The History of the Orloff Diamond
The power of beauty … the fascination of the unknown … two commanding elements of attraction shared by lustrous gems and lovely women since time immemorial. This mutual and separate attraction has never been more evident than in the strange saga of the fabulous Orloff diamond and its most illustrious owner, Catherine the Great of Russia.
Prince Gregory Grigorievitch Orloff, scion of a powerful Russian family, was one of the officers who engineered the coup through which Catherine grasped the throne from her tyrant husband, Peter III, in 1762. Soon after his exile, Peter was killed, and Catherine became Empress of all Russia.
Catherine loved Prince Orloff and eventually bore his child, but she would not marry him, for Catherine ruled alone, and intended that it should remain so. The distance between Catherine’s pride and Prince Orloff’s determination to win her favor continued to widen, until a complete rift occurred and Orloff was dispatched to Amsterdam. It was here that he first saw the incredible stone which would one day bear his name.
The 199.6 carat diamond, resembling one-half a faceted egg, had been one of a pair which formed the eyes of Sri Ranga, a Hindu temple god. A French soldier, stationed in India, had heard of the fabled stones and had become so overcome with the desire to possess them that he deserted and risked his life to brave the temple compound and gouge the prize from the well-guarded idol. Succeeding in his theft, he sold the diamond to a British sea captain who later disposed of it in London at a huge profit. Eventually it came into the hands of Khojeh, a Persian jeweler in Amsterdam, and a friend of Prince Gregory Orloff.
This jeweler was familiar with the Prince’s problems and his reason for being in Amsterdam. He was also acquainted with the well-known fact of Catherine’s love for beautiful jewels. As an avid collector of perfect stones, she had established her own cutting factory near the gem mines in the Ural Mountains. Daily, she adorned herself with priceless jewels; her crown was set with 2,537 diamonds. Khojeh persuaded Prince Orloff that no woman, even Catherine the Great, could resist such a dazzling gift.
The Prince agreed. However, it required the pooled resources of the Orloff family to meet the purchase price of L100,000.
On a spring day in 1776, during a celebration held on Catherine’s name day, Prince Orloff found himself once more face to face with his queen. He bowed low over Catherine’s hand, but instead of presenting her with the traditional bouquet of flowers, he placed in her hand the magnificent diamond.
Catherine accepted his gift, but not his love. Prince Orloff remained out of grace with his Empress, but as long as he lived, his love continued to rule his heart as well as his country.
Catherine never wore the diamond. However, her appreciation of it was evident in the fact that she had it mounted at the crown of the double eagle which surmounted the Imperial scepter … the scepter she would have neither possessed nor held without devotion and diplomatic skill of Prince Orloff.
Today, the Orloff diamond reposes in the Russian Treasury of Diamonds and Precious Stones in Moscow.