Gems that kill: Scandalous stories behind cursed and looted jewelry
People will do just about anything to get their hands on something shiny, even if they’re rumored to be cursed. Diamonds, rubies, gold, and silver — if it glitters it’s worth the plundering. However, many gems come with more than just a price tag. They come with a curse. Bathed in blood, you would be surprised by just how many people, curse or no curse, would love to get a hold on baubles once worn in the crowns of kings and queens. From hiding diamonds in open wounds, to robbing the American Museum of Natural History, these treasures definitely have a story to tell.
Koh-I-Noor Diamond (AKA: the Mountain of Light)
The Koh-I-Noor diamond (featured in the center of the crown) has a troubled history that has lead nations into chaos, turmoil, and violence. Though there is much lore surrounding the gem’s origin, its known history stems back to 17th century India. It was first recorded as a decorative feature on a golden throne.
The Mughal ruler Shah Jahan had the uncut diamond placed at the center of a gold, peacock-themed throne. The stone represented wealth, power, and prestige. The stone (heck, the throne) was worth more than the Taj Mahal (which was still under construction at the time). India’s display of wealth was a neon sign for envious invaders hungry for shiny things.
Queen Mother wore it best
The Mughul ruler’s country would eventually be invaded by Persia. Thousands met their end during the invasion and the entire country was looted. For nearly 70 years after, the gem would be in possession of a series of doomed rulers. Of these: One ruler blinded his own son, and another ruler was dethroned and subsequently, his bald head was coated with molten gold. Ouch.
Afterward, the English took possession of the diamond during their colonization of India. The stone fell into the hands of Queen Victoria, where it was passed down from mother to daughter-in-law before ultimately resting in the crown of the Queen Mother (Queen Elizabeth II‘s mother). Today, there is much controversy about whether or not the jewel should remain with British royalty or be returned to its country of origin.
The Black Prince Ruby
If you don’t know the gem by name, then you’d know it by seeing it. Fixed dead center in England’s Imperial Crown, the blood-red stone is hard to miss. Worn in every coronation ceremony, it demands attention. However, don’t let the name fool you. The “ruby” is in fact a red spinel.
And for those of you who have no idea what that means, it simply means that the stone has a different chemical composition than a ruby does. For thousands of years, many merchants mistook colored spinels as either sapphires and rubies, just like the one in the English crown.
The stone was blamed for the death of royals
But enough technicalities — let’s get to the nitty-gritty. The Black Prince Ruby has a history that reaches back to the 14th century. It was given to Edward of Woodstock, aka “The Black Prince.” However, prior to English possession, the stone was said to belong to the Sultan of Granada and was taken from his grave.
Edward later suffered a mysterious disease that led to his death just nine years later. But he wasn’t the only one. Further deaths connected to diseases followed, along with dramatic battles. For example, Henry V wore the ruby and died during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, as did Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth. To this day, some blame the Black Prince Ruby.
Black Orlov Diamond
This diamond’s appearance seems…sinister. It camouflages in the black background like it’s hiding a dark and powerful secret. Black diamonds are extremely rare. They turn black because of the inclusion of graphite in the stone. It’s no wonder the Black Orlov is so enticing.
It was reportedly stolen from an East-Asian region, plucked from the statue of a god. Rumor has it, it curses anyone who possesses the stone (that’s how they all are, isn’t it?). It was said to have once been the eye of the idol Brahma at a shrine in Pondicherry, India. It was handed down to two Russian princesses whose lives were both cut short under tragic circumstances.
Looks like a curse, quacks like a curse
Like the Delhi Purple Sapphire, the Black Orlov has a seedy reputation. After it was stolen from an Indian temple, it fell into the possession of two Russian princesses, one of which was thought to be Nadia Orlov (thus the name). Could the wearers of the stolen stone be facing karmic backlash?
Both princesses jumped to their death after going mad — both were in possession of the black diamond. However, some are skeptical of the whole story, citing the fact that there are no records of black diamonds ever being found in India. Even if one was found, it wouldn’t be considered valuable because of its “unflattering” color.
The Hope Diamond
It takes the right amount of chemistry (and sorcery) for the earth to cook up a diamond, let alone one with vibrant blue color. The Hope Diamond is probably the most famous diamond in the world. Not only because of its size and color, but also because of the curse said to be affiliated deep within its azure depths.
The jewel has a history that stems back 350 years. Found in India, a French merchant traveler named Jean Baptiste Tavernier purchased the gem and thought it was a jewel meant for kings. As a subject of the monarchy of 17th-century France, he decided to sell the violet-colored bauble to none other than King Louis XIV in 1668. That’s where the trouble began.
Many who possessed it died unexpectedly
The diamond remained within the royal family until 1792, when a dark shadow eclipsed the powers of the royal family. The gem was stolen during the chaos of the French Revolution that took the lives of King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette. It was the first death associated with the jewel, and it was lost for decades after that. It was found again in 1830.
