The Koh-I-Noor

It has been said that whoever owned the Koh-I-Noor ruled the world, a suitable statement for this, the most famous of all diamonds and a veritable household name in many parts of the world. Legend has suggested that the stone may date from before the time of Christ; theory indicates the possibility of its appearance in the early years of the 1300s; history proves its existence for the past two and a half centuries. The first writer has stated:

"Reguarding its traditional history, which extends 5000 years further back, nothing need be said here; though it has afforded sundry imaginative writers with a subject for highly characteristic paragraphs we have no record of its having been at any time a cut stone."

The earliest authentic reference to a diamond which may have been the Koh-I-Noor is found in the Baburnama, the memoirs of Babur, the first Mogul ruler of India. Born in 1483, Babur (meaning 'lion' -- the name was not given to him at birth but appears to be a nickname, deriving from an Arabic or Persian word meaning 'lion' or 'tiger') was descended in the fifth generation from Tamerlane on the male side and in th fifteenth degree from Genghis Khan on the female side. With the blood in his veins of two of the greatest conquerors Asia has ever seen, it is not all that surprising that Babur himself should have become a great conqueror in his own right.

As a young man Babur owed his survival and success on the political and military battlefields to a combination of winning personal qualities and swift opportunism; these were to insure his conquest of the plains of northern India. But in addition to being a warrior, Babur was a cultured and civilized man - a writer and poet.


A miniature of Babur dating from the 1500s.

In the Baburnama, Babur alluded to the Sultan Al-ed-Din Khalji, the ruler of Delhi from 1295 to 1316. The year before his accession the Sultan had led an expidition to the Deccan or 'the South', the high and relatively cool plateau between the Narmada and the Tungabhadra-Krishna River, where he conquered Malwa and captured a large amount of booty. At that time, Al-ed-Din was just a prince serving under his uncle, Jalal-Ud-Din, but in 1295 he murdered his uncle in cold blood and became ruler himself. In 1297 Ala-ed-Din defeated the last king of Gujrat and secured more treasure. One account states that he got his hands on the diamond at Gujrat; another says that he obtained the stone from the Deccan. The second version is not impossible because after his defeat the king fled southwards where he was plundered for a second time, on this occasion by Al-ed-Din's generals.

More than two centuries later, at the time of Babur, northern India was divided among largely independent chiefs who were in no mood to resist a determined invader. After several probing raids into India, Babur was eventually invited by Daulat Khan, the ruler of Punjab, to help him with his fight against his nephew Ibrahim Lodi, Sultan of Delhi, who was proving to be a despotic ruler. In 1526 Babur defeated and killed Ibrahim Lodi, at the battle of Panipat; another who was slain was Vikramaditya, the former Rajah of Gwailor, who had fought on the side of Ibrahim Lodi. Before going into battle, Vikramaditya had sent all his jewels to the fort of Agra of which he was the Qilidar. Among these jewels was a notable diamond. It has been considered possible -- though, in view of his disposition, unlikely -- that originally Ala-ed-Din may have rewarded Vikramaditya's ancestors, two faithful brothers, not only with Gwailor but also with the diamond.

Babur came to Agra on May 4th, 1526, and the great diamond was most likely given to him there the next day. There is no reference to it recorded in the Baburnama which reads:

"When Humayun [Babur's son] arrived, Vikramaditya's people attempted to escape, but were taken by the parties which Humayun had placed upon the watch, and put in custody. Humayun did not permit them to be plundered. Of their own free will they presented to Humayun a peshkash, consisting of a quantity of jewels and precious stones. Among them was the famous diamond which had been acquired by Sultan Alaeddin [Ala-ed-Din]. It is so valuable that a judge of diamonds valued it at half the daily expense of the whole world. It is about eight mishquals. On my arrival, Humayun presented it to me as a peshkash, and I gave it back to him as a present."

There is another account which relates that the diamond was owned, not by Vikramaditya, but by Ibrahim Lodi. According to this version of the story, Ibrahim Lodi's mother was responsible for handing it over to Humayun, the son and successor of Babur; who had been assigned to take possession of all the jewels that had belonged to the slain Sultan of Delhi. After Humayun's men ransacked the Royal Treasury and failed to find the diamond, the servants and Treasury officials were questioned. They remained silent, and even after they had been threatened with dire punishments, none came forward with the information. In the end a servant pointed towards the royal palace.

When Humayun entered the palace the female members of Vikramaditya's family were weeping, so he assured them their honor would be safe in his hands and that he would treat them according to their high station. It was then that Ibrahim Lodi's mother went silently into a room and emerged with a gold box, which, with trembling hands, she handed to the young prince. Humayun opened the box and took out the diamond.

This version, however, is not considered to be the true one by most writers, and the recovery of the diamond from the fort of Agra is reguarded as the authentic one. There has also been much discussion and divergence of opinion about the method of calculating the weight of the diamond: its weight of around eight mishquals, as recorded by Babur, has given rise to a variety of mathematical equations. It is interesting and sifnificant to note, though, that a majority have arrived at a figure of around 186 (old) carats.


A miniature of Humayun, on ivory.

Four years after Babur's crucial victory at Panipat, Humayun fell ill. Doctors could do nothing for him; he continued to grow worse. Then someone suggested to Babur that he should sacrifice his dearest possession to save his son. Undoubtedly this individual was hoping that the emperor would consider the diamond met such a role. If so, he was disappointed, because Babur did not agree with this suggestion, saying that his most precious possession was his own life. The story goes that Babur moved around the bed of his ailing son, praying that Humayun's life would be spared and his own life be sacrificed instead. From then on Humayun's condition improved while Babur declined and died in December of 1530.

The reign of Humayun lasted for 26 years but it was the subject of much interruption. After an initial period of about 9 years' rule he was driven out of India by the Afghan forces of Sher Khan. Humayun fled first to Sind, then to Persia, and did not return to India until after 15 years' exile. Having regained his throne his reign would last only six more months: one day, hearing the call to prayers, he hastily got up, but fell headlong down the stairs of his library, possibly under the effects of opium.

After his defeat by the Afghans and during his subsequent wanderings, there is evidence that Humayun carried with him the large diamond that his father had handed back to him at Agra. For the next 200 years or so, it came to be known as 'Babur's diamond'. Leaving behind his kingdom, his only daughter and numerous wives -- he even abandoned his son, Akbar, when feeling from Afghanistan -- Humayun clung to the diamond. His veneration for it is illustrated by one incident. The ruler of a domain where he had sought sancuary wanted to acquire the gem so, taking advantage of the refugee's plight, he sent one of his courtiers, disguised as a merchant, to bargain with him. When this man presented himself and explained the purpose of his visit, Humayun was furious and replied:

"Such precious gems cannot be bought; either they fall to one by arbitrament of the flashing sword, which is an expression of divine will, or else they come through the grace of mighty monarchs."

The emissary departed quietly.

