The Regent Diamond
The Regent is a 410-carat stone that is one of the last large diamonds to be found in India. It is said to have been discovered by a slave in c. 1701 in the Parteal Mines on the Kistna River. In order to smuggle the rough stone out of the mines the slave supposedly concealed it in a self-inflicted leg wound which he then wrapped in bandages. The slave kept the stone hidden within his person until he had the opportunity to escape to Madras.
In Madras the slave made contact with an English sea captain who offered him safe passage to a free country in exchange for one half of the value of the stone. The slave readily agreed; however, during the voyage the temptation proved too much for the captain and he threw the slave overboard after first securing the stone for himself. Upon reaching port in Bombay the captain then sold the stone to an Indian diamond merchant named Jamchund for a thousand pounds. The captain quickly went through the money and ended up hanging himself.
In 1702, after months of negotiations, Jamchund sold the stone for 20,400 pounds to Thomas Pitt, President of Fort St. George, Madras. Thomas Pitt was the grandfather of William Pitt, the Elder, the British Prime Minister for whom Pittsburgh is named. Pitt had the stone sent to England to be cut, a process which took two years (1704 – 1706).
The stone weighed 426 carats prior to cutting. The finished diamond is fashioned into a 140.50-carat cushion-shaped brilliant cut, measuring approximately 32mm x 34mm x 25mm. The cutting operation produced a number of secondary stones, some of them rose-cut, that were sold to Peter the Great of Russia. The process used on the Regent, the brilliant cut, yields angles formed by the facets that are cut perfectly, reflecting the light with matchless intensity and brilliance. The regent has but one very small imperfection and is today still considered the finest and most brilliant of the known large diamonds.
The fame of the diamond spread all over Europe, a situation which did not create much happiness for Thomas Pitt. It is said that he was absorbed with the fear of losing it. Many tried to get a glimpse of the diamond themselves, but very few, if any, were successful. Pitt never allowed his travel schedule to be known and he never slept two consecutive nights in the same house.
Thomas Pitt made several attempts to sell the stone to various royal houses of Europe, including Louis IV of France, but met with no success. Pitt’s reasoning for selling was that too much of his fortune was tied up in the value of the stone and, if sold, he could use those monies to secure his other properties. In 1717 Pitt went to Calais with his sons and John Law, who acted as his agent, for the purpose of selling the stone.
John Law’s assistance was secured by Pitt due to the high favor he held in the French court. Law had a model of the diamond made in England to show to Philippe, Duke of Orleans and Regent of France. Law proposed that Philippe buy the diamond for the king.
Aghast at the asking price, Philippe refused to buy the stone. Law next turned to Duke De Saint-Simon, a member of the Council of Regency and a friend of Philippe. Saint-Simon agreed that France should possess a jewel unique to its kind in the world and, together, they persuaded Philippe to make the purchase for 130 thousand pounds. Since the consummation of the purchase the stone has been known as the Regent diamond. At the time, the Regent outshone all known diamonds in the western world, and by 1719 it had already tripled in value.
The Crown Jewels
The Regent was worn for the first time by Louis XV at the reception of a Turkish embassy in 1721. The diamond was then temporarily set in his crown and worn at his coronation in October, 1722; later the stone was removed and Queen Marie Leczinska wore it as an adornment in her hair. Throughout his reign, Louis XV also wore the diamond on his hat. His successor, his grandson Louis XVI, also had a new crown made for his coronation in 1775 which included the Regent mounted on the front. Also similar to his grandfather, he sported the gem on a hat as did his wife, Marie Antoinette.
The Regent was stolen in 1792 during the French Revolution. It was found the following year hidden among some roof timbers. The diamond was used on several occasions by the Directorate and later the Consulate as security. The Regent was pledged to Napoleon in 1797 to help finance his rise to power. He took permanent control of the stone in 1801 and had it mounted into the hilt of the sword he carried at his coronation in 1804. When Napoleon went into exile in Elba in 1814, Marie Louisa, his second wife, carried the Regent to the Chateau of Blois. Later, however, her father, Emperor Francis I of Austria, returned it to France and it again became part of the French Crown Jewels.
In 1825 the Regent was once again placed in the French crown, this time the crown of Charles X. The stone remained in the Royal Crown until the time of Napoleon III. Then, a place was made for it in a Greek diadem designed for Empress Eugenie.
Many of the French Crown Jewels were sold at auction in 1887, but the Regent was reserved from the sale and exhibited at the Louvre among the national treasures. During World War II, when Germany invaded Paris, it was hidden away in Chambord. After the war it was returned to Paris and the Louvre where it is on display in the Apollon Gallery.
Whether the possessor was a simple slave and an English sea captain or the King and Queen of France and Napoleon, the Regent was there to bear witness to their demise.