Royal Baby Special, in honour of Meghan & Harry’s new Royal baby, here’s my guide to the best jewellery push presents. Forget having the baby finally cradled in your arms, the best prize is flashing that all important trophy!
Yes. Over the long term, diamonds are a brilliant prospect… Let’s consider the prevailing state of diamond mining, synthetic diamond production and the undervaluation of gem diamonds due to purchasing behaviour.
How to buy a Diamond Engagement Ring
Before you venture forth and buy your beloved a diamond engagement ring, be sure you know your ice…
Read my mini-masterclass here.
If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked… how much does a diamond cost? well, I’d have a tall stack of pounds. It’s frustrating to not be able to answer this question clearly. However, it’s a bit like asking someone, how much does a home cost? Like anything, it’s to do with size, quality, and availability and personal taste. Very roughly, as a rule of thumb, a round brilliant cut diamond that is 1 carat (ct) in weight and of good commercial quality will currently cost around £11-12,000 plus the mount or setting, and one that is 3/4 ct is about £5,000 plus the mount. You can spend much less or much more depending on what carat weight, and category of colour, clarity or cut the diamond is. (prices as per Jan 2019)
A bit of knowledge on the subject helps here, because understanding how diamonds are categorised and therefore valued, will help inform your purchase; but let’s forget spending 3 months’ of your salary on an engagement ring. I think this formula was spun by De Beers when they created the American market after World War II, and it needs to be dumped. Just have a realistic and comfortable sum and don’t feel you should spend more if you can’t.
Just dwell on this amazing thought before we dive in - each diamond you gaze at was formed about 1 - 2.5 billion years ago from molecules of carbon trapped about 150 km under the earth’s surface, at 1200 degrees Celsius, at a pressure of 5 thousand times greater than our normal atmosphere (that’s the equivalent of the whole of the Empire State building, compressed on top your foot) and then was blasted to the surface of the earth in a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. The very existence of diamonds at all is a serious freak of nature!
Anyway, let’s return to the point and some technical knowledge! You may have heard about the 4 Cs, these are
Carat, Colour, Clarity and Cut.
Carat – the unit of weight for all precious stones is a carat which is 1/5 (or 0.2) of a gram. Vast quantities of rock are moved for each diamond found, often 100 tonnes per 5cts of rough found, that’s 7 solid double decker bus amounts of rock for a tiny amount of crystallised carbon. In any case, most are industrial quality – only 1 in 3 diamonds found is used in jewellery, and only 1 in 6 is a gem good enough for fine jewellery; the rest is used in industry for cutting tools. Considering that the average rough diamond weighs less than 1.10ct when it’s mined, and it will lose over half its weight in cutting, consequently only a minute amount of stones, 0.01% of rough diamonds will yield a finished stone larger than 1ct - you can now see why diamonds are so expensive the bigger they get.
Colour – most diamonds found are yellowy-browny, due to varying amounts of nitrogen within the carbon crystal when it formed, so finding diamonds without this tint is hard! In diamond terms colour is measured on an alphabetical scale starting at D not A (note the idiosyncrasy). Grade D is completely colourless, and the scale runs through from D to Z; a diamond is clearly tinted to the untrained eye at about K. Fancy vivid colours like pink, blue and orange are a realm of rarity altogether and maybe I will do a blog about these beautiful rarities another time.
Back to the 4 C’s and we are at C for Clarity. This refers to the presence and number or type of tiny natural features called ‘inclusions’ inside the stone which can be found with examination under 10x magnification, and from what you know now about the birth of diamonds, it’s not surprising there are any is it? When the naked or untrained eye can see something that detracts from the stone’s beauty or ability to sparkle this is a serious issue and at the other end of the scale, a diamond that is perfectly free of any inclusions is almost unbelievably rare, and expensive. Most diamonds have something an expert will spot. If you are hung up over clarity or colour, invest in colour as this is more easy to judge for non-experts.
Cut – the shape of the stone, and the expertise and quality of its symmetry and polish. Given that by far the most popular cut and shape is the round brilliant cut, this is also the most highly prized. There are 57 facets cut onto a brilliant cut, which should all be perfectly angled to release maximum sparkle and brilliance – what we call fire. Oval and cushion shape diamonds used to be considerably cheaper but now are so fashionable, they have gained in price! Princess-cuts, first designed in the 1960’s combine a square outline with the brilliant cuts’ multi-facets. If you are a purist and prefer your ice cool, then baguette, octagonal, or Asscher cut diamonds are quieter and more lustrous than their sizzling sparkling sisters, and are also less expensive per carat. However, whatever the shape, if a stone is poorly cut with mismatched angles and facet edges, or polished badly, the sparkle isn’t so well defined, and this detracts from the diamond’s innate beauty.
The 4 Cs are really the 4 Considerations. Which are the most important to you, what would you compromise on? Get the best quality you can for your budget, that way you know you will be buying well for the long term.
Most jewellers will have a diamond that weighs over 0.50 ct examined and graded by specialists in a recognised laboratory, so you will have this to look at and discuss when you are considering what to buy. You’ll be given this report when you make your purchase. Keep it safe as they cost a fortune and can’t be duplicated. The most popular lab reports are from the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) however other labs are available! In any case, all reliable sources will be committed to the best ethical practices and your invoice should state that the diamonds supplied were handled in accordance with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) which ensures that they originated from countries or mines not involved in conflict.
