The Koh-i-Noor diamond probably came from India, which is one of the earliest known diamond-producing countries. If certain ancient texts are to be believed, it could be more than 5,000 years old, but more concrete mentions of the stone reference its existence just after 1300.
Though a history that lengthy is worthy of note alone, the stone’s infamy is multiplied by the curse it allegedly carries. The curse has its origins in an old Hindu text, and reads like so:
"He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity."
The interesting thing about the curse is that history has held it up so far. For centuries, the Koh-i-Noor was passed around as a spoil of war, won and lost in bloody battles between countries and dynasties and even within families. The owners knew great power and great defeat with an often violent end.
|The Koh-i-Noor as it is today|
|It arrived in Britain set in this armlet, now with replica stones|
At the insistence of Lord Dalhousie, the transfer of the Koh-i-Noor’s ownership to the British rulers was included in the Treaty of Lahore. Dalhousie’s initiative wasn’t met with universal approval – there were those that felt it should have been a gift, and there were those that felt that a cursed stone shouldn’t have been given to their queen at all. But to Dalhousie, it was part of the spoils of war – just as it had been for centuries. The new Maharaja, Duleep Singh, presented it to Queen Victoria in 1850. The stone became a centerpiece of the Great Exhibition in London in 1851.
The Koh-i-Noor was hailed as one of the world’s largest diamonds, but by the time it reached Britain it was a shadow of what it had once been. Its initial weight was said to have been 793 carats; thanks to a terrible hack job by a jeweler while the stone was with the Moghuls it was cut down to 186 carats. Even with all that cutting, it was still something of a disappointing gem. Prince Albert decided to cut it down further, turning it into a more conventional shape and increasing its brilliance. After much consideration and time and money, in 1852 the stone lost nearly another half of its weight. Today, it clocks in at 105.6 carats. (And reportedly, Albert still wasn’t pleased.) Queen Victoria mounted her new stone in a brooch setting, and also in the front cross of her Regal Circlet or as the center of the Timur Ruby necklace.
|Queen Victoria wearing the Koh-i-Noor as a brooch on her bodice; in the portrait on the left, she also wears the Regal Circlet the stone could be set into|
|Queen Alexandra and her crown, with the Koh-i-Noor front and center|
|Queen Mary and the Koh-i-Noor, left to right: in her crown, wearing the crown for the coronation, wearing the crown without its arches, wearing the brooch setting on her neckline|
|The last public (non-display) outing of the Koh-i-Noor: in the crown atop the Queen Mother's casket, 2002|
Photos: Royal Collection/Queen Elizabeth II/Telegraph/National Geographic