Humayun's wanderings finally took him to Persia where the country's ruler, Shah Tahmasp, received him cordially. The exiled Mogul emperor was so kindly treated by the Shah that ultimately, as an expression of his gratitude, he gave him valuable jewels. One historian, Abdul Fazal, who later was to be employed as secretary to Akbar, Humayun's successor, has told in his Akbarnama that among the jewels which Shah Tahmasp received was the gem known as 'Babur's diamond', so valuable that it was worth the revenue of countries. Another writer referred to Humayun's gift of the diamond and other jewels and related that Shah Tahmasp was so astonished at seeing them that he sent for his jewelers to appraise them. They told him that they were 'above all price'. This was the way in which Babur's diamond was always spoken of - the value of other diamonds could be estimated, but Babur's diamond could not be appraised except by a fantastic reference to the expenditure of the world.

The presentation of this amazing diamond to the ruler of Persia by Humayun was confirmed by Khur Shah, the Ambassador of Ibrahim Qutb, King of Golconda, at the Persian court. he told of the gift of a diamond of six mishquals, that was requarded to be worth the expenditure of the whole universe for 2 days. However, he also said that Shah Tahmasp didn't think so highly of it and that afterwards he sent it to India as a present to Burhan Nizam, the Shah of Ahmednagar. But the emissary trusted with the diamond, Mehtar Jamal, may have failed to deliver the stone because Shah Tahmasp later sent out orders for his arrest.

These events took place in 1547. From then on until the sack and plunder of Delhi in 1739 the diamond's history must be one of speculation and conjecture. In the mean time a series of happenings took place which have important bearing on the history of Babur's diamond.

In the early 1650s the reigning Mogul Emperor was Shah Jahan, the great-grandson of Humayun. He appointed his third son, Aurangzeb, to the governorship of the Deccan. Aurangzeb, in his own right, was keen to conquer the independent states in this region of India, one of which was Golconda, where the king's domain included the country's main diamond-mining area.


Shah Jahan

At that time the King of Golconda's First Minister was Mir Jumla, a diamond dealer with a considerable reputation in Persia who had travelled southwards, attracted by the lure and promise which the diamond fields held for him. Simultaneously with the administration of his master's state, Mir Jumla planned to do a lot of business on his own behalf, above all in diamonds. The King put him in charge of most affairs pertaining to the mines and trading, and not surprisingly the Persian compiled a fortune. But Mir Jumla overstepped the bounds of caution, being caught in a compromising situation with the mother of the King. He was obliged to leave Golconda immediately for his safety.

Mir Jumla met Aurangzeb early in 1656, then travelled to Delhi where he met Shah Jahan. According to an agent of the East India Company who happened to be the area at the time, Shah Jahan received Mir Jumla courteously and gifts were exchanged between the two -- Jumla's to the Emperor including a diamond weighing 160 ratis. Another account, by French traveller Francois Bernier, records that:

"Jumla, who by his address contrived to obtain frequent invitations to the Court of Shah Jahan, proceeded at length to Agra and carried the most magnificent presents in hope of inducing the Mogul Emperor to declare war against the Kings of Golconda and Bijapur and against the Portuguese. It was on this occasion that he presented Shah Jahan with that celebrated diamond which has been generally deemed unparalleled in size and beauty."

Yet a third writer has asserted that Mir Jumla gave one diamond to Shah Jahan and a second to Aurangzeb, the latter being an uncut specimen thought likely to have been cut later by the Venetian, Borgio.

Although the evidence is slender, the gift of a diamond by the wily Jumla to both father and son accords with his character and should not be dismissed out of hand: it would have been a means of insuring his future whichever way the wind was to blow. He chose to ally himself with Aurangzeb while Shah Jahan's last years were marked by his declining health and a struggle for power among his four sons. Aurangzeb emerged victorious and lost no time in ridding himself of his brothers and incarcerating his father in the fort at Agra. That the luckless Shah Jahan possessed some jewels during his imprisonment is confirmed by two sources. Bernier has stated that Shah Jahan, after he'd been imprisoned, became so reconciled to Aurangzeb that he sent him some of his jewels which at first he had refused to do. Apparently Aurangzeb got them only after his father's death. Jean Baptiste Tavernier's version of the story is different. He wrote:

"During his reign he [Shah Jahan] had begun to build the city of Jehanabad, though he had not quite finish'd it, and therefore he desir'd to see it once more before he dy'd: but Aurangzeb would not give him leave, unless he would be content to go and come back by water, or else to be confin'd to the Castle of Jehanabad, as he was at Agra, which refusal of his son did torment him, that it hasten'd his end. Which as soon as Aurangzeb heard of, he came to Agra and seiz'd upon all the jewels which he had not taken from his father while he liv'd. Begum Saheb had also a quantity of jewels, which he had not taken from her when he put her into the Castle. But now, because she had formerly taken her father's part, he found out a way to deprive her of them after a very plausible manner, making a show of bestowing very great Honours and Caresses upon his Sister, and taking her along with him to Jehanabad. But in a short time after we heard the news of her death; ... and all people suspected her to have been poisoned."


Left to right: Shuja, Aurangzeb, Murad Bakhsh, the three younger sons of Shah
Jahan. Miniature by Balchand, circa 1637. From the British Museum collection.

At this point in the story it is important to try and identify the large diamonds that figured among the jewels given to Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. The big stone, said to have been uncut, must be the Great Mogul which Aurangzeb showed Tavernier in 1665. But which is the diamond mentioned by Bernier as the one which Shah Jahan receieved from Mir Jumla, described as "that celebrated diamond which has been generally deemed unparalleled in size and beauty"? Is it Babur's diamond? These and other questions were asked by several authorities following the arrival of the Koh-I-Noor in England in 1850. First there were people who believed that the Koh-I-Noor was the Great Mogul and that Babur's diamond was seperate; secondly, there were people who believed that the Koh-I-Noor was in fact Babur's diamond; thirdly, there were others who identified the Koh-I-Noor with both Babur's diamond and the Great Mogul.

One of the first to voice his views on the subject was the distinguished mineralogist James Tennant, who noted that in addition to its possessing flaws similar to those decribed by Tavernier as having been in the Mogul's diamond,

"...the Koh-I-Noor had a flaw near the summit which, being on a line of cleavage parallel to the upper surface, may very possibly have been produced when the upper portion was removed -- the weight of which, together with that of two portions removed from the sides, and the loss occasioned by the regrinding of four facets on the upper surface may very easily have represented the difference in teh weights of the two stones, namely 83 1/3 carats."


An illustration of Tavernier from The Six Voyages of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, published in 1679.

Another writer who discussed the subject of the Koh-I-Noor's identity was Edwin Streeter, the 19th-century London jeweler and author of two famous books on diamonds and other gemstones. In his earlier book Precious Stones and Gems he stated that "any doubt as to the 'Mogul' and the 'Koh-I-Noor' being identical is but rarely entertained." But in his later book "The Great Diamonds of the World" he wrote that, "all are agreed that Babur's diamond and the Koh-I-Noor are identical and the Mogul's distinct." This contradiction was pointed out by Valentine Ball who published in 1889 a further translation of Tavernier's Six Voyages with extensive notes and appendices. Ball believed that the view which Streeter had expressed in his earlier book was the sounder of the two.

