The Agra Diamond

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Origin of Name

The Agra diamond gets it's name from the city of Agra, the capital city of the Mughal emperors of northern India, from 1526 to 1658. It is in Agra that the diamond came into the possession of the Mughal emperors, after it was surrendered by the family of the slain Rajah of Gwalior, who was the original owner of the stone. The diamond was in the possession of all the Mughal emperors from Emperor Babur to Emperor Bahadur Zafar Shah II, and was worn by most of them as a head ornament.

28.15-carat, fancy light pink, cushion-cut, Agra Diamond

28.15-carat, fancy light pink, cushion-cut, Agra Diamond

Characteristics of the diamond

The four Cs of the diamond, color, cut, clarity, and carat weight are considered under the characteristics of the stone. The diamond is a naturally colored, fancy light pink, cushion-cut stone of VS-2 clarity, having a weight of 28.15 carats and dimensions of 21.10 x 19.94 x 11.59 mm.

 

History

Early History of the diamond

Possible source of the Agra diamond

Being a historic diamond of the 15th century, the stone is undoubtedly of Indian origin, because India was the only source country for diamonds prior to the early 18th century. The mine of  origin of the Agra diamond is not exactly known, but should be one of the five groups of mines that was situated on the eastern side of the Deccan Plateau. Even though the diamond fell into the hands of the Mughal emperors in 1526, it must have been in the family of the Rajah of Gwalior for at least a hundred years before that, which makes it a diamond of the 15th century. Out of the five groups of mines in the eastern side of the Deccan Plateau, the mines that had been worked since ancient times were the Sambalpur mines on the banks of the Mahanadi river, which is the diamond river mentioned by Ptolemy in his accounts  of ancient India. The diamonds of ancient origin might have come from the alluvial deposits of the Mahanadi river, at Sambalpur. Even the Agra diamond might have had it's origin in these mines. The Golconda mines at Kollur, came into active production only in the 16th century, and could not be the source of the Agra, which had been known in the 15th century.

 

Later History of the diamond

The history of the Agra diamond dates back to the year 1526 when Mughal Emperor Babur first captured Delhi and Agra after the Battle of Panipat

The Agra is a historic diamond having a fascinating and enthralling story behind it, that dates back to the 16th century A.D. when the Mughal emperors first captured parts of northern India, and set up their seat of government in Agra. In the year 1526 the Mughal emperor Babur captured Agra and Delhi after a fiercely fought battle with the combined forces of Sultan Ibrahim Lodi and the Rajah of Gwalior at Panipat. Babur's real name was Zahir-ud-deen Muhammad and he was the son of Umar Sheik, the king of Ferghana (presently in Uzbekistan). Babur was the 5th in direct male descent from Timur (Tamerlane) and 13th through the female line from Genghis Khan ,the first of the great Mongol conquerors. While being a brilliant scholar Zahir-ud-deen was also a fearless and brave soldier. This earned him the name "Babur", meaning the" tiger". After the capture of Agra, Babur sent his son Humayun to occupy the city. He entered the city with his army and occupied it without any resistance, and in the process captured the members of the family of the slain Raja of Gwalior.

Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad Babur - The first Mughal Emperor (1526-1530)

Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad Babur - The first Mughal Emperor (1526-1530)

The Agra diamond was presented to Emperor Babur's son Prince Humayun by members of the family of the slain Maharajah of Gwalior

However Humayun was gracious enough to spare the lives of the captives who were subsequently pardoned and freed. The family members of the Raja, were so overwhelmed by the magnanimous gesture of Humayun, that they decided to present the royal jewels of the Raja to the Moghul emperor, as an expression of gratitude. The Agra diamond which was one of the prized possessions of the Raja of Gwalior, thus became the property of the first Mughal emperor of India. Historical records testify to the fact that the Agra diamond was worn by emperor Babur on his turban.

