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The Orloff

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From the Archives : Originally published May 29th, 2009
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Category : Gems and Treasures

 

 

 

 

The Orloff diamond (sometimes spelled Orlov) was said to be a 300 carats rough stone discovered in South India. The precise date of the discovery is unknown, the circumstances are related in such a confused way, that it has hitherto been impossible to fix its first definite appearance but the diamond has been involved for centuries in historical events and even legends.

 


 

According to the legend, the Orloff Diamond, was set in the eye of the Hindu god Sri-Ranga in a temple in Srirangem, in southern India.


According to Dutens' account, a French grenadier,  having deserted the Indian service, found employment in the neighbourhood of the temple, where he soon learnt from native report that the sacred edifice contained a celebrated idol of the Hindu god Sri-Ranga, whose eyes were formed by two large diamonds of inestimable value. The temple, situated on an island in the Cauvery River, was surrounded by seven enclosures; no Christians were ever permitted farther than the fourth. Once having pilfered the stone from its sacred home around 1750, perhaps after untold years of patient planning, the deserter fled to Madras where he would find protection with the English army, as well as a buyer and sold the stone to a sea captain for £2,000.

 

The captain, in turn, is said to have sold it in London for £12,000 to a Persian merchant named Khojeh Raphael, who took it to Amsterdam. The as yet unnamed stone passed from merchant to merchant in the everlasting quest for profit…

 

This is where in 1775 the Russian nobleman, Count Gregory Orlov (Grigorievich Orlov 1723-83), who was at the time residing at Amsterdam, heard rumours about the stone and finally bought it for 400 000 dutch florins (other sources say 1400000 florins) and took it back to Russia. He offered the gem to Empress Catherine, who he had been romantically involved with in an attempt to regain her love and his place as her favorite.

 

The prince was out of favour because of his poor handling of the Ottoman-Rusian crisis. He offered her the diamond on St. Catherine's Day in 1776, instead of the traditional bouquet of flowers. She accepted the diamond but refused to reinstate Orloff to his former powerful position in the Court. Nevertheless the stone has been called the Orloff since then. However, Grigori couldn't get Catherine's love. He married his cousin, but following her death in Lausanne in 1782, he became mentally deranged and returned to Russia to die the following year.

 

Catherine never wore the diamond, but had it mounted in the top of the Imperial Scepter which was completed in 1784, where it remains to this day, in the Kremlin Museum.  The sceptre is a burnished shaft in three sections set with eight rings of brilliant-cut diamonds, including some of about 30 carats each and fifteen weighing about 14 carats each. The Orloff is set at the top, with its domed top facing forward. Above it is a double-headed eagle with the Arms of Russia enameled on its breast.

 


 

There is a legend concerning the diamond, dating from the time of Napoleon. As the Emperor of France's forces were approaching Moscow during the campaign of 1812, the Orlov was secreted in the tomb of a priest in the Kremlin. When Napoleon entered Moscow he gave orders that the gem be sought. After he learned of its whereabouts, Napoleon in person, accompanied by his bodyguards, proceeded to the Kremlin to secure the diamond. The tomb was opened to reveal the great gem. One of the bodyguards stretched out a hand to take the diamond, but before he had touched it the ghost of the priest rose up and cursed the invaders. Napoleon and his bodyguards are then supposed to have fled empty-handed from the Kremlin.

 


 

The Orloff is a rarity among historic diamonds, it is an antique rose cut diamond (flat bottom, and faceted domed top), weighing approximately 194 carats (other sources say 189.62 carats), about the size of half an egg.

 


 

The clarity is typical of the finest Indian diamonds and its pure color possesses a slight bluish-green tint. The shape of the diamond has been described as resembling half a pigeon's egg and its upper surface is marked by concentrated rows of triangular facets, with corresponding four-sided facets appearing on the lower surface. The total number of facets is roughly 180. On one side of the diamond there exists a slight indentation. It measures approximately 32mm by 35mm by 31mm.

 

It has never been weighed, though once during cleaning in the early 20th century it fell out of its mounting. The jeweller performing the cleaning weighed it before putting it back into its mounting. Unfortunately, he never wrote down the weight.

 


 

Quite a few sources perpetuate the belief that the Orloff is but a part of the larger Great Mogul and therefore the same stone which vanished after the pillaging of Delhi in 1739. Most historians now agree that the two diamonds have completely different origins.

 

When a comparison is made between Tavernier's drawing of the Great Mogul and the photographs of the diamond in the Kremlin, it immediately becomes apparent there are similarities. The first lies in the shape. It will be recalled that the Orlov has been described as resembling half a pigeon's egg and that Tavernier referred to the Great Mogul as presenting 'the form of an egg cut in half.' Throughout history there cannot have been many diamonds of such an unusual form. Secondly, the pattern of facets of the two stones is not dissimilar. Thirdly, the previously-mentioned slight indentation that exists in the Orlov must correspond to Tavernier's note to that effect that 'there is a slight crack and a little flaw in it.' In addition, as will be shortly shown, the story of the Great Mogul would appear to have no known ending and that of the Orlov has no clear beginning - further historical evidence that they are probably one and the same diamond.

On the other hand, there is the discrepancy between the weights of the two stones. After being cut by the Venetian, Borgio, the Great Mogul's weight was reduced to around 280 carats, whereas the Orlov is estimated to be less than 200 carats. In this connection two points must be made. First, it has been shown by others that Tavernier may not always have recorded with accuracy the weights of the various stones he examined; for example, it is almost certain that he erred in the weight he gave for the Great Table Diamond. Secondly, it is not at all unlikely that at some point in its complicated history a further attempt may have been made to alter the state of the Orlov - to improve upon the efforts of Hortensio Borgio, by grinding away a portion of the top of Tavernier's diamond to resemble the shape of the Orlov today.

Finally, the Soviet authority on gems, Academician Alexander E. Fersman, who examined all the former Crown Jewels from a gemological point of view, was in no doubt that the Orlov was the same diamond as the Great Mogul.

 

 

 

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