Historic French pink diamond auctioned for USD 14.5 million

Geneva, Nov 15 (PTI) A large pink diamond, that originated from the same mines of India as the world-famous Koh-i-Noor – and adorned the crowns of numerous French kings – was sold at an auction here for a whopping USD 14.5 million.

The 19.07-carat diamond known as the Grand Mazarin, takes its name from Cardinal Mazarin, who became France’s Chief Minister in 1642. Towards the end of his life, Mazarin assembled a collection of 18 exceptional gems.

The diamond originated in the Golconda mines in present day Telengana, which are legendary for having produced some of the most important diamonds in history including the Koh- i-Noor, the Regent Diamond and the Wittelsbach-Graff.

The Grand Mazarin was the largest of the 18 diamonds which went under the hammer at a sale at Christie’s Auctions in Geneva on November 14.

An unidentified telephone bidder made a winning bid of over USD 14,500,000, the auction house said.

These stones became part of the French crown jewels and would remain the favourites of the French royal family for more than 200 years, having first passed from Mazarin to King Louis XIV – The Sun King – in 1661, when the French ruler was only 23 years old.

Louis’ wife, Maria Theresa of Austria, is likely to have been the first person to wear the Grand Mazarin.

After Theresa’s death, Louis XIV added the Grand Mazarin to his chain of diamonds, set in descending size order, on which it remained for many years.

The Sun King’s 72-year reign would leave its indelible mark on French history – the Chateau of Versailles, the construction of which he supervised, has left to posterity the image of a king enamoured of grandeur.

In 1792, the French Revolution had been underway for three years. Severely weakened, King Louis XVI was forced to hand over all the property of the French crown, now stored in the Garde-Meuble, or royal treasury.

The publication a year earlier of a complete inventory of the French crown jewels convinced a group of around 30 men to attempt to pull off the crime of the century.

After breaking into the Garde-Meuble – a building that can still be seen on the Place de la Concorde in Paris – the robbers pried open the cabinets and seized all of the French crown jewels.

Most of the thieves were eventually caught and sentenced to death. One of them begged to be spared the scaffold in return for surrendering his portion of the spoils – which included the Grand Mazarin – to the authorities. Other stones were never found.

The fall of the monarchy called the fate of the crown jewels into question, but the rise of Emperor Napoleon brought a new fashion for celebrating the splendours of the past.

In 1810, the Emperor commanded jeweller Francois-Regnault Nitot to create a magnificent set of diamond jewellery for his wife, Marie-Louise.

It included a diadem that was set with the most beautiful of the crown diamonds, the Grand Mazarin among them.

However, the Emperor’s reign was short: on the ascension of King Louis XVIII to the throne in 1814, the stone was removed and returned to the crown.

Some 70 years later, a plan to sell the French crown jewels was put in motion not long after their appearance, in 1884, in an exhibition at the Louvre.

Despite heated opposition, an auction was held in May 1887. The Grand Mazarin was purchased by Frederic Boucheron, one of the favoured jewellers of France’s great families.

Many decades later, in 1962, the Louvre held an exhaustive, meticulously researched exhibition showcasing the most important jewels ever produced in France, with a special place reserved for the French crown jewels.

This would be the last time the Grand Mazarin was ever exhibited in public.

The stone was subsequently sold to the European private collection from which it went to auction at Christie’s.

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