The Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond: A Detailed History

Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond. Photo has been released into the public domain. Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond. Photo has been released into the public domain. As of today, the Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond holds 4th place on our Top Twenty Diamonds & Jewels Sold at Auction. At one time weighing in at 35.56 carats, the Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond stunning blue diamond is believed to have been discovered in the famed Golconda mines of India, where many of the world's most historied diamonds were found during the 17th century. According to Scott Sucher, the unique shape of the diamond, referred to as a Stellar Brilliant Cut by some experts, dates the cutting of the stone to Europe in the 1650s {cited}. This Stellar Brilliant Cut features 82 facets "arranged in an atypical pattern. The star facets on the crown were vertically split, and the pavilion had 16 needle-like facets, arranged in pairs, pointing outward from the culet facet" {cited}. The stunning execution of this cut was hailed by historian Herbert Tillander as "one of the earliest brilliant cuts" {cited}.

Tracing the Stone

While historians are uncertain as to who carried this beautiful stone from India to Europe, many surmise that it came over in the pouch of the legendary explorer and gems trader, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. The research of one man in the 1950s or 1960s, Dr. Klaus Schneider, traced the stone directly from the stone's merchant to King Philip of Spain. However, a more recent inquiry, the results of which were published in Gems & Gemology in 2008, call into question Herr Schneider's version of events. These researchers, Rudolf Dröschel, Jürgen Evers, and Hans Ottomeyer, were unable to find evidence that the treasurer of King Philip's court purchased any stones from India and Portugal in 1664, as Herr Schneider had claimed. Furthermore, the archivists they spoke with were "unaware of any records being lost during the Spanish Civil War," {cited}, which is the claim Herr Schneider made for the lack of documentation on the stone.

The Path of the Diamond

This does not change a whole lot in the known path the diamond made throughout the continents. However, it is not quite as romantic as Herr Schneider's story, which found King Philip of Spain choosing the most exquisite stones out of a recent purchase from Portugal and India as a wedding gift for his young daughter, the Infanta Margarita Teresa (1651-1673). Instead we have the report of a marriage contract, bearing a date of December 18, 1663, which makes no mention of a stone matching the characteristics of the large blue diamond which would later be known as the Wittelsbach Blue. According to the research team, the Infanta Margaret Teresa acquired the stone after the contract was negotiated. This does not rule out the possibility that her father gave it to her, but it doesn't rule out other possibilities either. The first solid record of the stone comes in 1673, on the heels of tragedy. Only six years after her marriage to Emperor Leopold I of Austria, the young Empress, weakened by multiple miscarriages, lost her life. It is reported that in her will she left all of her belongings to her daughter, Maria Antonia, except "a precious ornament, which she had brought from Spain" {1}. This she left to her husband, Leopold I, with the following description: "a great breast ornament with a great diamond in the midst" {1}. Herr Dröschel and his colleagues are reasonably certain that this diamond of unwritten color is the stone presently known as The Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond (formerly The Wittelsbach Blue).

Time Marched On

Time marched on, and once again, the latest research refutes the claims of Herr Schneider, who wrote that upon Leopold's death in 1705, the love-smitten emperor left all of his jewels, including Empress Margaret Teresa's dowry gems, to his third wife, Empress Eleonore Magdalena {1}. Herr Schneider further reported that the Empress later bequeathed the jewel to her step-granddaughter, the Archduchess Maria Amalia. Herr Dröschel and his collaborators failed to find supporting documents for such claims. In fact, Empress Eleonore's will, written sometime between 1711 and 1720, made no mention of bequests to her grandchildren. Instead, she is reported to have given all of her jewels to her children, none of which was the Wittelsbach Blue. What these modern-day sleuths did discover was a paper trail leading to the House of Wittelsbach in 1685, twenty years prior to Leopold I's death, when the Archduchess Maria Antonia, daughter of Leopold I and Margarita Teresa, married Bavarian Elector Maximillian II Emmanuel Wittelsbach.