"It must be at once plainly stated that there is no direct evidence that a diamond of that weight (186 or 187 carats) [i.e. Babur's diamond] was in the possession of the Mogul Emperors at any subsequent period, up to the time of Nadir Shah's invasion. We know nothing as to the weight of the Koh-I-Noor, as such, till about the time it was brought to England, namely the year 1850...

"Tavernier did not see any stone of the weight above attributed to Babur's diamond in the possession of the Great Mogul, Aurangzeb, nor can we support that he heard of any such diamond being in the possession of Shah Jahan, who was confined in prison, where he retained a number of jewels in his own possession. If either he or Bernier had heard of such a stone he would surely have mentioned it...It is possible that Babur's diamond may have been seen in Shah Jahan's possession when Tavernier saw Aurangzeb's jewels and that Aurangzeb obtained possession of it when Shah Jahan died, and so ultimately it passed to Persia, with other jewels taken by Nadir Shah..."

Ball continued...

"The necessary conclusion is that it is not the Mogul's diamond which, through failure of being historically traced as some authors assert, has disappeared, but it is Babur's diamond the history of which we are really left in doubt. The fixing of the weight of Babur's diamond at a figure identical, or nearly so, with that of the Koh-I-Noor when brought to England, though used as a link in a chain, has, as I think I have shown, effectively disposed of its claim to be identified with the Mogul's diamond in the first place, and secondly with the Koh-I-Noor."

In April of 1899 an article entitled Babur's Diamond, Was It the Koh-I-Noor? appeared in the Atlantic Quarterly Review; it was written by Henry Beveridge, the husband of the translator of the Baburnama. Although in the end he was unable to decide whether or not Babur's diamond was the Koh-I-Noor, Beveridge did make one relevant point: he drew attention to the unconscious conclusion caused by there being two diamonds, which led Tavernier to say on one page that the great diamond was presented to Shah Jahan and on another page to say it was presented to Aurangzeb. Hence the fact of there being two diamonds makes obvious many difficulties and may also explain the statement of a Persian nobleman, mentioned in Forbes's Oriental Memoirs, and quoted by Ball, about two large diamonds being carried off by Nadir Shah.

Just over a century later we are in the fortunate position of having information that was unavailable to earlier writers. In particular we now have details of the treasures amassed by the Czars, Shahs and miscellaneous monarchs. We know for sure that there are three diamonds in existence which have a direct bearing upon the questions raised concerning the identity of the Great Mogul and Babur's diamond. They are the Orlov, weighing 189.62 metric carats, now in the Kremlin; the Darya-I-Nur, with an estimated weight of between 175 and 195 metric carats and presumed to still be among the Iranian Crown Jewels; and the Koh-I-Noor, whose former weight before it was recut was 186 carats, equivalent to 190.3 metric carats.

Tavernier referred to the shape of the Great Mogul as "of the same form as if one cut an egg through the middle", and drew it. Both Tavernier's drawing and description of the Great Mogul are applicable to the Orlov Diamond as we know it today. There is, of course, an obvious difference between the weights of the two stones, the Great Mogul being about 100 carats more. But if the diamond seen by Tavernier had been ground down the resemblance would have become even more marked. The resulting loss of weight by the action of such grinding would bring the weight of the Great Mogul to approximately that of the Orlov. Ball's reference to the Orlov is as follows:

"Several writers, among them Professor Schrauf of Vienna (1869), have suggested that the Mogul's diamond is to be identified with the similarly shaped Orloff now belonging to Russia. Apart from the discrepancy in the weights and in the size, as shown by Tavernier's drawing, which was intended to represent the natural size of the former [the Mogul], it is tolerably certain that the Orloff was obtained from the temple of Srirangam on an island in the Cauvery river in Mysore. It was therefore a possession of the Hindus, and it is most improbably that it ever belonged to the Moguls."

This convenient dismissal of the Orlov by Professor Ball cannot be allowed to pass. Just as he alleges that Tavernier would have referred to the Koh-I-Noor as a seperate diamond if it had existed as such, equally would he not have referred to this huge diamond at Srirangam as a seperate diamond? This is a diamond which even today, following discoveries elsewhere, still ranks among the largest of undoubted authenticity. The temple at Srirangam is not situated too far from the diamondiferous regions of India that Tavernier, in his capacity both as a traveller and connoisseur of precious gems, could not have learned of the existence of such a massive stone.

But where Ball's theory on the identity of these two diamonds falls apart is in his reference to the Darya-I-Nur about which he wrote:

"It has already been intimated that the Darya-I-Nur, a flat stone which weighs 186 carats and is now in the Shah's Treasury, may very possibly be Babur's diamond...I have in vain sought for any well-authenticated fact which in the slightest degree controverts or even throws doubt on the suggestion that the Darya-I-Nur, the 'Ocean of Light', may very possibly be Babur's diamond."

In the light of the examination of the pieces in the Iranian Treasury undertaken in the 1960s, it has been conclusively proved that the Darya-I-Nur constitutes a major portion of the Great Table Diamond which Tavernier saw - and tried to buy - at Golconda. In all probably this diamond had been mined not long before his attempted purchase, thereby discounting it from having an earlier history, let alone one involving the Mogul Emperors. Furthermore the descriptions of Babur's diamond being "valued at half the daily expense of the whole world" and so forth are surely inapplicable to the flat rectangular-shaped Darya-I-Nur: one would think that a more appropriate metaphore would have been to describe it as the source of half the water needed for the world for a day. Interestingly the sole point that suggests that the Darya-I-Nur may be identified as Babur's diamond lies in a passage in a book on the life of Babur which reads:

"The gifts were on a grand scale, being precious jewels, among these the great diamond now identified as the Koh-I-Noor. This enormous rose-tinted stone weighed 320 ratis on Humayun's scales."

The Darya-I-Nur is indeed rose-tinted but there has to have been a mistranslation here: 'rose-tinted', when they meant 'rose-cut', the former shape of the Koh-I-Noor.

Finally on the topic of identifying these truly historic diamonds with gems that we know exist today, the suggestion that the Koh-I-Noor and the Great Mogul once formed parts of the same stone is impossible: the Koh-I-Noor is a white diamond where as the Orlov - if we assume it to be the Great Mogul (which it most likely is) - possesses a slight bluish-green tint. So, the Darya-I-Nur has been identified for sure as the largest fragment of the Great Table Diamond; a very strong case exists for identifying the Orlov as being cut from the 280-carat Great Mogul; and a less-strong, but nevertheless valid case can be made for identifying the Koh-I-Noor as Babur's diamond.


One of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier's illustrations from his Six Voyages
book. Diamond #1 is the Great Mogul; #2 is the Florentine; #3 is the Great Table;
#4 is probably the deep table cut mentioned in Herbert Tillander's
Diamond Cuts in Historic Jewelry - 1381 to 1910
as weighing 51 9/16 carats,
later recut to 42 10/16 carats (the crown being faceted, the block pavilion
left untouched. Finally, in 1786, it was cut into a 26-carat gem. It doesn't
mention where the stone is today.

