• Edward VIII Cartier Onyx Pocket Watch Goes to Auction Saturday

    Cartier. A fine and rare onyx pocket watch with the Royal cypher of Edward VIIICirca 1936 Cartier. Back side of a fine and rare onyx pocket watch with the Royal cypher of Edward VIII. Circa 1936.


    This Cartier onyx pocket watch once belonged to King Edward VIII. It's design is singular among Cartier's exquisite watch designs. Scheduled for auction Saturday through Henry Aldridge and Son in Devizes, Wiltshire, this magnificent jewel could fetch upwards of $39,000.

    Wallis Simpson commissioned the watch in 1936, as a gift to King Edward VIII. The reverse side of the black onyx plaque is inscribed with the King's Royal cypher. It also includes a special engraving on the winding crown: "12/4/36 Easter."

    Easter with the King

    Time: Easter 1936.
    Location: King Edward VIIIs' residence, Fort Belvedere.
    Noted: Before he abdicated his throne.

    The king spent the holiday with his lover Wallis Simpson, who played hostess for the weekend. It is assumed that her husband Ernest, and Ernest's secret lover Mary Raffray, also stayed at the Fort with them. Wallis knew nothing of her husband's affair.

    Wallis and the King spent several years prior visiting, partying, and growing closer to each other. In fact, the year prior, Edward VIII gave Wallis a locket dated April '35. Inside the hair compartment another inscription read, "Wallis-David."

    David is the nickname Edward VIII's family and intimate friends called him. A letter accompanied the gift, a portion of which read, "This is not the kind of Easter WE want but it will be all right next year." {source}

    What Did THEY Want?

    Was everything the way THEY wanted the spring of 1936? If not, things were definitely moving in a good direction. Two months prior, Wallis's husband met with the King over lunch at York House.

    "Are you sincere? Do you intend to marry her?" the American-born shipping executive impertinently asked the King.

    "Do you really think that I would be crowned without Wallis at my side?" the King declared as he rose to his feet.

    The Vital Authentic Wallis Simpson

    "She is not beautiful and yet vital and real to watch. Her vitality invests her movements with charm or a kind of beauty." Thus wrote Anne Lindbergh about Wallis. Mrs. Lindbergh also noted the easy manner in which the King conducted himself that night. {source}

    The next month, a letter arrived for Wallis from Mary Raffray. Instead of the expected thank you note, it was an amorous letter written to none other than her husband. Oops!

    The American socialite confronted her husband, who promptly confessed and moved out of their home. That May, King Edward VIII introduced Wallis to Prime Minster Baldwin as his future bride.

    They'd Never Let You

    "They'd never let you," she said. {source}

    She was right. They didn't let him. So he gave up his throne, allowed his family to exile him to Paris, and married the woman of his dreams.  Stripped of his role, his rank, and pretty much his British citizenship, he left it all behind for love.

    Over the next 35 years, Wallis and David held the new title of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. They spent much of their time and allotted funds designing beautiful jewels they commissioned with Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Harry Winston.

    Wallis's favorite designer at Cartier was Jeanne Touissant, who designed all of Wallis's signature panther jewels.

    Cartier Onyx

    Jeanne Touissant, one of Cartier's most distinguished designers in the 1930s, loved to use onyx. Cartier onyx features prominently in their panther series, beginning with the diamond and onyx panther Louis Cartier placed between two cypress trees on an onyx box.

    Louis made this exquisite jeweled box for this remarkable woman who captured his heart and won his respect. Jeanne Toussaint became director of jewelry at Cartier in 1933.

    Wallis Simpson turned to Jeanne Toussaint to design all of her Big Cat jewels, particularly the Cartier onyx panthers. She may also have had a hand in the design of this unique rectangular black onyx pocket watch, made on spec for Wallis's beloved David the year before they were married.

    Cartier Onyx Pocket Watch

    The first time this Cartier onyx pocket watch went up for public auction was in 1987, during Sotheby's sale called Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor. One of roughly 250 pieces of jewels, the watch sold to an unknown seller for an unknown price.

    Perhaps it was purchased by Alexander Acevedo, the Madison Avenue art dealer who is credited as "the most active and successful bidder in New York." {source}

    The entire sale brought in over $50 million, which was donated to the Pasteur Institute in Paris. The Duke and Duchess planned this donation prior to his death in 1972, "to show their appreciation to the people of France," who welcomed them to their second home after they were exiled from England. {source}

    The last time this remarkable time piece came up for sale was in 2008, when Bonham's listed it as Lot 86 in their Fine Watches and Wristwatches Sale on June 11, 2008.

    Lot 86: "Cartier. A fine and rare onyx pocket watch with the Royal cipher of Edward VIII. Circa 1936."

    A special note accompanied the jewel, which read, "The Prince of Wales, who had succeeded his father as King on 20th January, 1936, spent Easter that year with Mrs Simpson at Fort Belvedere."

    Bonham's listed an estimated price of $13,000 - $20,000. Unfortunately for the seller, the lot did not sell during that day.

    Bid on Edward VIII's Cartier Onyx Pocket Watch Today

    Saturday, interested collectors have another chance to bid on the Cartier onyx pocket watch. The watch, which comes with a suede Cartier pouchette, is listed in the Henry Aldrige & Son catalog with a pre-sale estimate of $32,826 to $39,391.

    That is an appreciable increase in worth over the past 10 years. Whose collection will this timeless timepiece grace next?

  • The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond

    526px-BobHopeElizabethTaylorUSOMay1986 Elizabeth Taylor wears The Krupp Diamond in 1986. Photo credit: PH1 Blakemore, USO. Photo has been cropped and is in the public domain.


    The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond weighs a jaw-dropping 33.19 carats. You can see it there in the photo, shimmering on Ms. Taylor's left ring finger. It must rise three-quarters of an inch off the base of her finger!

    The Krupps from Germany

    Richard Burton bought the now-famous ring for his wife for $305,000 on May 16, 1968. It had gone under the hammer at Sotheby's New York as part of the Vera Krupp estate auction.

    Vera Krupp had been married to Alfried Krupp, head of one of the most well-known German munitions companies. Simply called Krupp, the company has been most widely known for its nefarious involvement in Jewish labor camps during World War II.

