This rare blue diamond of Indian origin that has a recorded history dating back to the late 17th century, eventually came into the possession of the Wittelsbach family in 1722, the German noble family that provided rulers of Bavaria and of the Rhenish Palatinate until the 20th century. Bavaria was ruled for over 700 years by Dukes of the Wittelsbach family, from 1180 to 1918. The name Wittelsbach was taken from the Castle of Wittelsbach, which became the official residence of the Dukes of Bavaria. The diamond gets its name from the Wittelsbach family, in whose possession it remained as a family diamond until the abdication of the last king in 1918
The Wittelsbach is a 35.56-carat, cushion-cut, dark blue diamond of unknown color and clarity grades. But, going by the descriptions and photographs of the diamond it may qualify for a fancy intense blue color grade. The diamond is also said to be pure apart from a few surface scratches. There are 82 facets on the diamond. The main facets on the crown are vertically split and the pavilion has 16 needle like facets arranged in pairs and radiating from the culet.
The Wittelsbach is the 3rd largest of the known famous blue diamonds in the world. See table below.
It is interesting to note that the first four diamonds in the list below are all historic diamonds of Indian origin, the original source of blue diamonds in the world. The remaining diamonds in the list are all of South African origin.
The main source of blue diamonds in India, was the famous Kollur mines near Golconda, in Andhra Pradesh, in Southern India. The main source of blue diamonds in South Africa, is the De Beers Premier mines, in Transvaal, South Africa.
Another fact that emerges from the table is the restricted size of blue diamonds. All the diamonds in the list are below 50 carats in weight. In comparison yellow diamonds and colorless diamonds which are more predominant in nature have much larger carat weights. Eg. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd largest colorless diamonds in the world the Cullinan I, Cullinan II, and the Centenary, have weights of 530.20 carats, 317.40 carats and 273.85 carats respectively. Likewise, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd largest yellow diamonds in the world, the Incomparable, the De Beers, and the Red Cross diamonds have weights of 407.48 carats, 234.65 carats, and 205.07 carats respectively. Thus it appears that in blue diamonds the rarity of the color is combined with the restricted size of the diamonds
|1||Hope diamond||45.52||fancy dark grayish blue|
|3||Wittelsbach||35.56||fancy intense blue|
|4||Sultan of Morocco||35.27||fancy grayish blue|
|5||The Blue Heart||30.82||fancy intense blue|
|6||The Heart of Eternity||27.64||fancy vivid blue|
|7||Transvaal Blue||25.00||unknown color grade|
|8||The Blue Empress||14.00||unknown color grade|
|9||The Blue Magic||12.02||fancy vivid blue|
|10||Graff Blue||6.19||fancy blue|
Being a blue diamond the Wittelsbach is a rare Type IIb diamond, which constitute only 0.1 % of all naturally occurring diamonds. Blue diamonds are Type II because they are nitrogen-free or contain undetectable quantities of nitrogen. They are Type IIb, because instead of nitrogen they contain trace quantities of another impurity boron, which imparts the blue color to the diamonds. Another feature of blue diamonds is, that unlike other diamonds which are non-conductors of electricity, blue diamonds are semi-conductors.
The first record of the Wittelsbach diamond's existence in Europe was in the latter part of the 17th century. This clearly indicates that the diamond is of Indian origin, as around this time, the only source of blue diamonds in the world was the Kollur mines, near Golconda, in Southern India. In fact when Tavernier, visited Golconda in the mid-17th century, the Kollur mines were in active production, and more than 20 mines were being worked employing over 60,000 people.
It has been suggested that the Wittelsbach diamond might have probably originated from Tavernier's 112.5-carat French Blue Diamond, which he acquired from India and later sod to King Louis XIV of France. But, this is highly improbable according to the chronology of events affecting the two diamonds. The first recorded appearance of the Wittelsbach diamond was in 1666, when King Philip IV of Spain gave it as part of the dowry for his daughter's wedding to Leopold I of Austria. The 112.5-carat Tavernier blue or French Blue diamond on the other hand was purchased by King Louis XIV, at least two years after this in 1668. This clearly shows that the two diamonds had their own independent origins, and there was no way that the Wittelsbach diamond that preceded the French Blue diamond by two years could have originated from the latter. Moreover the 112.5-carat French Blue rough diamond, was cut by Sieur Pitau into a triangular pear-shaped brilliant weighing 67.50 carats. To suggest that the same rough diamond would have produced another perfect blue diamond of 35.56 carats is technically impossible, given the fact that at least a 40-50 % loss of weight is inevitable in the processing of any rough stone.
