The Wittelsbach

photo Ernst A. Heiniger

How often does one come across terms such as "present location unknown" or "all trace of the diamond has been lost" when undertaking research into the histories of famous diamonds? It is all the more satisfying, therefore, to recall an item in a newspaper that appeared in January of 1962, under the heading "Rare diamond reappears". This refered to the Wittelsbach, a diamond of a rare deep blue color whose reappearance, even though after a mere few decades, was nonetheless an exciting and welcoming event.

The Wittelsbach weighed 35.56 metric carats and measured 24.40 by 24.46 millimeters, with a depth of and 8.29 millimeters. It was pure apart from a few surface scratches that were probably caused during removal from its settings over time. The diamond has been cut with 82 facets arranged in an unusual pattern the star facets on the crown are vertically split and the pavilion has sixteen needle-like facets, arranged in pairs, pointing outward from the culet facet, which itself is extremely large.

The first record of the Wittelsbach dates from the latter part of the seventeenth century. One fact is thus certain: the diamond must be of Indian origin. Furthermore, it has been suggested that a diamond of such a rare color must once have formed part of the famous French Blue Diamond, weighing 112 old carats in the rough, which Tavernier bought in India and later sold to Louis XIV of France. The principal gem which this yielded is the Hope, weighing 45.52 carats, so that technical reasons alone clearly preclude the possibility of the Wittelsbach having been fashioned from the same piece of rough. The sole possibility of a connection between the Wittelsbach and the Hope lies in Tavernier's French Blue Diamond being merely part of a much larger piece of rough that had at some time been split in two (a very unlikely occurence). While the Wittelsbach has been found to fluoresce bright red, like the Hope, no link has been established between the two diamonds.

The history of the Wittelsbach has been uneventful; for the most part it has been passed down from one royal owner to another. The gem formed part of the gift which Philip IV of Spain gave to his 15-year-old daughter, the Infanta Margareta Teresa, up the occasion of her betrothel to the Emperor Leopold I of Austria in 1664. (Any chance of tracing the earlier history of the Wittelsbach was lost when the Madrid archives were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.) The bride's father commanded the treasurer to compose a dowry from a recent acquisition of precious stones from India and Portugal. The resulting selection included a large blue diamond. Unfortunately, the marriage between the Emperor and the Infanta ended with her early death in 1675. Her jewels passed to her husband, and listen in a document dated March 23rd, 1673:

"Diamond ornament ... consisting of ... a large brooch with a Great Blue Diamond in the centre, to which belongs a bow-jewel set with rubies."

Leopold I later gave all the jewelry he had inherited from the Infanta to his third wife, the Empress Eleanor Magdalena, daughter of the Elector Palatine. The Empress outlived her husband, dying in 1720. By then she had already made arrangements to bequeath the 'Great Blue Diamond' to her younger granddaughter, the Archduchess Maria Amelia, daughter of the Emperor Joseph I.

In 1717 the Archduchess made the aquaintance of the man she was destined to marry, the Bavarian Crown Prince Charles Albert. Born in Brussels in 1697, he was subsequently brought up and educated in Austria. Their wedding in 1722 was an event that heralded an important change in the future of the blue diamond. Henceforth it became the 'family diamond' of House of Bavaria, the Wittelsbachs; it remained so until the abdication of the last king in 1918. The diamond was the principal item in Maria Amelia's dowry and was described under the heading of diamond ornaments as, 'No. 1 A large blue brilliant encircled with small brilliants,' valued at 240,000 guilders, proof of the value attached to the gem, especially when its worth is compared to that of other valuables recorded in contemporary inventories.

An Order of the Golden Fleece ornament, with a glass replica of the Wittelsbach set at the top.
Although it appears colorless/nearly colorless in this image, the cushion-shaped diamond in the
center section of the pentdant is actually described as being a pinkish-brown color. In
Lawrence Copeland's book Diamonds - Famous, Notable and Unique there is a photo of this ornament,
with the actual
Wittelsbach Diamond set in it, but the gold ram at the bottom is not attached.

A zoom-in of the top third of the ornament. This blue stone is most
likely glass. The original Wittelsbach was removed and eventually wound
up in a Harry Winston brooch surrounded by a pear-shaped white diamonds.

It was not long after the wedding of the Crown Prince to the Archduchess that his father, the Elector Maximilian Emmanuel, found himself in financial difficulties. As the head of a royal family, he was responsible for the wellfare of its members which in turn, meant that he was free to do as he pleased with all their worldly goods. Borrowing money from a banker named Oppenheim, he thus pledged both the Wittelsbach Diamond. They were redeemed four years later for 543,781 guilders, but the Elector, who died shortly afterwords, left his son and successor the task of covering this amount. In addition, the Elector left his family an impoverished one; the redemption of the diamond raised the total deficit to 4,000,000 guilders.

