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The Spanish Inquisition Necklace

The large diamonds and emeralds in this elegant necklace were probably cut in India in the 17th century, making them the earliest fashioned gems in the National Gem Collection. According to its legend, at least a portion, or variation, of this necklace was once property of Spanish royalty and later adorned ladies of the French court. Unfortunately, information concerning the details of the early history of the necklace is extremely meager. It was apparently purchased early in the 20th century by the Maharaja of Indore. In 1948, Harry Winston sold the necklace to Mrs. Cora Hubbard Williams of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Smithsonian Institution recieved the Spanish Inquistion Necklace as a bequest from Mrs. Williams in 1972.

The necklace is composed of two strands of antique-cut diamonds and emeralds to which a lower pendant and upper chain containing modern, brilliant-cut diamonds have been added. There is a total of 374 diamonds and 15 superb emeralds. All of the emeralds in the necklace undoubtedly come from Columbia. By the 17th century Spanish conquistadores were shipping large quantities of emeralds from the Chivor and Muzo mines in Columbia back to Europe. A large quantity of these emeralds was sent to India, where they were cut and polished. Subsequently, many of the finished gems and jewelry were traded or sold back to European royalty. The sixteen pointed briolette-shaped diamonds are slightly yellowish in color and almost certainly came from India, the world's only significant source of diamonds prior to their discovery in Brazil in 1723.

The large, central barrel-shaped emerald weighs approximately 45 carats, and its rich velvety color and exceptional clarity place it amoung the world's very finest quality emeralds. The shape closesly approximates the form of the original elongated hexagonal crystal, suggesting that the crystal faces were simply rounded off in order to yield the largest possible gem. The emerald is strung onto the necklace through a hole drilled lengthwise down its center. It is remarkable that the inside of the hole was polished so as to make it less obvious.

The remaining barrel-shaped emeralds and sixteen large diamonds on the two central strands are also attached in a most extraordinary way. Each has two angled drill holes on one side that connect within the stone. A wire passing through the resulting V-shaped channel almost invisibly secures each stone to the necklace.

The origin of the name, the Spanish Inquistion Necklace, remains a mystery. It seems likely, however, that the title was conferred in this century, in recognition of the connection of many of its gems to that epic period in Spain's history. SOURCE: The National Gem Collection by Jeffrey E. Post.

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