One of the most interesting diamonds in the world, and perhaps one of the most beautiful, the Shah diamond does not sparkle or twinkle, but rather is a table cut diamond (flat, bar shaped), with three cleavage faces and one faceted face. Its most intriguing characteristic is that three of the faces of the diamond are engraved with the names of previous owners, giving us a crystal clear history of this gem. There is also a groove etched into the upper edge of the diamond, presumably for a string to be wrapped around it, allowing the diamond to be worn around the neck.
Originally from the famous Golconda region of India, it is lightish yellow in colour, and 88.7 carats. It is exceptionally pure for such a large diamond, allowing the inscriptions to be easily read. As only a diamond could could another diamond at that time, some sort of tool must have been fashioned especially for the process. The Shah diamond, along with the Jehangir Shah, are the only known engraved historic Indian diamonds.
The inscriptions read:
- “Burhan Nizam Shah II in the year 1000” – about 1591
- “Son of Jahangir, Shah Jahan, 1051” – about 1641
- “Kadjar Fath Ali Shah” – Shah of Persia in 1824.
The first inscription is the name of the ruler (Nizam) of the province of Ahmadnagar. There were no diamond mines in that area, so one assumes that the stone was a gift to the Nizam. The kingdom was lost to Akbar in 1591, and so was the gemstone.
The next inscription refers to Shah Jahan, grandson of Akbar, and the “Eternal Mogul”. He is most famous for building the Taj Mahal. In 1660 the diamond was passed to Aurangzeb, who showed it to renowned Silk Road merchant Tavernier in 1665. Tavernier described the scene at the court: “On the side of the throne which is opposite the Court, there is to be seen a jewel consisting of a diamond of about 80 or 90 carats weight, with rubies and emeralds around it, and when the king is seated he has the jewel in full view.”
The third inscription is to Kadjar Fath Ali Shah, Shah of Persia in 1824. This means that the diamond almost certainly travelled to Persia in 1739, when Nadir Shah looted Delhi and took it along with other diamonds, including the Koh-i-Noor.
The diamond then moved to Russia, a gift of apology to Tzar Nicholas following the killing by an angry mob of Minister of Persia Alexander Griboyedov in 1829.
The diamond became part of the Russian Crown Jewels; it was moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow in 1914 for safe keeping. It came to light again after the Bolshevik Revolution, and placed on display in the Kremlin, where it remains to this day. In 1971 it featured on a Russian postage stamp. The diamond is presently part of the collection of the Kremlin Diamond Fund, which also includes other wonderful diamonds such as the Orlov Diamond, the Flat Portrait Diamond, The Creator Diamond (298 carats) and the Alexander Pushkin Diamond (320.65 carats).
It is wonderful to think of the history of such a diamond, the hands that carved the names, the necks around which it hung, and the original, untouched nature of the crystal. You can sense the history, even through a photograph!