After lasting for nearly fifty years the reign of the strong and ruthless Aurangzeb ended in 1707. It marked the zenith of the rule of the Moguls: there followed a decline with no less than six weak Emperors reigning within a space of 13 years, each of them dying in an unnatural way. About the same time with the sun setting on the Mogul Empire a new one was rising to the west in Persia. Nadir Kuli, or "the Slave to the Wonderful" as he was called, was a young shepherd who, when 18, was abducted together with his mother by a raiding party of Uzbegs to Khiva. Four years later the mother died in slavery, but the young Nadir succeeded in escaping to Khorasan where his first step up the ladder of power was his entry into the service of the Governor of Abivard (then the capitol of the district). Under Nadir Kuli, who in 1732 dethroned the weak ruler of Persia and usurped the throne for his stead four years later, Persia became a major power. After he had defeated the Afghans and the Turks and caused the Russians to evacuate the Caspian provinces, Nadir Shah turned his attention to the east, towards the declining empire of the Moguls. The reigning Emperor, Mohammed Shah, who had ascended the throne in 1719, was a pitiful descendant of the once omnipotent Moguls; he was described as "never without a mistress in his arms and a glass in his hand". Rich pickings awaited the Persians as the Emperor realized his predicament far too late. The decisive battle of Karnal in 1738 was over in 2 hours: the vast Indian army was defeated, more than 20,000 slain on the battlefield, a greater number taken prisoner and an immense hoard of spoils captured. In triumph Nadir Shah marched into Delhi where he was entertained sumptuously by the defeated Mohammed Shah. Among the treasures which the Emperor handed over to Nadir Shah was the famed Peacock Throne which Tavernier described:

"The largest throne, which is set up in the hall of the first court, is in form like one of our field beds, six feet long and four broad. The cushion at the base is round like a bolster: the cushions on the sides are flat. The underpart of the canopy is all embroidered with pearls and diamonds, with a fringe of pearls round about. Upon the top of the canopy, which is made like an arch with four panes, stands a peacock with his tail spread, consisting all of saphirs and other proper colored stones. The body is of beaten gold enchas'd with several jewels, and a great ruby upon his breast, at which hangs a pearl that weighs 50 carats. On each side of the peacock stand two nosegays as high as the bird, consisting of several sorts of flowers, all of beaten gold enamelled. When the king seats himself upon the throne there is a transparent jewel with a diamond appendant of eighty or ninety carats, encompass'd with rubies and emeralds, so hung that it is always in his eye. The twelve pillars also that uphold the canopy are set with rows of fair pearl, round, and of excellent water, that weigh from six to ten carats apiece. This is the famous throne which Tamerlane began and Cha Jehan finish'd, which is really reported to have cost 160 million and 500,000 livres of our money."

The identity of the large diamond set as a pendant has always been a matter for speculation: possibly it may have been the Shah Diamond. But nowhere in Tavernier's account is there a reference to the Koh-I-Noor; indeed the Mogul Emperor must have taken steps to insure that this treasured gem did not fall into the hands of his conqueror. However, Nadir Shah was fully able to the task of finding the gem. There are two stories of how he procured it. One says that Mohammed Shah gave it to Nadir Shah, possibly in gratitude for sparing either his life or his empire. This seems unlikely, and anyway, the second, which has come to be accepted as the true version of the story, is both more plausible and more colorful. Whenever stories are told about the Koh-I-Noor, this particular one tends to pop up more than others.

The disclosure of the secret hiding place of the Koh-I-Noor was made by one of the Emperor's harem; she told Nadir Shah that Mohammed always kept it hidden in his turban. So the shrewd Nadir Shah had recourse to a clever trick. He ordered a grand feast to be celebrated a few days later to coincide with the restoration of Mohammed Shah to his throne. During the course of it Nadir Shah suddenly proposed an exchange of turbans, which is a well-known oriental custom signifying the creation of brotherly ties, sincerity and eternal friendship. Mohammed Shah was taken aback by his quick-thinking rival but at the same time was hardly in a position to resist such a request. With as much grace as he could summon - in fact his composure was such that Nadir Shah thought he had been hoaxed - he accepted. Eventually when Nadir Shah had gone to his private apartment for the night, he unfolded the turban and found the diamond concealed within. It was when he set his eyes on it that he exclaimed "Koh-I-Noor", meaning "Mountain of Light". The most famous diamond in history now had a name.


A drawing I made of the Koh-I-Noor's original 186-carat form,
based directly on various illustrations I've seen of it.

One observation must be made about Nadir Shah's obtainment of the diamond. Clearly he must have known of its existence before the banquet, and probably before he reached Delhi, and must have eagerly sought it. This suggests that it was known in Persia for generations, probably from the time of Humayun's period of exile in that land, and adds weight to the theory that it is a different stone from the Great Mogul Diamond.

A peaceful end to Nadir Shah's stay in Delhi was shattered by an outbreak of rioting, followed by the sacking and pillaging of the city in 1739. The loot included the Koh-I-Noor, which thus left India for Persia for the second time, and one other exceptional diamond which must have been the Great Table. Further victories were made by the Persians in battle, but Nadir Shah became corrupted by his success and the remaining years of his life were marked by growing greed and cruelty, to the point where he was detested by the very people whom he had freed from the foreign yoke. In 1747 he was murdered while asleep in his tent. With the murder of Nadir Shah the unity of Persia collapsed and the army broke up.

The next sixty years or so were the most violent and blood-stained in the history of the Koh-I-Noor. The same pattern of events occured after the demise of Nadir Shah as after that of Aurangzeb: a strong ruler was followed by a series of weak ones. Nadir Shah's successor was Ali Kuli who ascended the throne as Adil Shah, meaning "the Just". His first act was to rid himself of all possible claimants to the throne of Persia with the solitary exception of Shah Rukh Mirza, the 14-year-old grandson of Nadir Shah. But after a short and disgraceful reign, Adil Shah was dethroned and blinded by his brother Ibrahim, who, in turn, suffered the same fate before being captured and put to death by his own troops. Then Shah Rukh took the throne, but another pretender soon appeared and the young king was defeated, also having his eyes put out. Shah Rukh reigned in name, if not in fact, for almost 50 years; his supporter was Ahmed Abdali, an Afghan who had been one of Nadir Shah's most capable generals before he returned to Afghanistan, subdued it, and established himself as its ruler. For the help which he had received from him, Shah Rukh gave Ahmad Abdali important jewels, one of which was the Koh-I-Noor Diamond.

Shah Rukh paid dearly for his gift to Ahmad Shah of the Koh-I-Noor because Aga Mohammed Khan was convinced that the unfortunate man was still in possession of the stone. Deserted by his son, who was unaware of the jewels that he had once owned, Shah Rukh, now blind, was forced to endure the most horrific torture by the cruel ruler, who had an insatiable appetite for gems. As the torturing continued, jewels previously hidden were given up one by one. The final torture which Shah Rukh suffered at the hands of Aga Mohammed Shah was to have his head closely shaved and covered with a thick paste on which boiling water was poured. The last gem he gave up was a large ruby which had once belonged to Aurangzeb. The torture then stopped, but Shah Rukh died from its effects soon afterwards.

