IRAN ART EXHIBITION: FIVE PRECIOUS STONES BELONGING TO THE NATIONAL IRANIAN JEWELS
There are large numbers of loose diamonds and other gemstones among the magnificent collection of jewels and jewelry belonging to the National Iranian Jewels on display at the Treasury of the Central Bank in Iran. The loose gemstones found are sorted into five different categories :-
1) Loose white diamonds 2) Loose Indian Diamonds 3) Loose Iranian Yellow diamonds 4) Loose emeralds 5) Loose Spinels
1) Loose white diamonds
Among the National Iranian Jewels there are several larger diamonds that are displayed individually, but besides this there are collections of large numbers of smaller diamonds that are displayed together in trays. The collection of loose white diamonds is one such collection displayed on a brown colored circular plastic tray of diameter 20cm.
An interesting feature of the collection of about 75 white diamonds on the plate is that most of them bear the ancient Indian cut in which the diamond is cut in the form of a thin slab or sheet of different shapes such as rectangular, square, pear, oval etc. with a polished upper and lower surface and simple facets on the sides. The diamonds do not have a pavilion and culet as modern cut diamonds, and are known as table-cut diamonds also referred to a lasque. This simple diamond cut was developed by ancient Indian diamond cutters in keeping with the simple tools, techniques and material available at that time.
Another interesting feature of the white diamonds displayed on the tray, is their extreme purity. Most of the diamonds would qualify for an internally flawless (IF) clarity grade, the highest clarity grade for diamonds. Likewise most of the diamonds would qualify for a D-color grading, which is the highest color grading for colorless diamonds, also referred to as absolutely colorless.
Thus without any doubt we can say that these white diamonds in the National Iranian Jewels collection, are all type IIa diamonds, which constitute about 1-2 % of all naturally occurring diamonds. These diamonds are absolutely colorless because they are chemically pure and structurally perfect diamonds. They are chemically pure because all chemical impurities that can cause color in diamonds such as nitrogen, boron and hydrogen are absent. They are structurally perfect as the diamonds have a perfect crystal structure, without any plastic deformations. Structural abnormalities in diamonds produce rare fancy colors such as red, purple, and pink and also brown color. In the absence of all factors that can cause color in diamonds, these diamonds are absolutely colorless and are known as D-color diamonds according to the GIA color grading for colorless diamonds.
Another interesting fact about these white diamonds is that we can predict the source of these diamonds from their characteristics. The important characteristics of the diamonds are :-
1) The ancient Indian table-cut of the diamonds.
2) The absolute purity of the diamonds without any inclusions.
3) The absolutely colorless nature of the diamonds.
Such diamonds are variously known as “diamonds of the purest water,” “purest of the pure,” ” whiter than white, brighter than bright” etc. From the above three characteristics we can safely predict that the diamonds are of Indian origin, and the one and only source of diamonds of the purest water in the world around this time was the famous Kollur mines of Golconda in Southern India, near Hyderabad. The Golconda mines were famous for the production of diamonds of the highest quality, with incredible transparency, whiteness and purity. Today the word Golconda is used to refer to any white diamond mined from any part of the world, which has the same high quality as the renowned Golconda diamonds. Thus Golconda diamonds have set a standard for comparing white diamonds produced in different parts of the world.
2) Loose Indian diamonds
There are large numbers of loose diamonds on display in the Museum of the Treasury of the National Iranian Jewels. Most of these diamonds are of Indian origin and became part of the Iranian Crown Jewels after Nadir Shah’s expedition into Northern India motivated partly by his desire to lay his hands on the wealth of the richest kingdom in the world at that time, the Mogul Empire, and partly as punishment for retaining stolen Iranian Crown Jewels of the Safavid dynasty, previously plundered by the Afghans in 1722. Nadir Shah carried an enormous booty that included the famous Peacock Throne of Shah Jahaan, and famous diamonds like the Koh-i-Nur, the Darya-i-Nur, the Nur-ul-Ain, the Taj-i-Mah, etc. and also several chests full of pearls, diamonds, emeralds, rubies etc. Most of these diamonds were undoubtedly mined in the five groups of mines in the river basins of the eastern Deccan Plateau in Southern and Central India, because India was the only known source of diamonds in the world during that period. The most prolific of these mines were the Kollur mines near Golconda in Southern India.
