As the British Royal Family prepares for King Charles III’s coronation, the public is taking stock of the state’s expansive jewel collection. The British Royal Family possesses some of the world’s most precious jewels. However, one of the family’s largest and most famous gems will not be worn or held by Charles during his coronation. Here’s why royal tradition forbids the king from wearing this particular diamond.
The Koh-I-Noor Most Likely Originated In India
Among the Crown’s legendary jewelry collection sits the Koh-i-Noor diamond, also known as the Koh-i-Nûr, which translates to “Mountain of Light” in Persian. For three centuries, the world has revered the diamond for both its remarkable size and cultural significance. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the jewel’s history dates back over a thousand years to India’s alluvial diamond mines. For centuries, Hindus believed the diamond was revered by the gods. Since then, the jewel has traded hands countless times as a blood-stained spoil of war.
The first recognized written record of the gemstone comes from 1628 when Mughal ruler Shah Jahan commissioned a huge bejeweled throne, inspired by the fabled throne of Solomon. The throne took seven years to build, costing the ruler four times as much as the Taj Mahal. In addition to the Koh-i-Noor, the throne also featured the famous Timur Ruby.
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Both the Koh-i-Noor and the Timur Ruby were part of the Mughal Peacock Throne until 1739 when Persian ruler Nader Shah invaded Delhi. Shah looted the city and removed the priceless jewels from the throne, fashioning them into an armband. For 70 years, the Koh-i-Noor was passed from ruler to ruler in Central Asia. Many of its owners faced violent deaths before the diamond ultimately returned to India in the hands of Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh in 1813.
The British Empire Took The Koh-I-Noor In 1849
At this point in history, the British East India Company’s influence over Central Asia was expanding rapidly. The colonists wished to own Singh’s beloved Koh-i-Noor, thinking it would strengthen their hold over the country itself. After Singh died in 1839, the Punjabi throne along with ownership over the gemstone passed between four different rulers in four years.
In 1849, at the end of the tumultuous period, the sole heir to the throne was 10-year-old Duleep Singh. The British took advantage of this vulnerability and officials imprisoned the boy’s mother, forcing the young ruler to sign a legal document giving away his claim to sovereignty, and the Koh-i-Noor diamond along with it. As a result, the diamond officially became the property of Queen Victoria.
When the diamond went on display at the 1851 Great Exposition in London, the British public was underwhelmed. The press lamented that the diamond was dull in appearance, making it hard to distinguish from an ordinary piece of glass. In response, Prince Albert, Victoria’s husband, had the diamond recut to increase its brilliance. The process reduced the legendary gemstone’s size by half.
The Koh-I-Noor Is Displayed In The Tower Of London
There’s no disputing that the world’s fascination with the magnificent Koh-i-Noor has resulted in violent sieges, coups, and death. Because of its brutal legacy, the British believe that the diamond brings bad luck to all men who wear it. That’s why the gemstone is not fashioned into the coronation regalia.
Since the diamond became part of the Crown Jewels, only women in the royal family have worn it. Victoria wore the stone as both a brooch and a circlet. After her death, jewelers set the diamond into the Crown of Queen Alexandra in 1901. Then, in 1911, the Koh-i-Noor was fashioned into the Crown of Queen Mary.
Finally, court jewelers set the legendary diamond into the Crown of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1937. The Queen Mother wore the crown on multiple occasions throughout her lifetime. The Koh-i-Noor made its most recent public appearance in 2002 when the crown was set atop the Queen Mother’s coffin at her funeral. Today, the diamond is exhibited along with the other Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.
King Charles Will Not Wear The Koh-I-Noor
Of course, given its history, King Charles III is not expected to wear the Koh-i-Noor during his coronation. However, since there are no customs barring royal women from wearing the gemstone, there’s been plenty of speculation that Queen Consort Camilla will don the Queen Mother’s Crown instead.
Yet there is significant controversy over whether or not the stone should be in the crown’s possession at all. The governments of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan have all claimed ownership of the diamond, and all advocate for its return to them, respectively. While the British government insists the diamond was obtained legally, the stigma of the stone might keep Camilla from wearing it next year.
However, if you’re looking forward to seeing King Charles wield large diamonds, you’re still in for a treat. As a part of the traditional Coronation Regalia, Charles is expected to hold the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross. This piece includes the Cullinan I diamond—the largest colorless cut diamond in the world. Although the Koh-i-Noor may not make an appearance, the historic Coronation of Charles III and Camilla is scheduled for May 6, 2023.