idols eye diamond

The various published accounts of the early history of the 'Idol's Eye' are worthy of being included in A Thousand and One Nights; unfortunately for the most part they must be considered to be entirely untrue. It is possible that the diamond may have been found at Golconda around 1600 but seven years later it was certainly not seized from the Persian Prince Rahab, by the East India Company as payment for a debt. There is no such person recorded in the history of Persia while the East India Company did not start to trade in that country until several years later.

The first genuine fact in the diamond's history was its appearance at a Christie's sale in London on 14 July 1865, when it was described as 'a splendid large diamond known as the 'Idol's Eye' set round with 18 smaller brilliants and frame-work of small brilliants'. It was knocked down to a mysterious buyer simply as 'B.B'. Later it is stated that the 34th Ottoman Sultan, Abd al-Hamid 11 (1842-1918), owned the 'Idol's Eye'. However the 'Idol's Eye' would never, as often been asserted, have been set in the eye of a temple in Benghazi because there are neither temples nor idols in that city. Benghazi has been Muslim since the eigth century ad.

When consideration is given to the shape of the 'Idol's Eye' something between a cushion and a pear - it is not difficult to envisage its setting elsewhere as an eye, so justifying its name. Indeed the stone compares fabourable with others deemed to have been set in this manner: they suggest that certain idols found in sacred buildings in the East have had very oddly-shaped ocular orifices. The 'Idol's Eye' weighs 70.20 metric carats and is clearly a Golconda stone, possessing that slight bluish tinge so characteristic of many diamonds from that source.

Abd al-Hamid 11 presided over the most autocratic regime that the Ottoman Empire had experienced since the eighteenth century. He was eventually defeated by the internal opposition which merged as The Young Turks. After his deposition in 1909 he lived in exile, first in Salonika, then in Istanbul where he died in 1918. It is said that the Sultan, sensing in which direction the political wind of his country was blowing, made provisions for his coming enforced retirement, which included the despatch of his jewels to a place of safety. Unfortunately the servant entrusted with them turned traitor and sold them in Paris. Whether or not this is the true version of events, it is known that the 'Idol's Eye' was one of several large diamonds belonging to the dealer Salomon Habib that came up for auction in Paris on 24 June 1909. Subsequently a Spanish nobleman bought the diamond which he kept in a London bank for some years.

After the end of the Second World War the 'Idol's Eye' remerged when it was acquired by a Dutch dealer from whom Harry Winston bought it in 1946. In the following year Mr Winston sold it to Mrs May Bonfils Stanton, daughter of Frederick G. Bonfils, the publisher and co-founder of the Denver Post. If many of the earlier characters associated with the diamond's history have proved to be fictitious, Mrs Stanton goes some way to make up for them. Once a great beauty, she became a legendary figure in American life. From her early girlhood she displayed an interest in jewels and began to assemble a famous collection. In addition to the 'Idol's Eye' it was to include the 'Liberator' diamond and a diamond necklace studded with twelve emeralds weighing 107 carats, once owned by the Maharajah of Indore. Mrs Stanton lived in splendid isolation in a palatial mansion copied from the Petit Trianon in Versailles. It is reported that she wore the 'Idol's Eye' at her solitary breakfast every morning. The gem was set as the pendant to a diamond necklace containing forty-one brilliants, weighing about 22.50 carats, and forty-five baguetts weighing about 12 carats.

Mrs Stanton was also a supporter of numerous philanthropic causes in her native state of Colorado. After her death, in her eighties, in March 1962, her jewels were auctioned in November by Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc. of New York; in accordance with the directions contained in her will the proceeds were distributed among various charities.

The Chicago jeweller Harry Levinson bought the 'Idol's Eye' for $375,000. In 1967 he loaned it to De Berrs for exhibition at the Diamond Pavilion in Johannesburg. Six years later Mr Levinson put the diamond up for sale in New York but subsequently withdrew it when the bidding failed to reach his minimun of $1,000,000. In 1979, Laurance Graff, of London purchased the 'Idol's Eye'; he loaned it in 1982 for display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, at a reception celebrating the Fiftieth anniversary of Harry Winston Inc. In the following January Mr Graff sold the 'Idol's Eye' together with the 'Emperor Maximilian' and a 70.54 - carat, fancy yellow diamond, named the 'Sultan Abd al-Hamid 11' and thought to have been part of that ruler's jewellery collection. The sale of these three stones to the same buyer is reckoned to have been one of the highest priced transactions of diamonds known.

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