    The Krupps purchased the diamond from Harry Winston, whose brilliant platinum setting demonstrates perfectly the mesmerizing effects of what was then known as the Krupp Diamond. After acquiring the gargantuan diamond, Elizabeth Taylor followed the lead of Ms. Krupp and wore the ring almost daily for the remainder of her long life.

    Elizabeth Taylor's Favorite Diamond

    It became such a vital part of Ms. Taylor's signature style that it was renamed in 2011 the Elizabeth Taylor Diamond. Ms. Taylor, during an interview with Larry King in 2003, eluded to what she called the "perfect poetic irony" of a Jewish girl now owning the ring that once defined a woman who married a known Nazi war criminal who was convicted of murdering hundreds of thousands of Jews during World War II.

    Larry King joked about the ring being cursed, but it is clear in the transcript that Ms. Taylor entertains no such superstitions about the stone. In her book, My Love Affair with Jewelry, she writes of the diamond in euphoric, worshipful terms:

    "When I look into it, the deep Asscher cuts--which are so complete and ravishing--are like steps that lead into eternity and beyond. ... To me, the Krupp says, I want to share my chemistry--my magic--with you."

    Christie's Legendary Jewels Sale

    Never once does she appear to fear the stone, though the life she lived was definitely marked with its fair share of troubles. Liz Taylor's life was a battlefield, particularly in the area of love. She suffered numerous health issues and divorced eight times. She claims to have nearly died at least four times. Her eighth marriage and her fifth experience with death were her last on both counts.

    On March 23, 2011, the world lost one of its shining stars when Ms. Taylor succumbed to congestive heart failure after a long seven-year battle with heart disease. Nine months later, in one of the most legendary sales in auction history, Christie's placed the Elizabeth Taylor Diamond (formerly known as the Krupp Diamond) on the auction block for the second time.

    Experts at Christie's set a materials estimate of between $2.5 and $3.5 million for the Elizabeth Taylor Diamond. According to reports written for Forbes and for Korea Joongang Daily, the diamond ring was purchased for a staggering $8.8 million by a man named Daniel Pang. All told, this sale fetched a staggering $115.9 million, with a second sale of her lesser known jewels realizing $21.3 million, bringing the total for her entire collection to over $137 million.

    The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond in Korea

    Mr. Pang purchased the historic diamond on behalf of a major Korean retail group called E-Land. The South Korean company owns a collection of construction firms, apparel companies, retail malls, hotels, restaurants, and theme parks.

    E-Land's most celebrated park, located in Daegu, is fashioned as a European-style theme park centered around the Woobang Tower. Known as E-World, this theme park was earmarked to host the fabled Elizabeth Taylor Diamond in one of its exhibition halls.*

    Though the two dames that once owned this magnificent diamond are gone from the earth, their legacy of treasuring nature's most magnificent gifts remains alive and strong. Diamonds truly are eternal, and they carry their stories with them wherever they go.

    ~Angela Magnotti Andrews, Staff Writer

    *Attempts to contact E-World for a statement were met without success. If anyone has visited E-World in Daegu and seen the Elizabeth Taylor Diamond on display, please email me to let me know (


    1. Christie's. "The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor: Jewelry (II)." Posted December 14, 2011.
    2. Christie's. "The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor: The Legendary Jewels, Evening Sale (I)."
    3. Christie's. "The Elizabeth Taylor Diamond Diamond Ring," Lot 80, Sale 2623, posted December 2011.
    4. CNN Larry King Live. "Interview with Dame Elizabeth Taylor." Aired February 3, 2003.
    5. "E-Land pays $8.8 million for 33-carat Elizabeth Taylor diamond ring," Korea Joongang Daily, December 16, 2011.
    6. "E-World...the happiest place in Daegu!" Sneakers, Socks, and Soju blog. Posted June 12, 2013.
    7. "The Krupp Diamond." InStyle, photo gallery, #6 of 10. Accessed February 25, 2015.
  • Nina Dyer's Black Pearl Necklace

    Black pearls comprise one of the world's most celebrated jewels, Nina Dyer's Black Pearl Necklace. Celebrate the allure and mystery of Black Pearls with this Tahitian Black Pearl and Diamond Cocktail Ring. Photo ©2015 EraGem Jewelry. Black pearls comprise one of the world's most celebrated jewels, Nina Dyer's Black Pearl Necklace. Celebrate the allure and mystery of Black Pearls with this Tahitian Black Pearl and Diamond Cocktail Ring. Photo ©2015 EraGem Jewelry.

    Nina Dyer's Black Pearl Necklace is among the world's most important black pearl jewels {Christie's 1997}. It was commissioned by Baron Heinrich von Thyssen for his then-wife, a former model named Nina Dyer.

    Fashioned by Cartier circa 1955, the necklace features an astounding 151 natural black pearls mounted in three strands with a diamond clasp. The largest strand features 53 pearls weighing a total of 979.52 grains {3}. The smaller strands feature 49 pearls each, weighing in at 644.72 grains and 787.44 grains {4}.

    On May 1, 1969, four years after Ms. Dyer tragically killed herself at the age of 35, Christie's brought the necklace to the attention of some of jewelry world's most elite collectors and dealers. It was sold to an undisclosed buyer for 580,000 Swiss Francs ($607,648 in today's dollars) {1}.

    For nearly thirty years, Nina Dyer's Black Pearl Necklace remained free from public scrutiny. That is until, in 1997, again under the hammer at Christie's in Geneva, the magnificent necklace again made headlines with a realized price of $913,320.

    After making this small splash in the news, one of the world's most celebrated jewels has once again receded below the radar. Perhaps its on display in the library of a wealthy businessman. Or perhaps the European elite have seen it 'round the neck of a princess or countess at a charity ball.

    Wherever it may be, I'm certain it's enchanting those around it. If you wish to be enchanted by the mystery of the black pearl, please allow us the opportunity to introduce you to our collection of Tahitian black pear jewels.


