The Fabled Diamonds of Golconda

Aug 5, 2021 0 comments

Before the discovery of the diamond mines in Brazil and South Africa in the early 18th century, India was the sole supplier of the world’s diamonds, and much of its diamonds were mined in a small geographic area called Golconda in the present-day states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Located not far from Hyderabad, Golconda with its elaborate fort was the early capital city of the Qutb Shahi dynasty established in the early 16th century. Because of the presence of diamonds in the area, Golconda established itself as a diamond trading center and until the end of the 19th century, the Golconda market was the primary source of the finest and largest diamonds in the world. Golconda came to be synonymous with great wealth, and the name is still spoken with reverence among diamond traders and collectors.

Queen Victoria wearing the Koh-i-Noor diamond

Queen Victoria wearing the Koh-i-Noor diamond in a brooch, by German painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter.

Golconda’s diamonds were known to Europeans since the time of Marco Polo. The French gem merchant, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, was one of the few foreigners who travelled extensively across the land, visiting gem mines and their kings. In an account of his voyages, he explained how India’s diamond deposits were extensive, with stones found in present-day Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Bengal, Bundelkhand to name a few.

On his journey, Tavernier was permitted to examine the Great Mogul Diamond, a colossal gem shaped like half of an egg and named after Shah Akbar, the third of India’s Mogul emperors. The stone vanished soon after. Some believe that the stone was cut by thieves into smaller sizes to disguise their identity. Most modern scholars are now convinced that the 189 carat Orlov diamond originally worn by Russian Empress Catherine the Great and now displayed in Moscow's Kremlin Armoury is one of the pieces.

The Orlov diamond

The Orlov diamond. Photo: Elkan Wijnberg/Wikimedia Commons

Tavernier also claimed to have seen a flat diamond called the Great Table diamond kept in a dungeon in Golconda. The diamond was plundered by Nader Shah during his invasion of India in 1739 and disappeared after his assassination.

One of the most famous diamonds that Golconda produced was the Tavernier Blue, which Tavernier purchased in 1666 and sold to King Louis XIV. The 67-carat triangular-shaped stone with a hint of blue was set on a golden cravat pin supported by a ribbon for the neck which was worn by the king during ceremonies. Louis XIV's great-grandson, Louis XV, had the diamond set into a more elaborate jeweled pendant with a red spinel and hundreds of additional diamonds.

Hope Diamond

Hope Diamond in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington DC. Photo: Mbalotia/Wikimedia Commons

During the French Revolution, after Louis XVI and his family were imprisoned, rioters broke into the Royal Storehouse and stole most of the crown jewel, including the Tavernier Blue, now renamed French Blue. Two decades later, the diamond reappeared in England, this time recut into a 45-carat piece, where it acquired the name of “Hope”. After going through numerous owners, it was purchased in 1949 by New York gem merchant Harry Winston, who toured it for a number of years before donating it to the National Museum of Natural History of the United States in 1958, where it has since remained on permanent exhibition.

Another famous Golconda diamond that has lead to much ownership dispute is the Koh-i-Noor. Mined in Kollur Mine, Koh-i-Noor probably weighed close to 200 carat and originally was part of the Mughal Peacock Throne, a famous jeweled throne commissioned in the early 17th century by emperor Shah Jahan. Koh-i-Noor changed hands between various factions in south and west Asia, until being ceded to Queen Victoria after the British annexation of Punjab in 1849. For more than a century, females of the Royal Family wore the stone in their crown.

On old map Hyderabad from Harmsworth’s Universal Encyclopaedia

On old map Hyderabad from Harmsworth’s Universal Encyclopaedia, circa 1920s. Photo: Michelle Bridges |

After India gained independence in 1947, it demanded that the Koh-i-Noor be return to its rightful owner, but the British refused insisting that the gem was obtained legally. Today, the diamond is on public display in the Jewel House at the Tower of London.

Few Golconda diamonds are in the hands of India. The Daria-i-Noor, the world’s largest pink diamond, currently in the Iranian Crown Jewels collection of the Central Bank of Iran in Tehran, was also mined in Kollur. It was originally owned by the Kakatiya dynasty, and later, like the Koh-i-Noor, it became part of Shah Jahan's Peacock Throne. In 1739, when Nader Shah of Iran invaded Northern India and occupied Delhi, it ransacked the entire treasury of the Mughals and took with him the Daria-i-Noor, in addition to the Koh-i-Noor and the Peacock Throne.

The Daria-e Noor

The Daria-e Noor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Researchers believe that Daria-i-Noor may have been part of the Great Table diamond that Tavernier described back in the 17th century. This diamond may have been cut into two pieces. The larger part is the Daria-i-Noor, while the smaller part is believed to be the 60-carat Noor-ul-Ain diamond, presently studded in a tiara also in the Iranian Imperial collection.

Possibly the only significant Golconda diamond that is in possession of India is Jacob Diamond, a 185 carat colorless piece of stone and the fifth-biggest polished diamond in the world.

Jacob diamond was acquired by the famous gems and antique dealer Alexander Malcolm Jacob (after whom the diamond is named), who offered it for sale to Mahbub Ali Khan, the sixth nizam of Hyderabad and one of the richest men in the world. The nizam was asked to make a good faith deposit of 2.2 million rupees so that the diamond could be transported from London to India. The nizam agreed, but when the diamond was presented before him Mahboob Ali Khan took a few glances at the stone and decided that he did not like it. The nizam demanded that Jacob return the advance that was paid to him. Jacob refused. This led to a long-drawn and bitter court battle that created a sensation across India and in the international press as well.

The Jacob Diamond

The Jacob Diamond. Photo: Barun Ghosh/Wikimedia Commons

Even though the court awarded the nizam the diamond for his troubles without having to pay the balance payment, for a prince to appear before a British court became a matter of great shame. Mahboob Ali Khan regarded the diamond unlucky and wanted nothing to do with a stone that dragged him to humiliation. He wrapped it in a piece of cloth and stuck it inside an old shoe.

Mahboob Ali Khan died in 1911, and several years after his death, the nizam’s son and successor Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last Nizam of Hyderabad, found the diamond in his father’s shoe. Believing the stone to be of little value, the nizam used it as a paperweight for a long time until the diamond's true value was realized. Decades later, the diamond was purchased by the Government of India from the nizam's trust and is currently held at the Reserve Bank of India vaults in Mumbai.

# Richa Goyal Sikri, The Diamond Capital of the Ancient World – Golconda, Natural Diamonds
# Victoria Gomelsky, The Market for Golconda Diamonds Has Mushroomed, NY Times
# Diamond in a Shoe: The Jacob Diamond, Live History India


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