IRAN ART EXHIBITION: Out of the larger diamonds in the Iranian Crown Jewels the three legendary diamonds are the Darya-i-Nur, the Nur-ul-Ain, and the Taj-i-mah diamonds. The Darya-i-Nur was mounted on a special setting consisting of 457 other smaller diamonds and 4 rubies surmounted by the royal symbols of the lion and the sun, on the orders of Nasser-ed-Din Shah (1848-96), and is still preserved in the same setting. The Nur-ul-Ain was incorporated into a special tiara designed and constructed by Harry Winston in 1958 for the occasion of Empress Farah Diba’s wedding to Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran.
The 115-carat, Mogul-cut or Indian rose-cut Taj-i-Mah diamond, on the other hand remained unmounted, and today it is the largest unmounted or loose diamond among the collection of Iranian Crown Jewels.
Out of the five loose Indian diamonds shown in the picture the bottom left diamond is the 115-carat, mogul-cut, colorless Taj-i-Mah diamond. The Taj-i-Mah diamond was mined either in the Sambalpur mines on the banks of the Mahanadi River, one of the most ancient diamond mines in India, or in the famous Golconda mines on the banks of the Kistna River. It entered the court of the Mogul emperors before the invasion of Delhi and Agra by Nadir Shah in 1739. The Taj-i-Mah originally weighed 146 carats, and according to Sir John Malcolm, the British Diplomat who visited Persia in the early 19th century and had the privilege of an audience with the mighty Fath Ali Shah, and was given the rare opportunity of seeing the fantastic collection of Iranian Crown Jewels, the Taj-i-Mah and Darya-i-Nur diamonds were the principal diamonds in a pair of bracelets, valued at nearly a million sterling. Thus it appears that the Taj-i-Mah diamond had been removed from this bracelet setting sometime after Fath Ali Shah’s reign, and had also been re-cut to its present weight of 115 carats.
The remaining four diamonds in the picture are also mogul-cut or Indian rose-cut diamonds having weights of 72.5 carats, 54.5 carats, 54.35 carats and 47.5 carats, from the largest to the smallest diamond. The Mogul-cut or rose-cut was developed by ancient Indian diamond cutters, and consists essentially of a crown with a table facet and several triangular facets arranged in a symmetrical radiating pattern from the table facet. There is no pavilion and the bottom of the stone is left flat, like the table-cut diamonds. The Indian rose-cut was later adopted by western diamond cutters based in Antwerp in the middle of the 16th century.
3) Loose Iranian Yellow diamonds
The Iranian Yellow Diamonds are all of South African Origin and were acquired by Nasser-ed-Din Shah on his third trip to Europe in 1889. Altogether there are 22 diamonds in this collection, the largest which is a rectangular old brilliant-cut having a weight of 152.16 carats, and the smallest, a multi faceted trapezoid-cut having a weight of 38.18 carats.
The list of the 22 Iranian Yellow Diamonds, in which the old-world color grading is converted to the modern GIA color grading, is given in the table below. According to this table the diamonds vary in color from colorless (D-F) to faint yellow (K-M), to very light yellow (N-R) and light yellow (S-Z).
Diamond No. 11 in the list is a champagne colored diamond, which is a brown diamond of unknown shade. Diamond No. 19 is described as a peach colored diamond which must be a diamond of pinkish-orange color.
The triangular brilliant-cut diamond with rounded ends shown at the middle left of the picture is 86.61 carats. The largest diamond in the center is the 135.45-carat cushion-cut diamond. Most of the diamonds in this collection being faint yellow to light yellow in color are type Ia diamonds, in which the color is caused by aggregates of three nitrogen atoms called N3 centers. Aggregates of 2 and 4 atoms of nitrogen are also present but do not affect the color of diamonds.
4) Loose emeralds
Hundreds or perhaps thousands of loose emeralds of varying sizes and shapes and dark green in color are exhibited in rectangular boxes and rounded trays in a special display case known as the emerald display case at the museum. This is the same display case where the ivory-handled sword is displayed on the lower shelf of the case, together with Nasser-ed-Din Shah’s epaulettes studded with 300 diamonds are two large emeralds. Several brooches, necklaces and other items of emerald are also found on the lower shelf. A special display panel shows 13 large emerald rings in which the largest emerald weighs 16 carats and the smallest 8 carats.