    1. Christie's. "Lot 88/Sale 1237: A Superb Three-Strand Black Pearl Necklace." November 17, 1997.
    2. Jennifer. "The Black Panther Queen," Jennifer Fabulous Blog, August 14, 2012.
    3. Nadelhoffer, Hans. Cartier: Jewelers Extraordinary. New York: Henry N. Abrams, Inc., 1984.
    4. Veysey, Arthur. "Love, Tragedy, and a Fabulous Collection of Jewels," Chicago Tribune, No. 117, April 27, 1969, Features p. 1.
  • Nina Dyer's Jewels Fetch $2.9 Million in 1969

    This pink and blue sapphire panther cocktail ring evokes the mystique of Nina Dyer's Cartier Panther jewels. Nina's panthers were embodied in white diamonds with blue sapphire spots and green garnet eyes. Photo ©2015 EraGem Jewelry. This pink and blue sapphire panther cocktail ring evokes the mystique of Nina Dyer's Cartier Panther jewels. Nina's panthers were embodied in white diamonds with blue sapphire spots and green garnet eyes. Photo ©2015 EraGem Jewelry.


    Nina Dyer's Jewels went under the block on Thursday, May 1, 1969, during Christie's first jewelry auction in Geneva, Switzerland. According to Hans Nadelhoffer, as quoted in The New York Times (1985), Geneva was the 1960s hot spot for jewelry. The Swiss banks were booming, and Geneva's tax laws favored a seller's market, with few tariffs applied to jewelry sales {4}.

    Christie's Auctions Nina Dyer's Jewels

    Christie's opened their offices in Geneva in the summer of 1968, and six months later, auctioned the jewelry collection of Nina Dyer. This collection carried an estimated value of $1.25 million {4; 6}. On the day of the auction, according Alan McGregor, who wrote in 1969 for the Chicago Times, eight hundred of "the world's richest people on earth" packed themselves into the ballroom of the Geneva Hotel Richmond {3}.

    McGregor reported that the sale featured "some 40 lots," most of which belonged to Ms. Nina Dyer. Her collection had been amassed over the course of approximately five years and two divorce settlements. Her first marriage took place in 1954. Her husband, the Baron Hans Heinrich 'Heini' von Thyssen-Bornemiza made his millions in the German steel industry.

    Baron von Thyssen

    According to Arthur Vevsey, reporter for the Chicago Tribune in 1969, in Germany, the Thyssen family's wealth came second only to the illustrious Krupp dynasty {7}. Nina became the Baron's mistress when she was 17 years old {2}. It seems that one of von Thyssen's favorite gestures was to give lavish gifts to those who captured his heart.

    As his mistress, she received two sports cars with gold-plated keys, a Caribbean island, and at least one baby black panther {2}. After several months together, the Baron left his wife and married the young and ambitious model. Ten months later, he divorced her after catching her with another man. As a settlement, Nina received nearly $3 million in cash, almost $400,000 in jewelry, and a chateau {2}.

    Nina Dyer's Cats

    By this time, she had acquired a second black panther. Her cats were everything to her. She took them on trips, during which they would destroy her hotel rooms {2}. She was said to have developed a taste for panther-skin clothing and became well known for her signature panther jewels {5}.

    Most of these pieces were made by Cartier, by commission from Nina Dyer's second husband, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan. The prince married Nina on August 27, 1957. The first piece he commissioned was made that same year--a Panther Cliquet Pin.

    This stick pin features a geometrical diamond clasp on one end and a white diamond panther on the other end. The white diamond-bodied panther lifts itself languidly on its front legs. Blue sapphire "spots" cover its entire body, and its green garnet eyes shine brightly from its alert face {1}.

    In 1958, the prince asked Cartier to fashion two more pieces, a two-headed panther bangle and a crouching panther clip brooch. Both were fashioned from the same white diamonds and blue sapphires, with green garnets for eyes and onyx for the noses {1}.

    During the Christie's auction in 1969, these panther pieces were purchased by Cartier and are now kept in Cartier's vast historical jewelry collection.

    Top Dealers Purchase Ms. Dyer's Jewels


    According to Mr. McGregor, dealers from New York, London, and Paris attended the auction on behalf of their clients. The majority of Ms. Dyer's pearls, emeralds, and diamonds were purchased by these esteemed dealers. One of these was a diamond solitaire ring crafted for Nina by Harry Winston in New York. Mr. Winston purchased the ring during the auction for $276,000 {3}.

    At the end of the sale, Nina Dyer's jewels fetched a staggering $2.96 million, more than twice the initial estimates. In her will, Ms. Dyer stipulated that she wished the proceeds from the sale of her jewels to benefit animals in Africa, Asia, and Europe {7}.

    Unfortunately, Swiss law precluded the fulfillment of her last wishes. As a resident of Switzerland, her lawyers were forced to place an advertisement for living relatives. According to Arthur Veysey, fifty potential claimants answered the ad.

    Only one appeared to have a viable claim, a man named William Aldrich. His elaborate story of a double-crossing wife (Nina's mother), failed to convince the courts in November 1967. However, by 1969, it appears as though his appeals granted him access to the fortune of his alleged late daughter. In the Montreal Gazette a report dated February 26, 1969, states that Mr. Aldrich, after 3-1/2 years was legally declared Nina Dyer's father {6}.

    In the same report, the writer states that in honor of Ms. Dyer's final bequest, Christie's staged a champagne reception two nights before the auction. Tickets cost $7.50, and visitors were able to view Ms. Dyer's collection of jewels while sipping champagne and mingling with Geneva's elite patrons. Proceeds went directly to the World Wildlife fund {6}.


    1. Cartier. "The Cartier Collection: Panther." Accessed February 23, 2015.
    2. Jennifer. "The Black Panther Queen," Jennifer Fabulous Blog, August 14, 2012.
    3. McGregor, Alan. "Single Diamond Ring Brings $276,000 at Auction in Geneva," Chicago Tribune, No. 22, May 2, 1969, p. 1.
    4. Reif, Rita. "Auctions." The New York Times, July 5, 1985.
    5. Ross-Simons. "Celebrity Jewelry: Famous Jewels." Accessed February 23, 2015.
    6. "Suzy Knickerbocker," The Montreal Gazette, February 26, 1969, p. 10.
    7. Veysey, Arthur. "Love, Tragedy, and a Fabulous Collection of Jewels," Chicago Tribune, No. 117, April 27, 1969, Features p. 1.
  • The Krupp Diamond Legacy

    Big Bertha in action. This was one of Krupp's first large cannons. Photo credit. Big Bertha in action. This was one of Krupp's first large cannons. Photo credit.