So much for the bling – now, how about the design? Obviously any ring set with any gemstone, even diamonds which are famously the hardest material in nature, is a fragile miniature construction of precious metal, and must be treated with care and respect if you want it to last a lifetime! I advise you buy a good sturdy setting, one that that is practical and won’t snag or catch in careful daily wear. Buying antique? Get it re-made and don’t chance it. Settings and claws on antique rings are not secure. An engagement ring will last one careful lady owner just one lifetime, not more.
For a ring that will last a lifetime buy quality - the higher the precious metal content, the better – when we say ‘18ct gold’ it means 18 parts pure of gold out of 24 parts where the other metals in the alloy mix would be copper or silver or both. White metals used in jewellery are platinum and white gold; sometimes you may find some designers using another platinum family metal called palladium, which is a pure white colour, less expensive than gold and platinum, and can be hallmarked.
Platinum – a very rare, expensive, dense, precious pure white metal, which is resistant to tarnish and takes a great polish. In standard hallmarkable items, 950 parts are pure platinum mixed with 50 parts of a tiny amount of other metals just to soften it.
Gold – loved by humans for millennia, this tarnish free and warmly lustrous precious metal is irresistible. Gold is a naturally a soft malleable material hence the addition of other materials so it can take a good bright polish and hold its form. It is available in different carat purities according to the ratio of pure gold to other metals alloyed with it such as silver and or copper. 18ct white gold is 18 parts per 24 of gold, plus silver or palladium, and because it’s mostly yellow gold, is never pure white so it is often plated with rhodium (a platinum family metal) to get a truly white metal surface. Rose Gold has some extra copper instead of silver to make the gorgeous pinky colour, which looks amazing on dark skins or redheads.
You could always have a combination of coloured and white metals, a white collet shows off a white diamond beautifully, and the golden band looks fantastic with a classic yellow gold wedding ring. Very regal.
Now you’re almost done, but let’s consider the wedding ring, as it will be worn together with the engagement ring, and may even match yours if you are going to have one, too. Some ladies like the feel of their rings to sit flush and snug like stacking rings, and others don’t mind the gap… Neither way is right or wrong. It’s all a matter of individuality!
Get in touch for more help and a no obligation hands-on mini-masterclass
Tel: 07879 413091
Recently, I was lucky enough to have a personal tour of the V&A jewellery gallery (properly named the William and Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery at the Victoria & Albert Museum) by the renowned jewellery historian Beatriz Chadour-Sampson. It’s amazing how personal anecdotes bring life to things. No matter how many new details or wonderful facts I’ve discovered on my own at whilst gazing at its expansive collection, nothing has been more fascinating than the hour or so I spent listening to Beatriz tell me about the people who wore the jewels glittering before us. It shows that it’s the human factor that catches the imagination, not just the jewels themselves.
At the doorway, the first piece to catch the eye is a huge golden torque discovered in Ireland, the Shannongrove Gorget. She pointed out the ridge down the middle, so obvious that I was amazed I’d never spotted it before – this is where it was carefully folded in half by the person who possessed it. Why on earth would anyone do such a thing? Nearly three thousand years ago, this deliberate destruction of an unimaginably precious object was the ultimate gift to the gods. To look at this golden object and see both the handiwork of its creator and of its destroyer was slightly giddying.
We moved onto an emblazoned pendant locket, the Heneage Jewel, made in 1595, with its internal miniature of Queen Elizabeth I painted by the foremost exponent of miniature portraiture, Nicholas Hilliard. In contrast to the imperial golden profile of the queen and the pious praise of her defence of the Anglican faith on the exterior, the glittering and vibrant interior portrait reflects upon the fresh beauty and virtue of the queen. Could this personal gift from the monarch to her trusted courtier Sir Thomas Heneage reflect more a more intimate bond between them?
Further along is a suite of fresh, leaf green, peridot jewels set in gold. They were a gift to Miss Cotes in April 1816 from the Prince Regent, the future George IV, to wear at the marriage of his daughter, Princess Charlotte, to dashing Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. Princess Charlotte was highly spirited and the Prince Regent was anxious to keep her under scrutiny so he assigned ladies of the court, the Dowager Countess of Rosslyn and her nieces, the Cotes sisters, to keep close to her. Charlotte resented their almost constant presence, and referred to them as old ‘Famine & the Consequences’. Princess Charlotte was the darling of the nation and, as in the outpouring of grief for a later Princess, Diana, the entire kingdom mourned her tragically early death in childbirth two years later.
Many jewels made their way to the V&A collection due to the generous legacy of Lady Cory, who bequeathed her enormous collection to the museum in 1947. Lady Cory was a grand dame in the Edwardian style and appeared in public draped in lace and a variety of jewels, many of which she ‘improved’. Centre stage is a huge diamond spray brooch of 1850, which Lady Cory had enlarged by adding a few older diamond set parts – upcycling her diamonds! The flower head motifs are set en tremblant to shimmer with the wearer’s movements.
At the far end of the gallery, suspended at head height, is the enormous diamond Manchester Tiara, commissioned by Consuelo, the Dowager Duchess of Manchester. An American born heiress and a bon vivant, she ‘took Society completely by storm by her beauty, wit and vivacity and it was soon at her very pretty feet’ when she married George, the 8th Duke of Manchester, in 1876. After he died in 1892, she applied herself to merry widowhood and sparkled at the head of fashionable society – quite literally – by resetting all her diamonds into a huge and spectacular new tiara made by Cartier in 1903.
