The diamond that was stolen twice

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The Golconda Fort which once guarded the mines

Parvez Mahmood tells the story of Golconda d' or and two heists: once by Nader Shah's armies, then by modern burgulars.  

During his invasion and massacre of Delhi, Nader Shah acquired a number of jewels and artefacts from the Mughal treasure vaults. It is said that accumulated wealth of 350 years changed hands in one day. This is the story of ‘ Golconda d’or ‘, one of the diamonds stolen from Mughal treasury by Nader Shah.

For this article, I have mainly relied on Dr Shihaan Larif, of Stones.com, who is an authority on the history and trading of precious stones.

Before diamond mining commenced in Brazil in 1730 and in South Africa in the late 19th century, Golconda, near the Indian city of Hyderabad, was the only regular producer of diamonds in the world for two millennia and is known for having produced high quality colourless diamonds. The Golconda d’or diamond is said to be one of the few yellow diamonds discovered from this site. The mines, whose exact location remains unknown, were eventually abandoned in the mid-18th century because of exhaustion. This diamond is one of the last large stones found here.

A brief introduction to the chemistry of yellow diamonds would be useful to understand the significance of this diamond. Type 1a diamonds are pale to medium yellow in colour: that is caused by groups of odd numbers of nitrogen atoms in the crystal. The nitrogen impurity is up to 0.3% (3,000 parts per million) and is clustered within the carbon structure. These diamonds constitute almost 98 % of all naturally occurring diamonds. They absorb visible light in the blue region of the spectrum and produce a pale to medium yellow colour.

Type Ib diamonds are intense yellow and orange in colour, that is produced by single nitrogen atoms that are scattered in the crystal structure of the diamond. They contain up to 0.05% (500 parts per million) of nitrogen that is diffused throughout the crystal in isolated sites. This scattering of nitrogen atoms produces an intense yellow colour. In rare instances, nitrogen atoms absorb visible light in the green region of the spectrum causing its complementary colour orange to appear. Thus intense yellow diamonds including canary yellow and golden yellow diamonds are considered to be Type Ib – whose occurrence is only 0.1 % of all natural diamonds.

The colour of Golconda d’or is golden yellow – an intense shade of yellow – that makes it one of the rare Type Ib diamonds. The original uncut diamond is estimated to have weighed 250 carats or 50 grams. It was originally cut to weigh 130 carats. It stayed in this shape for the next 180 years and travelled from Delhi to Iran and Turkey. It was re-cut on behalf of Ottoman Caliph Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1908 by I. J. Asscher & Co. of Amsterdam to its last known weight of 95.4 carats or 19 grams. In the list of biggest yellow diamonds in the world, Golconda d’or is placed at the 30th position.

The original name of the diamond is not known. Its current name is a combination of ‘Golconda’ reflecting the mine of origin and the second part of the name, d’or, remains a mystery, though it may perhaps be the name of one of the owners of the diamond in its long journey from India to Iran, Turkey, England and, eventually, to Australia – which is its last known destination.

The Golconda d’or diamond was perhaps discovered in the early 18th century when the mines, still under the direct control of Mughal court, were nearing their productive life. It was deposited with the Delhi treasury and remained in the possession of Emperor Muhammad Shah, who ruled between 1719 and 1748. It was during his rule that Nader Shah sacked and plundered Delhi in 1739, carrying Golconda d’or, amongst other treasures, to Iran. It remained with the Afsharids – Nader Shah’s descendents – till 1796. It then came in to the possession of Qajar dynasty, who ruled Iran till 1925 when they were removed by the Pahlavi dynasty. It was during the Qajar rule that the diamond changed hands.

It was a custom among the medieval rulers to present jewels to each other. Fateh Ali Shah (1797-1834), the second Qajar ruler of Persia, was defeated by the Russians during the1804–13 and 1826-28 series of wars and had to irreversibly cede the Caucasian region to the Russian Empire. To improve relations with his other archenemy, he presented the Golconda d’or diamond to the Ottoman Sultan. The stone was big enough to overcome three centuries of animosity.

In the aftermath of her defeat in WWI, Turkey was going through a great transformation and was facing severe fiscal problems. The Golconda d’or diamond remained part of the Turkish Crown Jewels until 1923 when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1923-1938), the first President of modern Turkish Republic, decided to sell the diamond to a wealthy Turkish family. A later head of the family disposed it off in 1962 at a London auction to the Melbourne-based Australian jewellery firm ‘Dunklings’.

Dunklings put the magnificent golden yellow diamond on permanent display at their store in Melbourne as a prized holding. It came to be identified with the exceptional high quality jewellery produced by the firm, and became one of its symbols. This was similar to the Tiffany Yellow diamond which has made Tiffany’s a household name in jewellery around the world.

The diamond was on display at Dunklings Melbourne until October 1980, when it was taken to Sydney for an exhibition. It was displayed inside a locked glass case at Sydney Town Hall where it became a popular item attracting the attention of numerous visitors during the exhibition. Then one unfortunate day, when the exhibition was still on, it was discovered that the stone had vanished from inside the locked glass case. This was a daring daylight robbery that took place right in front of about 60 visitors who were waiting to view the stone, and added another thrilling chapter to the history of unsolved mysteries. How the diamond was spirited away from the locked glass case, right in front of so many visitors, defies one’s imagination.

Within days of the robbery, the police in Sydney arrested two suspects; the underworld leader of Sydney, Michael Hurley and his brother Jeffrey, both of whom were at the scene of the crime at the time of the diamond’s disappearance. However, the police subsequently dismissed the case against them on lack of positive identification.

The theft of the Golconda d’or remains a mystery up to this day, and it has been added to the list of other missing diamonds. Hopefully, it will resurface again for the world to witness its beauty.

 

About Author: Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from PAF and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on historical and social issues.

First published http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/the-diamond-that-was-stolen-twice/ 

Article and pictures are courtesy and copyright www.thefridaytimes.com. eSamskriti.com has obtained written permission from the author to publish this article.