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By Reviewed By Andreas Zabczyk

Story of the Agra Diamond

The Famous Taj Mahal in India
The Famous Taj Mahal in India

At the pinnacle of its power, India held the esteemed title of being the Jewel in the Crown of the British Empire, and it served as a rich source of numerous renowned gemstones that eventually found their way to Britain. In 1526, Babur, the inaugural Mogul emperor, triumphantly conquered the city of Agra, which would later become the cherished abode of the iconic Taj Mahal. In a remarkable act of mercy, Babur's son chose to spare the lives of the reigning Rajah and his family, who, in turn, expressed their profound gratitude by presenting the Agra diamond alongside a treasure trove of other precious jewels.

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?

The Famous Agra Diamond
Agra Diamond

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.

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