Babur's son and successor Humayun - Second Mughal Emperor (1530-1556)

 

The Agra diamond was inherited by a succession of Mughal emperors until it came into the possession of Emperor Muhammad Shah who reigned between 1719 and 1748.

The Agra diamond was then inherited by a succession of Mughal emperors, which included Humayun (1530-56), Akbar the Great (1556-1605), Jahangir (1605-27), Shah Jahaan (1628-58), Aurangazeb (1658-1707), and eventually to Muhammad Shah (1719-48).It is on record that even Akbar the Great, the third Mughal emperor, wore the Agra diamond on his head-dress.

 

Nadir Shah invades Delhi and Agra in February 1739, during the rule of Muhammad Shah and carries away an enormous booty that includes most of the crown jewels and the renowned Peacock Throne of Shah Jahan, but the Agra diamond somehow escapes capture.

During the rule of Muhammad Shah, the Persian conqueror Nadir Shah invaded Delhi and Agra in February 1739,and sacked the two cities and plundered their wealth. Nadir carried away Shah Jahaan's Peacock Throne, and all the crown jewels of the Mughal emperors, which included such famous diamonds as the Koh-i-Nur, Darya-i-Nur, Nur-ul-Ain, etc. The value of the booty taken away by Nadir Shah was estimated to be around 70 crores (700 million rupees), and this helped him to exempt all Iranians from taxes for the next three years. It appears that the Agra diamond had somehow escaped being plundered by Nadir's forces. Perhaps the diamond was temporarily out of the Mughal treasury at that crucial moment. The idea that the diamond was recaptured and brought back to Delhi cannot be sustained, as there was not a single soul in Delhi who could have challenged the might of Nadir and his forces. In fact Nadir was reported to have ordered the massacre of some 30,000 Delhi citizens as reprisal for the killing of some of his soldiers.

Portrait of Nader Shah Afshar

Portrait of Nader Shah Afshar

The Agra diamond remains safely in the Mughal treasury until it was inherited finally by the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Zafar Shah II

After Muhammad Shah, the Agra diamond was then inherited down the line of Mughal emperors, until it reached the last Mughal emperor of the disintegrating empire, Bahadur Zafar Shah II, whose domain was restricted only to the city of Delhi.

Bahadur Zafar Shah II, 17th and last Mughal Emperor of India

 

The Agra diamond, like many other famous jewels in the Mughal treasury was looted by British soldiers during the period of anarchy and lawlessness in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Delhi, during the Indian Mutiny of 1857

Emperor Bahadur Zafar Shah II was unanimously selected as the leader of the popular anti-British uprising in 1857, known as the Indian Mutiny, but now acclaimed as India's First War of Independence. The uprising was finally suppressed by the British, at the cost of many thousands of lives on both sides. The British captured Delhi, and forced the surrender of Emperor Bahadur Zafar Shah II, who was also given the bitter experience of viewing the decapitated heads of his own sons, by the British commander. The rampaging British soldiers went on a killing and looting spree, kiling even civilians hiding inside their houses, and looting the entire Mughal treasury. It was during this period of lawlessness and anarchy, that most of the valuable and historic jewels in the Mughal treasury fell into the hands of British soldiers, who eventually smuggled them to Britain, with or without the knowledge of their superiors. The Agra diamond too appears to have suffered a similar fate.

 

One version of how the Agra diamond was smuggled into Britain

The story of how the Agra, the pink diamond left India to England, after the disintegration of the Mughal empire and it's eventual termination in 1857, after the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II was exiled to Rangoon, for his part in the Indian mutiny, seems to be shrouded in mystery. According to one version, as related by Lord Donegall to Edwin Streeter - the famous London Jeweler, who purchased the Agra in 1891 - in the year 1857, the year of the Indian Mutiny, when Lord Donegall was serving in India, the diamond was taken away from the possession of the Mughal ruler of Delhi Bahadur Shah II. At that time he was secretary, and belonged to the same regiment as the young officer who had gained possession of the stone.