At each of the gallery’s showcases, Beatriz told me captivating stories about the lives behind the jewels. How did Beatriz become so intimately knowledgeable about the finest museum collection of jewellery in the world? A talented and creative one woman encyclopaedia on jewels and craftsmanship, Beatriz was consultant curator in the re-designing of the gallery by Eva Jiricna in 2008 from its previous iteration, with its slightly chaotically arranged jewels set against dowdy dusky-pink and complete with a turnpike entrance. She described to me how she literally cut out and pasted pictures of the collection’s 3000-odd pieces onto rows and rows of A4 paper laid on her floor at home to work out the best way to arrange the displays into interesting themes that smoothly guided the visitor within an overall chronology. She measured peoples’ average eye heights to best position the stunning flow of hero pieces suspended along the centre of the gallery. Her consideration is the secret of its success: by putting people’s perspectives first, visitors feel intimately connected to the jewels, and they, in turn spring alive.
From 15 November, I will be hosting a monthly guided talk in the V&A Jewellery Gallery for small groups, so please book on Eventbrite (link below) or email me for futher details. email@example.com
An extraordinary exhibition is currently running in London - if you hurry you’ll catch it just in time!
Curated by two expert horological connoisseurs and collectors, “Innovation and Collaboration” is a unique exhibition demonstrating the extraordinary revolution in the development of clocks 400 years ago. In our present era, an inability to know or calculate the time is almost incomprehensible.
The hours of the day were first measured by monks, called by bell to pray regularly throughout the day. The clocks were powered by coiled axels wound with string and with weights tied to their ends, harnessing the power of gravity as as the weights pulled down to the ground.
These early clocks were fitted with the verge escapement mechanism with either a swinging foliot, or a balance wheel. These oscillated back and forth, effectively catching and releasing gearing connected to the axel and thereby winding out the strung weights which powered the clock at a more or less regular rate until it needed rewinding. Time telling was so imprecise that a minute hand on a clock was not even a requirement. Clocks had to be regulated and reset by the sun’s position on a sundial at noon almost daily.
The pendulum changed all that. Galileo’s studies of pendulums established that, due to the inherent energy in its swing, a pendulum is isochronic, meaning it will always take the same amount of time to travel from left to right. He designed but never completed a pendulum clock just before his death in 1642. The mantle was taken up by the Dutch scientist Christian Huygens, whose ground breaking clock was completed in 1656. The exhibition features a very rare diagram of a pendulum clock by Huygens within a printed pamphlet.
Replacing the foliot or balance wheel with a pendulum increased the offset in accuracy of clocks from hours a day to seconds a week, and triggered a tsunami of subsequent innovations. John Fromanteel working in London was an early master of Huygen’s secret and the exhibition displays his commercial contract to teach the Coster workshop in The Hague.
Ingenious innovations followed over the next fifty years which resolved and improved precision and size, and allowed for increasing complications such as second hands, alarms, calendars, moon phase and other astronomical features, repeat striking and musical chimes.
Remarkably, many of the magnificent creations commissioned during this period survive and a dizzying array of over 100 are assembled here. All five of the only clocks known to have been made by Samual Knibbs are displayed together perhaps for the first time ever. An early wall clock c1658 by Ahaseurus Fromanteel utilises technically advanced fusees to even out torque in the spring and side by side wheel trains which set the standards of later clocks. A unique miniature full grande sonnerie by Jonathan Puller c1690-5 outclasses pieces by his more illustrious peers, Fromanteel, Knibbs, and Tompion, in its exquisite manufacturing. A musical clock by Christopher Gould c1705-10 was also without equal in its era, playing a choice of tune on the hour. A beautifully ornate Boule-work long case clock by Daniel Quare c1695 is only wound once a year yet strikes faithfully upon every hour. The exhibition’s closing piece is the most accurate clock in the world for 150 years: a long case clock with temperature compensated pendulum and friction reducing naturally oily wooden parts. This clocks’s maker went on to devote himself to winning the Longitude prize - it is, of course, by John Harrison.
What makes these clocks even more extraordinary is the fact that the century that ushered in this dramatic step change was also one of the most turbulent and deadly eras in London. Execution of King Charles I in 1649 led to Civil War under Oliver Cromwell. The 1660 Restoration coronation of King Charles II led to changing patronage. Unrest followed Charles II’s death when, in 1685 at the Battle of Sedgemoor, the Duke of Monmouth attempted to sieze the throne from James II. Shortly after, in 1690, James II lost his throne to the incoming Protestant joint monarchs, William and Mary. Natural disasters stalked London. The river Thames froze in a mini ice age from 1663, the Great Plague of 1665 slaughtered 200,000 Londoners, and a third of Londoners lost homes and businesses in the Great Fire of 1666.
However Royal scientific patronage boosted clockmaking and this period was also an important period for science and astronomy - and in 1675, Charles II appointed the first Astronomer Royal and laid the foundation for the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Learned discussion and debate thrived in London’s new coffee houses and societies sprung up.