    The Krupp Diamond, most famously owned by Elizabeth Taylor, swirls with stories of war crimes, marital neglect, armed robbery, and secret compartments. In this early history you'll read of the founding of the Krupp family and the acquisition of the Krupp Diamond by its first owner.

    Vera Krupp was married to Alfried Krupp in 1952. Three years prior, in 1948, Alfried Krupp was convicted in Nuremberg for crimes against peace and humanity for his abhorrent actions during World War II. The Krupp Legacy begins in the 1600s in Essen, Germany.

    German Industrialists

    Keen merchants and industrialists, the Krupps were acute business women* and men who came to dominate the armaments industry in western Germany throughout the 20th century {1}. Their fabrication of guns and armor began under the keen watch of Catherina Krupp-Huyssen in the early 1600s {1}. Catherina's brother, Anton Krupp, sold gun-barrels, while other members of the family were believed to have sold cannon balls and bayonets during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) {1}.

    In 1737, Friedrich Jodokus Krupp, a grocer and cattle-dealer, married up. With his heiress wife's money, he established the House of Krupp at the center of Essen, Germany {1}. A widower in his forties, Friedrich married his distant relation, Helene Amalie, several years later. It was Helene, a widow after only six years of marriage to Friedrich, who acquired shares in the family's first coal mines and purchased an iron-fulling mill and an iron-foundry.

    The Krupp dynasty began manufacturing (as opposed to brokering) armaments as early as 1843, under the direction of Alfred Krupp, great-grandson of  Helene Amalie {1}. The dread guns of Krupp brought triumph for Prussia in the 1870s, after which it seemed the whole world "was scrambling to buy Krupp..." {1, pp. 83 & 93}.

    In 1877, Alfred ensured that Krupp guns served on both sides of the Russo-Turkish {1, p. 96}. In the 1890s, his son and heir, strongly leading Krupp into the 20th century, equipped Germany's new navy {1, p. 106).

    Bertha Krupp

    After Alfred's death in 1902, the House of Krupp, reported to be worth more than 20 million pounds, passed to Fritz's 16-year-old daughter Bertha {1}. In 1906, the young heiress married Gustav von Bohlen und Halbach, who took the Krupp name for his own.

    Under Gustav's direction, the Krupp family continued to monopolize the gun industry in Germany, their steel dominating the German battlefields of  World War I. During the three years following the First World War, Germany and the House of Krupp were as entwined as braided rope. It should come as no surprise that in these years of peace the House of Krupp was urged to manufacture such non-militant products as false teeth, garbage cans, and trains {1}.

    Although the official record relates that Krupp refrained from manufacturing armaments between 1918 and 1936, Peter Batty, in his definitive biography, The House of Krupp, writes of an article written by Gustav Krupp in 1942 {p. 144}. In this article, Gustav reports that while the Krupp weapons of World War I were being destroyed, his factories were manufacturing such products as "padlocks, milk-cans, [and] cash registers" {p. 145}.

    Much to the chagrin of his heir, Gustav revealed that these benign products served as cover for Krupp's allegiance to the new Kaiser, Adolf Hitler. Rather than keeping the agreements made under the Treaty of Versailles, he assured Herr Hitler that Krupp would "begin the rearmament of the German people without any gaps of experience..." {p. 145}.

    Alfried Krupp

    In 1907, Bertha Krupp gave birth to the sole heir of the Krupp dynasty. Raised under the rule of Germany's most notorious Kaiser, Alfried would serve the German Reich without hesitation. It is not known whether Alfried was aware of his father's disregard for the Treaty of Versailles, but Batty reminds us of Alfried's loyalty to his family and to Germany {p. 173}.

    By the time World War II broke out, Alfried was leading Krupp in his father's stead. Peter Batty calls him "far too essential to Hitler and his generals for him to be allowed to go off to fight" {p. 175}. Just how essential was he?

    According to an official military document prepared by the German military in 1942, Krupp supplied to the Germans a host of tanks and U-boats; anti-tank, anti-aircraft, self-propelled guns; as well as rocket-assisted and armor-piercing shells {1}. And that is the short list of weapons and armor supplied to Germany's troops during the hellish reign of the Fuhrer.

    Not only did Krupp supply these weapons of mass destruction, but he also seems to have initiated the detestable labor camps where countless human beings lost their lives. According to Jeff Burbank, who wrote Las Vegas Babylon; Tales of Glitter, Glamour and Greed, Alfried established an outsourced company to oversee the labor camps.

    This company forced 100,000 concentration camp detainees to make munitions and build factories for Krupp throughout Germany and German-occupied states. Burbank states that the same Krupp company managed the concentration camp Bushmannshof, which housed the infants and toddlers of the forced laborers.

    This man's second wife, Vera, would be the very first woman to wear the Krupp Diamond. The diamond was purchased at some point between 1952 and 1955, and Vera Krupp favored the stone until her death in 1967.

    *To read the early portion of Peter Batty's book, The House of Krupp, is to see the German tradition of women and men reigning as equals in business and household affairs. On pages 30-31, we read of Helene Amalie Krupp, who "proceeded to bring up her two small children while at the same time improving and expanding the family business."


    1. Batty, Peter. The House of Krupp. New York: Stein and Day, 1966.
    2. "Krupp - Steel and Diamonds," World's Luxury GuideApril 25, 2012.
    3. Simkin, John. "Alfried Krupp." Spartacus Educational. Accessed January 10, 2015.
    4. Watson, Peter. The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution and the Twentieth Century. London: Simon & Schuster, 2010.
    5. World War II Database. "Alfried Krupp." Accessed January 10, 2015.
  • The Taj Mahal Diamond

    Western View of the Taj Mahal. This is the view Shah Jahan would have had from Agra Fort. Photo taken by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, 2012. Used with permission. Western View of the Taj Mahal. This is the view Shah Jahan would have had from Agra Fort. Photo taken by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, 2012. Used with permission.

    Tracing the Taj Mahal Diamond through history is a fascinating endeavor. It was created by Mughal court jewelers for Emperor Jahangir Shah and his beloved wife, Nur Jahan. After his death, the emperor's son, Shah Jahan, ascended the throne and took possession of the heart-shaped pendant.

