‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ – or so the famous song goes – but the truth is they’re anyone’s best friend if they own one. While gold will always have value, diamonds are pound-for-pound the most valuable and expensive naturally-created objects in the world. Even the diamond Marilyn Monroe was wearing when she sang the song sold for over one million dollars when it went to auction a few years ago.
The value that we attach to diamonds says a lot about us as a species. They’re just rocks that form inside larger rocks under enormous pressure; in real terms, they should have no more material value to us than a lump of coal. It’s the fact that they sparkle and shine so brightly that appeals to us. Perhaps we have more in common with magpies than we’d like to admit! Their scarcity adds to their value too; diamonds are hard to find, and diamond mines are some of the most dangerous places on Earth. None of us would relish the idea of heading into a dark pit to find a diamond of our own, so we’re happy to pay for someone else to do it for us. As with anything in the trade game, those who sell the goods control the value, and the value is sky high.
For many of us, buying a diamond ring for a romantic partner will be the most expensive jewelry purchase we ever make, but if you find yourself wincing when you hand over the money, just be glad you weren’t buying any of these rocks instead!
The De Beers Centenary Diamond
This is the diamond which most modern fictional diamonds are based on. If you’ve ever seen a fake diamond on a television show or movie, then it’s likely the inspiration for it came from the De Beers Centenary Diamond. Anyone who plays UK online casinos may have seen it before as well; the De Beers Centenary Diamond informed the design of the jewel at the heart of the popular ‘Da Vinci Diamonds’ slot game. If you’ve ever wished you could reach through the screen and grab that rock, this is what you would have been left holding. Unfortunately for you though, even if you hit the jackpot of that slot game a hundred times in a row on the maximum stake, you’d still come up way short of the cash you’d need to make this one your own.
The De Beers Diamond was found in South Africa in 1988, and then engineered into its currently distinctive heart shape slowly and carefully over the course of the following three years. When it was done, it was assessed as weighing 274 carats, and is classified as a Grade D colorless diamond; the highest grade possible. It was insured for $100m back in 1991, which is closer to $190m today. De Beers no longer owns it, and they won’t confirm who does, suggesting a very rich collector must have privately acquired it.
The Hope Diamond
If ever a diamond had an ironic name, it’s this one. Although it’s called ‘The Hope Diamond,’ this precious stone is believed to carry a curse, bringing bad luck upon anyone who owns it. No ill fate appears to have befallen the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where it’s currently under lock and key, but legends state no more than fourteen prior owners suffered strange and terrible deaths because of the curse, which is believed to originate from the fact the jewel was stolen from a sacred temple in its native India.
Whatever the truth of the tales, there’s no disputing the beauty of the rock. It’s blue to the naked eye, but if ultraviolet light is directed at it, it will glow red for a while even after the light is switched off. The effect is caused by the presence of nitrogen and boron within the diamond. That unusual property may explain its value; despite only weighing 45 carats, it’s estimated to be worth $350m.
The Cullinan I
If you want to acquire the Cullinan I, you’ll need to make a very strong offer to the Queen of England. She’s unlikely to want to part with it because it’s currently set into the head of the Sovereign’s Sceptre With Cross, which is part of the British Crown Jewels. The stone itself can still be separated and worn as a brooch, which the Queen has been known to do on occasion. Nobody ever beats the Queen for bling.
The Cullinan I was once part of a much larger diamond called the Cullinan which, when it was located in South Africa in 1905, was the largest rough diamond ever found. It was gifted to King Edward VII in 1907, and he had it cut up into various pieces, all of which are now the property of the Crown. At 530 carats the Cullinan I, also known as the Great Star of Africa, is the most valuable. If it were for sale, it would be worth in the region of $75m. The entire Cullinan diamond would have been worth $380m if it were still in one piece.
A diamond doesn’t have to be huge to be priceless. We’ve seen that already with the Hope Diamond, but the Sancy drives the point home. It’s currently on display at the world-famous Louvre Gallery in Paris, France. The unusual shield-shaped diamond is of unknown origin, although the style of the cut suggests it’s Indian.
The faintly-yellow stone has had quite a history, passing between the French and British Royal Families twice during the 16th and 17th centuries before being stolen during the French Revolution, eventually reappearing in Russia in 1828. British-American aristocrats the Astor family then held onto it for over a century, until the 4th Viscount Astor sold the 55-carat diamond to the Louvre in 1978 for $1m. Its true value is far higher, with some considering it priceless.
The 105-carat Koh-i-Noor diamond is generally believed to be the finest and most valuable diamond in the world. It used to be even larger, but after it was ceded to Queen Victoria of England after the 1849 British Conquest of Punjab, her husband Prince Albert had it cut down repeatedly because he was never satisfied with the way it shone under light.
As the stone was won in battle, it has a reputation for being cursed (much like the Hope Diamond), with the curse reserved for any male who touches it. As such, it’s only ever been worn by British female royals. It was most recently worn in the crown of Queen Mary – the mother of England’s current Queen – but is now on permanent display within the Tower of London. Representatives of India, Pakistan – and Afghanistan have all made claims in recent years that the diamond rightfully belongs to them, but the British are in no mood to give it away. That’s not surprising; it could be worth anything up to $500m, with the crown it’s set into being worth more than $10bn. That’s why it’s always good to be the King!