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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Royal Baubles - Fabulous Precious Stones

( Orginally published 1962 )



In the seventeenth century, the official buyer of gems for the King of France traveled to the court of Aurangzeb in India, where he saw three of the greatest diamonds the world has ever known.

One of these diamonds was of a lovely blue shade, weighing one hundred and twelve carats. The second resembled a gum drop in shape and weighed two hundred and eighty carats. The last was shaped very much like the top of a miniature table and weighed two hundred and forty-two carats.

One of these diamonds disappeared during a bloody revolution. The other, we think, was a part of the booty taken by Nadir Shah. And the third simply disappeared. Three of the world's greatest diamonds, yet two of them have never been found. Only one has ever reappeared, however, in different form. Fortunately for the treasure hunter, the hunt is still wide open for two of them.

The above buyer of gems, Jean Baptiste Tavernier, immediately knew when he saw the first of the three diamonds that it was the only one of its kind that had ever been found. It was a unique shade of blue, and, though it weighed over one hundred carats, it was the gem's color that impressed him the most. No man had ever before found a diamond of that particular shade, and to this day that statement is still true.

Tavernier bought the diamond, and, for the sake of faceting and beauty, had the stone reduced in size to sixty-seven and one-eighth carats. He then sold the diamond, now named the Tavernier Blue, to his King, Louis XIV of France. It is said that Louis suspended the diamond from a light blue ribbon and wore it around his neck.

The diamond then was safe-until the outbreak of the French Revolution. When, at that time, a part of the valuables of the royal family of France were taken and placed in the Garde Meubles (furniture repository), they found that the diamond had disappeared.

Its whereabouts remained unknown, until one day thirty-two years later a gem dealer listed a stone for sale which was the exact shade of the Tavernier Blue, although it was smaller than the original diamond. Later, two other smaller stones were also offered for sale, both of them of the identical shade.

Coincidence would not explain the similarity of coloring of these stones to the blue diamond. Nor would coincidence explain the fact that the three stones offered for sale would, if placed together and allowances made for loss of weight in cleavage and cutting, exactly match the size and shape of the large blue diamond.

The larger of these stones is today one of the most famous diamonds in the world, and also one of the greatest "finds" in the history of treasure hunting.

We do not know this stone today as the Tavernier Blue. It has a new history now, a new name, and weighs forty-four carats. It is called the Hope diamond. It is now part of a collection in the Smithsonian Museum, in Washington, D.C.

The second diamond Tavernier saw was the gum drop diamond, the Great Mogul. At the time he viewed it, the diamond weighed two hundred and eighty carats-yet originally it had weighed more than twice this amount, seven hundred and eighty-seven carats.

Magnificent in its great size, it was cut down to a mere two hundred and eighty carats by a Venetian gem cutter who lived to regret his butchering of the great stone.

Hortensio Berghis was the diamond cutter who botched the job, and instead of being paid for his work he was fined ten thousand rupees for the vandalism he had done to the great stone.

Yet certainly a diamond that weighs two hundred and eighty carats is still worth the treasure hunters' while, for the Great Mogul is still missing-one of the greatest lost treasures of all time.

It disappeared shortly after Tavernier saw it. This magnificent lost stone has been described as a rose-cut diamond, round and a little high on one side, like a gum drop with facets. It was "flat" underneath and the top was faceted. This is the typical rose cut.

It has been suggested (as always there are suggestions of this type in the case of lost gems) that the Great Mogul was cut down into one of two other stones, e.g., either the Koh-i-noor or the Orlov diamond. Yet the Koh-i-noor and the Orlov both have histories of their own.

There is a legend that the Koh-i-noor diamond is five thousand years old and is one of those stones which has been followed by the curse of bloodshed and tribulation.

It has been the loot of wars. One ruler let himself be blinded rather than give it up. At one time it was hidden in the plaster of a prison cell and then rediscovered accidentally.

Nadir Shah, a man of low birth but of great ambition and such cruelty that his own officers finally killed him, sacked Delhi, India, and took, among other things, the Koh-i-noor diamond. Finally, however, the East India Company became the owners of the Kohi-noor, and they presented it to Queen Victoria in 1849.

The Orlov diamond, which has been claimed by some to be the cut-down version of the Great Mogul, has a history that could have come straight out of Hollywood.

