London, Sept. 22: A “cursed” black Indian diamond, three of whose owners apparently committed suicide, went on display today at the Natural History Museum in London.
The “Black Orlov”, which is also known as “the Eye of Brahma”, weighed 195-carat uncut when it was removed, according to legend, by a monk from a Hindu shrine near Pondicherry.
It is part of a general exhibition of diamonds, where other attractions on display include a replica of the original egg-sized Koh-i-Noor which was presented to Queen Victoria in 1850.
Also being shown is the 203-carat flawless De Beers Millennium Star, which was unveiled in 1999 at London’s Millennium Dome where it became the target of a foiled robbery attempt in 2000. This is the first time it has been on public display in the UK since then.
The museum’s staff have done a little research on the Black Orlov and hopes its history will pull in the superstitious, who may come just to see if anything bad happens while it is on display.
Alan Hart, exhibition curator, said: “The intriguing legend of the Black Orlov highlights the powerful way that diamonds have captured human imagination for thousands of years. This jewel’s beauty and apparent infamy make it a fitting addition to the world’s biggest diamond exhibition.”
The stone has been exhibited widely, including at the American Museum of Natural History in 1951, the Wonderful World of Fine Jewellery & Gifts at the 1964 Texas State Fair, Dallas, and the Diamond Pavilion in Johannesburg in 1967.
After the exhibition closes in February 2006, the Black Orlov will travel to California to make its next star appearance at the Oscars.
According to the museum, the diamond’s curse began after its removal from the shrine in India. “This sacrilege allegedly cursed all future owners of the precious stone to a violent death,” it says.
The Black Orlov ' actually, a very dark gunmetal in colour ' is said to have taken its name from Russian Princess Nadia Vyegin-Orlov who owned it for a time during the mid-eighteenth century.
She and a subsequent owner leapt to their deaths in apparent suicides, the latter in 1947. In 1932, J.W. Paris, the diamond dealer who imported the stone into the US, had also jumped to his death from one of New York’s tallest buildings shortly after concluding the sale of the jewel.
In an attempt to break the curse, the diamond was re-cut into three separate gems and has since been owned by a succession of private owners, all of whom seem to have escaped the curse ' so far.
At present, the 67.5-carat Black Orlov is set in a 108-di- amond brooch suspended from a 124-diamond necklace (picture on right).
According to the museum’s experts, true black diamonds are incredibly rare. Only one in 10,000 diamonds mined are coloured. Most coloured diamonds get their colour from chemical impurities or defects in the stone itself. Black diamonds are different: their colour comes from the presence of tiny mineral inclusions.
Recent studies have shown that these inclusions are predominantly the iron oxide minerals, magnetite and hematite, along with native iron itself. When these iron-rich inclusions occur in a high enough proportion they can even make diamonds magnetic.
The Black Orlov was owned by Charles F. Winson, a New York City gems dealer, who valued it at $50,000. In 1969, the stone was sold for $300,000.
“In the middle of the 20th Century, the media christened it the ‘Evil Death Gem’ but I’ve never felt nervous about owning the Black Orlov,” said Dennis Petimezas, the present owner.
“I’ve spent the past year trying to discover everything I can about the stone’s melodramatic history and I’m pretty confident that the curse is broken.”
But just to be on the safe side she is hoping to get rid of it.