- Education and Science»
- Geology & Atmospheric Science
The Queen: Worth Billions, and Still Crying Poor-Mouth!
Some of the world's priceless diamondsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Diamonds are a still a girl's best friend.
Diamonds: And One Way to Fix the Palace Roof for our "Impoverished" Royals..
When man found the largest diamond to date on earth, the Golden Jubilee, at 545.67 carats, (now in Thailand), he didn’t realize one somewhat larger would be found in space. This is the white dwarf star, BMP37093, known as “Lucy,” thanks to the Beatle’s song, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”
The British Royal Family’s Crown Jewels, held in the Tower of London, contain the second largest diamond found on earth, the Star of Africa, (also known as the Cullinan), at a ‘mere 530.2 carats, and the Quink says there’s no money to maintain the Palace…Ha! Even if she wasn’t inclined to dispose of this magnificent stone for around 500 million dollars, due to the outcry from her long suffering subjects, she might be persuaded to sell its companion, the 317.4 “Lesser Star of Africa!” Or, of course, the fabled Koh-I-Nor diamond, owned once by the builder of the Taj Mahal, Sha Jahan; at 105 carats, once the largest diamond on earth, and still one of the most valuable due to its blinding clarity. (Coloured stones, although often even more valuable than clear, contain impurities which provide colour). Bringing to mind Balzac's injunction that "Behind ever great fortune is a crime," this bauble was presented to Queen Victoria after it was blatantly stolen from India as “spoils of war.“ Selling one of these might even buy enough chow to feed the corgis for life. Beware, though, these huge diamonds usually come with a curse attached, and the Koh-I-Nor is no exception.
To get a sense of proportion, the famous “Taylor-Burton” stone, locked away in a vault for safety by the actress, weighs-in at a mere 69.42 carats,
The size of this planet’s compressed carbon baubles fade into insignificance, as most things do, when compared with what the stars and planets have on offer. Lucy’s little adornment, for example - her core diamond - weighs-in at around 5 million, trillion, trillion pounds! If we could nip across the 50 or so light years between us to the galaxy Centaurus, and economically return with a few tons, De Beers wouldn’t be too happy, as the precious stones they guard and control so jealously would be worth about the same as window glass. Or we might decide just to wait for a few billion years when our own sun emulates Lucy, and, all things being equal, changes into a huge diamond right on our doorstep, so to speak. We might even have developed the technology to get there in all this time…we’d better, because we have to get out of the way before the sun obliterates all the planets. Long before then, diamonds as jewels will be the last things on our mind, despite the fact we shall surely be using them in our space ship as we try to escape certain oblivion. In fact, diamonds have already been back into space many times, such as when the Venus probe had a diamond window fitted to allow infra-red through to measuring equipment, but protect the probe from the extreme heat and pressure of Venus’ hell’s cauldron atmosphere.
Diamonds. Extraordinary things. Poets and writers have waxed loquacious about them; fortunes have been made and lost dealing in them; murders have been committed over their possession; millions of native labourers have been exploited in the mining of them, in Africa, Brazil, India and Russia. And they have signified eternal love to millions of courting couples (as pawnbrokers know to their delight). For the last 40 years, diamonds have been the apple of investor’s eyes. A famous quote says, “Buy a fur coat and in ten years you have a rag; buy a diamond, it hasn’t changed in a billion years!”
Yet these shining jewels are made from one of the commonest elements in the universe: carbon. Formed close to the earth’s core, under unimaginable pressure and heat, carbon changes, taking on the unique cubic crystalline formation, and becoming by far the hardest substance found in the known universe. They are brought to the surface by “pipes” of magma, forced up though solid rock by the turmoil miles beneath the surface. Mining consists of locating these volcanic tubes and digging down until diamonds are found, or finding areas where the pay dirt has been washed away by rivers and floods.
Without “bort” or naturally occurring industrial quality diamonds, man would not be able to do many of the things he does today, from drilling teeth and operating on eye tissue to cure cataracts, to drilling for oil and resurfacing roads - and much, much more.
We can now produce industrial diamonds artificially, but gem quality have proven just too hard for laboratories to emulate and sustain the huge pressure and heat for the crystals to form.
