Also known as: Orloff
Size: 189.62 carats
Where Did They Find It:
It’s from the Kollur Mine in India. At least that’s where it was discovered in the 2nd century AD. (This diamond is really old.) But somehow it found it’s way into a Hindu temple where it was serving as the eye of the presiding deity. Many large diamonds get their career started this way: serving as the eye of a deity.
Our story begins with the diamond being the eye of a goddess in a Hindu temple. Where was the temple? On an island in a river. Was it hard to get to? Yes, only Hindus were allowed onto the island. A French army deserter, in the 1700’s, heard about this diamond, converted to Hinduism (smart move!), and was therefore allowed on the island. You can probably guess what happened next. He stole the diamond, fled the island, and—by way of a series of gem dealers—the diamond ended up in Amsterdam, diamond capital of the world at the time. Not surprisingly, a buyer was found. And you can probably guess the buyer’s name: Orlov. But not just any Orlov. This was the fabulously wealthy Russian Count, Grigory Grigoievich Orlov. Right, that Orlov.
Why this diamond is deliciously and wickedly interesting:
Count Orlov not only had good taste in diamonds, but also in women. He set his sights high, and began a romance with Catherine Velikaya. There was just one problem. Catherine was married at the time to Peter III, Tsar of Russia. Common wisdom says if you’re going to have an affair with a Queen, you probably need to do something about her husband. Orlov and some fellow conspirators finally managed to dethrone Peter III, had him arrested, and shortly thereafter he, ‘er, conveniently died. Catherine became the famous “Catherine the Great,” Empress of All the Russias.
Things are looking good for the Count, right? Well, for awhile. The affair continued, and they even produced an adorable illegitimate child. But Orlov’s enemies, seeking to reduce his influence, informed Catherine that he’d seduced his 13 year old cousin. We don’t know if that was true or not, but Catherine apparently believed it. She dumped the count and took up with another of her favorites, Grigori Alexandrovich Potemkin. And this is where the diamond comes in. Orlov was determined to get her back, and knew she coveted his large…diamond. So he gave it to her, hoping to regain her affections.
It didn’t work. She’d moved on. But she wasn’t ungrateful. Catherine herself named the diamond after her former lover. It was now the Orlov diamond. Very sweet. And she had a special royal scepter made for it (the “Imperial Scepter”) and placed the diamond front and center atop the scepter. Even better. And she made the Imperial Scepter part of the “Russian Imperial Regalia.” Well, we should hope so. Count Orlov was still not happy, so she gave him the Marble Palace in St. Petersburg as kind of a consolation prize.
Where is it now?
It’s part of the Russian Imperial Regalia and is held in the Kremlin. Not a bad ending for a diamond that began life merely as the eye of a minor Hindu deity on an island in a river.
Why the name?
See above. Catherine the Great decided if she wasn’t going to let her affections be swayed by the gift of this diamond, she could at least name it after the man who gave it to her.
Most famous diamonds—especially very old ones—get cut into more modern specimens somewhere along their journey. Yet the Orlov retains its original Indian rose-style cut, unchanged from the 2nd century AD, when it served as the eye of the goddess in India.