confidently assert when it was pulled from the bosom of the earth. The earliest known mention of the stone is most probably in the writings of the ancient emperor Babur, a descendent of Genghis Khan, who formed the Mughal Empire in 1526, although given the extreme resilience common to all diamonds it is possible that it passed through many other owners’ hands before it came into his possession.
The Mughal Empire was forged through warfare, and the lives of its rulers were seldom calm. Over a century of ceaseless struggles with neighbouring nations and peoples, as well as internecine instability, ensured that many men would come into possession of the stone of kings, but none would hold it for long.
Despite creating such incredible works of engineering as the Taj Mahal, the Mughal empire was eventually shattered by the Persian king Nadir Shah, who sacked Delhi and claimed the Koh-I-Noor for himself. Nadir would become a feared tyrant towards the end of his life, and he was eventually assassinated. When the stone passed to his grandson it came with the beginnings of the reputed curse which many still believe lies upon the stone to this day – that it is deadly for the man who owns it.
Nadir Shah’s grandson made a gift of the Koh-I-Noor to Ahmad Shah Durrani, founder of the Afghan Empire, whose descendants in turn made a gift of it to Ranjit Singh, founder of the Sikh empire. Each time it was given away it was an act of desperation to buy time and alliances for empires which were falling, and emperors who were brought low by sickness or violence.
So the legend of the stone grew as each successive owner suffered some manner of ill fate. Superstition around such a wondrous item is understandable, however it should be noted that many of those who owned the stone were warlords who maintained their power through violence and tyranny, and such rulers tend to lead tumultuous lives regardless of which diamonds they happen to own.
The Doom of Men
It was at the end of the second Anglo Sikh war that the stone left the possession of the great empires of India and was surrendered to the victorious forces of the British Empire, then ruled by Queen Victoria, who was overseeing a tremendously prosperous time for her people.
The British royal family looked back upon the centuries of bloody history that the diamond had been present for and concluded that it was truly the “doom of men”, but by that logic their queen, who had by that time been on the throne for over a decade, was the perfect person to take possession. As a woman, their empress would be safe from the stone’s supposedly cursed nature.
In 1851 the Koh-I-Noor was shown to the people at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in London, where it was met with marginal disappointment. The fabled stone was massive in size, but it had been cut and polished centuries prior, and the technology of the industrial revolution now afforded lapidaries a wealth of different techniques and machinery to improve the stone. Without the government’s consent Prince Albert, then consort of the Queen, had the stone recut into its current form. Although stones in the earlier style still adorn the Iranian Crown Jewels the Koh-I-Noor now has a much more anglicised appearance.
The Crown Jewel
Whilst many of the stone’s former owners had incorporated it into turbans, bracers and other items of jewellery or clothing it was only after Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 that the stone was set into an actual crown. Queen Alexandra, the wife of Edward VII was presented with the crown at her coronation, and the stone was reset into the Queen Mother’s crown in 1937.
Whilst the Koh-I-Noor remains in the possession of the British crown to this day its ownership is still disputed, with India, Pakistan and Afghanistan making claims on it based on their nation’s history. Whilst the British Government has shown little interest in negotiating with other nations on this matter it is clear that the desire which caused it to be at the centre of so much strife is still alive and well in the hearts and minds of those who covet it.
Characteristics of Greatness
The Koh-I-Noor is incomparable to other stones, yet skilled gemmologists over the years have assessed the measure of its priceless form. The stone is 3.6cm long, 3.2cm wide and 1.3cm deep, weighing in a approximately 105.6 carats, around 21.12 grams.
The stone is an oval brilliant cut (Stone Cuts Link) with an unusually broad culet (the point at the bottom of the stone). Where more modern cuts tend to have sharp culets the Koh-I-Noor’s is flattened, as was popular at the time, which creates the impression of a black hole through the stone when it is viewed from the front.
Despite its arguably imperfect cut, history of struggle, and the conflict which has followed it to present day, it is clear the the Koh-I-Noor; the Mountain of Light and treasure of emperors and empresses, will continue to fascinate and inspire awe for many generations to come.
Whilst the beauty of the Koh-I-Noor may be beyond the scope of most Antique Jewellery Online has spent decades searching for the most beautiful diamonds from eras past. Take a look at our selection of diamonds here.