The exhibition also gives an opportunity to make another important point, that these clocks’ expensive and decorative cabinetry emphasised their pioneering innovation. By encasing them in rare and expensive ebony, and later with veneers of exotic woods such as walnut and olivewood, and finally inlaid within patterns of rich marquetry, it set them apart from the surrounding plainer oak furniture, as the dazzling, covetable innovations they were.
A beautifully illustrated and comprehensive catalogue has been prepared, running to nearly 400 pages, complete with four scholarly chapters.
Innovation and Collaboration:
The early development of the pendulum clock in London
Bonhams New Bond Street London W1S
Free; Until Friday 14 September 2018
New Zealand’s landscape is like Scotland on acid: a young, exotic botanical garden atop a split twisted submerged continent spun off by Gondwana. I was captivated by an early visit to New Zealand, and have been back subsequently to marvel at the vividly active creation of this land. I wish I’d had this book back then: now I have it, I want to return more than ever.
Paul Williams is a Kiwi with a lifetime’s fascination with the tectonic and surface processes that have moulded the country he obviously loves. He is Emeritus Professor, School of Environment, University of Auckland, with a long-standing research interest in geomorphology. In writing this extremely comprehensive, clearly referenced and detailed book he seeks to explain, step by step, how the picturesque variety of scenes can be pieced together through evolution. He admirably sets out a vast, effortlessly clear chronology of geologic events, culminating in an assessment of the impacts and risks caused by humans intervening in an active, often hazardous, natural environment.
His educational talent has a helpful effect on the format of the book. Like a military briefing, you’re told what you’re going to read, you read it, then you’re reminded what you just read. Each chapter starts with a short introduction that poses a central question. Williams takes us on a journey of investigation to amass and consider all the evidence, encompassing excellent diagrams, maps and breath-taking colour landscape and aerial photographs. A short conclusion followed by an extensive bibliography references each chapter.
It would be easy to highlight the riveting geologic issues of active volcanoes and earthquakes of New Zealand, but William’s tours de force are the impressive central chapters on the landscape development of New Zealand through immensely powerful water and glacial erosion to form a wide spectrum of types and features. We look at mass movement and the work of rivers, we consider the balance of rock removal and the counter process of uplift. Williams picks apart the ancestral history of river valleys to comprehend geologic formation. A noted specialist in karst hydrogeology, Williams lyrically explains the bizarre subterranean landscapes abounding in both North and South Islands. Glaciation and periglacial processes are richly evidenced and Williams unravels their effects alongside climate change. This encyclopaedic book is a significant development in collating a richly detailed 4-D picture of New Zealand and an accessible knowledge bank upon which risk management can be considered to safeguard people’s future.
New Zealand Landscape: Behind the Scene by Paul W Williams, 2017. Published by Elsevier ISBN 978-0-12-812493-2
At the 2018 Goldsmiths’ Lecture on 2 May, Dr Tristram Hunt, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, brilliantly explained the social power of the V&A’s role. Hunt set the context of the institution’s founding principle to instruct and inspire generations of Victorian designers and engineers against today’s 28% decline in arts student numbers at UK secondary schools.
The V&A is engaged in a plethora of initiatives to build design, craft and decorative art into the hearts and minds of our digital generation, including a surprising collaboration of the Ceramics Department with Imperial College’s student medical surgeons to develop fine motor skills and 3-D observation in an age group more used to tapping and swiping touch screens.
Hunt advocates the implementation of a London tourist hotel tax to boost the private and public funds received by the capital’s cultural institutions. As the V&A was originally financed by the phenomenal revenue generated by the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in 1851, such visitor funding would be apposite to ensuring the V&A’s world class collections and activities, both digital and analogue, are accessible, pioneering, relevant and delightful.
With any romantic story involving a handsome Prince, a beautiful actress, true love and a promise of happily-ever-after, there will be a sparkling engagement ring in there somewhere – an emblematic jewel that signifies value and significance both temporal and spiritual. The ring is an unbroken band signifying eternity, and for Royal Marriage a sacrament before God. We have yet to see the public flashing of Prince Harry’s engagement ring to Megan, but such a ring must be there in private, awaiting the scrutiny of the world’s press cameras.
The purpose of giving a ring is a visible sign of a public commitment – the lady is engaged or ‘taken’ – she has promised herself to another, who literally has put his money where his mouth is. So, where did the tradition of engagement rings come from?
If we go back over 3,000 years to Ancient Egypt, we find rings featuring snakes – a symbol of fertility – and knotted snakes in a figure 8 or a snake eating its tail to form an unbroken circle to denote eternity. Maybe the basis for the saying that one is ‘tying the knot’ goes back beyond this to very ancient concept that two are knotted together as one.
By the Roman era, a special ring called an ‘annulus pronubus’ given by the groom to his fiancée had become part of a civil legal process, an important pledge of fidelity on both sides.
In the manner of all jewels, an engagement ring proclaims one’s taste and rank, although in the Ancient and early Medieval Ages sumptuary laws prohibited lower classes from ostentation above their station. Sometimes, no matter what the rank, only one ring is used for the purpose of both wedding and ring, then as now.
Over time the betrothal ring developed into finely crafted Medieval engagement rings and poesy (love poetry) rings engraved with a motto. Shown here is a very early diamond betrothal ring from the antique dealer Berganza set with a pointy, almost still rough, diamond – diamond dust impregnated cutting wheels and the modern system of cutting facets were not in existence at the time - but the adamantine strength of the diamond symbolised ‘foreverness’, carried from the ancient Romans’ beliefs.