It found its way into the hands of a socialite named Evalyn Walsh McLean. She said she didn’t believe in superstition. But while the diamond was in her possession, her youngest son died in a car accident, her daughter took her own life, and her husband was admitted to a mental hospital. After all that, she was convinced the diamond was indeed cursed. She sold the jewel, and it eventually ended up at the Smithsonian Institution.
The Sancy Diamond
The Sancy Diamond is one of the world’s most famous diamonds, and with it comes a deadly history (as promised). They weren’t kidding when they said that most diamonds are bathed in blood; the Sancy Diamond is the one extra shiny example of just that. Yellowish in color, the diamond is 55.23 carats and is said to be one of the largest diamonds to be cut with symmetrical facets.
The value estimation on this gem is to the tune of $7 million. It once belonged to Charles the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy in the late 15th century. After his death, it was passed down a lineage of royals who would all meet an untimely end.
It was a king killer
The stone wasn’t always seen as being cursed. On the contrary, it was once worn as a good luck charm. But that changed when it was worn by Charles the Bold of Burgandy in 1477. He died during a fight against Swiss mercenaries while trying to conquer a small German town called Neuss. However, his efforts were thwarted when he was found dead days later.
Another king, Charles I, was executed by his own countrymen in 1649. And we all know what happened to Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette (yes, he too happened to own the famed Sancy at the time). Since then, the stone had been bouncing from owner to owner until it was given a forever home in the Louvre.
Most people like to indulge in a good myth story from time to time. However, what if the myth, fantastical and over the top, is true? That is the history of the Regent Diamond. Like other famed diamonds, the Regent was discovered by a slave who was digging in the Kollur Mines in India in the late 1600s.
The rock was 146 carats. If you want a visualization on its size, Kim Kardashian’s engagement ring (apparently a metric for this list) is 20 carats, and that bad boy takes up her whole finger. Imagine 146 carats! It would have to be a thick sleeve around the bicep. The slave took the stone and buried it in a large open wound on his leg. He wanted to smuggle it out and keep it, as it was his ticket to freedom and a life of his own. Unfortunately, he was stopped in his tracks.
Napoleon Bonaparte put it in the hilt of his sword
An English sea captain discovered the diamond, confiscated it, and had the slave killed. The captain sold the diamond to an Indian merchant where it was then passed into the hands of royalty. Originally over 400 carats, the diamond was cut down to 146. What was left was sent to Russia’s Peter the Great.
The diamond was eventually placed in the care of Napoleon Bonaparte, who put it in the hilt of his sword. Bling bling. However, ever since it’s discovery, it has been present during quite a bit of violence and murder. The royals who possessed it, such as Louis the XVI, Louis VIII, and Charles X, were either executed, exiled, or abdicated from their thrones. Charles X specifically was abdicated and died of cholera, and Napoleon III died in exile.
Discovered by the man who would eventually be named the “father of archaeology,” Heinrich Schliemann discovered the treasures of treasures. This included gold and silver diadems and other fine jewelry that was unearthed in what was believed to be the lost city of Troy.
Since he was a boy, Schliemann wondered about Homer’s Trojan city and thought that one day, he would be the one find it. As an adult, he would embark on a journey to find the fabled city — and succeeded. He found one of the most famous treasure troves in history in 1837. However, much controversy surrounded the discovery of the treasure (as is usually the case when treasure is discovered).
He smuggled and looted what he found
Schliemann was not the most humble of men. While excavating the Anatolian region, Schliemann resorted to some unorthodox methods of digging out artifacts. And when we say unorthodox, we really mean clumsy. If it wasn’t what he was looking for, he would allegedly mishandle the artifacts and not treat them as “real treasure” (aka, with any kind of care).
If that wasn’t bad enough, Schliemann smuggled the treasure out of the country and into Berlin without consent from authorities. Turkish authorities only found out about the treasure when they saw Schliemann’s wife photographed with the famed diadem and jewelry, the 1800s equivalent of posting a selfie on social media while committing a crime. Though there was a legal issue in returning the treasure, their efforts would be futile. Today, Russia showcases the treasure in Moscow.
In some cultures, pearls are said to be bad luck, especially when presented to a bride. (John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, anyone?) A pearl is said to resemble a woman’s tears and promises heartfelt sorrow. This superstition must have started with the Peregrina Pearl because it fits that description to a T. What was once a symbol of virginity and purity evolved into a symbol of spurned love.
The story goes: The pearl was found by a slave in Spain. Said slave presented the pearl to the king of Spain, Phillip II, who in turn made it into a necklace for his wife, (Bloody) Mary I, as a pre-wedding gift. However, their love was not meant to be. Though Mary loved Phillip, he didn’t feel quite the same way toward her.
Bloody Mary wore it first
After four years of marriage, Phillip left Mary, and she died shortly after in 1558 (coincidence?). The pearl was returned to Phillip, but he wouldn’t keep it for long. It was then given to Mary’s half-sister, Elizabeth I, who accepted the gem, but refused his hand in marriage (Savage, Elizabeth, savage).
