The Sancy diamond, the subject of this book, started out at 106 carats and was later cut down to 55.252 carats. But it's not the size, according to author Susan Ronald: it's the history. The Sancy harks back to Golconda, the fabled treasure valley in India, where poisonous serpents huddled over the trove. The treasure hunters, it was said, would throw hunks of meat down from the hills. Jewels would stick to the bloody carcasses, birds would pick them up and fly out --- and then be downed by the hunters, who would thus be up to their gazoos in ... diamonds.
There are jewels that are much heftier than the truly famous, such as the Sancy, the Hope, or the Koh-i-noor.
Apparently the biggest diamond ever found was the Cullinan. I say "apparently," because the field of gem-lore is heavy with secrets. People who have got themselves a fifty-carat gem are not out there advertising their wares, much less their home addresses.
The Cullinan turned up in South Africa, in 1905, with 3,105 carats. After it, no one can seem to agree which was or is the biggest, nor the best. It may be academic, since most of the heftiest gems get chopped into smaller ones.
The Cullinan remains the largest diamond found, but it was sliced into 105 bits. Diamonds can even change their names when they change owners, or are cut up. Two of the Cullinan's largest children were designated the "Star of Africa" at 530 carats and the "Lesser Star of Africa" with 317 carats.
After that, the biggest may have been the Excelsior, with 995 carats, and then the Incomparable, at 890 carats. The Star of Sierra Leone is said to have 969 carats, and the Great Mogul 787. Then there is the "Unnamed Brown," named after my aunt Fiona Brown. I tell you, the world of jewels is remote and mysterious. Just like Auntie Fiona.
Who knows the truth, especially when it comes to the very ancient stones ... like the Great Mogul or the Nizam? Ancient gems were weighed and measured in old carats, or, according to Ronald, "ratis, mangelin, tandulas, sarsapas, masas, and surkhs." Tandula? Sarsapas? Masas? Beautiful words, no?
The most famous diamonds are uniformly dinky by Cullinan standards, and even more confusing. The Koh-i-Noor suffers from a bad case of spelling, turning up in Google and other places as Kah-i-Nur, Koh-i Nor, and Who-Can't-Ignore? Its schizophrenia may have resulted from being old and famous, changing owners (and names) too many times, being cut down from 186 carats to a mere 105.6, even though it was one of the few non-sexist stones, inasmuch as it was said to bring death and misfortune to men, but riches to the ladies.
The Pitt diamond, originally owned by William Pitt the Elder, known in England, where he held forth, as "Diamond Pitt," weighed in at 400 carats. It was ultimately cut down to 141, and renamed the Regent.
The Hope was also known as the "French Blue." It started out at 115 carats, and was brought down to 69. It was one of the gems we love to hear about, causing owners to take bankruptcy, commit suicide, go mad, or become neocons. One owner, Evalyn Walsh McLean, would walk the streets of New York with the diamond strapped to her dog's collar, which wasn't so looney. Who, even in New York, would mug an old lady for her dog-collar?
Still, the Hope is supposed to have mystical powers. According to Susanne Patch of the Smithsonian Institution, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI may have been beheaded because of the blue diamond's curse. Or maybe it was because of those noisy, all-night, ghetto-blaster parties at the Tuileries. The next owner was Henry Philip Hope. According to the legend, the Hopes went bankrupt, and lost all and hope, even the Hope, their namesake jewel.
The next owner was Ms. McLean's dog, and occasionally, the lady herself. "Though McLean wore the Hope diamond as a good luck charm," reports Ms. Patch, "others saw the curse strike her too. McLean's first born son, Vinson, died in a car crash when he was only nine. McLean suffered another major loss when her daughter committed suicide at age 25. In addition to all this, Evalyn McLean's husband was declared insane and confined to a mental institution until his death in 1941."
After such a history of calamities, Harry Winston Inc., donated the Hope to the Smithsonian Institution on November 10, 1958.
So far, the Smithsonian has demonstrated few problems of bankruptcy, suicide, or madness, though it may be suffering from a slightly more malevolent force, the oversight of the U. S. Congress. The latter goes into throes of apoplexy when the Institute mounts an even slightly controversial exhibit, such as taking note of the fact that the American Air Force fried up over 100,000 innocent men, women and children in Japan at the end of WWII. Such honesty is not only a curse, it is reputed to be in very bad form, and even bad luck for the owners.
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The Sancy, sometimes called the Sauncy, also was reputed to carry a curse, creating bankruptcy and death for owners such as Charles I, Antonio de Crato, and Nicholas Harlay. It has also afflicted the author of the present volume, causing her to suffer from history-ectomy with complications of extensive logorrhea.
Instead of scientific fact which could tell us, for example, the mysteries of the creation of diamonds, the art of cutting, and the reasons for the exuberant lunacy in their pricing (there are millions of diamonds afloat in the world) ... instead of this, Ms. Ronald has chosen to hand us a waddling, long-winded reprise of the history of continental Europe from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century, most of it only tangentially involved with the Sancy.
If you want regurgitated history, you would be better off consulting your Cliff Notes, or even that big bore Martin Gilbert. For example, this is Ms. Ronald at her blood-curdling, eye-rolling best:
The new duke of Burgandy was quite different from his father. On hearing the news of his father's murder, Philip uttered a blood-curdling cry. A shadow fleeted across his face, and his eyes rolled back in their sockets. Philip was in shock, and his court mourned and wept as much for his reaction as for the loss of the mighty Duke John.--- Lolita Lark