The history of the Wittelsbach diamond is not as eventful as its more famous cousin the Hope diamond, which also originated almost during the same period. The Hope diamond had a notorious career in history, apparently bringing misfortune and sometimes death to the owners or persons associated with the owners of the diamond, which was attributed to a purported curse placed on the diamond by the Hindu priests of a temple in southern India from where the diamond was stolen. The Hope diamond would have been more appropriately christened the "diamond of despair" for all the mischief it is believed to have caused along the course of its long history.
The Wittelsbach on the other hand was a clean diamond with legitimate origins, and its course in history was as smooth as its origin. The first time we hear of the Wittelsbach diamond was in 1666, when the rare blue diamond formed part of the wedding gift given by King Philip IV of Spain to his daughter Margarita Teresa on the occasion of her marriage to Emperor Leopold I of Austria, who was also elected Holy Roman Emperor. Besides the large blue diamond, the dowry also included jewelry and other precious stones acquired from India and Portugal. The marriage however lasted only for seven years, and ended with the untimely death of Margarita Teresa in 1673. Leopold I also fell dangerously ill in 1670, but recovered miraculously and in 1673, after the death of Margarita Teresa, married Claudia Felicitas from the Tirolian branch of the Austrian Hapsburgs. In 1676, Emperor Leopold solemnized his third marriage to Eleanor Magdalena daughter of the elector of Palatinate. This marriage turned out to be a happy union and produced 10 children, among them the future Emperors Joseph I and Charles VI.
Infanta Margarita Theresa of Spain- Painting by Velazquez
With the death of Margarita Teresa in 1673, the ownership of her jewelry passed to her husband, and in a document dated March 23rd, 1673, the Wittelsbach diamond is listed as a diamond ornament in the form of a large brooch, with a great blue diamond in the center. Leopold I gifted all jewelry belonging to Margarita Teresa, to his third wife and Queen consort Eleanor Magdalena, which included the Wittelsbach diamond brooch. Leopold I died in 1705 and was succeeded by his eldest son Joseph I, who also died suddenly in 1711, and was succeeded by his brother Charles VI. Empress Eleanor Magdalena lived up to the year 1720, and before dying had bequeathed the great blue diamond to her granddaughter, Archduchess Maria Amelia, daughter of Emperor Joseph I.
Archduchess Maria Amelia married the Bavarian Crown Prince Charles Albert in 1722, who succeeded to the Bavarian throne in 1726 and remained king and elector of Bavaria until his death in 1745. He was also elected Holy Roman Emperor, as Charles VII in 1742, with the help of France and Prussia, during the war of Austrian succession, in opposition to Maria Theresa's husband, Francis Stephen, the grand duke of Tuscany. After Maria Amelia's marriage to Charles Albert, the great blue diamond became the family diamond of the House of Bavaria, and came to be known as the Wittelsbach diamond. The Wittelsbach diamond was the most expensive item of jewelry among other items in Maria Amelia's dowry, and had a estimated value of 240.000 guilders at the time of her marriage. It is reported that not long after Crown Prince Charles Albert married Archduchess Maria Emelia, his father Maximillian Emmanuel, the elector of Bavaria, got into dire financial straits and was forced to borrow money from a banker named Oppenheimer, by pledging the Wittelsbach diamond and other valuables. The diamond was later redeemed by Charles Albert after the death of his father.