The officers decided to smuggle the diamond to England, without the knowledge of the superiors in the Army or the Colonial Government, and eventually share the proceeds, after it's sale. The officers adopted an ingenious method to smuggle out the diamond, by making a horse to swallow a horse ball in which the diamond was concealed. However when the regiment reached the port of embarkation, the horse was taken ill and had to be shot. The diamond was then removed from it's stomach and taken to England.

 

Did the Agra diamond reach the west in 1844 or 1857 ? Evidence for the existence of two different diamonds.

According to this story, the smuggling of the diamond took place in the year 1857, but it is well known that by the year 1844, the Agra was already in the possession of Charles II, the former duke of Brunswick who was ousted in 1830, during the July Revolution and succeeded by his brother William. Charles II was one of the famous jewel collectors of the 19th century. The former duke of Brunswick purchased the Agra on 22nd November 1844, from George Blogg, a partner of the well known diamond merchants in London at that time, Blogg & Martin, for a sum of 348,600 French francs equivalent to £ 13,760. In the 1860 catalogue of the duke's jewel collection, the Agra is listed with a note drawing attention to the diamond being taken possession by Babur in Agra in 1526 and to it's rank as the 14th important diamond among the world's great diamonds.

charles-ii-duke-of-brunswick-notable-collector-of-jewels-in-the-19th-century

Charles II, Duke of Brunswick - Notable collector of jewels in the 19th-century

If we accept that the diamond purchased by the duke of Brunswick from Blogg & Martin was the original Agra of Babur, then the diamond in Lord Donegall's version was not the same stone owned by the duke of Brunswick. This points to the existence of two separate diamonds and evidence had been put forward showing that the smuggled stone weighed 46 carats, whereas the stone owned by the duke weighed 41 craats .

 

The first recutting of the Agra diamond from 41 carats to 31.41 carats

The Agra then came into the possession of Bram Hertz, one of the foremost diamond dealers in Paris, who re-cut the diamond from 41 carats to 31.41 carats. The purpose of re-cutting was to eliminate some black inclusions. In the year 1891 Edwin Streeter purchased the Agra from Bram Hertz, in a barter deal that exchanged the diamond for a pearl necklace worth £14,000, and £1,000 in cash.

Edwin Streeter - Photograph taken from his book Precious Stones and Gems, their history, sources and characteristics, published in 1898

Edwin Streeter - Photograph taken from his book Precious Stones and Gems, their history, sources and characteristics, published in 1898

The Agra diamond is sold by Edwin Streeter in 1895, but comes back to his possession after the transaction is cancelled by court, following a law suit filed by the purchaser.

The Agra then featured in a famous law suit that drew much public attention in the year 1895, when it was in the possession of Edwin Streeter's company, Messrs. Streeter & Co. The plaintiff in the case was a 25-year old young man named Joseph Charles Tasker, who had inherited a fortune of nearly one million pounds sterling from a relative. The allegation made by the plaintiff against the defendant's Messrs. Streeter & Co. was of wrongful inducement by the defendants to make purchases of some gems which included the Agra diamond, at inflated prices, at a time when the plaintiff was seriously sick and incapable of entering into any business transactions. The counsel for the Plaintiff Mr. Finlay pleaded that the alleged purchases made by his client be declared invalid and set aside. The counsel for the defendant in this case was the famous attorney Sir Edward Clarke, who subsequently appeared for Oscar Wilde at his famous trial. After a sensational trial that lasted for 5 days, which led to the leading of evidence from experts in the gem trade, on behalf of both the plaintiff and the defendants, and also evidence by Mr. Edwin Streeter himself, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff concerning certain items of jewelry that included the Agra diamond, and for the defendant concerning others. Thus the transaction pertaining to the Agra diamond was cancelled by the court, and the famous diamond came back into the possession of Messrs. Streeter &Co.