'A Thick Stone in the Midst'

A general inventory of her possessions was prepared that year, which lists, among other jewels from her mother's dowry, "a large ornament with 'a thick stone in the midst'" {1}. This document lends solid credence to the conclusion that Leopold I gave the stone, not to his third wife, but to his daughter, Maria Antonia {1}, as part of her dowry. Later, in 1692, Electress Maria Antonia's will stipulated that the stone was to remain in the Bavarian Crown Jewels. However, by reason of a failing marriage and a series of wars, the jewel was actually returned to the House of Hapsburg in Vienna, where the Electress retreated during the Nine Years War (1688-1697). Upon her untimely death, it was likely held in trust by her father, Leopold I, until her son, Emperor Joseph I Ferdinand returned with it to Munich, the seat of the Bavarian Empire, in 1693.

A 'Large Blue Brilliant'

In 1722, Emperor Joseph's daughter, Maria Amalia, was about to unite the House of Hapsburg with the House of Wittelsbach. The "large blue brilliant, encircled with small brilliants" {1}, was included as part of Maria Amalia's dowry, with an assigned value of 240,000 guilders ($135,593) {cited}. That year, the Archduchess Maria Amalia, granddaughter to Emperor Leopold I and Empress Margarita Teresa, married Crown Prince Charles Albert of Bavaria, son of Maximiillian II Emmanuel. A portrait painted of the new Princess on her wedding day "is the oldest visual record of the diamond" {1}. In 1742, Charles Albert was crowned Emperor of Bavaria, and the blue diamond was set into a crown reminiscent of the crowns of the Ottonian Empire. This crown was worn by Empress Maria Amalia, and during their brief tenure the diamond became firmly established as the Wittelsbach family's most sacred emblem.

Order of the Golden Fleece

In 1761, Elector Maximillian III Joseph (1727-1777), son of Emperor Charles Albert and Empress Maria Amalia, had the diamond mounted in a badge of the Order of the Golden Fleece. This badge featured a large oval brooch centered by the blue diamond. Around the great blue stone rested a halo of round brilliant diamonds. Surmounting this inner circle was a larger and more ornate mounting set with yellow and white diamonds of differing sizes. Suspended from one larger round brilliant, a diamond bow held in its diamond-paved grasp a listless golden ram with diamond horns and hooves. The Order of the Golden Fleece was founded in 1430 by the Duke of Burgundy, Philip III the Good. According to Patrick Hunt, Philip III "borrowed the tradition of the Golden Fleece" from the Greek myth of Jason's search for a "magical ram fleece of pure gold" {cited}. Philip and "his high officers founded an order of knighthood based on the challenging precedent of obtaining such a golden fleece by heroic will aided by divine power" {cited}. The jewel would have been worn, along with the other regalia, at official gatherings of the Order.

Der Wittelsbach Blaue

The next documented account of the blue diamond is made in 1806, when the first King of Bavaria, Maximillian IV Joseph von Wittelsbach, had the grey-blue stone mounted prominently in his royal crown. For over a century, the Wittelsbach Blue resided among the vaults of Bavaria in the Treasury of the Munich Residence {1}. In 1807, an appraisal was made of Der Wittelsbach Blaue, with an assigned value of 300,000 florins ($ 167,282) {1}. In the wake of World War I, Bavaria was converted to a republic. According to Ian Balfour {cited}, the Bavarian Crown Jewels were collected by the State, along with all of the family's properties and possessions, and placed in trust with the Wittelsbacher Ausgleichsfonds (WAF) for public display in museums. In order to realize cash from any of their possessions, members of the Wittelsbach family had to secure approval from the Bavarian government. By 1931, members of the family had fallen on hard times. As a concession to their growing destitution, the State approved the sale of thirteen of the Crown Jewels at auction to reduce the financial strain upon King Ludwig III's descendants.