Golden Fleece ornament set with a replica of the Wittelsbach diamond
Charles Albert had a special affection for the Wittelsbach diamond and had its setting changed several times, each time going in for a more beautiful setting, than the previous one. But the most extravagant of all these settings was the one designed and executed by a Munich jeweler, who was commissioned for the job by Charles Albert's successor Maximillian III, and consisted of 700 diamonds. This was a golden fleece ornament which apart from the gold ram consisted of two sections. The centerpiece of the upper part was the Wittelsbach diamond, surrounded by smaller cushion-cut white brilliants, and an outer intricate floral pattern consisting of white diamonds of various shapes and sizes. The centerpiece of the lower part was a cushion-shaped pinkish-brown brilliant with three rows of large white diamonds radiating horizontally from it on either side with several rows of smaller white diamonds in between them.
Ludwig I (Louis I) of Bavaria standing beside the Bavarian Crown mounted with the original Wittelsbach diamond.
The Bavarian kingdom was abolished in 1918, when Bavaria became a republic, after the socialist revolution organized by Eisner Kurt, a journalist and socialist politician, that overthrew the monarchy. Eisner became the first prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of the new republic. The last in line of a long succession of Bavarian Dukes who ruled for over 700 years, was Louis III (Ludwig III). After his abdication in 1918 Louis III, retired to a private life in his estate in Hungary, where he died in 1921. His funeral ceremony in Munich, was the last occasion the Wittelsbach diamond accompanied a monarch to his final place of rest.
Louis III (Ludwig III)-Last King of Bavaria
After the abolition of the Monarchy in 1918, the possessions of the former house of Wittelsbach were placed under the control of an equalization fund. Members of the royal family received an indemnity from the state but this was hardly enough for their survival. Soon they were reduced to a state of penury. In order to relieve their suffering the State agreed in 1931 that certain jewels of the House of Wittelsbach could be sold, and accordingly Christie's of London were assigned the task of auctioning the Bavarian Crown jewels. The auction was held in December 1931 and comprised of 13 lots. Bidding for the first lot that included the Wittelsbach diamond started at £ 3,000 and was knocked down to a purchaser by the name of Thorpe for £ 5,400. From then onwards the Wittelsbach diamond vanished without any trace.
Bavarian King's Crown with a replica of the Wittelsbach Diamond mounted on the top
According to another version of its disappearance the Wittelsbach diamond was not sold at the auction held by Christie's, but was subsequently sold illegally through a Munich jeweler in 1932. Research also had shown that whoever was in the possession of the rare and historic diamond had sold it in Belgium in 1951 and again in 1955. Later in 1958 the Wittelsbach diamond appears to have been displayed at the Brussels World Exhibition together with other jewelry, but none of the millions of visitors who may have seen the diamond were aware that it was the missing Wittelsbach diamond. Finally the Wittelsbach diamond was re-discovered in 1962, almost three decades after its disappearance, thanks to the vigilance of a leading Belgian diamond dealer Joseph Komkommer, who received a phone call in January 1962, requesting him to look at an old mine-cut diamond, with a view of re-cutting it. When he received the package containing the diamond in his office, he opened it, and to his amazement he discovered that the diamond was an old mine-cut, rare, dark blue diamond. He immediately recognized its rarity and possible historic significance, and was of the opinion that re-cutting it would be tantamount to sacrilege. With a lot of painstaking research and investigation, assisted by his son Jacques, Joseph Komkommer was able to identify the diamond positively as the long lost Wittelsbach diamond, formerly owned by the royal family of Bavaria. Mr. Joseph swung into action, and instead of re-cutting the diamond, initiated negotiations with the owners, the trustees of an unidentified estate, for its purchase. He formed a syndicate of diamond buyers from Belgium and USA, and purchased the diamond, which was valued at £ 180,000. The Wittelsbach diamond was finally sold to an anonymous private collector in 1964.
The above webpage on the renowned Wittelsbach diamond, with a historic provenance of 342 years, and which was once part of the crown jewels of Austria and Bavaria, was created on September 11, 2007. The diamond last appeared at an international auction held by Christie's of London, in December 1931, but was not sold. The diamond was then returned to Munich and sold by a privately negotiated deal by a Munich Jeweler in 1932 to an anonymous buyer. After the diamonds disappearance for three decades it re-appeared again in 1962, and was identified by the Belgian diamond dealer Joseph Komkommer, who formed a syndicate that purchased the diamond for £180,000. The diamond was subsequently sold to an anonymous private collector in 1964. The re-appearance of the diamond in 2008 at Christie's in anticipation of its sale on December 10, 2008, has brought out more facts relevant to this renowned diamond hitherto unknown, and this update is intended to give our readers an opportunity to keep abreast of all the latest developments in respect of this historic diamond.