 

The Agra diamond is auctioned by Christie's of London on February 22, 1905

The Agra remained in Messrs. Streeter's stock until Edwin Streeter retired from the business in 1904. His successors La Cloche Freres, a Parisian firm of jewelers acquired the premises and stock through the United Investment Corporation. Action was taken by the Parisian firm to dispose of the stocks. Most of the low priced items were bought by Debenham & Freebody. The more valuable items, including the Agra were auctioned by Christie's of London on 22nd February 1905. The sale attracted a large crowd of people including a number of Indian Collectors. The highlight of the sale was the Agra, which was described as a magnificent rose pink diamond of the highest quality weighing 31.4 carats. The bidding for the Agra opened  at 1,000 guineas (a guinea is a British gold coin worth 21 shillings or £ 1.05) but was finally purchased by Mr. Maz Meyer of Hatton Garden for 5,100 guineas.

 

The Agra diamond again appears at an auction in Paris in 1909, at the sale of jewels belonging to Solomon Habib, but is withdrawn from tha sale as the price realized fell far short of the reserved price.

The Agra again made it's appearance at a public auction held in Paris, 4 years later, on 24th June 1909. At this auction the jewels belonging to Solomon Habib came under the hammer. Eight items came up for bidding of which the 5th item was the "Idol's Eye" and the 8th item the "Hope diamond." The 6th item undoubtedly was the Agra and was described as cushion-shaped, rose colored, diamond weighing 31.50 carats. The Agra was withdrawn from the auction, as the maximum bid realized was only 82,000 francs, which fell far short of the reserve price of 300,000 francs.

 

The Agra diamond enters the Louis Winans collection of colored diamonds

Shortly afterwards the Agra was acquired by Mr. Louis Winans, the son of an American railroad engineer from Baltimore, Mr. William Walter Winans, who built Russia's first commercial railway from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Louis Winans inherited a large fortune from his father and settled in Brighton, England, where he commissioned a local firm of jewelers, Lewis & Sons to help form his remarkable collection of colored diamonds. The Winans collection included some spectacular stones such as the historic 31.4-carat, pink, Agra Diamond, the 18.49-carat "Golden Drop" yellow diamond, a 40.5-carat green diamond, a lozenge-shaped red diamond, an orange-crimson diamond, a Mauve diamond, a sea-green and emerald-green diamond, and a "jonquil" dimond. The "Golden Drop" weighing 18.49 carats was one of the most intense and pure yellow diamonds of it's size ever known.

 

Last transaction and present owners of the diamond

The Agra diamond is purchased by the SIBA Corporation of Hong Kong for a record price of 4.07 million sterling at a Christie's auction in June 1990, and recut for the second time from 31.41 carats to 28.15 carats

The Louis Winans collection was inherited by one of his descendants, a lady, in the year 1927. During world war ii, she placed the collection of jewels which she inherited from Louis Winans, including the Agra, in an iron casket, which was then buried in her garden, and was subsequently recovered safely by her at the end of the war. The Agra and two other diamonds from this collection were put up for sale at the Christie's auction held on 20th June 1990. Even though the stone was expected to fetch a price of 1.5 million sterling pounds, it eventually sold at an enhanced price of 4.07 million sterling pounds, after fierce bidding at the auction. The winning bid was made by telephone by the SIBA Corporation of Hong Kong, who have become the proud owners of this ancient and historical diamond. SIBA also lays claim to another prized possession-viz. The Alnatt diamond weighing 101.29 carats, which it purchased at the Christie's auction in May 1996 for $3,043,496.The 31.41-carat Agra has now been re-cut for the second time, to a modified cushion shape, and now weighs 28.15 carats.

