Tag Archives: diamond history

The Mythical Mazarins: A Weird Tale of History’s Most Famous Diamond Group

via Wikipedia.en
via Wikipedia.en

History is no stranger to diamonds with epic, tumultuous and storied pasts; the Shah, the Black Orlov and the Hope, to name a few.  However, there hardly exists a famous diamond nomenclature that is used to describe a multitude of stones; eighteen of the sparklers, to be exact!  Let’s delve deep into the recesses of gemstone history to discover the odd origins and sprawling paths that this collection of famed gems have ventured down. 

It began with one man; Giulio Raimondo Mazzarino (born on July 14th, 1602).  Unless you’re really bad at guessing this type of thing, you’ve correctly assumed he was of Italian descent.  Early on, he left his home in the Kingdom of Naples and sought education, by the Jesuits, in Roma.  However, for reasons only known to the intriguing Naples native, Guilio all but renounced his heritage, moved to France and fully ensconced himself in full French fashion.  Forgoing spaghetti for escargot, he altered his moniker as well, now assuming the identity of one “Jules Raymond Mazarin.”  Through a series of fortunate events, ‘Mazarin’ was able to utilize his syncretic education and weave his way into the close knit community of French aristocrats and nobles.  His apparent charms knew no end, despite his alleged gambling problem and proclivity to chase married women; namely, the Queen of France.  Now here’s where his somewhat apocryphal tale gets significantly weirder.  Mazarin, despite not holding any previous titles in the clergy and being a married man (a marriage he was rumored to have been forced into to repay a particularly hefty debt incurred through unbridled gambling), was somehow able to ascend to the role of Cardinal.  Admission into such a high position in the Roman Catholic Church has never been a simple task, so there is much speculation about how this truly went down.  Through this auspicious and serendipitous trajectory, Mazarin was able to amass his amazing amalgamation of gemstones.  

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While the legend of Mazarin is steeped in many unsubstantiated stories and wild rumors, historians have narrowed down a few solid possibilities for his rapid ascension to Catholic fame.  One such theory is that French Cardinal Richelieu (the right hand man to the current king, Louis the 13th) was visiting Rome and was introduced to a plucky, young Mazarin.  He promptly invited the seemingly sedulous scamp to venture back with him to Paris, to try his hand at bourgeois Parisian life.  Under Richelieu’s wing, Mazarin quickly adapted to the politics of French Catholicism and became all but indispensable to the religious magnate.  A mainstay of the royal court, Mazarin now found himself rubbing shoulders with his holiest of holies, the Pope, and his kingliest of kings, Louis XIII.  By 1641 ole Louis Louis had appointed Mazarin a Cardinal himself, thus sealing the once-Italian’s legacy.  While many believed King Louis to fancy the not-so-fair sex, there is no direct evidence linking his tastes in gentlemen of the court to why Mazarin was able to slip in so seamlessly.  Nevertheless, Louis would kick the bucket a mere two years later; a victim to tuberculosis.  This would pave the way for Mazarin to further secure his status as a royal player…

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Mazarin now seemed destined to procure the favor of the recently widowed Queen Anne.  One interesting snippet about him and the Queen that circulated involves his love of the gamble.  While playing a card game in court (or whatever 17th century folk did that involved betting), Mazarin was on a real hot streak and had a huge pile of gold in front of him.  As the amour-deprived Queen walked into the room, Mazarin impulsively put all his winnings on the line.  He won the bet and immediately began fawning all over the Queen, attributing her fortuitous aura to his hearty haul.  This (among other undisclosed, most likely naughty things) would garner the Queen’s esteem, and once Cardinal Richelieu was dead and out of the picture, she named Mazarin the First Minister of France.  From that point on Mazarin was co-calling the shots in France.  Acting as a virtual stepdad to the lil’ king Louis the 14th (more hearsay dictates that Mazarin and the Queen took clandestine vows of their own), Mazarin and Anne were not only knocking knees but were leading the nation.  Times were not always smooth sailing, as phalanxes of the French people revolted here and there, but Mazarin kept his head held high until he finally succumbed to illness in 1661, leaving behind a wake of questions as to how such an unknown person could reign so supreme.  

