Christmas time is the period when all the sparkling things come out in full force. All the tinsel, fairy lights, frosted trees, twinkling globes and most of all glittering gems. UNRESERVED looks back on all the fabulous jewels in history and the stories that make them special.
From precious gems that have graced the crowns of kings and queens to grand baubles worn by celebrities, feast your eyes on some of the most famous popular – notorious even – jewellery pieces throughout history:
The US$5 million Taylor-Burton Diamond
Richard Burton once said of his wife Elizabeth Taylor, “I would have liked to buy her the Taj Mahal, but it would cost too much to transport”. Luckily for Taylor, her handsome and charismatic Welsh husband who was the son of a coal miner, was practical enough to furnish her with more portable gifts. The Taylor-Burton diamond is just one of the many gems to the duo’s name (the aforementioned 33.14 Krupp diamond being another). The massive 69.42 carat, pearl-shaped diamond was bought by Burton at an auction for US$1.1 million in 1969, approximately US$4 million today.
The diamond was cut from a rough stone of 240.8 carats found in the Premier Mine in South Africa in 1966, before it was bought by Harry Winston. Taylor wore it in public for the first time at the 40th birthday party of Princess Grace of Monaco. It was said to have been flown in from New York to Nice, escorted by two armed guards. The marriage didn’t last very long and Taylor put the diamond up for sale after the divorce. It was sold to New York jeweller Henry Lambert for US$5 million in 1978. It was Taylor’s wish that part of the proceeds be given to help fund a charity to build a new hospital in Botswana. In 1979, the diamond was sold to Robert Mouawad who still owns it today.
The Notorious Hope Diamond
Legend has it that the dazzling indigo blue gem was once the eye of a Hindu idol before it was plucked out by a thieving priest, sparking a curse that would span centuries. The original 112 3/16 carat horse chestnut-sized diamond later made its way to France after the French merchant Jean Baptiste Tavernier sold it to the Sun King Louis XIV. In 1673, Louis XIV had it recut into a 67 ⅛ carat stone and often wore it on a piece of blue ribbon around his neck.
Soon after the French Revolution, the gem went missing from the record books. Until one day in 1812 when a smaller 45.52 carat stone mysteriously re-emerged in London; suspected to be of the same dazzling French Blue, it ended up in the collection of King George IV. However, the name “Hope” only came about after Lord Henry Thomas Hope acquired the gem, although records did not reveal from whom he bought it, and how much it cost.
The ‘Cursed’ Black Orlov Diamond
Originally part of an uncut 195 carat stone, the Black Orlov diamond is known to be another cursed gem that was believed to have also been stolen from the eye of a 19th-century statue of Brahma, the Hindu god of creation (we’re sensing a pattern here) near Pondicherry in India. The gem was also called the Eye of Brahma.
From its homeland in India, the breathtaking jewel eventually made its way to Russia sometime in the 20th century where it came into the possession of a Russian heiress, Princess Nadia Vygin-Orlov. It was believed that the princess fled Russia for Italy during the 1917 Russian Revolution. Despite having parted ways with the Black Orlov in 1932, she later jumped to her death from a building in Rome in 1947.
American jeweller J.W. Paris acquired the gem in 1932 and coincidentally, Paris had also sold the gem shortly before he committed suicide by jumping off a skyscraper in Manhattan, the same year he acquired the gem. Before Paris’ death, he sold the jewel to Charles F. Winston who had it recut into three pieces, and the 67.5 carat Eye of Brahma was renamed the Black Orlov. This move is said to have broken the curse as no dark events have been reported since.
Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s extravagant collection
According to Collectors Weekly, the Duke of Windsor gifted Wallis Simpson – who later became the Duchess of Windsor – extravagant jewels before the two got married, and continued throughout their married life. One striking piece was a gold cross-shaped pendant with an inscription “WE are too”, possibly signifying Simpson and Edward were also in love. The cross was later made into a diamond Cartier bracelet and was adorned with eight other jewel-encrusted crosses, each of them engraved to commemorate special events such as their wedding, Simpson’s appendix operation and even an assassination attempt on the king.
In return, Simpson was also wildly generous to her husband and presented him with a set of Cartier pavé set cufflinks with a “W” and “E” on each of the cufflinks. Another dazzling piece in the couple’s collection is Cartier’s famous “great cat”, the first-ever 3D gold panther pin adorned with black enamel, with the cat lounging on an emerald barrel as well as a flamboyant panther onyx and diamond bracelet, and the colourful jewel-encrusted Flamingo brooch. Clearly, the two shared a taste for the flamboyant. The Duchess of Windsor again made history when the 1987 Sotheby’s auction in Geneva fetched over US$50 million, a record for a single-owner jewellery collection.
Bennifer’s pink diamond engagement ring
At one point in the mid-2000s, thanks to Bennifer, everyone wanted a piece of rare coloured diamonds. The craze began when Ben Affleck walked into Harry Winston and pointed to a breathtaking 6.1 carat radiant cut pink diamond engagement ring with dazzling white diamonds for his then-fiancé Jennifer Lopez. The actor reportedly forked out a cool US$2.5 million for the iconic piece.
According to the Cape Town Diamond Museum, pink diamonds are amongst the most valuable in the world and can cost up to 20 times the price of a lowly plain-old colourless diamond. The pricing also depends on the colour intensity, cut, clarity and shape, while a purplish-pink hue, one of the most desired colours, could fetch a higher price. Although this ring and the man is just one of the many engagements for J.Lo, we’re quite sure the ring wasn’t that easy to part with. Lopez returned the ring to Affleck after their split in 2004.
This article is an excerpt from UNRESERVED’s December 2019 issue from the article Rocks of Ages.