In the mean time in Afghanistan, the country where the Koh-I-Noor was being held, Ahmad Shah had been succeeded by his son Timur, a weak ruler but nevertheless a potent one since he left 23 sons to contest his succession. Civil warfare broke out, with the eldest son, Zaman Shah, becoming king in 1793. His brother Mahmud blinded him six years later and seized the throne; then in 1803 another brother, Shuja, imprisoned Mahmud and took the throne. Seven years after that, Mahmud escaped and resumed his reign, but he never obtained the Koh-I-Noor because Zaman Shah had taken it with him and had it embedded in the plaster of his prison cell's walls. Next Shah Shuja regained the throne and the Koh-I-Noor -- the Koh-I-Noor's place of hiding having been pointed out to him by Zaman Shah. Finally, in 1810, the Saddozai of Afghanistan, founded by Ahmad Shah, broke up and the two ill-fated brothers, Zaman Shah and Shah Shuja, sought refuge with the Sikh leader Ranjit Singh, known as the "Lion of Punjab".


Ranjit Singh

Shah Shuja had the Koh-I-Noor with him and the ruler of Punjab must hav known about the famous gem because he showed his desire to own it. He aimed to extort it from Shah Shuja as the price of giving him and his family sancuary. However, Shah Shuja tried by every means to prevent Ranjit Singh from getting hold of it. Once he told him that the stone had been pawned with a money-lender. On another occasion he said that it had been lost with some other jewels. On a third occasion Shah Shuja sent Ranjit Singh a large white topaz, saying it was the diamond; and when his court jewelers examined it and told him that it wasn't a diamond, Ranjit Singh was furious. He posted a guard around Shah Shuja's residence with orders that he was not to receive food or water for two days. In the end Shah Shuja realizing his hopeless situation, agreed to give the diamond to Ranjit Singh, on the condition that he arrive in person to receive it from him.

Ranjit Singh accepted Shah Shuja's proposal and on June 1st, 1813 went to his residence to claim the diamond. The customary greetings took place, then the two kings sat opposite of each other in silence for some time before Ranjit Singh reminded Shah Shuja of the reason for his visit. A servant was then ordered to bring the gem from another room and when he returned with a bundle Ranjit Singh unwrapped it and found the Koh-I-Noor inside. He left the room without saying a word.

Ranjit Singh was the first and last powerful Sikh king; he was followed by three weaker kings, each of whom died prematurely. In 1843 Dhulip Singh, the last of Ranjit Singh's sons, then a minor, became the recognized ruler of Punjab. The two Sikh Wars were fought during his reign, leading to the annexation of the Punjab by the British. On March 29th, 1849, the British flag was hoisted on the citadel of Lahore and the Punjab was formally proclaimed to be part of the British Empire in India. One of the terms of the Treaty of Lahore was as follows:

"The gem called the Koh-I-Noor which was taken from Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk by Maharajah Ranjit Singh shall be surrendered by the Maharajah of Lahore to the Queen of England."

The Governor-General in charge for the ratification of this treaty was Lord Dalhousie who on his arrival at Calcutta in January of 1848, at the age of 35, had become the youngest holder of this office to set foot in India. More than anyone, Dalhousie was also responsible for the British acquiring the Koh-I-Noor, which he continued to show great interest in for the rest of his life. Not long after the signing of the Treaty of Lahore Dalhousie was to become embroiled in the controversy that raged in England about the acquisition of the diamond. Writing to his friend Sir George Cooper in August of 1849, he stated this:

"The Court [of the East India Company] you say, are ruffled by my having caused the Maharajah to cede to the Queen the Koh-i-noor; while the 'Daily News' and my Lord Ellenborough [Governor-General of India, 1841-44] are indignant because I did not confiscate everything to her Majesty, and censure me for leaving a Roman Pearl in the Court... I was fully prepared to hear that the Court chafed at my not sending the diamond to them, and letting them present it to Her Majesty, They ought not to do so -- they ought to enter into and cordially approve the sentiment on which I acted thus. The motive was simply this: that it was more for the honor of the Queen that the Koh-i-noor should be surrendered directly from the hand of the conquered prince into the hands of the sovereign who was his conqueror, than it should be presented to her as a gift -- which is always a favour -- by any joint-stock company among her subjects. So the Court ough to feel. As for their fretting and censuring, that I do not mind -- so long as they do not disallow the article. I know I have acted best for the Sovereign, and for their honour, too."

The British citizen, Dr. (later Sir) John Login, was entrusted with two charges: the responsibility for taking the Koh-I-Noor out of the Toshakhana (the jewel house), and the guardsmanship of the young Dhulip Singh. A cousin of Lady Login wrote to her that the old treaserur, Misr Maharajah, had given every assistance with reguard to the former task and said it was a great relief to be free of responsibility for the diamond, adding that it had been the cause of so many deaths to so many of his own family that he never expected to be spared. The old man gave Login some advice on showing the jewel to visitors: he should not let it fall out of his own hand, and that he should twist the ribbons that tied it as an armlet around his fingers. It was still set in the armlet from the time of Ranjit Singh.

The Koh-I-Noor was formally handed over to the Punjab government made up of three members: Sir Henry Lawrence (1806-1857), his younger brother John Lawrence (afterwards Lord Lawrence, the man who in February of 1859 would break ground on the future Lahore railroad station), and C.C. Mausel. The two other members entrusted the safe-keeping of the gem to John Lawrence, believing him to be the most practical and business-minded of the trio. In their belief they were proved to be totally wrong because the nearest the diamond came to being lost was while it was in John Lawrence's custody. He put the small box containing the diamond into his coat pocket and continued about his day. Then when changing for dinner he threw his coat aside and thought no more about the gem.


Left to right: A painting of Sir Henry Lawrence, founder of the Lawrence School in what is now Sanawar,
Himachal Pradesh, India. A bronze statue of Lord John Lawrence located at Waterloo Place in London. The
inscription at the base reads "John, First Lord Lawrence, ruler of the Punjaub during the Sepoy mutiny
of 1857. Viceroy of India from 1865 to 1868." Sir Henry (1806-1857) was killed in the Sepoy mutiny.

About six weeks later a message came from Dalhousie saying that the Queen had ordered the Koh-I-Noor to be transmitted to her. Henry Lawrence mentioned the subject at a board meeting. When John Lawrence said quietly, "Send for it at once", his brother replied, "Why? You've got it." In a flash John Lawrence remembered: he was horrified and, as he used to describe his feelings later when telling the story, he said quietly to himself, "Well, this is the worst trouble I have ever got into." But his composure was so good that he gave no sign of alarm. "Oh yes, of course, I forgot about it," he said, and the meeting went on as if nothing happened. As soon as he had an opportunity to slip away to his private room, he did, with his heart in his mouth, sent for his old servant, saying to him, "Have you got a small box which was in my waistcoat pocket sometime ago?" The man replied, "Yes, Sahib, I found it and put it in one of your boxes." "Bring it here," replied Lawrence, whereipon the old man went over to a tin box and removed the little one from it. "Open it," said Lawrence, "and see what is inside."