Snakes, knots and Egyptian jewellery styles were repopularised by the Victorians in their jewellery, and Queen Victoria wore a snake design engagement ring given by her beloved Albert, a sacred treasure and reminder of her love for this one man throughout her long life.
Rings as enduring tokens of love can be found glinting bright in the darkest of days - displayed in the Forbidden City Museum, Beijing, is a ring belonging to the doomed last Chinese Qing emperor, Puyi, forced to hand it over in custody for war crimes at the end of WWII. The stylishly Western-design nickel alloy band is engraved inside ‘I love you forget me not’ and was a gift to Wanrong, his wife.
Everyone knows that engagement rings are only ever worn on the third finger of the left hand. The custom of which finger to wear one’s ring on goes back at least to the Romans, if not before, who believed that a special vein runs directly from this finger to the heart – the vena amoris. This was part of the early Medieval medicinal belief in the ‘humours’ of the body. In palmistry, the ring finger is associated with the Sun, and features of the ring finger such as relative length indicate one’s ability in arts, sports, business or love affairs. In astrology the Sun rules Leo, the sign of royalty and self-expression: a perfect pairing for Prince Harry and Megan.
VIP Vault Sale - 5 December 2017 - Jessica presents an assortment of amazing rings at great discounts - Invitation Only - register at www.cadzowcollins.com
From its gracious setting in the darkened velvet and glass of the Jewel House in the Tower of London, the legendary Koh-i-Noor, the diamond like a Mountain of Light, twinkles benignly at the daily passing of visitors. Placid and securely set in the front cross of The Queen Mother's crown, it seems inconceivable that ownership of this flashing gemstone is a tortuous tangle of horror, blood and international intrigue for over four centuries. The guide book blandly states the legend that this 105.60ct diamond brings bad luck to men, and thus since its arrival in Britain it has only been worn by women. What curses can be blamed on this stone, or is superstition shadowing the good fortune of those in its possession?
Cursed or blessed, the stone is certainly notorious – ongoing wrangles over ownership have led to rival claims for its return from India, Pakistan and Iran. Bizarrely there has also been a claim of title from the god Jaganath represented by ministers for Odisha in India. It also belonged at one period to rulers of Afghanistan although this country has not joined the fray. A letter to The Times in 1976 by Sir Olaf Caroe during one period of debate pointed out that the word ‘return’ was scarcely applicable since “the Koh-i-Noor had been in Mogul possession in Delhi for 213 years, in Afghan possession in Kandahar and Kabul for 66 years, in Sikh possession in Lahore for 36 years and in British possession for 127 years.”
Its fate is best summed by one of its first owners, Moghul Indian emperor Humayan, who said “Such precious gems come by the flashing sword or through the grace of mighty monarchs”. Historically, its value was judged to be so enormous that no mere financial transaction could bestow title; only the transfer of power and dominion over kingdoms was adequate currency.
The Tower guide book barely alludes to its immense history. The great diamond was almost certainly originally discovered in the river beds of Golconda, India, the source of many similarly fine historic diamonds, famous for having the most pristine carbon crystal lattice in nature. Originating in India over 1,000 years ago, the stone was bounty bound to Persia and then Afghanistan, then to the Punjab, and thence to Britain.
The blood-soaked list of “mighty monarchs” who owned the Koh-i-Noor begins in the late C13th with Sultan Ala-ed-Din, who may be the inspiration for the fairy tale Aladdin. He killed his uncle the king to gain rule over Delhi and a legendary hoard of treasure, including a remarkable rose cut diamond of 186.10ct, almost certainly the Koh-i-Noor. When the invading Moguls, descended from Tamerlane and Genghis Khan, spread remorselessly from Turkey and invaded India, this exceptional diamond was tendered to them at the defeat of Agra in 1526. This is how the jewel came to be owned by Humayan, who although ruler of the Moghul empire, spent most of his life in exile with the Persian king, his ally, to whom supposedly he gave the diamond as a gift. Documentation does not exist to prove this, so perhaps its possession was kept a sacred Moghul family secret down the line of Humayan’s son Akbar, via his son Jahangir, and his descendant, Shah Jahan the architect of the Taj Mahal, otherwise it is difficult to explain how it re-emerges in Delhi in 1739, when the last ruling Moghul Muhammad Shah was foiled into unravelling the hiding place of the fabulous diamond in his turban to the conquering Persian, ruthless despot Nadir Shah, during a polite exchange of headdresses. The stone received its name when Nadir Shah gasped “Koh-i-Noor!”, or “Mountain of Light”, at the gleaming treasure before him.
When the tyrant Nadir Shah was assassinated, bloody chaos broke out amongst his Persian descendants who, throughout two generations, either murdered, executed or put out each other’s eyes to gain control of the vast Persian empire. The huge diamond was given as a gift of gratitude by the most successful of the blinded Persian descendants, Shah Rukh, to his grandfather’s ex-general, ally and ruler of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah. In return, Ahmad and the Afghan army helped Rukh control and bring peace to Persia. But in 1773 when Ahmad died, Rukh lost any power over his nation, leaving him the captive of the bloodiest character in the Koh-i-Noor’s story – a terrifyingly sadistic eunuch called Aga Mohammed Khan, who had gained absolute control of Persia and lost no time in torturing Rukh until, one by one, he gave up his remaining treasures. Convinced that Shah Rukh was lying to him and that he had not given the Koh-i-Noor to Afghanistan, Mohammed Khan had Rukh bound to a chair and his head shaved and a circle of paste moulded onto his scalp. Mohammed Khan personally poured molten lead into the gory crown. As this brutal torture failed to elicit the Koh-i-Noor, Mohammed Khan gave up, but Rukh expired soon afterwards.
