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The Kohinoor Diamond: An Endless Dispute?

The Kohinoor is without a doubt one of the most fascinating diamonds, and not just for its features. Marked by stories of power and deadly battles, the originally Indian diamond had been allegedly stolen by the British Empire in the 19th Century. But a new chapter was written on the Kohinoor’s history this week when the Indian government said that the claim should be left behind since the diamond was given voluntarily.

The origin of the Kohinoor dates back to more than 5000 years ago. An ancient Hindu legend tells that the diamond was a gift to earth from Surya, the god of the sun, and it’s believed to possess great magical powers. The Kohinoor is first mentioned in the memoirs of Barbur, the founder and leader of the Mogul Empire, where the gem is recorded as one of the treasures of Aladdin, won during a battle in 1304. With an original weight of 793 carats, the rock was reduced to 186 carats – just a tiny downsizing!- by the Emperor’s jeweler Borgio. (As you can imagine, he was punished after for his poor cutting job).

Fast-forward to 1739 when, after having passed through several different owners, it fell into the hands of Persian ruler Nadir Shah, who invaded North India. In fact, that was when the Kohinoor got its current name, which means “Mountain of Light” in Persian. After Shah’s death, the stone ended up under Sikh Emperor Ranjit Singh’s control. From 1813 to 1849 the Kohinoor remained owned by the Sikhs, until the British Empire conquered the Punjab region. After Ranjit’s death, his 13-year-old son, Duleep Singh, who soon became the new maharaja, handed the Kohinoor to Queen Victoria as a gift. Since then, the gigantic diamond has been under the possession of the Royal British Crown and it now resides in the Tower of London.

The Koh-I-Noor diamond is set in the crown of Queen Elizabeth.

The Kohinoor diamond is set in the crown of Queen Elizabeth.

For years now, the same claim has arisen from different sectors in India: that of accusing the British Crown of stealing the Kohinoor. Recently, an Indian NGO had filed a lawsuit to make the government ask Great Britain for the return of the precious gem. However, during a Supreme Court audience last Monday, India’s Solicitor General made a game-changing declaration when he said that the diamond wasn’t taken away by the force, but it had been “given voluntarily to the British as compensation for help in the Sikh wars.” Despite this strong statement, the Court is still considering the petition. The public controversy was deepened when, the following day, the Indian Ministry of Culture dismissed the Solicitor’s declaration and insisted that it’s still in the country’s interest to get back the diamond.

The Kohinoor is such a unique diamond that it’s very difficult to set a monetary price for it. Since its last resize in 1852 by Prince Albert -called for to increase its brilliance- the stone weighs 105.6 carats (21.6 grams). Perhaps one of its most outstanding features, besides its size and history, is its color: the Kohinoor is graded as Finest White (or colorless), the most valuable color grading a diamond can have. Some estimates suggest that the Kohinoor’s value a century ago would have been $200 million, and the Royal British Crown has recently said that its current price is somewhere between $10 and $12.7 billion.

After the Indian government’s declaration, the controversy over the Kohinoor legitimate owners has reawakened. Will this cursed diamond, that granted power but also misfortune to its possessors, find a new home in the near future? Only history will tell.

Read more fascinating stories about famous diamonds here.

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