The Shah Jahan Diamond

The Shah Jahan diamond is a 56 carat table cut diamond, flat in general shape, perhaps (probably?) originally a cleavage piece that had been faceted. It is two inches long, but only one-eighth of an inch thick. It has two drill holes, to allow wire or cord to be passed through, enabling it to be worn as a pendant.

It originally belonged to Jahangir Shah, the fourth Shah of the Mogul Empire, who ruled in the early 1600s. This would mean that the diamond is almost certainly from the famous Golconda mines. It passed to his son, prince Khurram, the Shah Jahan. He was the man who built the Taj Mahal, and also one of the owners of the Koh-i-Noor diamond. A portrait in the V&A museum shows the prince holding a sarpech (a turban ornament) set with gold and pearls and a large octagonal diamond. The facet arrangement and shape of the stone appears to match precisely the Shah Jahan. It is remarkable to have such a good contemporary provenance, as the history of many of the world’s large diamonds is often shrouded in mystery.

In 1657 Shah Jahan fell ill, and in the power struggle between his four sons, it was the third son, Aurangzeb, who emerged victorious. He declared himself Emperor in 1658. The diamond was one of the stones inspected by Tavernier in 1665; after inspecting the Great Mogul diamond, he describes “three other diamonds, table shaped, two of them clean and the third with some little black specks. Each weighs fifty five to sixty ratis”. A ratis is a little more than a carat, putting the weights of the diamonds at 49 to 54 carats, making it likely that one of the two clean diamonds was the Shah Jahan.

The diamond was taken by the Iranian ruler Nadir Shah in 1739, following the sack of Delhi. After this it disappears for 200 years. Rumours abound that it came into the collection of the Russian Tzar, perhaps as part of a gift of apology to Tzar Nicholas following the killing by an angry mob of Minister of Persia Alexander Griboyedov in 1829. It was perhaps given as a gift by one of the Tzars before it entered the official inventory.

Interestingly, in June 1851 at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park there was a display of crystal imitations of many of the largest diamonds in the world, including the Shah Jahan. It was described as Russian, “A flat Table Diamond Scollop’d at the Corners adorns the Gripe of the Emperor’s sword – 68 carats £36,992”. This replica bore the same two drill holes of the Shah Jahan, so clearly somebody knew of its whereabouts!

It came up for sale in 1985, but failed to sell. The consignor claimed it had been in his family’s possession since the 1890s. It was displayed at the exhibition in the Natural History Museum in London in 2005.