Story of the Agra Diamond
During the height of its influence, India was known as the Jewel in the Crown of the British Empire and it was the source of many famous gems, which eventually made their way to Britain. In 1526 Babur, the first Mogul emperor, conquered the city of Agra, the eventual home of the the famous Taj Mahal. His son spared the lives of the incumbent Rajah and his family, and was given the Agra diamond among a cache of jewels as a token of gratitude.
The famous pink diamond changed hands many times as successive rulers prevailed over India. In 1857, during the Indian Mutiny, it was taken from the ruler of Delhi by a young British soldier.
The officers of the regiment decided to smuggle the diamond back to England and share the proceeds of its sale. In a twist on the legend of the Trojan horse, they decided to bury the diamond in some horse feed, have a horse eat it and then ship the horse back to Britain. The plan worked well, until the regiment reached the port where they were to board ship, when the unfortunate horse was taken ill and had to be shot. They removed the diamond from its stomach and took it to England, where it was eventually sold to Edwin Streeter, a famous London jeweler.
This is a great tale of riches for all (except for the horse). But is it a true story?
Not surprisingly, doubt has been cast over some aspects of this story, particularly the date when these events were said to have taken place. There are documents showing that the Agra diamond was purchased on November 8th of 1844 by Charles, Duke of Brunswick, from Blogg & Martin; a well-known firm of diamond merchants in London at that time. A note in the catalog for the sale specifically mentions the diamond as that which was taken by Babur in Agra in 1526.
One explanation for this discrepancy is that the diamond eaten by the horse was not the same stone. This theory is supported by other sources who have stated that the smuggled stone in 1857 weighed 46 carats rather than 41 carats.
In 1899 in Paris, the Agra diamond was cut down to 31.41 carats by the jeweler Bram Hertz, in order to eliminate some black inclusions. To confuse the matter further, a statement made by an American who was present at the time indicates that he believed the stone previously weighed 71 carats. In any case, it seems certain that Edwin Streeter purchased the Agra from Bram Hertz in 1891.
Since then, the Agra diamond has changed hands many times. The last time it was put up for sale was at Christie's in London on June 20th, 1990, by a seller who had inherited it in 1927. After fierce bidding it was sold for £4,070,000; well over twice its expected value, to the SIBA Corporation of Hong Kong.
- First Published: May-15-2008
- Last Updated: August-29-2017
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