In the history of famous gems and beaded jewelry, the Koh-i-Noor Diamond stands out for its dark tales of tragedy, torture and murder, of thrones, lost and gained. The legend is that whoever holds the diamond will be invincible, and men who believed the legend were willing to slaughter thousands for it. Even now, the gem is at the center of a dispute.
Its origin is a mystery. The strongest legend is that India's Kakatiya dynasty placed the 186 carat diamond in the eye of a Hindu goddess statue, probably starting an enduring trend of legends about cursed gems stolen from the eyes of statues. No one is even sure when it received its name, which translates to "mountain of light." Beginning in the 14th century, the jewel became a spoil of war, changing hands from warlord to warlord until in 1739, Persian ruler Nadir Shah sacked the Indian city of Agra and took Shah Jahan's magnificent jeweled Peacock Throne and the Koh-i-Noor. The Peacock Throne disappeared, apparently broken up for its gold and jewels, but the struggle raged for possession of the Koh-i-Noor. The following years were violent and bloody, with various factions fighting for control. There were
Beginning in the 14th century, the jewel became a spoil of war, changing hands from warlord to warlord until in 1739, Persian ruler Nadir Shah sacked the Indian city of Agra and took Shah Jahan's magnificent jeweled Peacock Throne and the Koh-i-Noor. The Peacock Throne disappeared, apparently broken up for its gold and jewels, but the struggle raged for possession of the Koh-i-Noor. The following years were violent and bloody, with various factions fighting for control. There were
The following years were violent and bloody, with various factions fighting for control. There were blindings, tortures, murders. One royal owner hid the diamond in the plaster wall of his cell. Finally, in 1843, young Dhulip Singh became the Maharajah of the Punjab and owner of the Koh-i-Noor. By 1849, the British stepped in and stopped the fighting by annexing India through the Treaty of Lahore, which specifically stated that the Koh-i-Noor was to be surrendered to Queen Victoria.
Afterward, the Maharajah, then living in London, was visited by the Queen and shown the stone, recut on the orders of Prince Albert to 108 carats. The young man reportedly said that it gave him great pleasure to place the stone in Victoria's hands.
In 1937, the diamond was set in the crown made for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. It glitters regally from the Maltese Cross at the apex. The crown is worn only by female royals; It's considered unlucky for men to wear it. Understandable, considering its history.
Controversy over the fabulous stone hasn't ended. In 1947 and in 1953, India asked that the stone be returned. In 1976, the Prime Minister of Pakistan submitted a formal request that the Koh-i-Noor be returned to Pakistan, one of the many claimants to the stone. Britain maintains that the diamond was not seized – as it was so many times in its history – but was presented under the Treaty of Lahore. India protested a handover to Pakistan, and recently Iran made its own claim.
So far, Britain holds fast to the Koh-i-Noor, the diamond that was so drenched in blood and grief. It rests now in majestic glory, marveled at by tourists, with the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.
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Originally, Venetian glass was made in the city of Venice, which was comprised of mostly wooden buildings. Toward the end of the 13th century, the Venetian Republic began to fear that the huge fires from the furnaces the artists used would eventually end up destroying the city. They forced the artists to move their foundries to the island of Murano, where the glassmakers quickly became noted as masters of their craft.
Glass making had been around for a long time, but had not been perfected. The artisans of Murano had unique skills that allowed them to create superior glass. They were able to develop or refine techniques to make milk glass, multicolored glass, and even imitation glass gemstones which were unheard of at the time. Venetian glass may be solidly colored or created using a smoky effect with one or multiple colors. What truly set it apart from other glass at the time was its incredible clarity and lack of imperfection.
The secrets they used were guarded and carefully protected. Glassmakers weren't allowed to leave the Republic or take their trade elsewhere. Despite this, they were still given many special privileges. The government gave the island itself preferential protection, eventually annexing it to the city of Venice. Citizen glass-makers were allowed to wear swords, enjoyed immunity from prosecution, and their daughters were allowed to marry into noble families.
Despite the many privileges, some eventually took the risk and left, setting up shop as far away as England and the Netherlands. The craft spread to other cities of Italy and to other countries. But their methods were so good that Murano artists were able to maintain control over the market until the 16th century.