French jeweler and traveler Chardin, visited Iran in the mid-17th century, during the Safavid era, probably during the reign of Shah Abbas II (1642-66). In his travelogue Chardin wrote that while in Iran he often encountered people who were wearing 15 to 16 rings on their hands, and often wearing 5 or 6 rings on the same finger. With the fall of the Safavid dynasty in 1722, and the rise of the Qajar dynasty the rings went out of fashion, even among the court ladies, possibly due to the increase in popularity of the long sleeves which covered even the hands. Subsequently, after the end of the Safavid dynasty and the rise of the Pahlavi dynasty, popularity of rings picked up again.
Emeralds are the most commonly used variety of precious stones in almost all the settings of the Iranian Crown Jewels. This shows that the royal courts of the Shahs of Iran had a continuous supply of these valuable precious stones and the only source of emeralds in the world at that time was the South American countries of Brazil and Colombia. Ancient sources of emeralds were Egypt, Austria, and the Swat region of Northern India which is now in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan.
IRAN ART EXHIBITION: Emeralds are a type of beryl (Beryllium Aluminum Silicate), in which the green color is caused by traces of chromium and sometime Vanadium. They have a hardness of 7.5 to 8.0 on the Mohs scale, a refractive index of 1.576 – 1.582, and a specific gravity of 2.70 – 2.78. Flaws, cracks and inclusions are common in emeralds, which can affect their clarity, and consequently their value. Like diamonds the value of emeralds depend on the 4 Cs, color, cut, clarity and carat weight. The color of emeralds can have different shades of green and bluish green. Emeralds of good clarity and dark green colors command the highest prices. Most of the Iranian emeralds are dark green emeralds with good clarity, but the cut employed is the simple cabochon cut, of various shapes such as round, oval, pear, square, rectangular etc. without any facets. Perhaps this was because faceting techniques was not so developed at the time these emeralds were cut and polished.
5) Loose Spinels
Spinels were also commonly used in most of the settings of the Iranian Crown jewels in combination with other gemstones like emeralds, rubies and diamonds. Most of the extraordinarily large red stones in the crown jewels are actually spinels, and not rubies. Perhaps in the past spinels were also considered as rubies as it was not possible to distinguish between the two categories of minerals. This accounts for the occurrence of several large spinels on the crowns and other jewelry belonging to the monarchy from around the world, including the 170-carat Black Prince ruby on the Imperial State Crown of England, which is actually a spinel. Likewise the 361-carat historic Timur ruby presently owned by Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom is actually not a ruby but a spinel.
Two extraordinarily large spinels, uncut but polished, one weighing 500 carats and the other 270 carats are on display at the Museum of the Treasury of National Iranian Jewels. The spinel shown on the left of the photograph is the 500-carat Samarian spinel which is the largest spinel in the world. It is blood-red in color and polished without faceting, with a hole on one side. According to legend the stone is believed to have adorned the neck of the biblical golden calf which the Israelis are said to have made while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments.
The second largest spinel in the world weighing 398.72 carats and mounted on the Great Imperial Crown of Catherine the Great, is part of the Russian Crown Jewels and exhibited in the Museum of the Kremlin Diamond Fund.
The 361-carat Timur Ruby which is part of the British Crown Jewels is the third largest spinel in the world, and has the names of Mogul Emperors who once owned it engraved on one side of the diamond.
IRAN ART EXHIBITION: The 270-carat uncut but polished spinel on the right of the photograph is perhaps the fourth largest spinel in the world, and has great historical significance, as it has a 350-year old inscription on one side, indicating that it was once owned by the Mogul Emperor Jehangir Shah (1605-27), the son of the Mighty Akbar the Great (1556-1605), and the father of the famous Shah Jahaan (1628-58), the builder of the Taj Mahal.
Jehangir Shah is reported to have said that “This stone shall make my name more famous than the entire dynasty of Tamerlane.” in response to criticism for inscribing his name on the spinel. When Jehangir Shah made this statement between 1605 and 1627, Tamerlane’s dynasty had already died out in 1506 after the last great Timurid Husain Baygarah who ruled between 1478 and 1506. But, as predicted Jehangir Shah’s name still lives on inscribed on this 270-carat spinel as well as on other gemstones in the Iranian treasury and other foreign museums. It is said that Nadir Shah also used this gemstone as an armband during his reign.