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Now on to the diamonds.  Unfortunately, the actual origin of the majority of the 18 stones remains shrouded in mystery.  Two of the best known diamonds in the collection, however, the “Sancy” and the “Mirror of Portugal” do have definitive roots.  They both essentially were collateral turned into actual payment from the King of England, Charles I’s widow, Henrietta, to a dude named the Duke of Épernon – who subsequently sold the diamonds to Mazarin.  Wanting to further bolster his collection, Mazarin sequestered some more stones from England’s coup captain and interim ruler, Oliver Cromwell.  Amongst these new stones came the first ever “brilliant” cut diamond – which has yet to relinquish its title as ‘engagement ring stone of choice.’  When Mazarin passed over to the great cathedral in the sky, he willed his 18 diamonds to the French Crown.  His faux stepson, Louis the 14th, had three of the gems forged into his “battle” sword and donned them with pride (at his hip, of course, never in actual combat).

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It would seem that this Brobdingnagian assortment of priceless diamonds would have been solidified in history as major gemological mainstay, but, alas, twas not meant to be.  More than a century after Mazarin’s death, a bold robbery took place; the Garde Meuble, where the stones were tucked away, was ransacked and 12 of the stones were lost forever (including the much beloved Mirror of Portugal).  While these gems were all substantial in size, and thus fairly easy to recognize, popular belief is that they have been recut over the years to avoid detection.  If you’d like to take a gander at some of the remaining diamonds, three of the diaphanous stones are on display at the Louvre in Paris.  Alas, most of the Mazarins live on in memory, myth and mystery alone. 

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-Joe Leone 

Missing Diamond and Gem Treasures!

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Ever since the first diamond was plucked from the earth, these stones have been viewed as objects of immeasurable value.  Consequentially, people have been snatching them from each other with rapacity.  That is to say, diamonds and jewels have been some of the most sought after things to steal for centuries.  As this tradition is still going quite strong today, let’s take a look back at some of the grandest (and unsolved) diamond and gemstone plunders in recorded history.  

The Treasure of Lima

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Dios Mio!  After the Spaniards wrestled control of Peru from the native Incas during the 1500’s, they thought the country would be a perfect place for hiding some of their illustrious treasures.  These valuables included various jewels and gemstones, some priceless candlesticks and, naturally, “two life-size solid gold statues of Mary holding the baby Jesus.”  How much were these historic pieces valued at during the time they were to be transported to Mexico in 1820?  Possibly 60 million unos grandes.  Adjust for a little thing called inflation, and we’re looking at roughly $250,000,000 today.  Now here’s where the story gets greedily good:  A  heretofore trustworthy sea captain, William Thomas, was hired to ship the loot in his majestic vessel the “Mary Dear,” but he and his sea-faring posse thought hey, “Argghh ye matey,” and pirated the whole operation, murdering anyone who opposed them.  They made a quick stop off at Cocos Island (near modern day Costa Rica) and plopped the purloined goods into the supple sand.  Eventually Thomas was caught and brought back to the island to show the Spanish where their stuff was hidden – yet Thomas pulled a fast one and ran off into the jungle.  After many attempts over the decades to locate it, no one has been able to find that luscious gold/gem conglomeration.  Those who believe strongly in Karma hold the conviction that Thomas was hastily devoured by carnivorous parrots deep in the jungle.               (source: The telegraph.co.uk)

*update: the modern day Treasure of Lima is Adriana Lima.

Florentine Diamond  

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The history of this yellow fellow is sketchy at best.  Allegedly, after purchasing the stone, the Duke of “Burgundy” (a region of southern France, now known for wine and being a color), donned the diamond in battle and died ignominiously in 1476.  Some fool-hearty rando then found the massive, 137 carat sparkler, thought it was glass (or “florin”) and sold it to somebody for a few pennies.  The ginormous gemstone eventually found its way into the possession of many famed families, such as the Medicis and then the Austrian royal clan the Habsburgs (now known as the “Has-beens”).  When the Austrian empire was crumbling like a moldy crumb cake during the first World War, Charles the First (of the soon to be defunct Austria) scampered away and hid with his gem in some Swiss castle, clutching it like Gollum.  Well somebody got close enough to snatch that puppy, and flee to South America with it.  The final gemmy gossip is that some Gatsby-like American purchased it in the 1920’s and brought it back to the states.  Here it essentially entered the witness protection program for diamonds: it was potentially cut to become another stone altogether (or possibly two, or…more?) and its whereabouts remain an abject mystery.  It was valued at an estimated $750,000 back at the turn of the century, so who knows what this sparkler would actually be worth now.                            (source: famousdiamonds.tripod.com)