Amazingly enough, the technique and technology used has not changed that much throughout the years. The furnaces they use remain relatively unaltered in design, and technology has changed only in minor detail. These master craftsmen have strong roots in the traditional way of doing things.
Making glass is a very complicated process, and a lot is involved to make it. This is what truly makes it the craft that it is. Murano glass beads, as with all glass begins by mixing silica with a flux and melting them together. The flux is an agent meant to slow the melted glass from solidifying too quickly. This enables the glass worker to manipulate it to the desired shape. Technique varies depending on what the intended result is. Just a few of the many different techniques include, millefiori (forming tiny beads by cutting thin glass into sections when cold and rounding them when hot), gold engraving, and enamel painted techniques.
Even today, artists from all over the world travel to Murano to learn the Venetian glassblowing techniques that made it so famous. Murano glass represents the history of glass and a quality product. Their gorgeous styles, colors and amazing clarity set them apart from all the rest. They make stunning beaded jewelry pieces and a great addition to any collection.
In 1716, Prussia gave Peter the Great of Russia an extravagant gift honoring the peace between their nations - an entire room made of amber and encrusted with beaded jewelry. The panels were backed with gold leaf, which made the entire room glow with a topaz-like warmth.
The gorgeous Amber Room, made of real amber and beaded jewelry, glows like citrine or topaz. Image from Imaging-and-Art.com.
It was called the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Historians estimate that today it would be worth $146 million.
THE FLAME QUEEN OPAL
Australia’s Lightning Ridge region is known as the black opal capital of the world, and has produced thousands of opals for beaded jewelry, as well as loose stones. But the most famous opal it ever produced has to be the Flame Queen Opal.
Back in the early 20th century, a miner in Lightning Ridge abandoned his claim in order to fight in WW1. The claim was soon taken over by three down-luck miners. For three weeks they dug in the earth, surviving on bread and water, hoping to strike it rich. When they got down to about 30 feet, they struck a hard black nodule. Only when they brought it into the sunlight did they realize what they had found.
One of the miners was very skilled in working beaded jewelry and polishing gems. The other two trusted him to bring out the beauty of the Flame Queen Opal, and he didn’t disappoint.
The Flame Queen Opal is a “red-on-black” opal, and has often been referred to as a “fried egg.” This is because the center of the opal filled in a deeper cavity, resulting in a different coloration. Depending on the light and the angle at which it’s viewed, the “yolk” of the Flame Queen Opal looks red, orange, bronze or yellow. The outer band is a beautiful blue or green, again depending on the angle it’s viewed at. It’s never been set in beaded jewelry, and may be too big for delicate beaded jewelry settings to comfortably hold. At 263 carats and three inches across, it can fill the palm of a hand.
The Flame Queen Opal also has a possible fossil on the back. Some Australian geologists believe there’s an imprint of what might be a ginkgo Biloba leaf in the veiny patterns on the back. An ancient tree may have existed on the site.
Unfortunately, by the time they found it, the three miners were so desperately hungry, they didn’t have time to hold out for a suitable buyer. They sold the Flame Queen Opal to a local dealer of opals and beaded jewelry for only £93, about $150 in the U.S. That’s got to rank as one of the greatest rip-offs, or one of the greatest deals, of all time—depending on which angle you view it from!
The Flame Queen Opal has been sold at several beaded jewelry and gem auctions, and is now in private ownership.
How do famous gems and beaded jewelry pieces get their names? Many are named after their owners, or after a famous place or incident. The Hortensia Diamond was named after Hortense de Beauharnais, a French woman who led an adventurous and illustrious life… but she never owned the Hortensia Diamond. There’s no record of her having even worn it!
So why is the Hortensia Diamond named after her?
Hortense was the daughter of a Parisian Vicomte. Her parents’ marriage was unhappy, and ended in divorce. Hortense and her mother, Marie Rose Josephe Tascher de la Pagerie (say that one three times fast!), lost their social standing and most of their possessions, including their beaded jewelry, and moved back in with Marie Rose’s parents on the island of Martinique.