And De Beers watches closely: I am sure their economic might would be ranged against any company successfully producing diamond jewels behind their backs. Rather like Detroit and the oil companies in their unceasing battle to stop private concerns producing economically viable automobiles that use fuel other than petrol. (Although this has finally eased as world petroleum stocks run out or are controlled by hostile interests).
Lorelei Lee, the original blonde that gentlemen were said to prefer, is named as the person who first said, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”
They still are, baby!
The Stuff of Legends and Black magic.
All large antique diamonds tend to have stories told about them, especially relating to them being cursed.
Such was the blue “Hope Diamond,” bought from Cartier by Evalyn Walsh McLean, an American socialite and great beauty.
Many studies have practically confirmed the Hope was cut from a far larger blue diamond stolen from the French royal family. This was the Tavernier Diamond of more than 100 carats, named after the dealer who sold it to Louis 14th., who passed it on through the lineage to Louis15th., then Louis 16th, who had the stone stolen while he was in prison at the time of the French Revolution in 1792. The Tavernier than faded from history and was never seen again.
The Hope diamond appeared in 1812, just after the statute of limitations had expired relating to the theft of the larger diamond from the French king. It may then have passed into the hands of King George of England, but the acquisition was never documented. Eventually, Cartier acquired the stone and sold it to McLean. Various owners of the 45.52 carat stone have met misfortune of one type or another, including the king of France who lost the original diamond in the first place. Evalyn McLean herself was an morphine addict who had marital problems and died in her 60’s from pneumonia. The diamond then passed through several hands, including the socialite’s grandchildren, who fought for possession of the stone through the courts for ten years. It finally came to rest in the Smithsonian, where it has remained, refraining from practising its evil powers on the passing throng, (as far as we know!) and is the most popular jewellery exhibit in the Museum. Several smaller stones created when the Tavernier was secretly cut have also been traced.
The original stone would have had a long history in India before being taken to France…if diamonds could only talk!
The Koh-i-Nor. This may well be the world's most valuable precious stone if its long and bloody history is taken into account. So fabulous has been the legend and facts surrounding this diamond, that books and a movie have been made about it. The truth, however, remains hidden within the flights of fancy produced by history and man's imagination. Anyone really interested in the history of a diamond would well to read the story of the Koh-i-Nor as it progresses from hand-to-hand; from nation-to-nation; through war and peace, a journey that some say has lasted for more than 5,000 years.
The diamond's story is far from being writ yet, as both India and Afganistan are demanding its return; even the Taliban and Tony Blair have become involved! But it's not easy to get anything back the British have stolen - or even to get them to admit they were guilty. And, after all, who can say who really owns something which has changed hands as much as the Koh-i-Nor has...and who really dare say they hold indisputable title to something that really is nearly forever?
After I put this story to bed, I looked into how the diamond business was doing in 2009. Not surprisingly, it was suffering with the downturn in the world economy and buying a diamond for investment today might make sense if you have some spare cash, because the prices have fallen considerably. De Beers have been closing mines in Botswana and Namibia and laying off 5,000 workers over the last 2 years and have announced a fall of 57% in uncut stones as they cut back output to around just half. De Beers, or course, control most of the world’s mining and sale of diamonds and are well placed to see out any recession. They have said they expect prices to begin to rise again before the end of the year.
The Family Finances
The queen’s annual stipend of 7.9 millions is up for review at present, as it runs out in December. The Family also gets another 15 million from the Department of Culture. It costs around 40 million a year to maintain the Royals - about 70 pence per person in the UK. The funds she receives shows a large surplus, often “raided” by the queen for other expenses occurred by the royals. The Palace has around 300 workers, and just one of her garden parties can have nearly 8,000 visitors. Of course, the Crown Holdings with its vast network of farming and private property, pay a huge amount to the government each year. The whole thing is just a matter of balancing the books and shuffling money around. What really bothers me is listening to the querulous voices of the little sycophants acting for the family and begging more from the cash-strapped nation. I’d like to see the whole heap of over-bred haw-haw’s go the way of the dodo. But then British “Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” would spring to their defence as usual. Can’t help feeling sorry for the quink, though: it’s a hard life, poor cow!