    This gorgeous jewel* features a table-cut white diamond of unknown size carved into the shape of a heart. Inscribed upon the face of the diamond, in Persian, is a declaration of Nur Jahan's position as Lady of the Master. The numbers inscribed on the6 stone mark the final year of her claim to that title.

    Shortly after the diamond was created, Nur Jahan's husband died. Her stepson Shah Jahan seized the throne by force.  The jewel became his possession, and it is rumored that he passed it along to his most beloved wife, Mumtal-I-Mahal.

    Mumtal-I-Mahal's Death

    Here begins Act II of the Taj Mahal Diamond's history. (Read Act I here.) Three years after becoming empress of the Mughal Empire, in the year 1631, Mumtal-I-Mahal died in childbirth.  The court chroniclers recorded the death of their queen soon after she gave birth to a daughter:

    When she brought out the last single pearl,
    She emptied her body like an oyster. 
    {5, p. 1}

    Diana Preston, in her book Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire, details the legendary story:
    "In a dusty fortress on the hot, airless plateau of the Deccan in central India...a severe pain gripped [Mumtal-I-Mahaz's] abdomen. Doctors were hastily summoned, but despite their efforts, the 38-year-old mother's fourteenth pregnancy was going severely wrong. Weak through loss of blood, she whispered to her distraught husband of their everlasting love and begged him not to marry again. Her final request was that he should build her a mausoleum resembling paradise on earth, just as she had seen in her dreams" {p. 1}.

    Shah Jahan would do as she asked, but not before he locked himself away in his rooms, refusing food for eight days {1}. Even after he agreed to take food, he remained in seclusion for two years {5}. She writes that his hair turned completely white in one night and that he turned his back on riches and pleasures. He donned a simple white mourning costume and devoted the next 20 years of his life to fulfilling his wife's deathbed wish {5}.

    The Taj Mahal

    Unesco calls the Taj Mahal "the jewel of Muslim art in India" {6}. Diana Preston calls it "the world's most famous memorial to love" {p. 1}. A fusion of Persian, Muslim, and India design elements, the Taj Mahal casts a spell on all who gaze upon it.

    Eleanor Roosevelt, who saw its magnificent just after the sun went down, wrote, "I held my breath unable to speak in the face of so much beauty...this is a beauty that enters the soul" {5, p. 3}.

    With the treasury of the entire Mughal Empire at his disposal, Shah Jahan poured every ounce of his grief and passion into ensuring the intricate beauty of his wife's resting place. Made entirely of white marble and rose sandstone, the Taj Mahal features exquisite mosaic work in precious and semi-precious stones. The History Channel relates that the colorful display was fashioned out of jade, lapis lazuli, turquoise, amethyst, and other crystals in the pietra dura technique.

    An Empire in Decline

    Having thrown everything into the creation of this paradise on earth, Shah Jahan, indifferent to his kingly duties, depleted the kingdom's stores. After 22 years of neglect, the empire was heading toward decline.

    In 1653, the remains of Mumtal-I-Mahal were finally interred in her final resting place. Four years later, Shah Jahan fell ill, and his son Dara, the favored son of Mumtal-I-Mahal, took over his father's duties. Dara's three brothers, Aurangzeb, Shuja, and Murad, amassed an army which defeated Dara's military delegation.

    They declared their father incompetent to rule, and Aurangzeb took to the throne. He ordered his father's arrest and had him detained in Agra Fort. From here, the former ruler had a pristine view of the western face of the Taj Mahal. It is said that he spent most of his time staring at it until he died in 1666 {7}.

    The Taj Mahal Diamond

    During this time, the Taj Mahal Diamond remained in the Mughal treasury. It was passed from ruler to ruler until 1739. In May of that year, Nadir Shah, ruler of Persia, swept in and defeated the Mughal armies.

    The treasury of India's Mughal emperors, worth an estimated value of 700 million rupees {3}, was handed over to Nadir Shah. Chests of gemstones, including some of the world's most famous diamonds (Koh-i-Noor and Darya-i-Noor), the Peackock throne of Shah Jahan, and likely the Nur Jahan Pendant (now called the Taj Majal Diamond), were carried into Persia.

    In 1749, Nadir Shah was assassinated by those who were charged to protect him, and the Persian treasury was dispersed among these former bodyguards {3}. During this chaotic time, the whereabouts of the Taj Mahal Diamond are undocumented.

    One theory suggests the possibility that the diamond was not among the jewels taken by Nadir Shah {3}. Another poses the possibility that the jewel was recovered through acts of torture perpetrated by Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar. Still others propose that the jewel may have been recovered in an attack on Nadir Shah's convoy as it made its way through Indian lands.

    While it's method of recovery remains a mystery, the Taj Mahal Diamond was returned at some point to the Mughals, having been documented in the city of Delhi as part of the collection belonging to the Mughal Empire's final ruler, Bahadur Zafar Shah II.

    The Taj Mahal Diamond in Britain

    In 1857, British forces captured the city of Delhi. The emperor was placed under arrest, and the jewels of the Mughal treasury were cataloged for transport to England. Since the Taj Mahal Diamond did not find its way into the official registry, it's believed that the stone was pilfered by one of the British soldiers, who smuggled the jewel into Britain for his own purposes {3}.

    At some point, Cartier acquired the Mughal relic and fashioned for it a beautiful new setting of gold and rubies. In their book, Furious Love, Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger detail the story of how Elizabeth Taylor fell in love with the Taj Mahal Diamond necklace:
    "...during a layover at Kennedy Airport. Cartier accommodated the Burtons by bringing a king's ransom of jewelry to the airport for them to consider while they waited for the next plane. The Taj Mahal necklace was among the selections" {p. 31}.

    Burton purchased the glorious jewel as an early birthday gift for Elizabeth. She was overjoyed and wore it many times throughout her life. Thus begins Act III of the Taj Mahal Diamond's history.


    *Press photos of this gem are no longer widely available. As such, this writer has created a Pinterest board with a number of photos of the Taj Mahal Diamond for your viewing pleasure.


