The 'Polar Star' derives its name from the eight-point star cut on its pavilion. A Golconda diamond of cushion shape, weighting 41.285 metric carats, the 'Polar Star' has been described as the 'brightest diamond ever seen. The symmetry of its cutting is so perfect that it can be balanced on its culet.
The history of the gem can be traced back to its ownership by Joseph Bonaparte, the elder brother of Napoleon, who for a short time ruled as King, first of Naples, then of Spain. A great lover of gems, he acquired the 'Polar Star' from an unnamed source. After he had lost both his crown and his kingdom he sold the diamond before he set sail for America where he spent the remaining years of his life.
The 'Polar Star' was at some time bought by Princess Tatiana Youssoupov (1769-1841), a member of one of the richest and most influential families in Imperial Russia, later related to the Imperial family. The diamond has also been known as the 'Youssoupov'. The Youssoupov family is perhaps best known for its involvement with the strange figure of Raspoutin, the Russian courtier and religious figure whose influence at the Russian Court was for a time paramount. Raspoutin was credited with alleviating the hemophilia of the young Czarevich, thereby gaining influence over the Empress Alexandra and, through her, the Czar Nicholas II. Raspoutin used his influence indiscriminately and during the First World War he made and unmade cabinet ministers at will: all who opposed him suffered disgrace and banishment.
Alarmed by the harmful effect Raspoutin was having upon the Court, Prince Felix Youssoupov and others conspired to kill him. On the night of 16 December 1916, the Prince entertained Raspoutin to dinner, poisoning his wine. When this attempt failed the conspirators shot him and thrust his body beneath a tributary of the River Neva.
After the Revolution Prince Felix Youssoupov fled from Russia taking the 'Polar Star' with him. In 1925 the jewelry cache of the Youssoupovs in the former palace was discovered. According to reports, the whereabouts of the hiding-place was betrayed to the authorities by the son of the mason who had originally devised it in 1917. Secret passages from the picture gallery led to two underground dungeons which contained a huge collection of jewels and other treasures. However, Prince Felix had by that time succeeded in getting other family jewels as well as the 'Polar Star' out of Russia. These included two other notable diamonds, the 'Sultan of Morocco', a steel-colored diamond of 35.67 metric carats said to have been owned by the Youssoupov family since 1840, and the 'Ram's Head', a light pinkish gem of 17.47 carats.
In 1924 Prince Felix embarked upon series of negotiations with Cartier's. The 'Polar Star' was lodged, with interruptions, with their London branch before being pledged along with other family jewels with the London firm of T.M. Sutton until Cartier's redeemed it. In 1928 they sold the diamond to Lady Deterring, the wife of the oil magnate Sir Henry Deterring, who was the founder of Royal Dutch Shell. Finally after her death and acting on the instructions of her executors, Christie's auctioned the 'Polar Star' in Geneva on the 20 November 1980. On that occasion a dealer from Sri Lanka paid 8 million Swiss Francs (1.9 million pounds) for the gem.
The sole contentious point concerning the 'Polar Star' is the date of its acquisition by the Youssoupovs. In 1949 Prince Felix stated that it had been in his family's ownership for a century, a fact corroborated by Dieulafait who published his 'Diamonds and Precious Stones' in 1874. But Streeter considered this to be a curious statement, maintaining that the 'Polar Star' had been purchased in England for the Imperial Regalia of Russia. However, the existence of another oval -cut diamond among the former Russian Crown Jewels is confirmed by Twining in A History of the Crown Jewels of Europe. He has listed a fine oval brilliant with a rosy-white or light-pinkish tint weighing 40 (12/32) (old) carats: at the same time he points to it being too long in the oval. Now if the weight of this stone is converted into metric carats its weight is less than that of the 'Polar Star', which moreover certainly cannot be described as being irregular in length- indeed it is beautifully proportioned. It is clear that the diamond described by Twining is the principal stone among the former Crown Jewels that were put up for sale by Christie's in London in 1927. Consequently there are two different diamonds: the declarations of both Prince Felix Youssoupov and Streeter are thereby validated.
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