Famous Gems and Beaded Jewelry: Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond

The Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond is one of the famous gems and beaded jewelry of history. As Jeffrey Post, curator of the National Gem Collection at the Smithsonian once said: "This is the most famous diamond people have never seen." It has a long and somewhat mysterious history believed to have started, like so many of the great diamonds from the 17th century, in the famous Golconda mines of India.

It has long been rumored that King Philip IV of Spain chose the very best of newly purchased stones, including a large blue-gray diamond, to include in the dowry of his teenager daughter Margaret Teresa upon her betrothal to Emperor Leopold I of Austria in 1664. It's a charming but unsubstantiated story. According to Wikipedia: "The first time the diamond was mentioned is about fifty years later when it was already in Vienna."   

wittelsbach diamondWe do know that there is a painting of Margaret Teresa's granddaughter, the Archduchess Maria Amalia, wearing what appears to be the diamond and painted at the time of her wedding to Crown Prince Charles Albert of Bavaria in 1722. Maximilian IV Joseph von Wittelsbach became the first King of Bavaria in 1806; he made it the centerpiece of his new crown and that is where it remained until Bavaria become a Republic in 1918. The new Republic took control of the Royal jewels along with the rest of the family's possessions.

The funeral of Ludwig III of Bavaria in 1921 was the last time the diamond was seen until it reappeared in 1931 at Christie’s Auction in London. The family had fallen on hard times and the government gave them permission to sell 13 of the Crown Jewels. However, what happened to the large blue diamond is a bit murky. It apparently passed through several owners until it reappeared in 2008 at another Christie's auction where it sold to Laurence Graff of Graff Diamonds for a world record $24.3 million.

And this is where the controversy comes in; Graff had the diamond cut to remove scratches and chips and to improve its color and clarity. It lost 4.45 carats in the process, changed color from deep grayish-blue to deep clear blue, and was given a new name. It's now the Wittelsbach-Graff diamond. Critics complain that Graff put finances ahead of history because the diamond has been altered so much that it's now unrecognizable, which compromises its historical integrity.

Professor Hans Ottomeyer, director of the German Historical Museum in Berlin, compared it to painting over a Rembrandt. It was apparently in reply to comments like this that Francois Graff said, "If you discovered a Leonardo da Vinci with a tear in it and covered in mud, you would want to repair it. We have similarly cleaned up the diamond and repaired damage caused over the years. ”

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