The pearl was kept in the Spanish court for centuries and was lost twice, including a time where it got stuck in-between sofa cushions at Buckingham Palace (royals are just like us!). Then in 1969, a different kind of royalty possessed the famed pearl — Hollywood royalty. Richard Burton saw the little white treasure and purchased the pearl for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, for $37,000.
Dubbed “the first million-dollar diamond,” this stone sat on the necks of the rich and famous. One of which was none other than violet-eyed, silver screen superstar Elizabeth Taylor (making her second appearance on this list). The diamond was put on auction in New York in 1969 and the Hollywood power couple just had to see it. Her husband, Richard Burton, hedged his bets over the phone and placed the maximum bid — $1 million.
The diamond’s final price was $1,050,000 ($6 million dollars today). Prior to that, the record sales price for a diamond was set in 1957 for $305,000. Of course, Liz just had to have something that fabulous. Burton delivered. However, the sentiment wouldn’t last long, and the diamond was not displayed for everyone to see in all its splendor.
Liz Taylor always had the biggest and the best
At first, Liz wore the gorgeous gem around her neck, then had it fastened on a ring. No matter where she put it, it always caught peoples’ eye. However, Liz couldn’t wear the diamond frequently. The gem was insured for $1 million, under the condition that she only wear it 30 days out of the year and was surrounded by bodyguards.
She wouldn’t have the diamond for long. Though no one died, the diamond was sold to a New York jeweler for $5 million dollars in 1978, after Liz and Burton divorced (the second time). That is the modern-day equivalent of $18.9 million. The proceeds funded the construction of a hospital in Botswana.
The Orlov Diamond
The bigger the diamond, the more fantastic the myth surrounding it. And the Orlov Diamond is a beast when it comes in both size and lore. Weighing in at 200 carats, the rose cut Orlove diamond is roughly the size of a child’s palm. Mined in India, the humongous diamond was said to have been stolen and smuggled to Europe.
Legend says the diamond once belonged to Persian king Nadar Shah, who was assassinated. The Orlov Diamond was then stolen from his palace (romantic isn’t it?). According to Britannica, the diamond was sold to an Armenian millionaire until it was purchased in 1774 by count Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov. With it, he planned to impress a famous royal.
Catherine the Great had an affair with the diamond in tow
The count sought the favor of Russian Empress, Catherine the Great, who was returning from a (failed) diplomatic mission to establish peace with the Ottoman Empire. The empress rejected her once favored courtier/ lover but gladly accepted the humongous diamond. But, the diamond is rumored to have a dark history (or it wouldn’t be on this list).
Queen Elizabeth’s engagement ring
The majority of gems, jewels, or jewelry end up in the hands of royalty. By extension, it’s no surprise that the queen’s engagement ring is no exception. The ring has a long history that spans two different empires, first originating in Russia, then moving to the UK.
The ring, presented by Prince Phillip, was made by the diamonds from his mother’s tiara. When approaching his mother about asking the future queen for his hand in marriage, his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, gave her son an aquamarine and diamond-studded tiara given to her by the last Russian royals, the Romanovs.
Queen wore it best
Princess Alice of Battenberg was the great grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, and the tiara was given to her as a wedding gift from Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, the last of the Russian royals. And if memory serves, the Russian royals were overthrown and killed in the Bolshevik Revolution.
The diamonds presented to British royalty were passed on to Phillip, and then to Elizabeth II. Though no other deaths were associated with the diamonds, it’s a clear reminder of the fall of empires and the violence associated with them. On top of the cursed ring, the queen’s tiara snapped just before it was placed on her head on her wedding day. A bad omen or silly superstition?
The Vladimir Tiara
Queen Elizabeth is just rockin’ that cursed jewelry. Not only are the diamonds on her wedding ring soaked in Romanov blood, but so is her tiara. The Vladimir Tiara consisted of 15 overlapping diamond rings, which frame pearl (or emerald) droplets. It was originally a gift for Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna who in 1874, married into the Romanov family (to the third son of Tsar Alexander II).
The new member of the royal family needed her own set of jewels and asked the Romonav jeweler to make her something spectacular. The product of that encounter was the Vladimir Tiara. Glittering with the promise of marital bliss, it would soon witness something truly sinister.
It was smuggled out of the country
Then came the Bolsheviks Revolution. By 1917 the Russian Empire was going into a downward spiral and much of the countrymen and women were completely fed up with the corruption of their government. A violent protest took hold of the city and forced the Tsar to abdicate his throne. The revolution left the Duchess one of the remaining living Romanovs until her death.
Her jewels were divided amongst her children. The tiara was passed on to her only daughter, Grand Duchess Elena. But after her mother’s passing, she sold her mother’s jewels. One of the buyers was Queen Mary, who then gave the jewels to Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Do these jewels come with warning labels?