Over in Afghanistan, the Koh-i-Noor passed through bloody filial in-fighting following the death of Ahmad Shah. One of his grandsons, Zaman, managed to keep the great diamond safe from his dangerous usurping brothers, carefully embedded in the plaster wall of his prison cell for years, until he struck a deal with his ruling brother Shah Shuja, handing over the Koh-i-Noor in return for his personal safety. The prodigious diamond was to be pivotal in the transfer of power once again, when in 1810 Shuja and Zaman together fled Afghanistan to seek sanctuary with the Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh, the ‘Lion of the Punjab’, who tried various attempts to extort the famous diamond as the price of sanctuary, finally besieging Shuja in his residence until he reluctantly handed it over.
The Lion of the Punjab was enormously proud to possess the incomparable Koh-i-Noor. He had it set in a great armlet flanked by a pair of lesser but beautiful pear shape diamonds, and wore it on his sleeve above the elbow, ostentatiously displayed to all visitors at the Sikh court. When he died in 1839, the diamond passed via the inevitable filial feuds to his recognised successor, Dhulip Singh, a young child from Ranjit Singh’s harem. Rival British, French and Russian empire building was beginning to squeeze the region. Britain’s diplomats, in the form of the East India Company, made a formal treaty of friendship with the regents of the boy king to stabilise their interests in the region, but the nation spiralled into a civil war amongst various tribal chiefs both Sikh and Muslim, which the British army quelled by force, annexing the Punjab, and imposing imperial rule by Queen Victoria and the surrender of all its treasure as war reparation.
To the Queen, the magnificent diamond was literally the jewel in the crown of her expanding empire and she was eager to see it. The epic task of bringing the priceless diamond around the world, over land and sea to London fell to Lord Dalhousie, the young and decisive Governor General of India, who had directed the annexation of the Punjab. The diamond, still set in the great armlet, was doubly sewn into a girdle secured by a chain around Lord Dalhousie’s neck on the 3,000-mile land journey to Bombay, where he boarded the steam ship Medea for Britain, and locked it in a double chest with three keys. The ship sailed in April 1850, when an immediate outbreak of cholera overwhelmed the crew. Quarantined off Mauritius, the captain was refused local help or provisions, and they had to run for the Cape; during the passage, a severe storm nearly destroyed and dis-masted them. Fortunately, their luck reversed once at the Cape; fully repaired and in perfect weather, the ship reached Britain speedily in June 1850. Days later, the Deputy Chairman of the Honourable East India Company presented the legendary diamond to Queen Victoria.
The Queen immediately wore the enormous diamond armlet right away pinned to her bodice – at Court it was noted that it flashed like a “breastplate” - and press reports of it inflamed the nation, lighting the fuse of popular novels such as Wilkie Collins’ “The Moonstone”. The whispers of a curse came with it. The Queen was mollified by the assertion that a woman’s ownership would ward off such evil, and ever since the great stone has only ever been set into a queen’s diadem. The diamond became so famous that it was billed as the prime attraction at the Great Exhibition of 1851, but to general dismay it caused disappointment to the thousands queueing to see it, who imagined a prismatic multi-facetted brilliant in the new European style not the gloomily displayed, subtle lucidity of a rose cut diamond formed organically by Indian diamantaire tradition. Consequently, in 1852, Prince Albert ordered that the ancient diamond should be recut by Garrard to suit contemporary taste, losing not only its unique character accorded by its natural crystal form, but 43% of its original weight in the process. Queen Victoria was nonetheless delighted by the sharp brilliance of the re-cut diamond, and it was set by Garrard into the central collet of the magnificent Grand Diadem, and could be removed to form a glittering brooch or bracelet. In 1901, it formed the focal highlight of the new queen consort crown for Queen Alexandra at the coronation of King Edward VII, again removable as a brooch. Ten years later, in a new consort’s coronation crown by Garrard for George V’s queen, Mary, the diamond again assumed the star position; and finally, it rests where we see it now, poised serenely in a third queenly diadem: the glittering centrepiece of the elegant Art Deco queen consort's crown for HM The Queen Mother for the 1937 coronation of her husband, George VI.
Looking at the dramatic twists of fate in this condensed story of the diamond, does luck or evil shine through brightest?
The account of the journey from cholera death-ship to perfect sailing highlights the sensational contrasts of the diamond’s story in just one episode. On balance and by most normal definitions of a blessing, being associated with this diamond certainly brought some horrible ends – having your eyes put out by your princely brothers was the least of it. However, if a blessing is a stroke of good fortune, then when dealing with an object of such immense value that it could transfer a kingdom or save a dynasty, normal definitions of blessings such as personal happiness, wealth, health or love do not apply. Through tangled intrigues and centuries of regal double-dealing, in an age when power was defined by overt riches and life was so cheap that even an emperor’s fate could hang by a thread, the innordinate rarity and value of a diamond this size made it the ultimate bargaining chip. The imperial owners of the Koh-i-Noor were quick witted enough to recognise any opportunity to use their treasure to bend circumstance to their best advantage. With the Koh-i-Noor only blessings that bring power, kingship, security of rule and wealth apply. To possess such leverage surely counts as a blessing, ensuring that its owner could endure to fight another day, such as Shah Rukh’s bounty payment to his Afghan ally, or patient Zaman’s lifelong stewardship.
