More than a few famous gemstones throughout time have gone MIA at some point. In certain cases, they could actually have been destroyed or thrown out never to be recovered. Can you imagine?
A diamond wholesaler once recounted that he and his wife realized they were being robbed in their apartment. The wife threw their enormous greenish-yellow diamond crystal in the trash bin under the sink as the intruders barged in looking around. They were still shaken up pretty badly when the police responded after the thugs left. The husband wanting to do ‘something normal’ nervously tidied up the kitchen. He emptied that trash bin down the garbage shoot of their large building. Things happen.
Fortunately, less fateful gemstones of renown have quietly passed within the same family for centuries, never to be viewed publicly again. Still, some languish unloved or forgotten amongst familial possessions, with their illustrious history long since obscured. So, if and when they do pop up again, descendants are stumped with appreciating their provenance or import. It’s not inconceivable for important jewelry to be torn asunder and reimagined into entirely new objects better suited for later epochs, or a current owner’s style.
A curious case of one ancient stone provides a colorful illustration of gemstone legends taking a meandering journey over the centuries. It concerns the primeval Akbar Shah diamond, an historic diamond of the early 17th century connected to the Mogul Emperor Akbar the Great and his successors, Jehangir Shah and Shah Jahan. The architectural feats of Shah Jahan cemented his fame. He commissioned the construction of the Taj Mahal to honor his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal who died in childbirth.
The diamond was named for Emperor Akbar (1556-1605). We find his name inscribed on two sides of the diamond in Arabic. But the process of inscribing Akbar’s name never occurred during his reign, but was done later during his son and successor, Emperor Jahangir Shah’s reign. An English translation of this inscription reads; Shah Akbar, Shah of the world, 1028 A.H. (1619 A.D.) The inscription, 1028 A.H. indicates dating by the Islamic calendar; employing the Hijri era. In the West, dates of this era are usually denoted AH, Latin for Anno Hegirae, “in the year of the Hijra.”
Since we know that only diamonds can scratch another diamond, we scour ancient writings to understand how the delicate Arabic script was carved into that stone. A diamond tipped scribing tool finds mention in early Scriptures. The ancient Judean Jeremiah wrote: “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond; it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars.” Jeremiah served as a prophet from the 13th year of the king of Judah (626 BC), until after Jerusalem fell following the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, circa 587 BC.
The Akbar Shah diamond was described as a very pale green transparent oblong crystal weighing 73.60 carats. During the time of its discovery, all diamonds came from India. The most famous mines were near Golconda. Its legendary diamonds were prized for their transparency and high quality. That it was green is an interesting detail. Green diamonds rarely occur. One this large could be deemed priceless.
Diamond fans may be familiar with another large green diamond, the Dresden Green, weighing 41 carats, also from India. The cause of green is thought to be the stone’s close proximity to natural radiation during its formative stage. Since the color results from exterior forces rather than other minerals mixed inside the crystal, its green tint appears closer to the ‘skin’ or the exterior of the rough.
This famed diamond was also called “Lustre of the Peacock Throne”. Early accounts claim it was one of the peacock’s eyes in the Peacock Throne, that bejeweled seat of India’s Mughal emperors, commissioned in the early 17th century by Shah Jahan. The spectacular seat was plundered in 1739 and brought to Iran where Kurds disassembled the throne for its precious gems and metals.
19th century gemstone author Edwin W. Streeter wrote “The Great Diamonds of the World, Their History and Romance.” In it he sheds light on the journey of the elusive Akbar Shah diamond, reflecting on the stone’s disappearance toward the end of the 17th century.
“We are enabled to trace its history back to the famous Mogul Emperor Akbar Shah, apparently its first owner. It remained in the Mogul’s treasury till the time of Shah Jahaan, by whom it was beautifully engraved in Arabic characters on both sides. After its long disappearance it suddenly came to light again a few years ago in Turkey, where it was known by the name of ‘Shepherd Stone.’ But the two inscriptions left no doubt as to its true origin. Mr. George Blogg who purchased it at Constantinople, in February 1866, was told at the time that according to the tradition, it formed one of the eyes of the Peacock Throne, destroyed by Nadir Shah. By him it was brought to London, where it was re-cut to a drop as the most advantageous form by the late Mr. L. M. Auerhaan. It was then sold by Messrs Blogg to the notorious Gaekwar of Baroda, in 1867 for 3 ½ lacs of rupees (£35,000), and now lies hidden away with the other treasures accumulated by that prince during his oppressive reign.”
When the Akbar Shah diamond resurfaced in 1866 and was purchased by merchant George Blogg, the stone bore a new name “Shepherd Stone.” Was that to hide its original identity or perhaps its legitimate chain of ownership? When Blogg had it reshaped in London, its most noteworthy means of identification were removed – the early Arabic inscriptions.
Blogg sold the stone to the Gaekwad, Malhar Rao, the 11th Maharaja of Baroda State who reigned from 1870-1875. Tax returns from his heirs suggest that they may still have the stone, but no one really knows if they still do possess it or if it sold again. Most of all, does the current owner know the long and windy path this stone took during its colorful life?