The Idol's Eye
The various published accounts of the early history of the Idol's Eye are worth of being included in A Thousand and One Nights, unfortunately, for the most part they must be considered to be entirely unauthentic. The diamond may have been found at Golconda around 1600, but seven years later it was certainly not seized from the Persian Prince Rahab by the East India Company as payment for debt. No such person is recorded in the history of Persia, and the East India Company was not created until several years later.
The first authenticated fact in the diamond's history was its appearance at a Christie's sale in London on July 14th, 1865, when it was described as "a splendid large diamond known as the Idol's Eye set round with 18 smaller brilliants and a framework of small brilliants." It was knocked down to a mysterious buyer simply designated as "B.B.". Later it is stated that the 34th Ottoman Sultan, Abdul Hamid II (1842-1918) owned the Idol's Eye. However the Idol's Eye would never, as has often been asserted, have been set in the eye of a temple in Benghazi because there are neither temples nor idols in that city, Benghazi having been Muslim since the 8th century AD.
When consideration is given to the shape of the Idol's Eye - something between an Old Mine cut and a triangular brilliant - it is not difficult to envisage its setting elsewhere as an eye. Indeed the stone compares favorably with others deemed to have been set in this manner which suggests that certain idols found in sacred buildings in the East have had very oddly-shaped eye-like orifices. The Idol's Eye weighs 70.21 metric carats and is clearly a Golconda diamond, possessing a slight bluish tinge so characteristic of many diamonds from that source.
Abdul Hamid II presided over the most autocratic regime that the Ottoman Empire had experienced since the 1700s. He was eventually defeated by the internal opposition which coalesced as the Young Turks. After his deposition in 1909 he lived in exile, first in Salonika, then in Instanbul where he died in 1918. It is said that the Sultan, sensing in which direction the politcal wind of his country was blowing, made provisions for his coming enforced retirement, which included the despatch of his jewels to a place of safety. Unfortunately the servant entrusted with them turned traitor and sold them in Paris. Whether or not this is the true version of events, it is known that the Idol's Eye was one of several large diamonds belonging to the deal Salomon Habib that came up for auction in Paris on June 24th, 1909. Afterwards a Spanish nobleman bought the diamond which he kept in a bank in London for some years.
After the end of World War II the Idol's Eye re-emerged when it was acquired by a Dutch dealer, from whom Harry Winston bought it in 1946. In the following year Mr. Winston sold the stone to Mrs. May Bonfils Stanton, daughter of Frederick G. Bonfils, the publisher and co-founder of the Denver Post. If many of the earlier characters associated with the diamond's history have proved to be ficticious, Mrs. Stanton goes some way to make up for them. Once a great beauty, she became a legendary figure in American life. From her early childhood she displayed an interest in jewels and began to assemble a famous collection. In addition to the Idol's Eye it was to include the Liberator Diamond and a diamond necklace studded with twelve emeralds weighing 107 carats, once owned by the Maharaja of Indore. She lived in beautiful isolation in a palatial mansion copied from the Petit Trianon in Versailles, and was said to have worn the Idol's Eye at her solitary breakfast every morning. The gem was set as the pendant to a diamond necklace containing 41 round brilliants totalling about 22.50 carats, plus another 45 baguettes weighing about 12 carats. Mrs. Stanton was also a supporter of numerous philanthropic causes in her native state of Colorado. After her death, in her eighties, in March of 1962, her jewels were auctioned in November by Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc. of New York; in accordance with the directions contained in her will the proceeds were distributed among various charities.
The Chicago jeweler Harry Levinson bought the Idol's Eye for $375,000, for his wife, Marilyn. In 1967 he loaned it to De Beers for an exhibition at the Diamond Pavilion in Johannesburg. Six years later in 1973, Mr. Levinson put the diamond up for sale in New York but subsequently withdrew it when the bidding failed to reach his $1,100,000 reserve. In 1979 Laurence Graff of London purchased the Idol's Eye. Harry Levinson loaned the diamond, before it was sold to Laurence Graff, for display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, at a 1982 reception celebrating the 50th anniversary of Harry Winston Inc. In the following January, Mr. Graff sold the Idol's eye, together with the Emperor Maximilian and a 70.54-carat Fancy Yellow diamond named the Sultan Abdul Hamid II and thought to have once been part of that ruler's jewelry collection. The sale of these three diamonds to the same buyer is considered to have been one of the highest priced transactions ever known.
The diamond is actually something of a triangular Old Mine cut, but rather than having 8 main facets it has 9, along with 9 pavilion main facets corresponding. There are also a number of non-symmetrical facets scattered around the crown and pavilion of the stone, as can be seen in the facet layout drawing. Sources: Famous Diamonds by Ian Balfour, Traditional Jewelry of India by Oppi Untracht, and Diamond Cuts in Historic Jewelry - 1381 to 1910 by Herbert Tillander.