Under the Radar

In December 1931, the Wittelsbach Blue fell under the hammer, and under the radar, at Christie's in London. In a very public sale, the "famous blue diamond" was the first lot placed on the block with an opening bid of £3,000 ($4,585). Rising to £4,500 ($6,878), the sale was written up for a buyer named 'Thorp' {cited}. Apparently, Mr. Thorp never took the diamond home. The details of the failed sale are murky, and the diamond's subsequent whereabouts remained a public mystery until the 1960s. Rumors of an illegal sale the following year to a Munich jeweler were unsubstantiated, and the first time the diamond was again recorded was in 1951.

Hidden in Plain Sight

According to Mr. Dröschel and his team, in 1951 the WAF sold the diamond secretly to an undisclosed merchant. Later that same year, the diamond was sold again, this time to one of Antwerp's foremost diamond dealers, Romi Goldmuntz {1}. In 1958, the public would once again catch a glimpse of the glorious blue diamond. However, very few knew of its true provenance. At the World Exhibition in Brussels, Herr Goldmuntz included the diamond in an exhibition of his premiere wares. The diamond was displayed without title, and it spent six months hidden in plain sight. Even Joseph Komkommer, a man who would later play a part in identifying the stone, did not recognize it. It would be another four years before this fellow, Belgian diamond dealer Joseph Komkommer, would receive a request, likely from Herr Goldmuntz's heirs {cited}, to "improve" the cut of the diamond. Expecting an Old Mine cut diamond, Mr. Komkommer was shocked when a dark blue Stellar Cut stone shone brightly from within the small package {cited}.

Of Monumental Significance

Surmising that it must be of monumental significance, the gems dealer's son convinced his father to conduct some research before fulfilling the family's request. Together, the Komkommers were able to trace its true provenance to the famed House of Wittelsbach. Convincing their clients not to cut it, the Komkommers gathered a consortium of US and Belgian diamond traders to purchase the stone for £180,000 ($275,148) {cited}. Left in charge of its resale, the Komkommers offered first rights of refusal to the Treasury of Munich Residence, but neither Duke Albrecht of Bavaria nor Baron Teuchert of the WAF showed any interest in reclaiming their lost inheritance. Herr Teuchert was able, however, to shed light on one mystery: Between 1931 and 1951, he confirmed, the Wittelsbach Blue was safely tucked away in a vault belonging to the WAF {1}. Unable to persuade the Bavarians of the stone's importance, Herr Komkommer set out to entice public interest in the stone. In 1963, he put it on display at the Gübelin jewelry store during the International Lucerne Music Festival {1}. While it was in his shop, the renowned Dr. Edward Gübelin conducted the first gemological review of the diamond {1}. At that time, the stone's estimated worth was 2 million Swiss francs ($500,000) {1}.

A High-Profile Wedding

In 1964, the Komkommers, having failed to sell the stone, entered into an agreement with Hamburg jeweler Renatus Wilm. The Komkommers loaned the stone to Herr Wilm, offering to pay him $50,000 if he successfully sold the diamond before January 31, 1965. In return, Herr Wilm agreed to pay the Komkommers an equal sum if he was unable to secure a buyer by the deadline. In October 1964, the Wittelsbach Blue diamond was given a prominent place in the showrooms of Herr Wilm's Düsseldorf and Hamburg stores. By the end of 1964, Herr Wilm collected his finder's fee after selling the diamond to an anonymous buyer. The stone's new owner maintained his anonymity until 1966, when publicized reports of his high-profile wedding described a scene in which he pulled a 35-carat blue diamond from his pants pocket during their well-attended reception in order to present the jewel to his new wife {1}. Without pictures or corroboration from the new owner to prove it, the rumors fell away. The diamond's whereabouts remained a secret from the public for another 40 years, until in 2006, Herr Dröschel and his associates discovered an obscure article written in 1979, which provided factual proof that in 1966, German department store magnate, Helmut Horten gave his new wife, Heidi, "one of the greatest diamonds that ever adorned a woman" {1}.