Equally, however, from the gory story told above, it could be argued that the stone must be cursed. As the cause of the ultimate harm, misery, insecurity and loss, the diamond’s story leads through assassinations, horrific torture, and the ruination of four nations. On its arrival in Britain, a fabled treasure from afar, controversially confiscated as war reparation to a voraciously empire building Britain, it was at least bound to have some rumour attached to it. It may have been mere expediency to let it be believed that the stone was only cursed if a man were to wear it, to quash the rumours of ill-fortune that surrounded it and to gain the favour of Queen Victoria herself. Certainly, with fortune comes a heavy burden of responsibility to keep it: housed securely in perpetuity in The Tower, and designated a Crown Jewel, by law it may never be permitted to leave the shores of Britain.
Ultimately, whether it is a curse or a blessing depends on the circumstance. Perhaps the last word should come from the ever-pragmatic Lord Dalhousie. Having annexed The Punjab, taking the Koh-i-Noor as well as the other contents of the Toshakhana, the Lahore treasury, he had no truck at all with conjecture. Dalhousie quoted Shah Shuja when he wrote in 1858 “‘The value of the Koh-i-Noor is that whoever holds it is victorious over all his enemies’. And so it is. The Koh-i-Noor has been of ill-fortune to the few who have lost it. To the long line of Emperors, Conquerors and potentates who through successive centuries have possessed it, it has been the symbol of victory and empire.”
One of the fun things about working in jewellery are the weird bits of knowledge you accumulate thanks to customers' enquiries. One of the best was “How much does The Queen’s crown weigh?” and that led to a delightful couple of hours of personal research before I could reply with my findings. “Fascinating, so how much of that is gemstones?” shot back the enquirer by return – what a great thing to ask! I just had to go and work it out.
The crown in question is the one The Queen wears every May to open the Houses of Parliament – the Imperial State Crown. It rests in the Jewel House in the Tower of London when not being worn, but as an essential working piece of kit in the state regalia, its weight has been a continual issue.
The crown we see on The Queen once a year is a symbol of monarchy established over a thousand years. It is the latest iteration of one made for the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838, made by long-gone London jewellers Rundell Bridge & Co, prior to Garrard's appointment as Crown Jeweller in 1843, using diamonds and stones from Charles II’s crown plus jewels supplied for the purpose. Victoria could only wear it a few times as it was unbearably heavy – at 39oz 5dwt troy or 1221g – and also incredibly uncomfortable as it had to be skewered on through her hair and the velvet cap with two long pins. After a couple of years' discomfort it was thereafter carried on a cushion in front of the queen each year at Parliament until the Duke of Argyll dropped it in 1845. Victoria’s diary entry describes its comical appearance afterwards as like a ‘pudding that had sat down’. Despite subsequently being repaired, it was never again worn by Queen Victoria, who suffered from migraines and preferred lighter tiaras and diadems. The only crown she wore when she renewed her annual state duties in her long widowhood was the tiny dainty diamond crown ordered from Garrard in 1870, an iconic echo of the past British Empire seen sometimes dotted about the world.
The Crown was altered in 1902 for the coronation of Edward VII, who was too unwell for duties most of his short reign and thus unable to wear it again; in 1909 it was altered to take the mighty 317.40ct Cullinan II, cut from the giant diamond given by the Transvaal Government, replacing the historic Stuart sapphire, which moved to the back of the brow band.
George V had the crown adjusted to fit his narrow head and then wore it annually for the first time in over 60 years as a mark of his commitment to sovereignty, beginning with the State Opening of Parliament in 1913. The heavy crown always gave him an excruciating headache. Frequent attempts to reduce the weight and reworking during his reign until 1936 left it so fragile that the top cross fell off as it was displayed on his coffin during his funeral state procession and bounced down the street until a sharp eyed sergeant-major snatched it up.
At the instruction of King George VI in 1937 for his coronation, Garrard replicated the crown, without altering the design or remaking the diamond studded monde and cross patee (ball and cross) at the top. Garrard's 1937 painted fair sketch is displayed proudly at the store in Albemarle Street, in the company’s VIP Queen Mary Room. The brand new crown was much lighter and easier to wear with the introduction of an internal hammock similar to a Guardsman’s bear skin headdress to spread the weight evenly around the head.
The new crown’s arches were lowered and the band made smaller to fit Queen Elizabeth in 1953, removing 66 diamonds and some fragments, now stored in the Tower. The crown is now as light as can possibly be and still allow secure settings and strong construction for a working ornament. The Queen herself is said to be quite comfy wearing it.
So, how much does the crown weigh? The answer is 32 oz 7dwt troy which is 1006g excluding the wire frame, the velvet and satin cap, and the ermine fur trimmed band. I found the closest thing I had to compare it with at home was a 3 litre saucepan, which in the interests of research I dutifully tried wearing for a while – you could try this yourself.