How many movies have you seen where a diamond was stolen from its resting place in the eye of a heathen idol? Probably a great many and, probably, they were most of them based on the story of the Orlov, which originally did rest in the eye of an idol. Later it, too, like the Koh-i-noor, became a part of the booty of Nadir Shah.

The stone, under two hundred carats, was purchased finally by Count Grigori Orlov, and in the latter part of the eighteenth century Prince Orlov presented the diamond to Catherine II of Russia. It became a part of the Russian crown jewels, being set in the royal sceptre.

The Koh-i-noor and the Orlov both have fantastic histories of their own. It does not seem possible that either of them could be what is left of the Great Mogul, the stone that was in every way worthy of the name it bore. Associated with the Great Mogul are names right out of an Arabian fairy tale. Baber, who founded the Mogul Dynasty! Hindustan! Shah Jehan, the fifth to succeed Baber!

Shah Jehan was called the Great Mogul, and the great diamond was his namesake. This was the same Shah Jehan who built the Tai Mahal and the $30,000,000 Peacock Throne; yet even the Great Mogul found misfortune in his life. Shah Jehan became ill, and his son, Aurangzeb, seized him and imprisoned him for the rest of his life. Aurangzeb was the last of the Great Moguls.

The Aurangzeb whom Tavernier visited was a scholar and a man of abstinence who abstained from dancing, singing, and meat. He drank nothing but water. Such was the man who owned the Great Mogul, one of the largest diamonds in the world, a diamond which has disappeared, a diamond which is waiting to be found by a lucky treasure hunter-in an antique shop, a trunk in some cellar, or a second-hand store.

The third diamond Tavernier saw was the Great Table diamond, weighing two hundred and forty-two carats. The actual weight of this stone, however, is two hundred and forty-two and five-sixteenths carats, or 249.46 metric carats, although in a stone of this size the exact weight is unimportant. Anything over two hundred carats is well worth looking for.

Like the Great Mogul, the Great Table diamond has disappeared. Can't you picture yourself as being the one to find a long, flat stone faintly resembling in design the flat top of a table and weighing over two hundred carats? You would need to find this kind of "junk" only once.

Tavernier saw three diamonds. First there was the Great Mogul -and it disappeared. Then there was the Great Table-and it disappeared. And then there was one, the fabulous Hope diamond, the only one left out of three of the most fantastic gems the world has ever seen.

Halfway around the world in a land called Kandy there was a gem stone so rare that only one of its kind had ever been found. Today, that is still true. There has never been another gem stone like it ever formed in the earth; at least not a perfect, flawless stone like this one.

In the early 1800's, Kandy was still the land of temple bells, Sanskrit manuscripts and Oriental mystery. Located on the island of Ceylon, it was a place of romance and eastern lore-and also the location of the gem that is so rare that even today most jewelers will deny it ever existed at all.

The gem was a spinel, and, although there are many, many spinels in existence, all the rest are colored. This one is white, and it is unique. There has never been another flawless, white spinel discovered. It weighs seventy-one and a quarter carats-and it is missing. It is probably the most unique lost treasure in the gem field, for there is only one like it.

It is almost impossible to estimate the value of such a stone without holding it up for auction or having various authorities quote their prices and then taking the best one. Yet at one time a value of E23,000 was placed on this gem-and that was many years ago. Today, the value would be far more, perhaps a million dollars!

The first time the white spinel of Kandy was heard of was in the year 1803. At that time Boldoc Swamie, the King of Kandy, presented Major Robert Honner of H.M. 19th Regiment of Foot with the fabulous stone.

It is supposed that the presentation of such a fabulous gift was occasioned by certain distinguished services on the part of the British Major Honner. Yet there are no official records of this gift or the reasons for its presentation, probably because the gift was personal rather than official.

What we do know of the stone is that it was set in gold and surrounded by rubies, an impressive and beautiful sight. Though Major Honner must have been very proud of his fantastic gem, there came a time when he offered the gem for sale. Not even his pride in the gift of the King of Kandy would allow him to keep it. The reason? His military record from the Public Record Office in England speaks for itself:

Major Robert Honner-19th Regiment of Foot (Army Lists and General Courts Martial-Confirmed at Home, W.O. 92/1)

25 January 1792-Ensign in the 19th Regiment of Foot
16 September 1792-Lieutenant
27 May 1793-Captain
18 April 1805-Major
30 January 1806-Court-martialled in Ceylon for violent conduct in the mess-room. Sentenced to be cashiered from the Army but he was permitted to sell his commission for the support of his wife and family.