The color and clarity grades of the diamond that were previously unknown have now been revealed by the GIA report that accompanied the diamond prior to its sale. According to GIA report no. 17794002 dated September 24, 2008, the cushion-shaped diamond weighing 35.56 carats has a fancy deep grayish-blue color, and a clarity grade of VS2. The report further states that the diamond is classified as a Type IIb diamond.
According to a report published on the Times online UK, on November 7, 2008, the possible identity of persons who sold the Wittelsbach diamond to Joseph Komkommer and subsequently purchased the diamond in 1964 have been revealed. It was Romi Goldmuntz, an heir of one of Europe's most successful diamond dealers, who contacted Joseph Komkommer a fellow dealer on Antwerp's Pelikaanstraat in 1962, and requested him to have a look at the old mine-cut diamond, with a view of re-cutting it. Subsequently the syndicate formed by Joseph Komkommer purchased the diamond from the Goldmuntz family. Thus it appears that the Goldmutz family owned the diamond from 1932 to 1962.
In 1964, the Wittelsbach diamond had been passed on to a Hamburg jeweler who sold it to an anonymous buyer, whose identity had been a mystery ever since. But, according to Juergen Evers an expert on the diamond, the Wittelsbach diamond was sold to the department store magnate Helmut Horten, who gave it to his young bride, Heidi, as a wedding present in 1966. Horten died in 1987, but his widow Heidi Horten now ranks as the wealthiest woman in Austria with a personal fortune of more than 3 billion euros.
The Times report further goes on to say that the Horten Foundation had not commented whether Mrs. Horten still owns the Wittelsbach diamond, but there had been reports of people having seen her wearing a large blue diamond at high society parties. Thus if Mrs. Horten does indeed own the diamond, it appears that the Wittelsbach diamond had remained with the Horten family for 44 years from 1964 to 2008. According to Christie's the diamond had been put up for auction by the same family that owned the diamond for the past four decades.
The sale of the Wittelsbach diamond also known as "Der Blaue Wittelsbacher" at a Christie's auction in London, known as "Jewels: The London Sale" on Wednesday, December 10, 2008, was first advertised by Christie's in early November 2008. But, prior to this the diamond had already been exhibited at two important locations in the Middle East, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. At Abu Dhabi the diamond was exhibited at Christie's Landmark Exhibition of sale highlights at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi. At Dubai the diamond was exhibited during the Christie's auctions that was held in Dubai on the 29th and 30th of October, 2008. In London, the diamond was exhibited on December 5, 2008, just 5 days before the auction.
"It is a great honor and a lifetime dream to handle a museum quality stone such as the Wittelsbach. The appearance of a large blue diamond, among the rarest of colors, with a history that can be traced back to the 17th century and 300 years of royal connections will surely be a thrilling occasion for all collectors of exceedingly rare jewels and works of art," said Francois Curiel, Chairman of Christie's Europe and International Head of Jewelry.
"It's a very subtle stone," said Keith Penton, head of Christie's Jewelry department in London. "Connoisseurs really love the way it hasn't been re-cut since the 17th century. But they're also looking at the size and the color, and the historic provenance. There are so many angles to this one."
The reserve price placed on the diamond was Â£9 million, which was considered to be modest given that a 13.39-carat blue diamond fetched Â£5.6 million at an auction in May 2008. Going by this estimate the 35.56-carat Wittelsbach blue diamond which is almost three times larger than the 13.39-carat blue diamond should sell for at least 3 x 5.6 = 16.8 million pounds.
According to the Timesonline report of November 7, 2008, the Bavarian Government was expected to be one of the bidders at the auction, as the Prime Minister of Bavaria Horst Seehofer, was reported to have stated that he was determined to restore Bavarian pride by buying the gem.