He watched the old man anxiously as fold after fold of small rags was taken off and was very relieved when the precious gem appeared. The servant seemed to be unaware of the treasure which he had in his keeping and remarked, "There is nothing here, Sahib, but a bit of glass."

The Koh-I-Noor was brough back to the meeting and immediately shown to the board, who then who prepared for it to be sent to the Queen. But first it had to travel from Lahore to Bombay, at the time a dangerous route swarming with robbers and other criminals. No less a person than the Governor-General, who when he had first set eyes on the diamond remarked "It is a superb gem," was responsible for its transportation out of India. On May 16th, 1850, Dalhousie wrote:

"The Koh-i-noor sailed from Bombay in H.M.S. Medea on the 6th of April. I could not tell you at the time, for strict secrecy was observed, but I brought it from Lahore myself. I undertook the charge of it in a funk, and never was so happy in all my life as when I got it into the Treasury in Bombay. It was sewn and double sewn into a belt secured around my waist, one end of the belt fastened to a chain around my neck. It never left me day or night, except when I went to Ghazee Khan when I left it with Captain Ramsay (who now has joint charge of it) locked in a treasure chest until I came back. My stars! What a relief to get rid of it. It was detained at Bombay for two months for want of a ship, and I hope, please God, will now arrive safe in July. You had better say nothing about it, however, in your spheres, till you hear others announce it. I have reported it officially to the Court, and to her sacred Majesty by this mail."

The Koh-I-Noor was put in an iron box which itself was kept in a despatch box and deposited in the Government Treasury. For security reasons, this piece of news was understandably suppressed, even among officers of the Treasury - and witheld from Commander Lockyer, the ship's captain. The only individuals who knew about it were the officers entrusted with the custody of the despatch, Lieutenant Colonel Mackeson and Captain Ramsay. Either way, HMS Medea's voyage turned out to be a perilous one and there were two occasions on which disaster was narrowly averted. When the ship reached Mauritius, off the east coast of Madagascar, cholera broke out on board and the local people refused to sell the necessary supplies to its crew, requesting the ships immediate departure. When the Medea didn't move, they asked their governor to open fire and destory the vessel. A few days later after it had left Mauritius the Medea faced a new danger, a severe gale which lasted for about twelve hours before subsiding. Eventually the Medea reached Plymouth, England where the passengers and mail were unloaded but not the Koh-I-Noor, which was forwarded to to Portsmouth. From there the two officers took the diamond to the East India House, handing it over to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the company. The Deputy Chairman delivered it to the Queen at Buckingham Palace on July 3rd, 1850.


Lord Dalhousie, James Andrew Broun Ramsey (b. April 22nd, 1812 - d. December 19th, 1860).
Dalhousie was born and died inside Dalhousie Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland, which is now a hotel.

In addition to giving rise to both gemological and historical arguments, the Koh-I-Noor's arrival in England was accompanied by unease on the part of some, who were aware of superstitions attached to the diamond. Unfortunately such people were presented with an early chance of voicing their feelings when a retired officers of the 10th Hussars lost his reasoning and struck Queen Victoria. Some promptly assigned the blame for this on Dalhousie who, in a letter dated September 1st, 1850, was equally quick to reply:

"I received your letter of 16th July yesterday. The several sad or foul events in England on which it touches have been mentioned by me heretofore, and they are too sad to refer to you. You add that you knew this mishaps lie at my door, as I have sent the Koh-i-noor which always brings misfortune to its possessor. Whoever was the exquisite person from whom you heard this...he was rather lame both on his history and tradition...As for tradition, when Shah Shoojah [Shuja], from whom it was taken, was afterwards asked by Runjeat's [Ranjit Singh's] desire, 'What was the value of the Koh-i-noor?' he replied, 'Its value is Good Fortune, for whoever possesses it has been superior to all his enemies.' Perhaps your friend would favour you with his authority, after this, for his opposite statement. I sent the Queen a narrative of this conversation with Shah Shoojah, taken from the mouth of the messenger."

The directors of the British Museum wanted to have a model made of the Koh-I-Noor, so on April 19th of 1851, removal of the diamond from its setting in which it had arrived from India was authorized. The jewelrywork was performed by William Chapman (goldsmith) in the presence of Lord Breadalbane (the Lord Chamberlain), Lord Cawdor (the Trustee of the British Museum), and Sebastian Garrard (Keeper of Her Majesty's Jewels and the namesake of the Garrard jewelry firm). After its removal Sebastian Garrard found it to weigh 186 1/10 carats instead of 279 as stated by Tavernier. This was probably the reason for an amazing passage which appeared in The Times and read:

"Some conversation took place respecting the doubts imputed to have been cast by Sir David Brewster upon the identity of the Koh-i-noor, but the general opinion among those best acquainted with the subject appeared to be that it was impossible for Dhulip Singh to have palmed off a fictitious diamond, when the constant habit of wearing it upon State occasions must have rendered it perfectly familiar to thousands who would have instantly detected any attempt at substitution. The more probably assumption was stated to be that the weight of 'The Mountain of Light' had been somewhat exaggerated."


Sir David Brewster (1781-1868) was principal of the United College in St. Andrews from 1838 until 1859 when he left
it to become principal of Edinburgh University. He learned to make photographs from William Henry Fox Talbot, the
inventor of the calotype photography process. Brewster brought photography to Scotland in the 1840s, making the country
one of the early experimental centers for the budding art. Photo is circa 1843-1844, making it one of a handful of
the earliest photos ever taken. Brewster is also credited with inventing the kaleidoscope.

The public were given a chance to see the Koh-I-Noor when the Great Exhibition was staged in Hyde Park. The correspondent of The Times reported:

"The Koh-i-noor is at present decidedly the lion of the Exhibition. A mysterious interest appears to be attached to it, and now that so many precautions have been restored to, and so much difficulty attends its inspection, the crowd is enormously enhanced, and the policemen at either end of the covered entrance have much trouble in restraining the struggling and impatient multitude. For some hours yesterday there were never less than a couple of hundred persons waiting their turn of admission, and yet, after all, the diamond does not satisfy. Either from the imperfect cutting or the difficulty of placing the lights advantageously, or the immovability of the stone itself, which should be made to revolve on its axis, few catch any of the brilliant rays it reflects when viewed at a particular angle."


Queen Victoria opening of the Exhibition, inside the Crystal Palace.


An aerial view of the Crystal Palace, built for the 1851 exhibition. The building was
1848 feet long, 408 feet wide and 108 feet tall at its highest point. It burned down in 1939.

The Governor-General in India was continuing to take an interest in the diamond. On July 13th he wrote:

"I see all sorts of sketches and pictures of the contents of the Exhibition. If you can get me anything presenting the Koh-I-Noor well in its cage, coloured, I shall be much obliged."