The new Elector, Charles Albert, clearly had an affection for the Wittelsbach because during his lifetime he had its setting altered several times, each more beautiful than the last. His successor, Maximilian III, ordered yet another setting for the gem which was undertaken by a Munich jeweler. The Wittelsbach was set in a circle of brilliants with a border of larger brilliants in a floral design. Suspended from this was a loop or bow of brilliants with horizontal rays radiating from a large cushion-shaped brilliant diamond of a pink-brown tint in the center (see the above two photos). Altogether a total of 700 brilliants were employed into this extravagent setting.

The last King of Bavaria to wear the blue diamond was Louis III who reigned until 1918 when Germany became a republic. After his abdication he retired to his estate in Hungary, dying there in 1921. His internment in the Theatinerkinche in Munich was a ceremonial occasion of splendour and it marked the last time that the Wittelsbach Diamond accompanied a monarch to his final place of rest.

In the aftermath of World War I, Bavaria became a republic and the possessions of the former House of Wittelsbach were placed under the control of an equalization fund. The members of the royal family recieved an indemnity which, however, was soon to prove worthless in the ensuing period of inflation, and since legislation did not permit the conversion of landed property into money, the members of the royal house were soon left in an impoverished state. Accordingly, the State agreed in 1931 that certain Crown Jewels of the House of Wittelsbach should be sold to alleviate the hardship experienced by descendants of the last king.

The Wittelsbach's unusual facet layout. The eight inner-most facets of the pavilion is actually a sapphire
glued to the stone to hide a very large culet facet and help deepen the diamond's color appearance. This
addition, which technically made the diamond a doublet, was added sometime after the gem's 1964 sale.

The honor of auctioning the Bavarian Crown Jewels fell to Christie's in London, who in November, 1931, announced the sale would take place the following month and that the contents would include "a famous blue diamond". Public interest was remarkable; the sale comprised thirteen lots and lasted for over two hours. The first lot consisted of the blue diamond; and it was apparently considered to be a good start at 3000 and the bidding rose to 5400. Although it was knocked down at that figure to a purchaser named 'Thorp' the general impression was that the diamond remained unsold. Among the items sold was one described as 'a fine cinnamon-yellow oblong brilliant' for 1500 which may have been the previously mentioned diamond of a pink-brown tint that featured in the jewel made for Maximilian III.

Now the mystery of the whereabouts of the Wittelsbach truly begins. Whatever transpired at Christie's in December of 1931, the diamond did not return to its former place of display in Munich; in its place visitors were shown a worthless piece of faceted blue glass. Rumors included one that the stone had been sold illegally in 1932 through a Munich jeweller and had reappeared in Holland. Later research unveiled the fact that the Wittelsbach had been sold in Belgium in 1951 and that it had changed hands again in 1955. Three years later millions of visitors came to Brussels for the World Exhibition and many must have cast eyes upon the exhibition of jewelry which included a large blue diamond. But not one person appeared to have any inkling that this was in fact a missing famous gem - the Wittelsbach Diamond.

Credit for the recognition of the true identity of the blue diamond must go to the late Joseph Komkommer, a leading figure in the Belgian diamond industry and the fourth generation of a diamond family.

In January of 1962 Mr. Komkommer received a phone call asking him to look at an Old Mine cut diamond with a view of its recutting. When he opened the package he received a shock -- a dark blue diamond is among the rarest and most precious of gems. Mr. Komkommer at once recognized that the diamond was one of historical significance and that it would be sacrilegious to recut it. With the assistance of his son, Jacques Komkommer, he identified the diamond as the 'lost' blue diamond that was formerly owned by the House of Wittelsbach. Mr. Komkommer thereupon formed a consortium of diamond buyers from Belgium and the USA which purchased the diamond, then valued at 180,000. The vendors were the trustees of an estate whose identity remained undisclosed. Finally, the Wittelsbach was acquired by private collector in 1964. The diamond was photographed in the late 1970s, shown mounted in a Harry Winston brooch surrounded by white pear-shaped diamonds.

On December 10th, 2008 the stone was sold at a Christies in London for 16.4 million, or US$23.4 million, to London-based jeweler Laurence Graff. To date this is the highest price ever paid at auction for a diamond, the old record-holder being the Star of the Season. To the dismay of many diamond and jewelry historians, Graff recut the stone a short time later. This reduced its weight to 31.06 carats, removing the small nicks from the edge of the stone, marks that had been made over the centuries by jewelers moving the stone from one setting to another. (The stone had had a very thin girdle, making it more susceptible to damage when being worked in jewelry.) After the recut the diamond was reexamined by the Gemological Institute of America and its color grade revised from Fancy Deep Grayish Blue to a more desirable grade of Fancy Deep Blue. The diamond's clarity had also been revised upward, from Very Slightly Included (VS1) to Internally flawless (IF).

Sources: Famous Diamonds by Ian Balfour, Traditional Jewelry of India by Oppi Untracht, Diamonds - Famous, Notable and Unique by Lawrence Copeland.