It’s often been said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but throughout history luxury jewelry has in fact appealed to kings and conquerors just as much as to heiresses and socialites. In the spirit of timeless extravagance, here are the 7 most stunningly over-the-top jewelry pieces ever made:
The Koh-i-Noor diamond originated in India in 1306 and was once the largest known diamond in the world, weighing in at 185 carats. For about 500 years, the coveted diamond changed hands many times. The lives of all the rulers who possessed it were filled with violence, murder and treachery and because of this, the diamond has been thought to be cursed. In 1851 it was given to Queen Victoria who was the empress of India at the time, and it was re-cut to 105 carats in order to increase its brilliance. It was worn by Victoria as a brooch and kept at Windsor Castle. Later on, it was mounted in a crown with at least 2000 other diamonds and worn by Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. The curse of the diamond dates back to a Hindu text which reads in part “… Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity”; therefore since Queen Victoria’s reign it has always been passed down to the female heir to the throne or to the wife of the male heir.
Marie Antoinette Necklace
The notorious Marie Antoinette necklace has a history surrounded by scandal. In 1772 King Louis XV had the necklace made by the crown jewelers, for a woman he was infatuated with, Madame Du Barry. The necklace was ornate and consisted of numerous large diamonds arranged in an intricate design with tassels and pendants. It took much time to acquire all the diamonds needed for this necklace. Before the necklace was finished and paid for, Louis XV died and King Louis XVI came to power. Louis XVI offered to buy it for his wife, Marie Antoinette, but she felt the large sum of money should go to defend her country, not to be spent on jewelry. Unfortunately, a woman who claimed to be close to Marie Antoinette, Comtessa de la Motte, came up with a scheme. She told the crown jewelers that Marie Antoinette wanted to buy the necklace and she would deliver it to her. Instead, Comtessa de la Motte stole the extravagant piece of jewelry, making it look look like Marie Antoinette was involved. Marie Antoinette’s already tarnished reputation was completely ruined and this is one of the many things which led to the people’s distrust of the French monarchy and eventually to the French Revolution.
Hope Diamond Necklace
The Hope Diamond is, without a doubt, the most famous diamond in the world, though not the largest. It is deep grayish-blue in color and weighs 45.52 carats. The diamond originated in India and was purchased by King Louis XIV in 1668, but was turned over to the French government in 1791, when he and Marie Antoinette tried to flee during the French Revolution. It was stolen during the looting of the crown jewels the following year and found again twenty years later. King George of England acquired it in 1821, but it was sold after his death because of his tremendous debt. In 1830 it was purchased by Philip Hope and continued to be passed down to family members. It was sold three times and in 1909 French jeweler Pierre Cartier presented it to a Washington DC socialite, Evalyn Walsh McLean who disliked the setting. Cartier had the diamond reset on a headpiece encircled by large diamonds and Mrs. McLean, satisfied, purchased it in 1911. Sometime later it became a necklace. Two years after McLean’s death, it was purchased by Harry Winston and since 1958 has been on display at the Smithsonian Institute, where it has been viewed by at least 100 million people.
Queen Alexandra’s Dagmar Necklace
The Dagmar necklace consisted of 2000 diamonds and 118 pearls with a cloisonne enamel 11th century Danish cross hanging from it on a gold loop. It was a wedding gift to Queen Alexandra from the Danish King Frederik when Alexandra married the Prince of Wales in 1863, and was possibly one of the most expensive gifts ever given to a Danish princess. The Danish cross was King Frederik’s idea. Shortly after she received the necklace, Queen Alexander had it reset into 2 brooches and a necklace. Re-settings of the necklace have been worn by Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth II.
Chalk Emerald Ring
The Colombian emerald in the Chalk Emerald ring was originally set in a necklace worn by the Princess of Baroda, Maharani Sahiba, who passed it down to her son Maharajah Cooch Bejar. In the 1900s the emerald was re-cut and set in a ring surrounded by sixty pear-shaped diamonds. It was subsequently purchased by New York entrepreneur Oscar Roy Chalk, who gave it to his wife. Mrs. Chalk once wore the ring to a state dinner which honored Queen Elizabeth II at the White House. Noticing that Queen Elizabeth was wearing an emerald ring which was not nearly as beautiful, Mrs. Chalk graciously turned her ring around on her finger, not wishing to out-do the queen. It has been on display at the Smithsonian since 1972.
The Godman Necklace is made of ten emeralds and numerous diamonds set in platinum and is characterized by its perfect symmetry. The history of this beautiful necklace dates back to the 1890′s when the British Naturalist Fredrick DuCann bought it while on vacation in Bavaria. He gave it to his daughters in 1965 and several years later, believing it had once belonged to Empress Josephine of France, they decided to give it to Queen Elizabeth II. Queen Elizabeth was so pleased with the necklace that she invited the sisters to meet with her privately as a thank you for their generosity. No one knows for sure whether it ever really belonged to the Empress of France.
Logan Sapphire Brooch
The flawless Logan Sapphire is the second largest sapphire in the world, weighing in at 422.9 carats. This egg-sized sapphire is surrounded by 20 diamonds which weigh a total of 16 carats and is set in a gold and silver brooch. The beautiful deep blue sapphire originated in Sri Lanka and was owned by a socialite, Mrs. John Logan, who donated it to the Museum of Natural History in 1960. It is the heaviest mounted gem in the museum’s collection.