And the weight of the diamonds and gems? Apart from 2,868 diamonds and 269 pearls there are some whoppers set in the crown: featured is the magnificent Cullinan II, the ancient Black Prince’s Ruby (a red spinel), holy St Edward’s sapphire, and the intriguing Stuart Sapphire, four historic drop natural pearls from the Tudor age, in addition to 17 top quality Indian or Burmese sapphires, 11 Columbian emeralds, and 5 Burmese rubies. I calculate the total carat weight of all these precious jewels, from the dimensions I have found published in the literature, is around 2500ct which is 500g - half the weight of the crown.
No wonder it feels good on.
As acceptance speeches go, I think Prof Richard Alley’s certainly makes the grade. On Wednesday, upon receipt of this year’s Geological Society of London’s prestigious Wollaston Medal for his outstanding geoscience career, particularly on ice and climate, Richard held up his iPhone and asked us what he had in his hand.
An iPhone is essentially a handful of sand, a tiny pile of rare earth elements and precious metals: mainly silicon for the screen and chip, lithium with platinum and palladium, neodymium and europium, all mixed with a dash of oil. There's also a whole bunch of Nobel prize winning work that has gone on, such as general and special relativity theories and quantum mechanics to operate the GPS satellite communications and location finders, and that's just scratching the surface.
Science and scientists made the iPhone. This is high technology that all of us demand and take for granted.
So why does the iPhone in some hands make anti-science – climate deniers, sceptics, confusion and fake news?
Prof Alley cited a recent US survey of American citizens, asking if they believed climate change was a real problem, if they ever talked about it, and whether science could solve it. The survey showed the majority didn’t believe in global warming nor did they discuss it with friends and neighbours, but ironically everyone believed that scientists could solve it – ‘the scientists’ will solve a non-existent problem that no one talks about – and this from the most advanced nation on the planet. It’s hardly surprising really, as in the hands of the US President, an iPhone has been used to Tweet over 100 times denying climate risks. President Trump has shamefully led US withdrawal from the 21st Conference of the Parties in 2015 – the Paris Agreement – which diminishes the best universal strategy to confront global warming.
Scientists are not magicians so the precise degree and dates of the oncoming waves of catastrophe are not known. This gives sceptics the false idea that scientists are confused, and if climate change confuses the experts then it cannot be real. All of this is just noise. The same people expect scientists to work to find cures to help their loved ones, and technology to improve their lives. The science is there, and it’s good science. We can know for sure that the oceans store more than 9/10ths of the heat trapped on Earth by greenhouse-gas emissions. In the oceans, warming and acidification from carbon gasses is killing coral and dependant colonies of sea life right now and it will all be gone for good within 50 years, maybe less. Plastic rubbish in the oceans currently weighs more than fish by weight. Plastic is broken down into tiny particles and enters our own human bodies via the fish 3 billion of us eat as our primary source of protein. Warmer temperatures are melting the great Polar stores of ice we need safely locked away to keep our cities and farmland high and dry. Fast changing ice conditions in West Antarctica and Greenland which will increase sea water levels irreversibly are a real threat to our homes and jobs wherever we live, from New York to New Orleans; from Khulna in Bangladesh to right here in London. Severe floods of the type we see once a generation will become the new norm for our children's children.
Like ostriches we can continue to stick our heads in the hi-tec sand in our hands, or use it now to help ourselves and our world and support science. It’s the best tool we have to bounce discussion with our friends and acquaintances and apply pressure. We can dial up the contact details of our elected representatives to push for US re-engagement in the Paris Agreement, correct ignorant tweets, and email for action to achieve sustainability goals to safeguard the world for us now, and our grandchildren.
As Prof Richard Alley showed us on Wednesday, the power is quite literally in our hands.
If you wear an automatic mechanical watch, you may be more attractive than you think.
At an exclusive IWC New Bond Street boutique event last night hosted by in-house watchmaker Robert Trueman, members of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers were treated to a breathtaking summary of London’s horological history meshed with IWC's iconic story. Told through his knowledge of watchmaking and history, Rob brilliantly built a case for shared affinity values of the normally mutually repulsive values of pragmatism and creativity – defining characteristics of Londoners.
Rob also demonstrated how to measure our individual magnetism. This is more of a problem than you might guess, but it’s not a measure of how irresistible you are to other humans. Out of five of us Clockmakers who tested their watches, two were off the scale – mine included. It’s all a question of how close you allow your mechanical watch to get to magnets, and as we live in a strongly and increasingly magnetized world, this happens a great deal. The cased speakers in the bottom half of your mobile phone may be obvious culprits, but Rob listed others more surprising such as Tube doors.
The most common effect of the daily magnetic field operating around your mechanical watch is to make it run fast, since the fine coils in the balance spring tighten up and shorten. This explains why my watch often runs much faster than the 5 minutes I set it in advance of standard UK time in a vain strategy to get to meetings at the appointed hour.
If you suspect that you might be more attractive than you’d like and you don’t have an equipped and friendly horologist such as Rob to hand, a simple trial with a needle compass will prove it. The needle will clearly deviate well away from North when the watch is brought up to it. My unverified research shows you could even try to demagnetize yourself at home, using a small electrical instrument bought from the internet – but I’d recommend you get your watch serviced and properly regulated. After all, who knows what damage may have been done by being so attractive.