It is obvious that for monetary reasons Major Honner had to sell the white gem. He needed money so badly that after his court-martial he was permitted to sell his commission to support his wife and family.

He also sold the white spinel, and from that moment on its history is sketchy. We know that a London firm bought the gold and rubies with which it had been mounted. We know that experts tested the stone and found it to be a genuine white spinel, amazed though they were. We know that in the middle of the nineteenth century the stone itself was offered for sale at the French Court. But the sale did not go through.

This is the last that we know of the white spinel. It has disappeared from the pages of history and is waiting somewhere-for you to find it.

There is always a chance, of course, that another white spinel might be dug out of the earth, or picked up by a rockhound. Although Ceylon has long been famous for its occurrences of spinels, there are other locations where this gem may be found. Burma and Siam grounds yield spinel, and in the United States spinels are found in Orange County, New York, and Sussex County, New Jersey.

Perhaps there is another white spinel, even here in the dirt and rocks of the United States, waiting for some lucky treasure hunter to find it. Who knows? All it takes is a little luck-and the knowledge of what you are looking for.

What makes the white spinel (or another white spinel, if you can find one) so rare is the color, or rather the lack of color. All genuine spinels, with the exception of the famous white gem, are colored. Probably the best known of these is the so-called ruby, or red, spinel. The Black Prince's Ruby in the British Crown jewels is a fine example of a red spinel.

It was after World War II that American gem makers began making their fine, synthetic spinels which can now be bought almost anywhere, but these are as nothing compared to the real article.

The real article, this white spinel of Kandy, is unique, the truly one and only, a gem so rare that most people do not even know that it ever existed.

This fantastic stone will one day be found by some treasure hunter who is aware that there is such a thing as a white spinel. But he must look for it. And, if he finds it, he can name his own price.

There are treasure stories about the royal gems of almost every nation in the world. The trouble, however, is that it is almost impossible to either prove or disprove these tales of royal baubles. Sometimes it is difficult to prove or disprove the story of a findsuch as the "finding" of the necklace which Napoleon gave to Josephine. This was, allegedly, a necklace of gold which through the vicissitudes of time had disappeared.

Through a long chain of circumstances, the necklace finally came into the hands of a young couple, both in love and both needing money. The husband had been out of work, and, as time went on, he became desperate for money, so desperate that he took a chance on an old piece of "junk"-a necklace he believed to be of worthless imitation gold.

He took it to a pawnshop in the hope that he could get something, even a little money, for it. The pawnbroker fingered the necklace, then excitedly examined it through an eyepiece, and exclaimed that the young man had brought him one of the finds of the century.

One version of the story has the young man receiving over $20,000 for the necklace. For what the jeweler had found on the inside of the links were the engraved initials N and J. This was the necklace that Napoleon had given to Josephine.

Yet in trying to check the story this writer can find no verification. Mr. William J. Fielding of famous Tiffany and Co., in New York, has this to say of the necklace story: "With regard to the necklace which Napoleon gave to Josephine, stories relating to this necklace pop up from time to time and upon trying to run them down, they seem apocryphal."

Certainly this should at least cast doubts upon this particular treasure "find."

Sometimes the problem is to find out whether a particular royal bauble is missing-and not whether or not it was ever found. Two examples of this type are the opal which belonged to the Roman senator Nonius, and the emerald table of the treasury of the ancient Goths.

The first of these, the opal, was a very lovely gem-and Marc Antony wanted it despite the fact that it was the property of Nonius. The gem was considered to be one of the largest in the ancient world, as well as one of the loveliest. The Romans themselves placed a value of $100,000 (in terms of our money) on it, and, when Marc Antony made clear that he desired the stone, Nonius preferred exile to giving it up.

Today I can find no trace of this stone. It could be in a museum; I don't know. It is physically impossible to check with every museum and historical archive in the world. Yet the Gemological Institute of America has no knowledge of it, and neither has Cartier's Inc., of New York.