    1. Christie's. "Lot 56: The Taj Mahal an Indian Diamond and Jade Pendant Necklace Ruby and Gold Chain, by Cartier." Accessed January 4, 2015.
    2. "Deconstructing History: Taj Mahal." Accessed January 4, 2015.
    3. Internet Stones. "The Taj Mahal/Nur Jahan Diamond." Accessed January 4, 2015.
    4. Kashner, Sam and Nancy Schoenberger. Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor * Richard Burton, the Marriage of the Century. London: JR Books, 2010.
    5. Preston, Diana. Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire. New York: Walker Publishing Company, 2007.
    6. Savion Travel Services. "Shah Jahan," Taj Mahal. Accessed January 4, 2015.
    7. Unesco. "Taj Mahal." Accessed January 4, 2015.
  • Early History of the Taj Mahal Diamond

    Idealized Portrait of the Mughal Empress Nur Jahan (1577-1645), circa 1725-1750, wife of Jahangir Idealized Portrait of the Mughal Empress Nur Jahan (1577-1645), circa 1725-1750, wife of Jahangir. This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art.

    The Taj Mahal Diamond is a jewel of great renown*. It features a heart-shaped, table-cut diamond, inscribed in Persian. This jewel is set into a larger heart-shaped white jadeite mount. The jadeite heart is decorated with gold, rubies, and diamonds. It was originally fashioned to hang from a silk cord around the neck of a Mughal queen.

    Three inscriptions on the face of the diamond translate as follows: Nur Jahan Baygum-e Padshah; 23; and 1037 {1}. This lettering offers strong clues to the early history of the Taj Mahal Diamond.

    The Empress Nur Jahan

    The jewel was the creation of the court of Emperor Jahangir Shah, who ruled the Mughal Empire in India from 1605 to 1627. The inscription reading 1037 is believed to be a date on the Islamic calendar, which correlates to 1627 AD.

    Some experts believe the jewel was commissioned as a love token from Emperor Jahangir to his favored wife, Nur Jahan. However, others suggest that Nur Jahan, who held court in place of her opium-addicted husband, may have ordered the jewel designed for herself.

    The 23 is thought by experts to mark the 23rd year of the Emperor's reign. This proved to be the final year of the Emperor's reign. If Empress Nur Jahan had a chance to wear the spectacular jewel, it was not documented.

    A Fierce Competition

    Emperor Jahangir died in October, and by November 1627, his son, Shahryar, had ascended the throne at Lahore, at the bequest of Empress Nur Jahan. The former Empress was both stepmother and mother-in-law to the new monarch.

    Together, they kept secret Jahangir Shah's death for several weeks, hoping to buy the support of the ruling nobles. They managed to maintain rule in Lahore for nearly two months. Some historians propose that the Empress could have worn the Taj Mahal diamond during her son-in-law's brief reign on the throne. However, it is likely she would have deemed such an opulent display too risky, given the army bearing down on them to seize the throne.

    This army moved at the command of Asaf Khan, Empress Nur Jahan's brother. Around the same time his sister was claiming the throne for her chosen descendant, Asaf was making a similar declaration in Agra.

    Though he supported Shah Jahan, he first declared Dawar Baksh (Jahangir's grandson) the new ruler of the Mughal Empire at Agra. According to the writers at Internet Stones, Asaf Khan did so in order to tactically secure the throne for Shah Jahan.

    Asaf's military efforts in Lahore proved successful. He ordered the defeated Mughal to stand before Dawar Baksh, who ordered him sent to prison. Shortly afterwards, on January 8, 1628, Shah Jahan took his place upon the throne in Lahore, securing his rule over the entire kingdom.

    First Acts of the New Emperor

    One of his first acts as emperor was to order Asaf Khan to put to death all contenders for the throne. At least five young men, including Shahryar and Dawar Baksh, were executed. All of the fallen were either cousin or brother to the new emperor.

    In his role as prime minister, Asaf Khan intervened on behalf of his sister. Rather than executing Nur Jahan for her alliance with Shariyar, Emperor Jahan granted her release from prison with an annual pension and the right to live in her palace in Lahore until her death.

    During this time, the vast treasury of the Mughal Empire transferred to the new emperor. The historical records available to modern-day scholars do not mention the heart-shaped diamond pendant. Scholars are certain that the jewel was acquired at some point during this transition by Shah Jahan's most favored wife, Mumtaz-I-Mahal.


    Mumtaz-I-Mahal was born Arjumand Banu Begum. She married Shah Jahan in 1612, when he was addressed formally as Prince Khurram. {2; 1}. In their text Taj Mahal, Mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal, Drs. Zahoor and Haq explain the Mughal tradition for noble and royal women of the court to change their names when significant events occurred in their lives.

    When she married the future emperor, Arjumand became "Chosen One of the Palace," which is what Mumtaz-I-Mahal means {2}. Her name is apt, as she was Shah Jahan's favorite among his three wives. Christie's reports that she was reputed to be friend and adviser to the king, closer than any other to him. Though the Mughal Dynasty was a patriarch, it seems the women enjoyed an equanimity in rule.

    If Shah Jahan gifted the Taj Mahal diamond to his bride as an act of devotion and honor after their ascension to the throne, this would come as no surprise. For this to take place, the jewel would have transferred directly from the Mughal treasury. One theory is that the court jewelers did not have time to deliver the jewel to the deceased emperor or to his wife {3}.

    If the jewel had been delivered prior to the Emperor's death, it may have been cataloged as part of the Empress's official jewelry collection. The collection would have been immediately relinquished to Shah Jahan upon his ascension to the throne {3}.

    Because no mention is made of such an acquisition by Shah Jahan, a third possibility presents itself. Mumtaz, the favored wife of Shah Jahan, was niece Nur Jahan, the favored wife of the dead emperor. However improbable, it is possible that Nur Jahan gave the jewel directly to her niece, perhaps as a token of affection and/or loyalty, before she returned to her castle in Lahore {3}.

    Scholars refer to the diamond as the Nur Jahan diamond during this period of its history. In the second act of its life, the jewel takes on the stories of its new owner, thereby acquiring the modern distinction as the Taj Mahal Diamond.


    *Press photos of this gem are no longer widely available. As such, this writer has created a Pinterest board with a number of photos of the Taj Mahal Diamond for your viewing pleasure.