Irish Crown Jewels

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The torrid tale of these lucky little gems (emeralds, rubies, pink and huge white diamonds encased in numerous precious metals) is wrought with intrigue.  After passing hands through many generations of Irish nobility, the jewels ended up in Dublin Castle, under lock and key.  That didn’t stop some enterprising thieves from liberating the valuables in 1907.  The larcenists were never caught, but extremely weird and wild theories circulated nonetheless.  Some lords blamed “Unionist criminals,” while others defamed the very staff of Dublin House, stating that they had “homosexual orgies” and the naughty (yet well dressed) rascals involved were the culprits.  More scandal arose when the King of Arms accused his right hand man of doing the dirty deed.  Regardless of how it actually went down, the jewels are still at large, and they would fetch a cool 7.8 million dollars today.  (source: historyireland.com)

Tucker’s Cross

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The narrative of Tucker’s Cross may seem relatively tame in comparison to some of the previously listed stories, however the ending to this account is slightly more melancholic.  Teddy Tucker, an explorer extraordinaire and native of Bermuda, was exploring the high seas as usual (no big deal) in 1955.  He chanced upon a 22 karat, solid gold crucifix, bespectacled with giant glistening emeralds.  Legend has it that this priceless cross went down with the San Pedro, an ill-fated Spanish ship that sank in 1594 (qué lastima).  Tucker made a deal with the Bermudan government, selling it to them so that it could be displayed in a museum that Tucker and his gorgeous and sultry wife oversaw, as a symbol of Bermudan beauty (even though it was really from Spain, but whatever).  Valued at $250,000 at the time, it was considered the world’s “Most Valuable Sunken Treasure.”  After a lot of hullabaloo involving the sale of the museum and a visit by Queen Elizabeth II, a closer inspection of the cross revealed that it had been pilfered – a carefully crafted replica sat in its cherished spot.  Tucker hung his head in shame, while the heretic thieves laughed with devilish delight and deviously danced into the tropical night.  The cross was obviously never recovered, and sunken treasure exploration has never been the same.  (sources: teddytucker.com / thescuttlefish.com)

The Patiala Necklace

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When you are one of 2,930 diamonds in a necklace, it may be hard to stand out.  That is, unless you are the “De Beers Diamond,” a 234 carat cutie, holding the distinction of the world’s 7th largest diamond (before it was cut, it’s carat weight was 428).  These are just some of the gemstones that comprise the Patiala, which was made specifically for the eponymous maharaja in 1928, by a small local jeweler called “Cartier” – and who says men don’t like to wear jewelry?  In any event, this necklace never really wanted to be in the spotlight: it went missing just two decades later.  In a bizarre turn, it made a famous reappearance at the Geneva Sotheby’s in 1982, selling for $3.16 million (apparently the Swiss aren’t sticklers for producing certifications of ownership).  However, it was revealed that many of the original stones were missing, including Burmese rubies and various other diamonds in the modest 18 to 73 carat range.  Where those missing stones are is yet another enigma in the wide world of perpetually disappearing diamonds.   (source: thehindu.com)

…more Missing Diamonds coming soon!  (well, an article – not the actual diamonds …they’re missing.)

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-Joe Leone

Diamond Myths Around the Globe

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All gemstones contain some form of lore or mythology.  Rubies have long been believed to bring their owners wealth (…not including the actual rubies themselves).  Sapphires were used when consulting with oracles, as they aided in letting the audience better understand the enigmatic messages emanating from these garbled prognosticators.  Emeralds, with their regal green color, could help bring their possessors closer to royalty.  Yet no stone has as many myths surrounding it as does the diamond.  Reaching far back into the annals of time, there are diamond tales galore.  Here is just a smattering of the numerous and legendary diamond fables and faiths through history.
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