Hortensia Diamond

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Origin of name

The Hortensia diamond gets its name from Hortense de Beauharnais, Queen consort of King Louis Bonaparte of Holland (1806-1810), who was Napoleon Bonaparte's third surviving brother. Hortense was the step-daughter of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and the daughter of Empress Josephine by her first husband Alexandre de Beauharnais, who was guillotined to death during the French revolution. The marriage of Hortense to Louis Bonaparte, although an unhappy one, produced three children, the third of whom, Charles Louis, survived to become Napoleon III.

Characteristics of the diamond

The diamond was a peach colored (pale orangish pink) stone, weighing 20 carats, with a unique pentagonal cut on the crown and a corresponding 5-side pavilion, tapering towards the culet. As there was a defect in the stone in the form of a crack, extending from the edge of the girdle to near the culet, the stone was valued at not more than 48,000 livres in the 1791 inventory of the French Crown Jewels.

The Hortensia diamond, was a diamond of Indian origin, purchased by King Louis XIV of France (1643-1715), and since then has been part of the French Crown Jewels. Being a mid-17th century diamond, the Hortensia must have originated from the famous Kollur Mines, near Golconda, in Southern India. When Tavernier visited Golconda in the mid-17th century more than 20 mines were being worked in Kollur, most of them being extra-ordinarily rich, and employing over 60,000 people.

Pink diamonds are Type IIa diamonds, being nitrogen-free. If Type IIa diamonds have perfectly formed crystals, the diamonds are absolutely colorless. Such diamonds constitute about 1-2 % of all naturally occurring diamonds. However a very small percentage of Type IIa diamonds, less than 0.1 %, have undergone plastic deformation of their crystal structure, and such deformed areas in the crystal absorb visible light in different regions of the spectrum imparting rare fancy colors like pink. red, purple, orange, brown etc. to the diamond. Thus pink diamonds are plastically deformed Type IIa diamonds.

The occurrence of  pink diamonds is much less than 0.1 % of all naturally occurring diamonds.  Prior to the 19th century the main source of pink diamonds in the world was the Kollur mines of Golconda. The famous pink diamonds such as the Darya-i-Nur, Nur-ul-Ain, Shah Jahan, Agra, Hortensia, and Conde Pink originated in these mines. After the latter part of the 19th century, the diamond mines of South Africa, and mainly the Premier Diamond Mines, became the main source of Pink diamonds in the world. The Steinmetz Pink, the Mouawad Pink diamonds and the Graff Pink diamonds may have originated in these mines. But today, the main source of pink diamonds in the world are the Argyle Diamond Mines of Western Australia. In terms of size the Argyle Pink diamonds are very small having an average weight of about 1.0 carat, but in terms of color the Argyle pink diamonds have an intense pink color far superior to the Indian or South African pink diamonds. Every year the Argyle mines produce about 50 rare, pink diamonds. However they are extremely rare in occurrence. Only a single carat of pink diamond is produced for every 1,000,000 carats of rough diamonds. This works out to a very low percentage of 0.0001 %.

A list of famous pink diamonds in the world is given below. The Hortensia occupies the 10th position in this list. See table below.

 

List of famous pink diamonds in the world

S/N

Name Carat Weight Shape/Cut

Color

1 Darya-i-Nur 186.00 table light pink
2 Nur-ul-Ain 60.00 oval light pink
3 Steinmetz Pink 59.60 cushion fancy vivid pink
4 Shah Jahan 56.71 table light pink
5 Agra 32.34 cushion fancy light pink
6 Pink Sunrise 29.79 mod. heart fancy pink
7 Mouawad Lilac 24.44 emerald fancy pink
8 Graff Pink Orchid 22.84 marquise fancy purplish pink
9 Mouawad Pink 21.06 radiant fancy pink
10 Hortensia 20.00 pentagonal light orangish pink
11 Graff Pink Supreme 10.83 pear fancy pink
12 Conde Pink 9.01 pear light pink

 

History

Even though the Hortensia diamond was part of the jewelry of Queen Hortense, it had been part of the French Crown Jewels since Louis XIV purchased it in the mid-17th century. The Hortensia diamond is listed as part of the French Crown Jewels in the 1691 inventory of these jewels, though under a different name.

During the period of the French Revolution, on September 17th 1792, part of the French Crown Jewels were stolen from the Garde Meuble (The Public Treasury), the building that housed these jewels. It was on the morning of September 17th, 1792, that three commissioners at the Garde Meuble, discovered that a robbery had taken place there the previous night. The thieves had gained access to the building through a window, after climbing up the colonnade of the building. It was discovered that the thieves had broken the seals on eleven cabinets containing the crown jewels as well as the state and coronation regalia.

A 1791 inventory commissioned by the National Assembly listed 9,547 diamonds among the crown jewels worth 21 million francs. Among the notable diamonds in the collection were the 140.50-carat Regent diamond, the 67-carat heart-shaped French blue diamond (which later becomes the Hope diamond), the 55-carat pale yellow Sancy diamond, and the 20-carat orange-pink Hortensia diamond, and the 135-carat Ruspoli sapphire. Interestingly, it was discovered that, the primary gems, the Regent, the Sancy, the French Blue, and the less valuable Hortensia were all gone, besides a number of other lesser diamonds and some easily transportable pieces from the State Regalia. How the thieves were able to identify the important gems in the collection became the crucial question, that clearly pointed to an inside job, probably involving some of the commissioners as well. It appears that six men participated in the robbery, including a man called Guillot, who later carried the French Blue to London, and tried to dispose of it in London, and eventually ended up in prison. The Regent and the Hortensia were recovered in 1793, when one of the robbers by the name of Depeyron, who had confessed to the crime, had disclosed the whereabouts of some of the hidden diamonds, as he was about to be executed. Following this lead, a bag containing gold and diamonds, that included the Regent and the Hortensia, was recovered from the attic of an old house in the Halles district of Paris. 

After the French revolution, The Hortensia was first mounted on the fastening of Napoleon Bonaparte's epaulette braid. Later, the diamond was worn by Queen Hortensia of Holland, from whom the diamond derived it's name. In 1856, the Hortensia was set in a head band of the diamond encrusted comb, made for Empress Eugenie, wife of Emperor Napoleon III (1852-1870), by the court jeweler Bapst. The diamond was stolen for a second time in 1830, from the Ministry of Marine, but was quickly recovered.

In May 1887, the French Government, headed by President Jules Grevy, in response to an overwhelming decision made by the National Assembly, made an unprecedented move to dispose of most of the Crown Jewels of France, save for some items of historical interest, in order to thwart any future moves by Royalists or Bonapartists to restore the Monarchy in France. The Crown Jewels represented a powerful symbol of the deposed Monarchy, and by dispersing these jewels, the Government intended not only to destroy this symbol but to prevent any would-be monarch from making use of them.

The auction attracted international attention, and several internationally renowned jewelers were present on this occasion. A total of 69 lots were offered for sale, and Tiffany's of New York, the household name for jewelry in the U.S. and around the world, bought 24 of these lots which included one of Empress Eugenie's diamond necklaces and a diamond comb. Empress Josephine's diamond tiara was purchased by Van Cleef and Arpels. The few items that were retained and later exhibited at the Louvre Museum included the crowns of Louis XV and Napoleon Bonaparte, but with their gems removed and replaced by colored glass, some of the Royal and Imperial Coronation regalia, and the historic diamonds Regent and Hortensia. The Sancy diamond which was purchased from the Astor family of the United Kingdom in  1976, was then added to the collection.

 

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