FAMOUS DIAMONDS 'FLORENTINE'.
Because we love to craft our claddagh rings with sparkling diamonds, we are very interested in selecting the best diamonds for our claddagh ring designs.
We are also interested in the history of diamonds. This article details a famous historic diamond know as the ' florentine'.
The record of this, one of the most famous of all diamonds and variously known as the 'Florentine', 'Tuscan', 'Grand Duke of Tuscany' or the 'Austrian Yellow', has over the centuries become very confused.
In 1880 the Austrian authorities issued a publication named 'Catalogue of the objects contained in the Treasury of the Imperial Royal House of Austria' which only added to the confusion. The account of the 'Florentine' contained therein stated that the diamond had once been in the ownership of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (1943-77). The name of this warrior from the Middle Ages devoted a large part of his energies to establishing Burgundy as a powerful and independent kingdom, often crops up in diamond literature. It has been expressed that in 1476 the Duke of Burgundy handed over three diamonds for cutting to the well known cutter Ludwig van Berquiem, who is credited with having been the first to think of the idea of cutting diamonds to a deliberate geometrical design, thereby releasing their brilliance and 'fire' to an unparalleled degree. According to Ludwig's descendant, Robert van Berquiem, the Duke of Burgundy gave away two of these diamonds. One being a triangular-shaped stone that was presented to Louis XI of France, with whom he had allied himself. The other being a thinly cut stone that was presented to Pope Sixtus IV.
Charles the Bold retained the third diamond, a thickly cut stone set in a ring, which at the time was described as 'one of the largest diamonds in Christendom'. It was of a pyramidal shape 15.8mm square at the base, with the apex cut into a four-rayed star coinciding with the middle of each face of the pyramid. It is often alleged, as in the above-mentioned catalogue, that this diamond is the 'Florentine'.
Other accounts have indentified it with yet more famous diamonds, while it has further been stated that, according to the custom of the day, the Duke of Burgundy always went forth into battle with his jewels, to keep a close eye on them, secondly on account of the mysterious powers attributed to precious stones. However if one were to believe the different accounts of the exploits of Charles the Bold it would almost seem as if he went into battle with a large suitcase marked 'Famous Diamonds' and that he lost all his possessions on a variety of battlefields! Two facts are beyond doubt. First, that his pyramidal-shaped diamond is a different gem from the 'Florentine', and secondly that he was defeated and killed by the Swiss at the Battle of Nancy in 1477.
The genuine history of the 'Florentine' begins with its ownership by the Medicis, one of the most famous powerful families in Europe, whose name appears in Florentine chronicles as early as the twelfth century. The Medicis began as rich merchants in Florence, became rulers of the city during the Renaissance and, in due course, Grand Dukes of Tuscany in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. That never tiring traveller and collector of gems, Jean Baptiste Tavernier, visited the Court of the reigning Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinand II (1610-70). in 1657 and he was able to weigh and examine the 'Florentine', which had in all likelihood reached Italy via one of the customary trade routes from the East. In his well known work 'Six Voyages of John Baptiste Tavernier' he wrote as follows:
'The Great Duke of Tuscanys Diamond weighs 139 carats, clean and well shaped cut in facets every way, but in regard the water inclines somewhat toward the colour of Citron. I do not value the first carat above 135 livres, so that by the rule, the Diamond ought to be worth 2608336 livres'.
According to the current system of weights, the 'Florentine' would weigh 137.27 metric carats. When Tavernier saw the diamond it was the largest in Europe. If the measurements of the Duke of Burgundy's diamond have been correctly reported, such a gem would not have approximated the weight of the 'Florentine'. The great diamond was cut as a double rose, with 126 facets and with an irregular nonagonal outline, giving it the look of a nine-rayed star. This style of cutting was recognized as being typically Indian which makes it even more unlikely that it was one of the diamonds which Van Berquiem cut for the Duke of Burgundy.
