The Persian invasion of India in 1739 under Nader Shah was the greatest armed heist in the history of the world. The accumulated wealth of the previous three centuries, estimated at the then value of rupees 70 crore (700 million) was looted from Delhi and taken to Persia. It included such famed treasures as Koh-i-Noor (now in crown jewels of UK), Golconda d’or (Last stolen from Melbourne), Shah diamond (currently at Kremlin Diamond Fund), Darya-i-Noor (in the Central Bank of Iran), the Great Mughal diamond (since lost) and the Peacock Throne. Also included in this list is the famed ‘Akbar Shah’ diamond, whose history I describe here.
The stone is, or was, remarkable because the names of the three greatest Mughal emperors Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan were elegantly inscribed on its sides. To preserve its history, the years of inscription were also mentioned along with the names. The diamond is also known as ‘Lustre of the Peacock Throne’ because it is said to have adorned an eye of a peacock on the throne and was one of its most precious stones.
There is no written record of where and how it was mined, though it was most probably found in the Golconda mines, the famed site that has disgorged many similar diamonds of mammoth size and clarity. Most of the stone’s initial history is recorded in Edwin Streeter’s authoritative 1882 book, The Great Diamonds of the World, Their History and Romance, wherein it is listed at number 25 of the 70 diamonds described. The diamond is believed to have come in to Mughal possession during the reign of Emperor Akbar, when the Golconda mines were an active concern. His son Emperor Jahangir, who reigned between 1605 and 1627, inscribed in Arabic the names of his father and his own along with the year. This inscription is on one face of the diamond. The year mentioned is 1028 AH, that corresponds to 1619 AD. The inscription reads as “Akbar Shah, Jahangir Shah, 1028”.
The second inscription on the opposite face was made in the year 1039 AH, that corresponds to 1630 AD. It reads as, “To the Lord of the Two Worlds, 1039 A.H. Shah Jahan”.
Shah Jahan, who amongst all the Mughals had the keenest eye for elegance and splendour, was fond of having inscriptions carved on his diamonds. And so this inscription was made in 1630, three years into his reign.
The weight of the then table-cut diamond, as recorded by Streeter, was 116 carats. There is no mention of its colour but considering that only clear colourless diamonds were inscribed, the Akbar Shah diamond would also have fallen in this category.
Nader Shah was murdered in 1749, a decade after his murderous pillaging Indian raid. Most of his jewels were stolen or appropriated by his guards or allies. Koh-i-Noor, for instance, was taken away by his loyal Ahmad Shah Abdali. The Peacock throne was stolen too and, sadly, dismantled for its jewels that were retained by the marauding soldiers. The accumulated value of these jewels individually was not even a fraction of the value of the complete throne. Had it survived, it would surely be considered a priceless world heritage item.
Messrs George Blogg & Co. of London proposed a cut that would turn the stone to a teardrop shape – and in the process destroy the inscriptions. Blogg agreed to the cut –an act of vandalism
The Akbar Shah diamond, too, was spirited away, and remained hidden for a hundred and fifteen years. Dr. Shihaan Larif, one of the greatest living diamond experts, writes that in the 18th and 19th centuries, Turkey had become a transit point for many famous diamonds that left India in the past, either legally or illegally. European dealers visited Istanbul from time to time, looking for Indian diamonds that reached overland via Isfahan in Iran or Baghdad in Iraq. Akbar Shah, too, appeared in Istanbul, Turkey in 1866. It was now called Shepherd’s diamond, probably in honour of the first European who became its owner.
Mr. George Blogg, proprietor of Messrs George Blogg & Co. of London, was also a regular visitor to Istanbul for diamonds. In 1866, he was shown the historic table-cut inscribed diamond and informed about its history. Blogg purchased it for an undisclosed sum and took it to London. This was an unfortunate and tragic turn of events for the diamond.
The stone was handed over to company’s master cutter Mr. L.M. Auerhaan who thought about the best cut to maximise clarity and profit. However, his proposed cut would turn the table cut stone to a teardrop shape, and in the process destroy the inscriptions. Blogg agreed to the cut – one that can only be termed as an act of vandalism. Luckily, before cutting away the inscriptions, they made their facsimiles and forwarded them to Streeter for his above quoted book. These facsimiles are shown as images in this article. The cuts also reduced the weight of the diamond from 116 to 72 carats.
The rulers of the State of Baroda in Gujrat were keen collectors and connoisseurs of world famous diamonds. In 1866, its ruler Khande Rao Gaekwad procured the diamond for £35,000, about 4 million pounds sterling in current value and added it to his large jewel collection.
In 1926, the then ruler of Baroda, Sayaji Rao Gaekwaḑ III, had Jacques Cartier reset the stone in platinum, as the new metal was becoming more fashionable than gold. The diamond was in the list of properties disclosed in the 1988 wealth tax returns of the late Fatehsinh Rao Gaekwaiḑ. Later his wife Shanta Devi also mentioned the diamond in her wealth tax returns. It is uncertain whether the stone is still in the family’s possession or has been sold in the intervening years. However, we do know that the 450 year-old stone that remained in the hands of eight Mughal Emperors continues to adorn the vaults of some noble house.
Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from PAF and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on historical and social issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: email@example.com