The name of this diamond derives from Ismail Pasha (1830-95). Born in Cairo and educated in Paris, he succeeded his uncle as Viceroy of Egypt in 1863. Ismail obtained two concessions from the Ottoman Sultan. One was a right of direct succession in accordance with the principle of progeniture: previously the succession had passed to the oldest member of the royal family. The other was the title of Khedive, an ancient Persian title meaning 'Ruler'.
It was during the reign of Ismail Pasha that the Suez Canal was completed (1869). Work had begun on this project ten years earlier and it was eventually built at a cost of £29,725,000. Originally it was the French Consul who had obtained from Said Pasha, ruler of Egypt, a concession to establish La Compagnie Universelle du Canan Maritime de Suez. The Company was formed in 1858 with a capital of 200,000,000 francs, most of the shares being bought by the French, Turks and Said Pasha himself. French involvement in the enterprise had been paramount so it was scarcely surprising that the Empress Eugenie should have been the recipient of gifts to mark the ceremony of the canal's opening. Among the items which she received were two brooches in the form of anchors pave-set with diamonds: subsequently these came into the possession of Kathleen, Duchess of Newcastle, sister-in-law of the owner of the 'Hope' diamond.
It has been asserted that the Empress Eugenie was also presented with the 'Khedive', a rectangular light yellow diamond of 36.61 carats, recut from its former weight of 43 carats to make it flawless. Now light yellow diamonds were known before the advent of diamonds in South Africa - they were poorly looked upon compared with white stones - but the 'Khedive' has the look of a typical Cape stone. Therefore if it had been found in Africa, it would have been one of the first recorded diamonds from that source; it would have helped to strengthen the belief of the Empress that diamonds from the Cape were usually yellowish in colour - a belief that she was later to express in words when she was confronted with the 'Porter Rhodes' diamond in 1881.
Recent inquiries in France have failed to find any reference to the 'Khedive' among the list of gifts exchanged at the opening of the Suez Canal. One writer has suggested that the linking of the diamond with the Empress Eugenie is totally untrue and that it has been manufactured to impart 'colour' to its history. The same person has drawn attention to the film Suez made in the late 1930s, starring Tyrone Power and Loretta Young, and wondered whether somebody's imagination may have been fired by this piece of screenwork.
What is not disputed is the ownership of the 'Khedive' by the Miami jeweller, Jack M. Werst. He sold it in 1953. In 1976 the stone was exhibited with other notable diamonds at the opening of the Hall of Minerals and Gems of the Museum of Natural History of New York. Thereafter it remained on display until it was put up for sale by Christie's in Geneva on 15th May 1986, when it fetched 484,000 Swiss francs.