Chances are that the stone is lost. And, if it could be found, while the actual value of the stone might not be very much, at least the historical value would be fabulous-if it is actually missing. So also with the other treasure mentioned above, the emerald table of the treasury of the ancient Goths.

According to Edward Gibbon in The History o f the Decline and Fall o f the Roman Empire, there was such a table in the treasury of the Goths-and what a fantastic work of art this must have been. The top of the table was cut from a single piece of emerald. Surrounding the top were three rows of pearls, and the top was supported by three hundred and sixty-five feet of gems and gold. Such was the table that was in the treasury of the ancient Goths when the Arabs plundered it.

Did the Arabs take the table? I don't know for certain. Again, there is no way of checking this without checking with every museum in the world.

Yet it seems to me that, if the table of the Goths were still in existence, it would be an item that everyone would know about. If it is missing-and if you can find it, your fortune is made. Sometimes of course there is another kind of uncheckable story. There is a story of a "find." You can verify it-but you cannot verify the fact that the find is worth anything after it has been found, such as the alleged Braganza diamond which belonged to the King of Portugal. The gem is still in the Portuguese treasury.

We know the gem was found in the 1700's in a dry bed of a river by three criminals who had been exiled to the wilds of Brazil. After finding the diamond, they hoped that possession of it would buy them leniency-and they were right. Their crimes were pardoned. The diamond passed into the royal treasury of Portugal, where it still rests today. Yet the mystery remains. We know that the three men found the gem. We know where it is. What we do not know is whether or not it is really a diamond.

The size of the gem is one thousand, six hundred and eighty carats, second in size only to the great Cullinan diamond prior to its cutting. If the Braganza is really a diamond, then its value is fabulous, one estimate of its worth having been given as $300,000,000, yet there is such a mystery regarding this gem that no one really knows much about it.The gem has raised doubts in the minds of the authorities. Most of them seem to think the gem is a white topaz, and not a diamond at all. One reason for this doubt is that the gem has never been examined by an expert. The gem has not even been shown in over a hundred years.

We have descriptions of the stone; e.g., it is of a yellow shade, round, etc., yet the description leads the experts to think it resembles a white topaz far more than it does a diamond.The Portuguese treasury keeps the gem almost like a state secret -and with good reason if it is really only a topaz, and not a diamond. Three men found it in a dry river bed. The Kings of Portugal owned it! Yet what was it, or, rather, what is it?

There are also the stories of royal gems which are so well known to lovers of lost treasure tales that they are accepted by everyone. Yet even with all background information available, they are still listed as missing, such as the lost rubies of a goddess, a Korean idol. This loss is the treasure hunter's gain-if he can find her missing rubies. At one time, the story goes, the rubies were a part of the jewels of the French court, but today they are believed to be somewhere in the United States.

Years ago they were stolen and placed within the body of a clay cat in a ceramic factory in Germany. The thief was shot before he could reveal the hiding place of the gems. Before it was discovered where the rubies were, the cat was shipped to America and sold.

Somewhere in the United States today there is a small, aged, clay cat carrying within its innards a fortune in royal rubies.

Watch for the cat-and for other "royal" objets d'art from early America, when, although we did not have royalty, we did have our own way of rewarding our great men with gifts. These gifts usually were in the form of "freedom boxes."

In those days of early America, when a famous guest came to visit a city, the city fathers conferred the "freedom of the city" upon him, much as today the key to the city is given to a visiting celebrity. In former days, however, the symbol of freedom was not a key but a parchment, but since one could not very well simply present a parchment, special boxes were made to hold it. These boxes were sometimes made of silver or gold. Sometimes they were encrusted with precious gems.

Among the men who received freedom boxes were Alexander Hamilton and the 'Marquis de Lafayette.

There were others who also received these boxes, and it is almost a certainty that all the boxes which were conferred upon various famous guests in different cities have not found their way into the museums of the nation.

Take another look at that old box you have in the attic. Maybe that metal is not junk, as you thought. And maybe the stones are not rhinestones. Perhaps it is really gold encrusted with diamonds. In a treasure hunt, you never know.

While these freedom boxes are not royal baubles, they do belong in the same class, for ours is not a country of royalty, and perhaps these boxes are the closest American versions to lost royal gems. At least they are worth your time and effort in searching for them, for some of them are worth a fortune.