The Wittlesbach Diamond

The Wittlesbach diamond is a 36 carat modified cushion cut blue stone, first recorded in 1664 in the dowry of the Spanish Infanta, who married Emperor Leopold in 1667. This timescale leads us to believe that the stone is Indian in origin.

The diamond’s cut has been described as a stellar brilliant, due to the radiating pattern of facets around the culet. There are 82 facets, arranged in an unusual pattern — the star facets on the crown are vertically split and the pavilion has sixteen needle-like facets, arranged in pairs, pointing outward from the culet facet, which itself is extremely large. This makes the stone one of the earliest examples of a brilliant cut. Interestingly, high-resolution photos taken by Christie’s shows that the cut is outstanding. The facet junctions are nearly perfect, even under magnification.

It eventually became part of the ruling house of Bavaria, the Wittlesbachs, upon the marriage of Maria Elena to the Bavarian Crown Price in 1722. It was described in a contemporary inventory as a “large blue brilliant encircled with small brilliants”, and valued at 240,000 gilders. Sadly, the crown prince’s father struck financial difficulties after the wedding, and, as head of the family, he was entitled to do what he wanted with the family’s possessions.

The Wittlesbach diamond can be seen just below the cross at the top of the Crown. Public Domain.
The diamond was pawned, along with a golden dinner service. When his father died a few years later, the total debt he left behind was over four million gilders. The stone was redeemed, and reset several times over the next few decades, eventually being mounted at the top of the Royal Crown, where it remained until 1918.

After the first world war, Bavaria became a republic, and the Royal family became impoverished. It was eventually decided by the government (in 1931) to sell the stone to alleviate the hardship experienced by the Royals. It was sold at Christie’s in London, where it appeared to sell for £5,400. There is some doubt as to whether or not the sale was geniune or not, and perhaps the diamond was unsold at the auction.

What is known for sure is that the stone disappeared from the public eye for a generation, reappearing in 1955 at the World Exhibition in Brussels. In 1962, it was quietly shown to a diamond polisher to recut it, but he refused, and formed a consortium to buy the diamond, at that stage valued at £180,000.

In the recent past (in 2008), Lawrence Graff purchased the diamond for 16 million pounds, a world record auction price for the diamond. He had it slightly recut, reducing the weight by 4 carats and improving the clarity from VS to Internally Flawless. This recutting caused some controversy, with some suggesting that the scratches on the diamond formed a part of its story, and with Graff stating that he had merely removed some minor damage from the diamond.

In 2011 Graff sold the diamond, apparently to the Emir of Qatar.

The diamond exhibits deep red phosphorescence. This quality, along with the shade of blue, had led some people to speculate that the diamond was once part of the same piece of rough that the Hope diamond came from; this seems rather fanciful. The two diamonds were exhibited together in 2011 in the Smithsonian Museum, where the colours could be clearly seen to be different.

Wittelsbach diamond, before beeing recut by Graff