|The Koh-i-Noor (top) and the crown with the diamond
London, June 25: In a gesture that will infuriate diehard Indian nationalists, the British are to put a replica of the original uncut Koh-i-Noor, the most famous diamond in the world, on display at the Natural History Museum in London from July 8.
The Koh-i-Noor was taken as booty by the British when Lord Dalhousie annexed Punjab.
It was then “presented” by Maharaja Duleep Singh to Queen Victoria in 1850.
The British say the Maharaja gifted the diamond to the Queen but as he was only a minor at the time, it has been a matter of historical debate whether the British stole the treasure or whether it really was a present.
One thing is for sure: the British have got it, they have it on display as the centrepiece of the crown jewels, and though many indignant Indians have sought its return, the English are not going to hand their booty any more than they are going to give back the Elgin Marbles to the Greeks.
For some reason, the Natural History Museum has had an original plaster cast of the Koh-i-Noor in its collection for more than 150 years.
At the Great Exhibition of 1851 at Crystal Palace, the diamond went on show, where thousands queued up to marvel at its size. Uncut, it amounted to 186.1 carats.
But unlike the Indians, whose emperors preferred to wear their baubles in their natural state, westerners like the sparkle from myriad faces. In its Indian incarnation, the Koh-i-Noor had 200 facets ' four times more than 99 per cent of cut diamonds ' and was intended to be worn on an armlet to catch the light.
Prince Albert had the Koh-i-Noor recut into an oval weighing 106 carats.
The museum began collaborating with the American gem artist, John Hatleberg, in January to create a replica of the diamond.
Hatleberg said: “For 14 years, it has been my quest to recreate the original Koh-i-Noor and I am thrilled it will now receive its first showing at the diamonds’ exhibition in London.”
There will be other diamonds on show as well.
“Within the world of diamonds, the Koh-i-Noor above all others demands to be regarded in the realm of the fantastic,” Hatleberg added.
He used the museum’s model to create a map showing every facet of the diamond and painstakingly recreated it from natural and synthetic materials. It had 30 instances where six facets met in one point and 24 instances where five facets met. Standard brilliant cut diamonds do not have six facets meeting in one point.
The actual Koh-i-Noor is kept at the Tower of London as the centrepiece of the Maltese cross of the coronation crown made for the Queen Mother in 1937. It was briefly shown on her coffin during her funeral service.
Five years ago, a group of Indian MPs demanded the return of the Koh-i-Noor.
One of them was Kuldip Nayar, veteran journalist and a Rajya Sabha member then, who said: “The Greeks have been asking for the return of the Elgin Marbles for a long time now and the Blair government has even set up a committee to trace cultural relics to the country of their origin. And if they can consider returning the Elgin marbles, why not the Koh-i-noor'”
Actually, the British museum has not lost its marbles to the extent it would return any of its collection.
However, this did not discourage Nayar from sponsoring a motion in the Rajya Sabha.
“It belonged to Duleep Singh, the son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and was forcibly taken from him by the British,” Nayar had said then and even pointed out that Unesco had a clear policy on looted relics.
But in an interview with the Doon School magazine, Sir Michel Arthur, a former British high commissioner, was mischievous enough to suggest that India was not the rightful claimant.
Asked by a boy whether the Koh-i-Noor should not be returned to India, the high commissioner said: “I, unfortunately, have very little influence with the Queen, so I doubt that it could be that simple. The origins of the Koh-i-Noor diamond are difficult to trace. If I remember correctly, it belongs to Pakistan and should go to them if we were to take the historical aspect into account.”
If the choice was between having the Koh-i-Noor stay in London or handed over with much ceremony to President Musharraf, whose Pakistan might consider itself the successor state to much of the old Punjab of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, even Nayar would probably plump for status quo.
Which is what the British want, anyway. The British continue to make a lot of money by charging foreigners to see the Koh-i-Noor.