The next month Dalhousie wrote:

"The Koh-i-noor is badly cut: it is rose-not-brilliant-cut, and of course won't sparkle like the latter. But it should not have been shown in a huge space. In the Toshakam at Lahore Dr. Login used to show it on a table covered with a black velvet cloth, and relieved by the dark colour all round."


A drawing (engraving?) of the Koh-I-Noor sitting in its display
cage at the exhibition. There appears to be a smaller stone on either
side of it. These were likely the other two diamonds in the armband.

Another person who was disappointed with the lack of brilliance of the Koh-I-Noor was Prince Albert, the Prince Consort. He contacted Sir David Brewster, the scientist mainly known for his investigation into phenomenom of polarized light, as to how the diamond might best be recut. Brewster found several small caves (inclusions) within the stone which, in his view, were the result of the expansive force of condensed gases. Together with other flaws he thought would cause the recutting, without a serious reduction in weight, to be a very difficult task. Professor Tennant and Reverend W. Mitchell, Lecturer in Mineralogy at King's College, London, were also consulted. Accordingly they wrote a report in which they admitted the improvement which the proposed recutting would have upon the stone, but at the same time they expressed fears that any cutting could endanger its integrity.

In the end it was decided to seek the advice of practical and experienced diamond cutters, so Messrs Garrard (the Crown Jewelers) were instructed to get a report from such persons. Their choice was Messrs Coster of Amsterdam who, while noting the validity of the fears expressed in the Tennant report, nevertheless stated that the dangers were not so formidable as to prevent as to prevent the intended recutting to be carried out. And so a small steam engine was set up at Garrard's shop while two gentlemen from Messrs Coster, Mr. Voorzanger and Mr. Fedder, travelled to London to undertake the recutting of the diamond.

On the afternoon of Friday, July 17th, 1852, the Duke of Wellington, who had shown great interest in the proposed recutting and attended several meetings during the course of the preparations, rode up on his favorite gray charger to Garrard's at Panton Street. The Koh-I-Noor was embedded in lead, with the exception of a small piece of the stone that was intended to be the first to be submitted to the cutting operation. The Times reported:

"His Grace placed the gem upon the scaife, an horizontal wheel revolving with almost incalculable velocity, whereby the exposed angle was removed by friction, and the first facet of the new cutting was effected...The Koh-i-noor is intended to be converted into an oval brilliant, and the two smaller diamonds which accompany it are to be similarly treated as pendants. The present weight of the principal gem is 186 carats, and the process now in course of progress will not, it is anticipated, diminish in any material degree its weight, while it will largely increase its value and develop its beauties."

A day-by-day account of the recutting that has been preserved discloses that on July 19th the cutters turned their attention to the flaws described by Tennant and Mitchell as having been made for the purpose of holding the stone more firmly in its setting and noted by them still to have particles of gold adhearing to it. Not being certain as to whether the groove, or inclusion, was natural, the cutters decided to investigate it, so they altered the position of the stone to cut directly into it. It was revealed to be a natural inclusion of a yellow tinge, common in smaller stones. The two experts decided that the part of where the flaw was situated, near the flat base of the diamond, was probably part of the external plane of the stone's octahedral crystal. Two weeks later, after examining the stone, Mitchell thought that it had lost nearly all its yellow coloring and become much whiter.

The recutting of the Koh-I-Noor took a mere 38 days and cost 8000 ($40,000). The final result was an oval brilliant weighing 108.93 metric carats, which meant a loss of weight of just under 43 per cent. There is no doubt that such a substantial reduction of the gem's weight came as a disappointment to many, not least to Prince Albert who voiced his views on the matter in no uncertain terms. One authority wrote that owing to the flattened oval shape of the stone, the brilliant pattern selected by the Queen's advisors 'entailed the greatest possible waste', adding that Mr. Coster himself would have preferred the drop form. There was also comment in the press that the recutting of the Koh-I-Noor revealed the painful fact that the art of diamond cutting was extinct in England (at least, for the time being) while even the cutters from Amsterdam and Paris had lost much of their skill. (Antwerp is presently considered the diamond cutting capitol of Europe.) The Koh-I-Noor's form is a stellar brilliant cut: the crown possesses the regular 33 facets, including the table, while he pavilion has eight more facets than the regular 25 (counting a culet facet, which would have been applied to prettymuch any diamond that size at the time) bringing the total number of facets to 66. A number of famous diamonds are stellar brilliants: the Tiffany Yellow, the Red Cross, the Star of South Africa and the Wittelsbach, among others.

One of the first people to see the Koh-I-Noor in its new shape was Dhulip Singh, who at the time was living in London under the guardsmanship of Lady Login: she had been appointed to this post on the death of her husband. Since his arrival in England no one had broached the subject with the young Maharaja; it was thought that the diamond must have a special meaning for him, something beyond a mere gem of great value. But a chance of raising the subject presented itself. Lady Login was present at the sittings for a portrait of the young prince that took place at Buckingham Palace. At one of them the Queen asked Lady Login whether the Maharaja ever spoke of the Koh-I-Noor and, if so, whether he regretted its loss. Lady Login replied that he had never spoken of it since his arrival in England although he had in India; at the same time he had been greatly interested in the descriptions of the operation of recutting it. The Queen then said that she hoped that before the next portrait sitting Lady Login would ask Dhulip Singh's feelings on the subject and whether he would care to see it in its recut oval form. The Queen was told that the prince would very much like to see the famed stone.


Dhulip Singh

During the portrait session the following day, the Queen, who had heard Dhulip Singh's response, walked to the dais on which the Maharaja was posing, with the Koh-I-Noor in her hand. She asked if he thought it had been improved and whether he would have recognized it. After he had finished in his inspection, Dhulip Singh walked across the room, and with a low bow expressed in a few graceful words the pleasure it gave him to have the opportunity of placing the stone in her hands.

The unease about the acquistion of the Koh-I-Noor continued in the United Kingdom: some people considered that it had not been the property of the state, rather the personal possession of Dhulip Singh which he was cornered into giving away. This may have arisen from the news of Dhulip Singh's presentation of the diamond to the Queen. The news reached Dalhousie who on August 26th, 1854 wrote from Government House saying:

"L-'s talk about the Koh-i-noor being a present from Dhuleep Singh to the Queen is arrant humbug. He knew as well as I did that it was nothing of the sort: and if I had been within a thousand miles of him he would not have dared to utter such a piece of trickery. Those 'beautiful eyes', with which Dhuleep has taken captive the court, are his mother's eyes - those with which she capivated and controlled the old lion of Punjab. The officer who had charge of her from Lahore to Benares told me this. He said that hers were splendid orbs."

