It seems ironic that having written extensively about the French Crown Jewels only a few weeks ago, one of the most spectacular stones from that collection should suddenly appear at auction. The gem in question is called the Grand Mazarin, a 19.02 carat of very pale pink colour originating from the fabled Indian mines of the Golconda, known for producing diamonds of exceptional clarity. It is the same mine that produced beauties such as the Koh-i-Noor and Regent diamonds.
The Grand Mazarin was the largest of a matchless collection assembled by Cardinal Jules Raymond Mazarin, Duc de Nevers, Louis XIV’s immensely capable first minister and successor to Cardinal Richelieu as the Sun King’s first minister. Cardinal Mazarin was a lover and collector of beautiful things and in a privileged position to have cream of the crop. He put together a marvellous collection of 18 diamonds which came to be known as the Mazarins, of which the Grand Mazarin was the largest.
Upon his death, the collection was bequeathed to Louis XIV, who in turn bestowed them on the Crown. The Grand Mazarin was a personal favourite, often worn on a chain of graduated diamonds. The Mazarins passed through descent to Louis XIV’s successors. A disastrous theft in 1792 in the middle of the chaos of the French Revolution saw the collection disappear and scattered to the four winds. Some of the gems from the theft were recovered, but of the 18 Mazarins, only the Grand Mazarin came back.
The stone was set and reset into various jewels during the Empire, Restoration and Second Empire, as each monarch tried to shape the Crown Jewels to the taste of the day. With the collapse of the Second Empire in 1870 and a Second Bourbon Restoration being comprehensively bungled by the head of that family, the Crown Jewels were sold off in 1884, the Grand Mazarin passed into private hands. The sale is being handled by Christie’s Geneva and is the first time the stone has appeared at auction since its sale in 1884. Experts say that the stone should fetch $9-10 million and after a lacklustre season in jewellery auctions after a record breaking couple of years, the auction houses need a sparkling headline.
It is possible that the French Government may buy it back, as it has been doing with other Crown Jewels that have appeared on the market over the last few years. I have mixed views on this- I always find it rather sad when a famous stone gets bought and locked up forever, never worn or enjoyed. On the plus side, if it were to join its counterparts at the Galerie d’Apolon in the Louvre, us lesser mortals would have a chance to gaze, if just for a few minutes, into the facets of history.