Corroborating Evidence

In 2007, these thorough researchers received corroborating evidence in the form of an email from Jeanne Heiniger. In the 1970s, Jeanne and Ernst Albrecht Heiniger, famed gemstone photographers, had been searching for the 'lost' blue diamond for years. In a stroke of fortune, they discovered that the legendary diamond was languishing in a vault near their home. After signing documents of nondisclosure, the Heiniger's took one of the first published photographs of the Wittelsbach Blue in centuries {1}. At the time, the diamond was surrounded by pear-shaped white diamonds in a brooch resembling a star made by Harry Winston {cited}. The photograph was published in the Heiniger's book, The Great Book of Jewels (1974). Helmut Horten, confirmed purchaser of the Wittelsbach Blue, died in 1987. His wife Heidi inherited her husband's assets. However, his will stipulated that while she was free to "use and increase the possessions of her former husband, she not allowed to dispose of them in her will" {1}.

A Landmark Public Auction

In November 2006, Frau Horten loaned the blue stone to Bulgari for a private exhibition in Switzerland. A later private exhibition is said to have taken place in Vienna {1}. Then in November 2008, the Wittelsbach Blue, once considered an "unproductive asset" by the WAF {1}, fell under the hammer once again at a landmark public auction at Christie's London. In a press release published on November 4, 2008, Christie's London announced their privilege "to present the Wittelsbach diamond...an extremely rare 35.36 carat, historic 17th century fancy deep greyish-blue diamond, to the international market for the first time in almost 80 years..." {cited}. Leading up to the sale, Laurence Graff, famed diamantaire, arranged with Christie's to examine the diamond, concluding that "it was one of the rarest stones" he had ever seen {cited}. "When I saw this stone, I knew it was a stone we had to have," Mr. Graff told Jane O'Brien of BBC News.

The World's Most Famous Diamond

True to his intention, for a sum of $24,311,191, Mr. Laurence Graff of Graff Diamonds made sure he walked away from Christie's that night with the world's most famous diamond, setting a world record for a diamond sold at auction. That record would stand until 2010, when he purchased The Graff Pink for $46.15 million. At the time of its sale in 2008, the Wittelsbach Blue carried a certificate from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), which classified the diamond as a 35.36-carat Fancy Deep Greyish-Blue, VS2 clarity diamond. Noting its 25 flaws and numerous chips and scratches, a result of its multiple setting changes over the past 360+ years, Mr. Graff made the very controversial and courageous decision to clean it up a bit. The billionaire employed three expert cutters "to remove damage to the girdle and enhance the color" {cited}.

The Inaugural Debut

In 2010, after recertifying it with the GIA, Mr. Graff, in a joint endeavor with the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, presented the inaugural debut of The Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond, now a 31.06-carat, Type IIb, Natural Fancy Deep Blue diamond, Internally Flawless diamond. Displayed alongside the world famous Hope Diamond, another significant Golconda blue, the Wittelsbach-Graff was on public view from January 29 through September 1, 2010. During the week prior to the opening of the exhibition, a team of scientists led by Jeffrey Post, Curator of the National Gem Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, subjected the Wittelsbach-Graff to numerous tests and side-by-side comparisons with the Hope Diamond. Having long wondered if the two stones hailed from the same rough stone, these scientists set out to discern the truth about these two remarkable stones.

An Uncanny Resemblance

Though they bear "an uncanny resemblance" to one another, the tests conclusively prove, as Mr. Post announced, that "they are not part of the same crystal or rough" {cited}. "Perhaps," he says, "they are distant cousins, but not brothers and sisters" {cited}. The first week in September 2010 was the last time The Wittelsbach-Graff was seen in public. Now an esteemed member of the growing collection of rare and important gems held by Graff Diamonds, the stunning blue stone will remain hidden from view for an untold number of years in the vault of one of the world's wealthiest diamantaires.

Note

1. Dröschel, Rudolf, Jürgen Evers, and Hans Ottomeyer. "The Wittelsbach Blue," Gems & Gemology, Winter 2008, 348-363.
11 years ago
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