Crown Sourcing: Where were the crown jewels originally requisitioned?

The ceremonial gems, crowns and bejewelled brocades that mark the immeasurable gulf between the monarch and the mere vassal also have their stories to tell, sagas of sudden thefts, cunning counterfeits and boundless avarice. And not all such yarns are the stuff of distant yesteryears.

Crown Jewels

Although historically, it was the high kings and queens of Europe that hogged much of the limelight, in truth, they have no monopoly on mesmerising monarch-commissioned fine metalworks. Indeed, long-considered the spiritual home of hereditary rulerdom – is Tehran.

While, today, it is synonymous with international sanctions and vast oil reserves, less well-known is the fact that it is home to the world’s most extensive collection of royal jewellery, the centrepiece of which is the Daria-i-Noor (Sea of Light). Weighing in at around 182 carats, it’s one of the largest cut diamonds the world has ever seen.

Given its exceptional nature, it should perhaps come as no surprise that this particular precious gemstone has been the root cause of inter-dynastic feuds throughout the region for more than 300 years. Although pale-pink in hue, for many, its true colour should be a shocking crimson, an apt match for the blood of the thousands that have been spilt across the centuries as rival factions tusseled to secure it for one envious emperor or another.

Sea of Light
Daria-i-Noor (Sea of Light)

Originally hewn from the darkness of southeast India’s Golconda mines, it is not the only jewel with such a provenance to cut a bloody swathe through the lives of the region’s residents. Equally ill – starred was the 67.5-carat Black Orlov, also known as the Eye of Brahma, one of the largest black diamonds ever found.

Stolen from its sacred setting in the eye of a Hindu God Brahma statue in the dying years of the 19th century by an itinerant holy man, it is said that those who subsequently came into contact with it were forever cursed. No matter how cynically you take such an assertion, its list of victims to date is both impressive and chilling, with a New York diamond dealer and two Russian princesses all inexplicably leaping to their deaths soon after the misappropriated mega-jewel crossed their paths.

Crown Jewels
Black Orlov

Given the comprehensive nature of its curse, clearly only radical action could end its suicide inspiring spree. Thankfully, back in 1950, just such a solution was implemented. Its then-owner had it chiselled into three separate pieces, a development that has seen no East European Empress motivated to bid an 18th-floor adieu on its part ever since. Phew.

No litany of precious stone-related perfidy would be complete without reference to that most doomed of grand dames, Marie Antoinette, the wife of King Louis XVI of France, and the Affair of the Diamond necklace that famously sent her heading towards headlessness.

Rightly sensing that the French Revolutionary mood of the late 18th century made it a poor time for the country’s royal family to take receipt of a US$14 million necklace –a 650-diamond, 2,800-bejewelled behemoth – commissioned by his predecessor, King Louis XVI looked to distance himself from the entire project. 

Affair of the Diamonds
Affair of the Diamonds

Sadly, a less zeitgeist-minded courier sought to woo the favour of Queen Marie by securing the trinket for her personal use. Sadder still, the revolting peasantry got wind of the prospective purchase and Marie and her head became detached well before the necklace could actually be dispatched to her royal loveliness.

The necklace in question ultimately ended up in England, where it was divided into less ostentatious segments and sold off. Indeed, should you want to discretely dispose of some roguishly-acquired regalia, the United Kingdom is probably a more logical locale than most, given that the country just has so much of it already in circulation – the most celebrated of which is probably Saint Edward’s Crown.

Saint Edward’s Crown

Weighing a not – inconsiderable 2.23kg and standing 30cm tall, it was last used ceremonially when the current queen was crowned in 1953. Featuring more than 440 precious and semi-precious stones – the majority of which are rose-cut aquamarines and white topazes – it comes fetchingly trimmed with velvet and ermine. At a very conservative estimate, it is said to be worth some US$12.7 billion, which pretty much equates to the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Mongolia. Given the value and symbolism of such items, then, it is perhaps unsurprising they have often proved the catalyst – or, at the very least, the excuse – for revolution.

Royal lines, dynasties, call them what you will, are fleeting human constructs, abiding only as long as flesh and blood allows. And, even in Britain, the crucible of all things coronation related, the whispers are that it will be a much-diminished House of Windsor that emerges once its current 92-year-old matriarch enters her final repose.

The trappings, trinkets and jewels she leaves behind, may, however, become a cipher to a regal past, with their jewelladen legacy lingering long after they have taken their own final bow.

Text: Bailey Atkinson