However, worries over the supposed bad luck which the Koh-I-Noor was supposed to bring to its owner refused to die down and they ultimately led to Dalhousie writing his most extended and emphasized letter on the subject of the diamond. He wrote on his way home from Malta on January 7th, 1858 as follows:

"The rumour you mention as to the Koh-i-noor I have seen in former years in an English paper, but never anywhere else. It is not only contrary to fact but contrary to native statements also. Did the Koh-i-noor bring ill luck to the great Akbar, who got it from Golconda, or to his own son or grandson? Or to Aurangzeb, who rose to be the Great Mogul? And when that race of Emperors fell (not from the ill-fortune of the Koh-i-noor, but from their feeble hand) did it bring ill-fortune to Nadir Shah, who lived and died the greatest Eastern conqueror of modern times? Or to Ahmed Shah Doorani who got it at Nadir's death and founded the Afghan Empire? Or did it bring ill-fortune to Runjeet Singh, who got it from the Dooranis, and who rose from being a sower on twenty rupees a month at Goojeranwalla to be the Maharaja of the Punjab, swaying the greatest force in India next to ourselves? And has it brought ill-luck to the Queen? Especially representing the Punjab, has it shown that State an enemy to us? Has it not, on the contrary, shown it our fastest friend, by whose aid we have just put down the traitors of our own household? So much for the facts of history as to the Koh-i-noor. Now for the estimation in which its former owners hold it. When Runjeet Singh seized it from Shah Shoojah [the Doorani Emperor] he was very anxious to ascertain its real value. He sent to merchants at Umritsir, but they said its value could not be estimated in money. He sent it to the Begum Shah, Shoojah's wife. Her answer was thus, 'If a strong man should take five stones, and should cast them, one east, one west, one north, and one south, and the last straight up in the air, and if all the space between those points were filled with gold and gems, that would not equal the value of the Koh-i-noor.' Runjeet (thinking this a rather vague estimate, I suppose) thus applied to Shah Shoojah. The old man's answer was: 'The value of the Koh-i-noor is that whoever holds it is victorious over all his enemies.' And so it is. The Koh-i-noor has been of ill-fortune to the few who have lost it. To the long line of Emperors, Conquerors and potentates who through successive centuries have possessed it, it has been the symbol of victory and empire. And sure never more than to our Queen, ever since she wore it, and at this moment...However, if her Majesty thinks it brings bad luck to her let her give it back to me. I will take it and its ill-luck as speculation."


A painting of Queen Victoria by Francis Xavier Winterhalter, painted in 1842.
Winterhalter was famous for his paintings of royalty, Empress Eugenie, Empress
Elisabeth of Austria and Empress Maria Alexandrovna being among his portraits.

Queen Victoria did not return the Koh-I-Noor to Lord Dalhousie. Instead, in 1853 Garrards mounted it in a magnificent tiara for the Queen which contained more than two thousand diamonds. Five years later Queen Victoria ordered a new regal circlet for the Koh-I-Noor which they delivered the following year. Then in 1911 Garrards made a new crown which Queen Mary wore for the coronation: it contained only diamonds, among them the Koh-I-Noor. In 1937 the diamond was transfered to the crown made for Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, which was based on Queen Victoria's regal circlet. The Koh-I-Noor is set in the Maltese Cross at the front of the crown.

In the 20th century there was further controversy surrounding the Koh-I-Noor, namely the question of its rightful ownership. It wouldn't be uncharitable to suggest that on the majority of occasions which the subject has been raised on, it has been due to the efforts of politicians anxious to score poll points off one another rather than to any initiative on the part of those who may harbor deep-seated feelings about the gem.

In 1947 the government of India asked for the return of the Koh-I-Noor: at the same time the Congress Ministry of Orissa claimed that the stone actually belonged to the god Jaganath, despite the opinion of Ranjit Singh's treasurer that it was property of the state. Another request followed in 1953, the year of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. But the really fight erupted in 1976 when the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in a letter to the British Prime Minister, James Callaghan, submitted a formal request for the return of the diamond to Pakistan. This was refused but was accompanied by an assurance by Callaghan to Bhutto that there was no question that Britain would have handed it over to any other country. The view of the British government was reported at the time to have been that the history of the diamond is so confused and that Britain has a clear title, in that the diamond was not seized in war but formally presented -- the last statement being a somewhat curious interpretation of the events of the 19th century. Remember, the Koh-I-Noor being handed over was one of the terms of the Treaty of Lahore. They did not have much choice in the matter. Pakistan's claim to the Koh-I-Noor was disputed by India, which made another formal request for its restoration. Shortly after, a major newspaper in Teheran stated that the gem ought to be returned to Iran.


Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1928-1979)

The debate in the British media and press provided evidence of the keen interest which the topic rose. People and special interest groups hastened to put pen to paper. Lord Ballatrae, the great-grandson of Lord Dalhousie, submitted his own claim on the grounds that for just over a year his relative had been the stone's owner. A second person wrote that if the Koh-I-Noor was to be handed back, then the marble statues must be restored to Greece or Lord Elgin, the Isle of Man to Lord Delby and the Channel Islands to France -- he was not sure to whom the Isle of Wight belonged but felt sure there would be a long and acrimonious dispute with the British Isles themselves. A third writer suggested that the solution to the problem was to partition the gem... (!)

An authoritative and thoughtful addition to the debate that raged in the press was in a letter to The Times by Sir Olaf Caroe, a distinguished British administrator who had spent a lifetime's service in the east, including time in the post of Foreign Secretary to the Government of India from 1939 to 1945. Sir Olaf pointed out that the Koh-I-Noor had been in Mogul possession in Delhi for 213 years, in Afghan possession in Kandahar and Kabul for 66 years and (at the time of writing the letter) in British possession for 127 years. He remarked that it is true that when it was acquired by the British it was at Lahore (now a part of Pakistan), but other and previous claimants also existed. The Moguls in Delhi were Turkish in origin and the rulers in Lahore, by the time the stone came into British hands, were Sikhs. Finally, he said he felt that the word "return" was barely applicable.

Historically, it is difficult to pass judgement on the validity of the various claims. On the other hand, from a gemological aspect, the Indian claim must be the most valid because it was in that country that the Koh-I-Noor was mined. However, this country's claim to the diamond was renounced by a man who was a statesman, not only a politician; Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India once said, "Diamonds are for the Emperors and India does not need Emperors."

In 1992 a new HM Stationary Office publication on the British Crown Jewels and regalia gave the revised weight of 105.602 metric carats for the Koh-I-Noor and not the 108.93 metric carat conversion figure previously published. The stone was found to measure 36.00 31.90 13.04 mm. The stone is set in the Maltese Cross at the front of the crown made for Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and because of uncertainty as to the precise weight in the HMSO publication, the opportunity was taken in 1988 to have the stone removed during the maintenance and cleaning of the crown by the Crown Jeweller, Mr. Bill Summers, at Garrard & Co. It was weighed in the presences of witnesses on a modern certified electronic balance.


Herbert Tillander's drawing of the Koh-I-Noor's facet pattern. This cut is
called a 'stellar brilliant' because of the extra facets on the stone's pavilion.
I doubt it would get better than the grade "Fair" in symmetry.

Sources: The Great Diamonds of the World by Edwin Streeter, The Baburnama by Babur, translated into English by Annette Beveridge 1922, Akbarnama by Abul Fazal, translated into English by Henry Beveridge, Travels in India by Jean Baptiste Tavernier, translated into English by Valentine Ball and William Crooke in 1925 (the price an original copy from the 1600s starts at about $2100...!), the archives of the London Times.

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