"It's a lot of money, but we have to think about it," said a senior Bavarian official in Munich. "I believe it belongs to Bavaria. It's just a question of whether we can be seen splashing out money on jewelry in hard times."
The director of the German Historical Museum in Berlin, Hans Ottomayer, an authority on the History of the Wittelsbach diamond, said, "It's an obligation after all the blunders of the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s." The Bavarian State felt the loss of the Wittelsbach diamond very badly two years ago, when the historical crown of the Bavarian monarchy on which the diamond was mounted, was put on display, the empty socket that occupied the diamond, being filled in by a piece of blue glass.
Another prospective bidder at the auction was expected to be the familiar figure at Christie's auctions Laurence Graff, the owner of Graff Diamonds, London, who had made record breaking purchases at previous auctions, and had purchased several colored diamonds before on behalf of the Sultan of Brunei. However, according to Bloomberg.com, Francois Graff, managing director of Graff Diamonds is reported to have made the following comments in a phone interview, "If someone buys it for 9 million pounds , it will be because of the history. It's not a stone we'll be looking to buy. It was cut a long time ago without the benefits of modern technology. Buyers of extremely rare diamonds expect excellence in all aspects." The comments made cast some doubts as to whether Graff would actually want to bid for the celebrated diamond !!!
The previous record for any gemstone sold at an auction was $16.5 million, paid for the 100.1 carat, pear-shaped, D-color, flawless diamond "Star of the Season," purchased by Sheik Ahmed Hassan Fitaihi of Saudi Arabia, in May 1995, at a Sotheby's auction in Geneva.
On December 10, 2008, the 35.56-carat Wittelsbach blue diamond was sold at the Christie's auction in London, for £16.39 million ($24.3 million), almost double the reserve price of £9 million. The sale price realized is said to be a world record price for any diamond or jewelry sold at an auction. The price per carat realized was £460,911. The price per carat realized for the 13.39-carat blue diamond sold in May 2008 for £5.6 million was £418,222. Thus, the price per carat realized for the Wittelsbach blue diamond was £42,689 higher than the price per carat realized for the 13.39-carat blue diamond.
Bidding for the Wittelsbach diamond, which was lot 212/sale 7634, started at £4 million. The pace of the auction was very fast, bidding reaching £10 million within a few seconds. Surprisingly Laurence Graff who was not expected to participate in the bidding after the negative remarks made previously by the managing director of Graff Diamonds, also took part in the auction, making his bids through the phone. Two Russians who also took part in the bidding gave Mr. Graff a tough competition. One of the Russians who bid to the last with Mr. Graff was Aleks Paul of Essex Global Trading, a professional of Russian origin based in New York. But, Laurence Graff out bid them all and the hammer was brought down in favor of Mr. Graff at Â£16.39 million.
The outcome of the sale astounded all pessimists and critics who expected no takers at all for the diamond in these days of credit crunch. "In the midst of these challenging times, we were thrilled to achieve an historic price for an historic diamond," said Mr. Francois Curiel. It appears that whoever who purchased this diamond during these difficult days had done so, convinced that diamonds are a recession-proof investment. Mr. Graff who was elated after his successful purchase said that the diamond might have sold for Â£50 million if there had been no credit crunch. Mr. Graff also said that he plans to re-cut and polish the diamond and use all his expertise to create an amazing piece befitting this historic gem, before selling it. Mr. Graff is also reported to have said that acquiring this historic gem was the climax of his career.
1.Famous Diamonds by Ian Balfour
2.Encyclopaedia Britannica - 2006
3.The Wittelsbach Diamond - Lot 212/ Sale 7634, Christie's website
4.The Wittelsbach Diamond : Unique Royal History, For Sale at Christie's London in December. Press Release - Monday, November 3, 2008. Christie's website.
5.Bavaria considers bid to bring mysterious Wittelsbach diamond home - Timesonline, November 7, 2008.
6.The Wittelsbach Diamond - Unique Royal History for Sale at Christie's London in December - Press Release, middleeastevents.com
7.Diamond May Fetch 9 Million Pounds at Christie's, Defying Slump - Bloomberg.com December 9, 2008.
Dr Shihaan Larif
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