    1. Christie's. "Lot 56: The Taj Mahal An Indian Diamond and Jade Pendant Necklace Ruby and Gold Chain, by Cartier." Accessed January 2, 2015.
    2. "Deconstructing History: Taj Mahal." Accessed January 4, 2015.
    3. Internet Stones. "The Taj Mahal/Nur Jahan Diamond." Accessed January 4, 2015.
    4. Zahoor, A., Dr. and Dr. Z. Haq. "Taj Mahal, Agra, India," IsalamiCity: 1990, 1997.
  • Is This Stunning Vintage Cartier Ring One and the Same As Mary-Kate Olsen's Engagement Ring?

    Vintage Cartier Ring. Copyright 2014 Sotheby's. Vintage Cartier Ring. Copyright 2014 Sotheby's.

    Sotheby's Important Jewels sales occur several times a year, drawing from among the world's most elite collectors. The most recent of these high-end sales took place on February 6, 2014, in New York City. Leading the sale was an exquisite pair of platinum and diamond pendant ear-clips by David Webb, which sold for $118,750.

    vintage engagement rings

    Curators of the sale set out to present a sampling of the evolution of 20th century jewelry, which included offerings from the 1920s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, with an emphasis on signed pieces from renowned European and American jewelers. Among these precious offerings, Sotheby's sold the pictured vintage diamond and sapphire ring, estimating a sales price of $40,000-60,000.

    Crafted as a stylized flower made entirely of 18k gold, this gorgeous jewel was made in 1953 by Cartier. At the center rests a 4-carat Old Euro Cut diamond surrounded by 16 calibre-cut sapphires. The petals are etched in gold and set with approximately 1.50 carats of single-cut diamonds. This is just the kind of piece one would expect to see on the finger of the Duchess of Windsor in the 1950s.


    Today, a similar ring graces Mary-Kate Olsen's left ring finger. Several reporters speculate that this is the very ring that Ms. Olsen wears to symbolize her commitment to marry her lover, Olivier Sarkozy. The timing certainly works out. Sotheby's sold this Cartier beauty on February 6, 2014, for $81,500, and Ms. Olsen was seen wearing her bold engagement ring for the first time on March 3, 2014, during Fashion Week in New York.

    However, Sotheby's is not about to confirm or deny such a fantastic story. Therefore, it is extreme speculation to pair these two important jewelry events together.

    How cool would that be, though? To have Mary-Kate Olsen sporting a bonafide vintage engagement ring from 1950s Cartier purchased as an estate piece?

  • Celebrity Vintage Jewelry: Mrs. T.S. Eliot's Jewelry Collection Brought in over $10 million for "The Old Possum's Practical Trust"

    Photo © 2013 Christie's Images Ltd. Used with permission. Carved Opal Pendant by Rene Lalique, c. 1900. Photo © 2013 Christie's Images Ltd. Used with permission.

    In a sale that brought in over $10 million for The Old Possum's Practical Trust, this magnificent opal and glass pendant earned secured the leading role at Christie's auction, A Life's Devotion: The Collection of the Late Mrs T.S. Eliot, which took place in London on November 20, 2013. Commanding a sales price of $154,913, more than twice its estimated price, this demure pendant of opal, gold, and opalescent glass begs the question: How?

    And How?

    First, the pendant is a fine specimen of Art Nouveau jewelry fashioned by one of the founding fathers of the period, René Lalique. Pieces made by Lalique typically fetch anywhere between $6,000 and $60,000 at Christie's auctions. Indeed, this piece was estimated to bring in $48,300-$64,400.

    Shop Vintage Jewelry

    Second, as stated above, all proceeds from the sale of Mrs. T.S. Eliot's jewelry and portrait miniature collection were bequeathed to The Old Possum's Practical Trust, a charity founded by the late Mrs. Eliot in 1965. According to their website, the Trust declares the following mission: "To manage the funds at its disposal to support literary, artistic, musical and theatrical projects and organisations" {cited}. Historically, charity auctions have a tendency to bring in higher returns, especially for those charities promoting the arts.

    Finally, the piece has what experts call a provenance of importance. This stunning Art Nouveau jewel, with its sinuous gold lines and its mesmerizing opalescent pendant, was chosen by a woman whose taste is unparalleled in both literature and art. Credited by Christie's as "an esteemed editor, [an] astute collector, [a] dedicated philanthropist, and [a] supporter of literature and the arts" {cited}, Mrs. T.S. Eliot amassed in her lifetime a collection which Christie's notes was "motivated by both a rigorous academic interest in art and a deeply personally and aesthetic response to the works themselves" {cited}.

    A Provenance of Importance

    Esmé Valerie Eliot (nee Fletcher) devoted nearly her entire life to the preservation and promotion of the works and memory of Thomas Stearns (T.S.) Eliot. Her life's devotion began at the tender of age of 14, when she heard a sound recording of Sir John Gielgud reading Journey of the Magi, a haunting poem which left an indelible mark on her soul.

    At the age of 23, in pursuit of her dream to work for the poem's author, Ms. Fletcher secured a position as his secretary at Faber and Faber in 1949. Over the following seven years, her girlhood crush turned into real romance.

    In a private ceremony, attended only by her parents, Valerie Fletcher married T.S. Eliot at St. Barnabas's Church in Kensington on January 10, 1957. Mrs. Eliot maintained her career in publishing, distinguishing herself as a keen editor whose "attention to detail, mental acuity and thoroughness of approach" earned her husband's profound respect {cited}.

    For nine short years, the two worked alongside each other during the day and spent their evenings reading to each other by the fire "playing Scrabble and eating cheese" {cited}. Unfortunately, Mr. Eliot succumbed to emphysema after years of smoking. He passed in January of 1965, naming his wife "the sole protector of his legacy" {cited}.

    For the next 47 years, Mrs. Eliot dedicated her life to preserving T.S. Eliot's memory and legacy. She worked tirelessly to acquire as many of his letters as she could, succeeding in publishing a complete volume of his letters dating between 1898-1922. Perhaps her crowning literary achievement, though, was her publication of the facsimile edition of The Waste Land, which included in the margins notations made by Ezra Pound {cited}.

    Her Assemblage of Portrait Miniatures

    In her spare time, she collected art and jewelry. Perhaps her most astute collection was her assemblage of portrait miniatures. True to form, she applied a rigorous academic approach to this collection after working on the 1972 Faber and Faber publication of Daphne Foskett's Dictionary of British Miniature Painters. Mrs. Eliot invited the author along on many of her collecting trips.