 

List of famous pink diamonds

List of famous pink diamond arranged in descending order of weights

S/No Name

Carat Weight

Color

1 Darya-i-Nur 186 light pink
2 Nur-ul-Ain 60 light pink
3 Steinmetz pink 59.60 fancy vivid pink
4 Shah Jahaan 56.71 light pink
5 Agra 32.34 fancy light pink
6 Pink Sunrise 29.79 fancy pink
7 Mouawad Lilac 24.44 fancy pink
8 Graff Pink Orchid 22.84 fancy purplish pink
9 Mouawad Pink 21.06 fancy pink
10 Hortensia 20.00 light orange pink
11 Conde Pink 9.01 light pink

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Chemistry of colored diamonds

Diamonds are of two types -Type I and Type II

Type I diamonds contain trace amounts of Nitrogen (less than 0.1%)as impurities. The Nitrogen  atoms are associated in the crystal structure of diamond.98% of natural diamonds are type I.

Type II diamonds do not contain detectable amounts of Nitrogen. Type II diamonds are 1-2% of all natural diamonds.

Type I diamonds can have Nitrogen atoms as aggregates of even numbers eg:-2,4 or odd numbers eg:- 1 (single atoms),3.

Diamonds containing aggregates of even numbers of Nitrogen atoms are colorless.

Diamonds containing scattered single atoms of Nitrogen or aggregates of 3 atoms have a color range from pale to intense yellow or brown.

Type II diamonds can be type IIa or type IIb

Type IIa diamonds are without any detectable amounts of Nitrogen and absolutely colorless and considered as the "purest of the Pure". eg:-the Cullinan diamond, the Koh-i-Nur diamond. They are 1-2% of all natural diamonds.

Sometimes type IIa diamonds can have structural anomalies due to plastic deformation such as twisting and bending of the crystal structure, as the diamond rose to the surface of the earth. This leads to absorption of light in certain regions of the spectrum imparting pink, red, purple, or brown colors to the stones. They are less than 0.1 % of all natural diamonds.

Type IIb diamonds do not contain Nitrogen but instead contain trace amounts of Boron, which imparts a grayish blue or blue color to the diamonds. They are less than 0.1% of all natural diamonds.

Green diamonds are formed by natural irradiation of the diamonds over a period of millions of years.

Pink diamonds are therefore type IIa diamonds in which the pink coloration appears to be caused by plastic deformation of the crystal structure.

Occurrence of pink diamonds

Pink diamonds are extremely rare in occurrence like red, purple, and blue diamonds. The  occurrence of these fancy colored diamonds  is less than 0.1% of all natural diamonds.

Along the course of history the source of pink diamonds in the world had also changed. The earliest sources of pink diamonds were   the groups of diamond mines on the eastern side of the Deccan Plateau in India, particularly the Kollur mines east of Golconda, in Southern India. The Darya-i-Nur ,Nur-ul-Ain, and other historic pink diamonds from India, might have originated in these mines. After the late 19th century the South African diamond mines became the main source of pink diamonds in the world. The Steinmetz Pink, the Mouawad Lilac, the Mouawad Pink etc. might have originated in these mines. But today the main source of pink diamonds in the world is the Argyle diamond mines of Western Australia. Out of the total production of diamonds in the Argyle mines less than 1.0% consists of high quality colored diamonds which are mainly pink. The Argyle mines have become a consistent source of pink diamonds in the world, even though the stones are quite small. The size of polished pink diamonds from Argyle averages about 1.0 carat, and about 50 carats are produced annually. Since 1985,more than 700 pink diamonds weighing over 550 carats have been sold by Argyle. The rarity of pink diamonds at Argyle is clearly shown by the following statistical evidence. Only a single carat of pink diamond is produced for every one million carats of rough diamonds. This works out to an unbelievably low percentage of 0.0001% of the total production. 

   

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Back to Famous Diamonds

Related :-

Darya-i-Nur Diamond

Nur-ul-Ain Diamond

Steinmetz Pink Diamond

Shah Jahaan Diamond

 

References :-

1) Famous Diamonds - by Ian Balfour.

2) $25,500 For Agra Diamond -Famous Gem Captured from the King of Delhi Sold in London - The New York Times, February 23, 1905.

3) Babur - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

4) Humayun - From Wikipedia, the free enctclopedia.

5) Bahadur Zafar Shah II - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

6) Charles II, Duke of Brunswick - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

 


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