They may have gotten out just in time. Hortense’s father didn’t survive the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution.
After enough time passed, Marie Rose (who now went by the name of Josephine) and Hortense moved back to Paris, and began to make a name for themselves once again in French society. Josephine caught the eye of the already famous general Napoleon Bonaparte, who lavished her with gifts of beaded jewelry, and married her.
This made Hortense Napoleon’s step-daughter. When Napoleon became Emperor, he also came into ownership of the French Crown Jewels, including the 20.53 carat Hortensia Diamond. Maybe the flat, peach-pink stone was named after the girl during this time, due to her love of gems and beaded jewelry.
Hortense married Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother. In 1806, Napoleon appointed Louis as King of Holland, making Hortense the country’s queen.
In this picture, we see Hortense bedecked in beaded jewelry and a tiara. But even as Queen of Holland, when she had a treasure trove of gems and beaded jewelry, she had no direct connection to the Hortensia Diamond.
These were tumultuous years for Hortense. She and her husband were so unhappy that, like her mother, she was eventually divorced. This happened during Napoleon’s exile on Elba. Divorced or not, Hortense remained politically active, and when Napoleon escaped exile, she supported his return to power.
When Napoleon failed, Hortense was punished for supporting him with exile from France. She wandered Europe for awhile, before settling in Switzerland in 1817.
Most scholars think the Hortensia Diamond was named after her between 1806 and 1817, but no one knows why. It’s just one of those unsolved mysteries surrounding famous gems and beaded jewelry!
Though it’s said to have come from India, like so many rare beaded jewelry pieces and gems, the Orlov Diamond’s story really takes place in Imperial Russia.
In the 18th century, Grigory Orlov was quite the ladies’ man. He wasn’t of noble birth, or particularly well educated, but he was strong, handsome, and rich enough to give women expensive beaded jewelry whenever he liked. There came a time, however, when his eye fell on the wrong woman. Princess Kourakina was the mistress of one of Orlov’s colleagues, who was understandably upset at the affair. A great scandal ensued, which ended in a dual. Orlov killed his colleague, and never mind the damage to his reputation.
All this to-do attracted the attention of young Catherine, who was at that time only a Grand Duchess and Empress Consort, married to Peter III. She demanded to meet the rake Orlov, who could have any woman he wanted. It wasn’t long until they were lovers. That was when Catherine told him about her plans to take the throne from her husband. Orlov was intrigued, and when the time came, he organized and led the coup that dethroned her husband Peter. In return, she gave him a title, and he became Count Orlov.
Orlov was Catherine’s favorite counselor and confidant for many years. Over the course of their love affair, Orlov gave Catherine numerous gifts, included priceless gems, beaded jewelry, the throne of Russia, and a child.
But eventually, Catherine the Great turned her attentions to Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin, and spurned Orlov.
He was devastated. He sought to win her back with gifts, like beaded jewelry. That’s when he came upon and purchased the enormous diamond that would eventually bear his name. He gave it to Catherine, but she couldn’t be bought back.
That didn’t mean she didn’t hold her former lover in high regard. She gave him as many gifts as he gave her—beaded jewelry, a marble palace in St. Petersburg, a title. She also named the diamond after him, and had it set in a beaded jewelry setting at the top of a royal scepter. A fitting place for the symbol of the man who helped her take the throne.
The story of the Bahia Emerald isn’t one of women flaunting dazzling beaded jewelry, but of Las Vegas heists and near blood baths in the desert. It is the largest emerald stone ever found, and the single largest emerald crystal ever discovered in embedded in rock. It weighs 840 pounds. That’s about 1,900,000 carats. It’s worth about $400 million. Chump change, right?
After it was found in Brazil, it exchanged hands several times between gem and beaded jewelry custodians, until it wound up stored in New Orleans—at exactly the wrong time.
When Caesar was murdered, Marc Antony fought a civil war with his killers. He won (of course!), then summoned the Queen of Egypt to answer for why she hadn’t supported him. Cleopatra knew she had to impress Antony. She didn’t want Egypt and Rome at war.
So Cleopatra, being Cleopatra, made a few arrangements.