    As a result, the walls of Mrs. Eliot's Kensington flat were hung with over 225 exquisite miniature portraits in round, oval, square, and rectangular frames. Mrs. Eliot built her collection for over 20 years, and by the time of her death she had successfully "charted the development of the portrait miniature in England from its inception in the 16th century" {cited}.

    Unsurprisingly, the lots sold from this collection yielded over $3.65 million. The leading lot, #65, featured "a gentleman, in blue coat, white waistcoat, frilled shirt and cravat, powdered hair en queue signed with initials and dated 'J.S. 1789/I' for Ivory...on ivory oval...within split-pearl border, surmounted by a diamond-set bow on blue glass, the reverse with plaited hair in white and blue enamel border within blue glass, set with pearls" {cited}. Celebrated for his "exceptional attention to detail and ability to capture the personality of his sitter," John Smart is lauded as one of the Georgian Era's most important portrait miniaturists {cited}.

    In life, Mrs. Eliot devoted herself to the pursuit and preservation of her husband's legacy. Now in her death, she reaches further into the future, establishing a heritage of her own. Countless artists, musicians, and performers will benefit from the successful sale of her outstanding collection through Christie's auction house. Perhaps we will one day soon see on Broadway the fruit of her labors of love.

  • Christie's Geneva Presents "Magnificent Jewels" on November 12, 2013

    Photo © 2013 EraGem Photo © 2013 EraGem

    Nothing will prepare you for the scrumptious decadence found on the pages of Christie's Geneva Magnificent Jewels catalog. Cover to cover, exquisite jewels created by top designers, such as JAR, Bulgari, Cartier, and VC&A, grace the pages. Exclusive pieces from the collection of Mrs. Vera Espirito Santo, including several sautoirs by Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, lay nestled among distinguished Art Deco pieces previously owned by "A Lady" and the gorgeous antique jewels which once adorned members of the Royal Family of Savoy.

    Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires decorate nearly every page, and they are merely the savory appetizers offered during the afternoon session of the Geneva sale, which takes place at 2:00pm November 12, 2013. As evening falls, a lavish array of riches from HRH The Duchess of Genova, from HRH Princess Faiza of Egypt, from Simón Inturri Patiño, and from the beautiful Madame Helène Rochas will be served in high style.

    From HRH The Duchess of Genova, Christie's features Royal Pearls: A pair of antique baroque natural pearl earrings, each with a diamond-set cap, suspended from a diamond line and double hoop top {Lot 203}; an antique natural pearl and diamond bar brooch "designed as a line of old-cut diamond collets with natural drop-shaped pearl terminals" {Lot 204}; and a double-strand necklace comprised of 8 cultured pearls, 7 freshwater natural pearls, and 120 natural saltwater pearls {Lot 205}.

    From the incomparable collection of a private collector, Christie's offers an emerald and diamond necklace which once graced the neck of HRH Princess Faiza of Egypt. Made by Van Cleef & Arpels, this stunning jewel survived the dismantling of the Egyptian Crown Jewels which followed the exile of the Egyptian royal family. Purchased in 1947, this necklace is both "imposing" and "graceful," set with gorgeous emerald cabochon drops suspended from "diamond motives" that exude the geometric essence of Art Deco {cited}. The pendant clasp features an elaborate geometric pattern set entirely in diamonds, with a single drop-shaped emerald terminal.

    If that's not enough glamour for you, next comes three superior pieces once owned by Bolivian tycoon Simón Itturi Patiño. Sr. Patiño made his fortune in the Andes Mountains when with his wife "he discovered one of the greatest tin deposits ever known" {cited}. He invested his fortunes in tin deposits in Malaysia and Canada and opened a bank in Bolivia. By the late 1930s, his foundries processed more than 60% of the world's tin {cited}.

    So successful was his enterprise, that Sr. Patiño became one of the 5 wealthiest men in the world. Besides reinvesting his fortunes in his business interests, the King of Tin amassed a collection of "fabulous gemstones and jewels" in the '30s and '40s, "one of the greatest periods of jewellery design" {cited}.

    The first of the Patiño jewels was designed by Cartier in honor of a rare gem, 'The Andean cross,' which the Maison had acquired from Queen Eugenia of Spain. To form the necklace, Cartier chose 15 of the best Colombian emeralds to create an exquisite diamond and emerald necklace from which the cross could hang. In January 1938, Sr. Patiño fell under the spell of this beautiful necklace and purchased it for his wife. A few years later, the family approved an alteration. The necklace was shortened by two emeralds in order to facilitate the design of a pair of matching diamond and emerald earrings. These will also be offered for sale in Geneva.

    In addition to the magnificent necklace and earrings, Christie's offers a diamond ring by Chaumet set with a cushion-shaped diamond of approximately 32.65 carats. At one time, this exceptional diamond was incorporated into a "spectacular diamond rivière necklace owned by Mrs Albina Patiño" {cited}.

    Though it is hard to determine a true headliner for the Geneva sale, it is a safe assumption that the 18 lots from The Property of Madame Helène Rochas may just steal the show. A jeweled evening bag and Cartier vanity case lie in state among a pair of gemstone earrings and a mother-of-pearl bracelet by Marina B. Next, we feast our eyes on several luxurious jewels studded with pearls, diamonds, and sapphires, followed by a mystery-set ruby and diamond 'Magnolia' brooch and a pair of ruby and diamond earrings made by Van Cleef & Arpels.

    The final lots from Madame Rochas's estate include an aquamarine, pink topaz and diamond bangle by Verdura, as well as five delicious pieces made by René Boivin: A trio of flexible bombé bands "with honeycomb-shaped scales set with rubies, sapphires, and diamonds"; an articulated yellow gold 'Fish' pendant with moonstone eyes and a head scaled in peridot and citrines; a pair of 'Algues' ear clips, one set with a white cultured pearl and the other with a grey cultured pearl, both surmounted by diamond-set leaves; a tapered platinum 'Tranche' bangle "with an oval-shaped pavé-set diamond panel; and a crouching 'Tiger' shoulder brooch set with pavé-set yellow and orange diamond stripes, emerald eyes, and black enamel detail on its head.

    Christie's Geneva Magnificent Jewels sale will be among the most glamorous and important sales of this fall's jewelry auction season. For more information on the upcoming sale, we invite you to visit Christie's website.

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