When it became clear that the Medici family was nearing the end of its long and illustrious reign, the European powers made arrangements in 1735 whereby Tuscany would come under the rule of the Dukes of Lorraine. Following the death of the last male Mecici, Gian Gastone (1671-1737), this plan was put into effect, but not without considerable resistance from Gian Gastone's sister, Anna Maria Medici. It was due to her efforts that a considerable part of the treasures collected by the Medicis were preserved for the city of Florence and its citizens. The 'Florentine' diamond, however, did leave the home of the Medicis in 1743 to become part of the Crown Jewels of Austria when that country's ruler, the Empress Maria Theresa, was betrothed to Francis Stephen, Duke of Lorraine, who had earlier inherited the Dukedom of Tuscany. At his coronation as the Emperor Francis I, he wore the 'Florentine' diamond set in a crown. Later the gem was set in a hat surrounded by other diamonds.
After the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire in 1918, the Crown Jewels, including the 'Florentine' which was the set in a brooch, accompanied the royal family into exile in Switzerland. Since then, nothing has been definitely known of the whereabouts of this famous gem. According to a spokesman for the Empress, it may have been among the jewels which a member of the royal family's entourage, who proved less than trustworthy, suggested selling in South America. The Crown Jewels in exile had many adventures, including a lawsuit after they had been put up for sale in Lucerne.
The question of the whereabouts of the 'Florentine' has continued to arouse the interest of gemologists and historians alike and there has been considerable speculation on the subject.
In 1923 a large yellow diamond, weighing 99.52 carats, appeared in the United States. Significantly, this diamond known as 'The Shah of Persia' showed evidence of having been recut and there were veiled suggestions that it may have been the missing 'Florentine'. It was claimed that 'The Shah of Persia' had a story of its own, that it had been brought to America by General V.D. Starosselky, a Russian military expert, who had been loaned to the Persians by the Czar and later rewarded with the diamond by the Persian government in appreciation of his excellent command of its army.
Several facts about the history for 'The Shah of Persia' are, to say the least, puzzling. Considering the prevailing political situation at the time, it would appear strange that the last Czar would have done anything at all to assist the Persians. Furthermore, there is no mention of a General Starosselky in any one of the standard encyclopaedias. One should surely have expected even a small reference to someone of this importance. Who was General V.D. Starosselky?
However, 'The Shah of Persia' is cushion-shaped and it is therefore, debatable whether a diamond of this particular cut, with a weight of almost 100 carats, could have been fashioned from the 'Florentine'. The only way to resolve the question of the identify of 'The Shah of Persia' - the 'Florentine' would be to submit the former to a thorough examination. If it originally came from South Africa, the source of so many large cape-coloured diamonds, its 'water' would differ considerably from that of an Indian gem.
At the conclusion of the Second World War there came a report that the 'Florentine' had been returned to Vienna. Earlier Hitler had seized what remained of the Austrian Crown Jewels and for safety's sake, ordered them to be buried in a salt mine near Salzburg. This area of Austria came into the American zone of occupation at the end of the war and General Mark Clark had all the loot restored to Vienna in a public ceremony. Amid much rejoicing, someone reported that the 'Florentine' had returned to its former home. Sadly, the report proved untrue. Officials of the Treasure Room in the Museum of Art confirmed that the gem had left with the last Emperor and had never been seen since in Vienna.
The final chapter in the story of the 'Florentine' has taken place in more recent years. A court in Vienna was petitioned to settle a dispute between Archduke Otto, son and heir of the last Emperor, and a Dr Theodor Salvator, who has claimed direct descent from the Emperor Francis Joseph. In his application, Dr Salvator requested the court to order the Archduke to produce a record of all the Imperial valuables in his possession. Dr Salvator was hopeful the 'Florentine' diamond would turn up in the inventory. The outcome of this litigation is not known - nor, unfortunately, is the fate of the 'Florentine'.
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